The Cartercar is probably the most
well-known and best-built friction drive automobile. Named
for Byron J. Carter,
an early automobile pioneer, the Cartercar
was produced in small quantities in Jackson, MI, between 1903 and
1905 by Byron Carter, by the Motorcar Company of
Detroit from 1905 to 1908 and by the Motorcar Company renamed as
the Cartercar Company from 1908 to 1915 in Pontiac,
MI. The Cartercar Company was purchased by General
Motors in 1909, which owned the Cartercar Company through the end
of production in 1915.
Byron J. Carter
had many different businesses in Jackson MI before
delving into automobiles. He bought one of the first
automobiles built in Michigan in 1896 and had built his own
vehicle by 1899. In 1902 he was a co-founder of the Jackson
Automobile Company which built both gasoline and steam vehicles.
In 1903 he first built his own friction drive automobile
and filed for a
patent for the friction drive transmission which was granted in
1904. The Motorcar Company was founded in 1905 with other
investors to expand this business and build friction drive
Cartercars. Byron Carter died in 1908 and his death has been noted as the
motivation for creating the first successful automotive electric
starter found in the 1912
The most novel feature of the Cartercar was the "gearless
transmission" which had "no gears to strip," "no clutch to slip,"
"unlimited speeds," "climbs a 50% grade," "no jerks or jars," and
more! Different gear ratios (including reverse) are obtained
by using a lever to move the friction wheel driving the rear axle
to different spots on the friction disk which is driven by the
motor. There were many exhibitions of Cartercars climbing
steep grades and city steps to demonstrate the performance of the
friction drive transmission. Some, such
as NASA, consider the Cartercar friction drive
transmission to be a forerunner of the Continuously Variable
This site is a work-in-progress to document Cartercar history and production. It will be improved as time and information permit.
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