If you want to see exactly how much driving has changed over the past century, take a look at the 1916 Autocar coal truck featured on a recent episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage.”
One of several vehicles from this period in Leno’s personal collection, this truck is a true throwback to the early days of driving. It has no battery (just a magneto), so all you get are acetylene lights and a hand crank. It rolls on wooden wheels with solid vulcanized rubber tires, with holes in the rear tires for spikes for winter driving. Somewhat worryingly, Leno says they’re the century-old originals.
The advantage of this anachronistic hardware is that the truck can sit for long periods of time and still fire up immediately, Leno explains in the video. The hassle-free engine is a 2-cylinder boxer of unknown displacement, producing 18 hp. That’s enough to lug 2.5 tons of coal at a top speed of about 25 mph. It’s channeled to the rear wheels through a 3-speed manual transmission.
The engine sits under the seats, which fold up for access. The simplistic design means the main maintenance task is adding oil, the level of which is checked by turning spigots to see how much comes out. Getting the oil up to temperature can be difficult because of the engine’s slow operating speed, Leno said, but that also means overheating is unlikely.
1916 Autocar coal truck on Jay Leno’s Garage
Suspension consists of beefy-looking lead springs, while mechanical brakes handle deceleration.
Even the job this truck was built for is outdated. It was designed to deliver coal to homes and other buildings for heating. Home coal furnaces went the way of the hand starter long ago, to the benefit of air quality and lower carbon emissions.
Autocar is one of the oldest vehicle manufacturers in existence. Founded in Pennsylvania at the turn of the 20th century, it initially built cars and trucks, but quickly narrowed its focus to commercial vehicles. The company is responsible for several innovations, including the ceramic spark plug and rear-end reduction gear, Leno noted. It’s still building commercial trucks today.
Leno describes driving this truck as “calming” because of its smooth ride, relaxed pace, and simple operation. Watch the full video and see for yourself.