1916 Autocar coal truck brings easy time to Jay Leno’s garage

If you want to see just how much driving has changed in the last century, check out the 1916 Autocar coal truck in the latest episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage”.

One of the few cars in Leno’s personal collection at the time, this truck was a real throwback to the early days of driving. It has no battery (just a magneto), so all you get is an acetylene light and a hand crank. It features well-rolled rubber tires rotating on wooden wheels, with rear tire holes for spikes for winter driving. Somewhat worryingly, Leno says they are century-old originals.

The advantage of this anaerobic hardware is that the truck can sit for long periods of time and still catch fire immediately, Leno explained in the video. The hassle-free engine is a 2-cylinder boxer of unknown displacement, producing 18 hp. This is enough to carry 2.5 tons of coal at a maximum speed of about 25 miles per hour. It is channeled to the rear wheels via a 3-speed manual transmission.

The engine sits under the seat, which folds for access. Simple design means that the main maintenance work is to add oil, which is tested by turning the spigots to see how much the layer comes out. The slower operating speed of the engine can make it harder to get oil at room temperature, Leno said, but it also means less chance of overheating.

1916 Autocar coal truck in J. Leno's garage

1916 Autocar coal truck in J. Leno’s garage

The suspension contains BFI-looking lead springs, while mechanical brakes control the erosion.

Even the work that this truck was made for is old. It was designed to supply coal to homes and other buildings for heating. Home coal reactors have long since gone the way of hand starters, for the convenience of air quality and low carbon emissions.

Autocar is one of the oldest vehicle manufacturers in existence. Founded in Pennsylvania in the early 20th century, it initially built cars and trucks, but quickly narrowed its focus to commercial vehicles. The company is responsible for a number of innovations, including ceramic spark plugs and rear-end reduction gears, Leno noted. It is still building commercial trucks today.

Leno describes the truck as “quiet” because of its smooth ride, comfortable speed and easy operation. Watch the full video and see for yourself.

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