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Twombly Model B brochure, 1913

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Twombly Model B brochure, 1913
Smithsonian Institution


This object appears in the following sections:

Smithsonian Automobile Collection — Car collection, 1910-1919

Headline from Cyclecar Age, February 1914
Headline from Cyclecar Age, February 1914

Twombly cyclecar
Catalog #: 1980.0558.01, Accession #: 1980.0558
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

Cyclecars were small, inexpensive automobiles that resembled a cross between a car and a motorcycle. This two-passenger 1914 Twombly cyclecar cost $395, compared with $450 for a 1914 Ford Model T runabout. Its manufacturer, W. Irving Twombly, was an airplane and automobile enthusiast who was attracted to the cyclecar fad. He established the Twombly Car Corporation in New York City in 1913 and serving as a director of the Cyclecar Manufacturers National Association. Twombly claimed that his 1914 Light Underslung car could run at speeds up to 50 miles per hour and could travel 40 miles on a gallon of gasoline. He boldly offered a "guarantee same as on cars costing from $4,000 to $6,000." Cyclecars attracted an avid following for about two years (1913-15), but their usefulness was limited by weak, inefficient mechanical systems. Soon it became clear that the Ford Model T fit the description of "car for the masses" better than anything else on the road, and cyclecar sales evaporated. By 1915 Twombly's company was bankrupt.

Physical Description

The long, narrow body of the 1914 Twombly cyclecar holds a driver and one passenger seated behind the driver. The body originally was painted yellow. The Smithsonian's car is in unrestored condition. The four-cylinder, 15-horsepower engine is water-cooled, unlike most cyclecars, which had air-cooled engines. Friction transmission and chain drive provide power to the rear wheels. The "patented underslung" suspension provided 9 inches of road clearance. The Twombly cyclecar weighs only 600 pounds.

Date Made:
New York, Pennsylvania

The cyclecar craze of the mid-1910s was an attempt to democratize the automobile by making cars that were smaller, less expensive, and more economical to maintain and operate than standard touring cars and runabouts. One headline about cyclecars proclaimed, "Poor Man's Auto is Here at Last." Scores of companies built and sold two-passenger cars with belt drive or chain drive. The cyclecar's advocates claimed that it was better suited to muddy or rutted roads because of its light weight and narrow profile; the wheels actually fit between the ruts made by full-sized automobiles. Some cyclecars, including the Twombly, were so narrow that they had tandem seating (one seat behind the other). Unorthodox mechanical features installed on cyclecars included wooden brakes, friction transmissions, and air-cooled engines placed in the rear, but these systems did not work well. Soon it became apparent that the cyclecar was not a viable solution to personal transportation needs and could not compete with the mass-market Ford Model T. Despite its ultimate failure, the cyclecar fad reflected intense enthusiasm for the promise of motorized mobility and a grass-roots quest to design cars that were better in some respects than standard production models.

Related People, Places, and Events
Twombly Car Corporation

Place of Manufacture
Sharon, Pennsylvania

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