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Tuesday, 21 August 2018 21:37

In Reverse: 120 Years of Body-Building Changes

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If you think using adhesives to hold car bodies together is something new in the 21st century, think again. Body engineers used casein-based glue to hold early wooden body members together on the Cadillac, Columbia, Locomobile and Peerless from 1898 to 1904. Casein is a chemical found in milk, which is highly water-resistant.

 

Many people point to 1979--1980 as the beginning of the age of the unibody car. However, in 1916 the Ruler Auto Company manufactured 3,000 unibody vehicles dubbed the Ruler Frameless. Body members were fashioned into tubular form to give metal the rigidity it needed to do without a frame. The engine and suspension members rested on a platform.

 

In October 1919, the Detroit Auto Dealers Association held the first “Closed Car Salon” auto show featuring only closed-body vehicles. Open-body vehicles were the norm of the time, but more and more were closing them. Oddly, many people did not like closed-body vehicles and considered them too ostentatious, not unlike “riding around in a display case.” The enclosed body, largely made of wood, was a cabinet-maker’s work of art. However, building it was arduous and time-consuming. The final product was not light, silent, nor especially durable. But it gave rise to the need for body technicians. The growing use of stamped metal parts would soon speed the process of coach-building.

 

By the 1920s, some wood and sheet metal was being replaced with a new material---Vehisote. Not unlike the use of aluminum today, Vehisote was lighter weight and more versatile for the growing size of vehicle and light truck bodies. The Agasote Millboard Company was founded in England in 1909, producing a sort of fiberboard made from recycled paper and glue formed into 4 X 8 foot sheets under extreme heat and pressure. (This sounds a lot like today’s plywood.) The process was brought to the U.S., and in 1915 various car companies began using the large sheets to create roofs on cars made of both wood and steel. The sheets were also known as “Vehisote,” part of the “Homosote” family of products. Vehisote was a favorite material for building truck bodies in the 1920s.


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