4 January 2018

More than an old car #48: Maxwell Model 25

As of 2016, there are an estimated 6500 cars in Singapore that are older than 20 years. Most of the classic cars that I have seen are around the 1960s-1970s, along with a few models from the 1930s and 1950s. Thus, I was quite awed to come across what is most probably the oldest registered car in Singapore: a 1918 Maxwell Model 25 Tourer!

The Maxwell Motor Company was founded in 1904 by Jonathan Dixon Maxwell and Benjamin Briscoe in New York. Interestingly, it was considered one of the top car manufacturers in the US, along with General Motors and Ford. In 1913, it was reorganised to become the Maxwell Motor Company, Inc. However, it wound up in debt, partly due to unsold inventory because of World War 1. Eventually, Chrysler took over Maxwell and it became defunct in 1925.

Maxwell was one of the first companies to market to women, and it aligned itself with the women's rights movement that was gathering steam at that time. It is quite unbelievable that they were one of the first companies to advocate gender equality--for example, they proceeded to hire as many male personnel as female! A Maxwell car also featured prominently in American popular culture, as a car that comedian Jack Benny drove in the 1940s. However, I'm pretty sure no one has heard of him.

The Maxwell Model 25 was first introduced in 1914 in response to the increasing number of cheap cars in the market. It featured an innovative shock absorber to protect the radiator, and an optional electric starter, precluding the famous Ford Model T. Despite having a length of 3.8m, it could comfortably seat 5 adults. It was powered by a 3046cc 4-cylinder engine, allowing it to reach an average speed of around 32km/h. Remember, this was back in the 1910s--I wouldn't be surprised if e-scooters could outrun this relic. 

The 'tourer' terminology still remains, but back then it referred to an open car that can seat at least 4 people. Most of them came with a folding top, which was called a "fan" when folded down. This style became outdated in the 1920s as cars with enclosed passenger compartments became more affordable.
As with most cars from that period, it was usually started up by turning the hand crank that you see in the picture. Some of your grandparents may recall how difficult it was to turn the crank, not to mention hand injuries if you did not do it correctly. Come to think of it, we take the relative ease of starting our cars today [eg pushing a button] for granted!

The hand crank

The left-hand drive (LHD) configuration is quite foreign to most of us, but do you know that 2/3 of the world are using the LHD format? Only 75 countries in the world have the RHD configuration, mostly former British colonies with the exception of places such as Japan, Thailand and Indonesia. According to LTA regulations, LHD classic cars are only allowed for cars earlier than 1940. Honestly speaking, I don't understand why it is so restrictive. It is not likely that people will import LHD classic cars to take advantage of the rule, since it is out of reach for mere mortals like me. The cost and restrictions attached to these vehicles makes it unreliable for daily usage, which is what most people are looking for these days. On the other hand, it can be seen as exclusive as few continental classic cars were produced in RHD.

Some of you may have noticed this round thing above the car engine. It is not the car logo, but an antiquated gauge known as a "motometer". It was used to read the temperature of the radiator, much like how we have the temperature indicator in our cars today. This one was made by the Boyce MotoMeter Company in New York and most car manufacturers offered them as standard equipment. However, I must say that it seems to be a hassle to check the temperature far away from the driver's seat!

Production of the Maxwell Model 25 ended in 1925, with about 500,000 made in a variety of body styles. I presume that existing models are very rare due to age, even though 500,000 may sound like a lot. American classic cars are very uncommon here, not to mention one that is older than your grandparents! I do not know how this centenarian ended up so far away from its home, but I was pleased to find it in good condition. According to SG Car Mart, it has been around since 1982 and it is up for sale! This is certainly not suited for everyday driving--you would either hold up traffic because you are too slow or be unable to see through the windscreen during rain [no windshield wipers]! I believe it still belongs to a car dealer, so keep a lookout for this unconventional piece of history!
Apparently it was from California: "Horseless Carriage" plates are for cars older than 1922

 "Where are the airbags?"

1 comment:

  1. RHD is the historically correct way to drive because of horse riding in medieval times when knights needed their right hand (supposed to be the master hand for most people) to hold their swords to slay their enemies. On RHD cars, u can drive and use yr right hand to shot a gun out of the drivers window ( presumably). Unlike in LHD cars...when u cannot for most cases use yrleft hand to operate a gun. Hence al capone had a right hand man in his cars back in the day to hold the shotgun..