Hobbyists unite! How one Google Books user built a vintage automobile

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Meet Bob Ferry and his nice 'ride': a 1906 Oldsmobile Model B Runabout. You might be thinking, "Wow, for a model that's nearly a century old, this car looks brand new." That’s because it is brand new. Bob found old magazines and publications on mechanics with pictures, diagrams and descriptions, by searching the digital treasure trove of Google Books, which helped him build the car from scratch.

"It's been a great avenue for any hobbyist," says Bob, who has amassed a collection of over 100 Google Books, from out-of-print issues of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics to Harper's gasoline engine book and Horseless Age.

Bob is a 51-year-old machinist who lives in Louisville, Kentucky, and runs a family-owned shop that builds industrial machinery. Building 'horseless carriages' has been his passion on the side for years, and an outlet for his skills as a machinist. He belongs to an Internet group of horseless carriage replica builders who share photos and ideas about the cars they are building. Some members have been inspired by Bob to also use Google Books to help them construct vintage vehicles.

An image of an Oldsmobile Runabout from an ad in "The Horseless age" Volume 16, published in 1905

When Bob started building his car, he started off with a set of plans he purchased from fellow replica car-builder Jimmy Woods, but he also wanted to add as many original qualities to the car as possible that were not in the plans, such as a steamer trunk extension and fringed 'Surrey Top'. He had heard of ebooks, so he went over to Google Books and discovered many old books and magazines about the earliest automobiles from the early 1900s. He loaded them up onto his iPad using his Google Books app and got to work.

Bob says the Surrey Top was especially difficult to design, but that the vast number of digital books were a great resource, with drawings and texts describing various car tops and the pros and cons of each.

A diagram of a steering arm lower control rod that Bob used, from "The Gasoline Automobile: Transmission, running gear, and control"

Bob, testing the early frame of his Oldsmobile

The final product, in his own words:
My car is powered by a 17-year-old Briggs & Stratton 12 HP engine and a hydrostatic transmission from a 15-20-year-old Craftsman riding mower. It is steered with a tiller arm (no steering wheel) and reaches a blazing top speed of about 6-7 miles per hour.

Bob also sees his hobby as a way of giving back to the community. He has been exhibiting his Oldsmobile replica at senior citizen's homes and local shows. The car has elicited huge smiles from seniors. "They would say, 'You know, I used to drive one like that.' Many of these are World War II vets, and I thought, if I can just bring a smile to their faces, let’s do it," Bob says.

Bob's 7-month-old granddaughter takes the vintage car for a spin

Bob plans to continue using Google Books to help him on future car-building projects. In the next few years, he plans to build a 1902 De Dion Bouton French car, a 1920 Norton Racer Motorcycle and an Orient Buckboard. He is studying early engine designs, as he wants to build the engine from scratch on his next replica car.

While he's still a fan of physical books, Bob has increasingly turned to digital books for their convenience, and to find obscure and useful information. “It has really, really been fun,” he says. "I don't know how many books are out there that I would like to try to read each one, cover to cover."

Do you have story about using Google Books in an interesting or helpful way? Write us at googlebooksblog@google.com



Richard said...

I think you did a good job on your project. The next car made from scratch should be the Henry Ford Quadricycle check is out on the Ford web page.

Richard said...

The project turned out good. Can you build a replica of the Ford Quadracycle next from scratch?

Anonymous said...

I work at an auto warranty company and the owner is building 2 vintage automobiles. Both Henry Ford vehicles. He is stuck on 1 because he cannot find the parts. I`m going to show him this blog and maybe you can help him. Auto Warranties

carroll said...

where can i find plans on how to build an antique vintage car