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Cartercar FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why is it called the Cartercar? It was named after its inventor - Byron J. Carter.  Note that it is "Cartercar," not "Carter Car," although you will see it written as "Carter Car" in many places. 
What is different about the Cartercar? It has a "friction-drive" transmission.    There are no gears in the transmission, just two wheels that touch each other.  Changing where the wheels touch, by means of a single lever, changes the drive ratio.  Byron Carter received a patent on the transmission in 1904 - US Patent 761,146.
gearless vs ordinary
What is the friction surface? The friction disk was originally made of aluminum. Later cars had an attached separate surface made of a copper alloy. (note: the use of a copper alloy started around 1910). The friction wheel is made of iron, with a "paper" friction surface filler. The paper friction material is still available from Paper Pulleys, Inc. which is a descendant company of the Rockwood Manufacturing Company which originally made them for Cartercar. Cartercar said that the friction disk could last 100,000 miles or more and the friction filler could last from 5,000-20,000 miles (and cost $5.00 to replace).
When were Cartercars made? The last ones were made in 1915.  Dating the first one is a little fuzzier...  Byron Carter had built his own car by at least 1896, but probably did not experiment with the friction drive transmission until around 1901.  By at least 1903, he had built his own complete car with friction drive but it may not yet have been called a "Cartercar."  In 1905, the Motorcar Company was formed and "Cartercars" were advertised for sale.
Where were Cartercars made? Byron Jackson built his first friction drive cars in Jackson, MI.  In the fall of 1905, the Motorcar Company was formed and began building Cartercars in Detroit.   In 1908, the Motorcar Company was renamed to be the Cartercar Company and moved to Pontiac, MI.
How many Cartercars were made? The total number made is unknown.  It is probably around 12,000.  Periodicals reported that 101 Cartercars were made in 1906, 264 in 1907 and 325 in 1908.   Another article said that 500 Cartercars were in use by January 1908. Later years had higher production rates. A December 1914 article reported that "about 10,000" Cartercars are in use (production ended in May of 1915). Serial numbers from surviving cars appear to agree with these numbers.
How many Cartercars are left? There are about 50 Cartercars known to still exist - there are probably more hiding in garages.
Aren't there other Carter cars? Yes, but there is only one "Cartercar" :-) .  The most interesting of these other cars has to be the Carter Two-Engine automobile (also referred to in their company literature as Twin-Engine) which was produced by the Carter Motor Car Corporation.   The same named company also produced the Cartermobile.  There were other auto companies with Carter in the name such as Clark-Carter (Cutting) and Carter International Automobile.
Did Byron Carter's death lead to the first successful electric starter? The biographies of Henry Leland (who put the first successful starter in the 1912 Cadillac) and Charles Kettering (who designed and produced the "Delco" starter in the 1912 Cadillac) both stated that the death of Byron Carter due to a hand-cranking accident was the motivation for the invention of the starter.  This story has been repeated many times, often with inaccuracies.  There is more information here.
How is the Cartercar related to Oakland or Pontiac? They are not really related, but there are some points of confusion that can be found:
  • People are mostly familiar with the Pontiac car that was produced by General Motors from 1926-2009.  Originally this Pontiac was a companion model of the Oakland Motor Car company that joined General Motors about the same time as the Cartercar Company.  Oakland was later renamed to be the Pontiac Motor Car Company after the Pontiac companion model became more popular than the Oakland itself.  The Oakland company was a descendent of the Pontiac Buggy Company of Pontiac.  When Cartercar moved to Pontiac, it took over the factory of the Pontiac Spring & Wagon Works which also produced buggies and was a competitor to the Pontiac Buggy Company.  Just before the Cartercar move, the Pontiac Spring and Wagon Works produced their own automobile which was called the Pontiac.   These Pontiacs are not to be confused with the other Pontiacs:  The Pontiac Motor Car Company of 1906, the Pontiac Motor Car Company of 1913 or the Pontiac Chassis Company of 1915.  See - that was easy... :-)
  • When GM decided to end Cartercar production in May, 1915, it was reported in the press that the Cartercar factory in Pontiac was going to be used to produce a six cylinder model of the Oakland.  This has also led some to write that Cartercar was related to Oakland and consequently Pontiac.  However it is doubtful that any Oaklands were produced at the Cartercar plant. 

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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