Maker Faire Detroit 2012: The Autokineticons!
One of the best things about presenting at Maker Faire Detroit is that you basically get the run of the Henry Ford for three days, and get to poke around before the gates open and after they close. The conservator/mechanics at the Henry Ford are incredibly open and welcoming and enthusiastic about the machines they've restored and maintain--basically, they have the same attitude as the makers who've come to show off their projects.
So, for example, before the gates opened on Day 2--and thus before the crowds had poured in--I was wandering around looking for a pleasant bathroom when I came across the Henry Ford's all-original, fully functional 1922 Detroit Electric, which had just been moved outside to be displayed with some other groundbreaking early automobiles.
This picture doesn't really do the DE justice. It shows off the idiosyncratic back deck and the wonderful lines of the hood and fender, but can't capture how wonderfully the body and paint have been restored; it's smooth and so glossy it's almost luminous, like puddles of black and blue ink on a white marble counter. And that glass? That curved glass? That's *original*!
For those not in the know, I've included the official signage about this all-electric vehicle here. The Detroit Electric was often marketed as a "woman's car" because it eschewed the grease and oil and petrol and could be started at the push of the button, rather than risking a broken wrist trying to crankstart a gasoline engine. This I'd all heard before; what I didn't realize until the conservator pointed it out was that this "woman's car" notion had influenced the interior design, as well. Check this out:
Those two bars next to the driver's side door are the tiller steering (the longer bar folds down so that it's horizontal in front of the driver) and the throttle (the shorter bar--if you look at the sign above you'll see that there was actually a pretty interesting electromechanical system for varying speed and torque, because the car didn't have a conventional variable transmission as we think of it). None of that was so special. What I love is the *seating*: The Detroit Electric "opera coupe" was driven from the left rear seat, and the front right passenger seat swiveled so that all of the passengers could sit facing each other and chat. You know, for the ladies.
Here's another review of that swivel front passenger seat, which also gives a view of the left front passenger "jump seat."
Finally, two more shots of the exterior, for good measure:
During load-out on the final day I got to take an impromptu joyride in an 1885 Benz Motorwagen--totally on the basis of my yelling at the passing motorist "Hey! Gimme a ride in that!" (I didn't think he'd stop, because I didn't think he'd even hear me over the racket of that damn thing's crazy single-cylinder banger.)
The Benz was the first proper commercial automobile--in that it was actually built, top to bottom, to be a motorcar, and not just some crazy retrofit or barn-built one-off project. That said, it is still an absolutely *insane* vehicle to ride in. Because it was built to share the road with carriages and streetcars, you are really high up; it feels like you're racing down the lane perched on top of a step-ladder nailed to a wagon. Once again we see a crank-style tiller steering system, which makes sense historically, but feels totally nuts when you're riding shotgun and the driver has the hammer down and is weaving around a bunch of folks trying to load up their gear and get home as soon as possible. And check out the "engine compartment"--which is entirely open and includes hot things, exploding things, thrumming belts, and a roaring weighted flywheel. On the one hand, it's behind you, so it's not like you'll be pitched into that churning mass of combustion and gear-ratios on a hard stop. On the other hand, if you're a big goofus with a habit of draping his long arms behind the seat while riding in a car, you can loose a finger in a flash. Speaking of which, here's me looking like a total goofus on this lil slice of modern human history (all fingers intact):