A Glossary of Early Electric Car Terms


Car language evolved from carriage language, mostly from France and England.

These are terms as they were used for electric vehicles with direct current traction motors made before 1940.

                                                            Galen Handy v2.5




The front roof supports, usually framing the windshield. All of the pillars hold up the roof; they usually frame doors or windows. In many small Coupés and Roadsters the doors open at the rear and are hinged at the A pillars. With many Broughams, having front quarter windows, the doors are hinged at the B pillars, or, when they open at the front, at the C pillars. Modern station wagons also have D pillars.



One Ampere is the amount of electrical current produced by one Volt across a load of one Ohm. The more Amperes demanded by the load, the thicker the supply wire needs to be. With the lower resistance of thicker wires less power is wasted as heat, and more is delivered to the load.

It can be useful to think of direct current (DC) circuits in water terms, the Amperage is like water current (bigger pipe, more flow), and Voltage is the pressure. When Amperage is multiplied by Voltage the result is Wattage, a basic measure of energy flow. The main flaw in the analogy is that water has mass and is highly variable in velocity, whereas electrons have (nearly) no mass and the current (not the electrons) usually travels at nearly the speed of light.



A unit for measuring the amount of electric energy produced by, or consumed by, an electrical device over time. Used for rating battery capacity.



Traditionally, the spinning central part of a motor. DC traction motors used the Siemens type of armature. In a few motors, the field coil magnet array, which is the surrounding complement to the armature, also spun. This allowed a single traction motor to act like a differential to a pair of drive wheels. Said to deliver more useful power than a standard motor of similar size.

Modern AC traction motors typically have a permanent magnet rotor with stationary field coils, allowing very low maintenance brushless designs. Internal Permanent Magnet motors can spin faster than 10,000 rpm, with a relatively flat torque curve. 



The standard wheel type on most cars 1902-1930. The rim was attached to the hub with hardwood spokes, preferably of second growth hickory. The main difference between this wheel and those used on horse carriages is that the ends of the spokes that merged at the hub were wedge shaped so that they were in a tight cluster. Wagon wheels had spokes that were simply mortised into the hubs. This design allowed greater torque to be delivered to the wheel from the axle or hub without breaking the spokes. Artillery wheels were often made slightly dished (conical) with the rim just slightly further out than the hub. This allowed the spokes more flexibility to absorb road shock, and gave greater strength to the outside wheel while cornering.

Sometimes these were called an “Archibald” or wedge wheel. They were invented for motor vehicle use by British steam carriage maker Walter Hancock around 1834.



The shaft on which a wheel rotates. Either the wheel spun on a fixed axle, or the axle and wheel spun together, which is known as a live axle. A fixed axle may be a short stub on which the wheel is mounted, or occupy the entire span between the wheels to keep them in alignment.

The term “rear-axle” is often used in reference to the entire assembly of support and rotation between wheels, including the drive and differential gearing.





Commonly, the roof support pillars between the front and rear doors of a sedan, or behind the doors of a Coupé. They may also be set back from the A pillars by a glass section. The second pillars from the front.



Coined for electrical purposes around 1750 by Benjamin Franklin to describe a set of two or more storage capacitors wired together. From the military term for a phalanx of guns, a “gun battery.”

Any number of individual cells that store or produce electrical energy, connected together electrically, whether in series or parallel, is called a battery. An individual cell is conventionally called a battery, just as a cent is commonly called a “penny.”

Unless some cells are outside of the main circuit (i.e. a 12 Volt lighting and accessory circuit), each electric car has only one battery.



A bearing is a point of support and/or pivot. In motorcars, most bearings deal with reducing friction between rotating and stationary parts. Horse drawn vehicles had slow rotational speeds with high pressure points, and used simple sleeve bearings. Roller bearings were sometimes used for the lighter faster vehicles. With the advent of railroads, the conflation of heavy loads and faster speeds gave new consideration to friction reduction. Anywhere heat is generated there is lower efficiency.



          Plain, Sleeve:          Bushings made of low friction material, such as bronze or Babbitt metal (typically tin, with antimony & copper) to lower friction between a rotating component and its support.


          Ball:             A simple concept, but fairly hard to manufacture. Hard steel balls, of exactly the same size, roll in grooved races just barely wider than the balls. These have very low rolling resistance, but the load is concentrated on relatively small contact areas. The ball bearing was not very useful for heavy vehicles until new alloys created incredibly strong steel. Ball bearings will take thrust loading, sleeve and simple roller bearings won’t.


          Roller:          little rods rolling between a shaft and a hub. Roller bearings became popular in vehicles due to the higher load capacity. Roller bearings have no inherent resistance to thrust. Timken solved this with a pair of tapered bearings, having a grove near one end that mated with a ridge in the race. Two sets of tapered bearings, mounted in opposing directions, handle thrust, and make excellent wheel bearings.


          Thrust:         These are forces that are in directions other then the principal alignment of the bearing to the load. Ball bearings (in races) will inherently take some thrust.

When designing a ball bearing for thrust, housings with a double set of balls in parallel races are often employed.



A heavy woven fabric, with lengthwise ribs resembling corduroy.



The line running around a car body, approximately level with the top of the radiator, the base of the windshield, and of the side windows; it may be raised, painted, striped, or indented; and often served as a natural division for multiple color paint schemes.



Any device that slows or stops a moving object. Also used to refer to a style of vehicle.



          Wagon:                  A wood “shoe” - often faced with rawhide - which was applied to the outer rim (or tire) of one or more (usually two) wheels by means of simple mechanical leverage. A similar metal friction component on early bicycles was known as a spoon brake.


          Band:           A steel band, which wraps around the outside of a drum. By tightening the band, considerable friction is applied to the drum. The drum was generally iron or brass, and was at the motor (as a motor brake), on the drive shaft, and/or at the wheels. The band was sometimes faced with leather or a composite material.


          Expanding:   A pair of shoes inside a drum that are made to press against the inside rim by mechanical or (after WWI) hydraulic leverage. The standard “drum brake” of today.


          Contracting: The opposite of expanding, with the shoes pressing on the outside of the drum, sometimes called a clasp brake. Contracting brakes were more susceptible to environmental factors such as water and dirt. The use of both Contracting and expanding brakes together reduced heat dissipation, leading to greater brake fade.


          Dynamic:               Electromagnetic loading by resistance. The motor is used as a generator and is presented with a load. The load may be pure resistance, where the momentum becomes heat, just as with a friction brake, or the battery (regenerative braking).


          Electric Disc:         Elmer Sperry put the first known disc brakes on an electric car in 1898, they were on the front wheels and electromagnetic. Some electric cars, beginning around 1912, used an electric brake at the motor that was like a single-disc clutch. The surfaces were pushed together electro-magnetically with solenoids. Detroit Electric used such a brake in its 1914-1917 cars.


BREAK (usually spelled Brake):

The break was a heavy wagon with bench seats on a high platform having one or more row facing forward. The dashboard was of heavy wood, across the front, projecting forward at an angle. It got its name from the original design purpose of breaking horses to carriage, the design gave protection to the driver from a horse kicking or bucking, while discouraging this behavior. It came to mean an open motor carriage with a high forward facing front seat and a pair of vis-à-vis seats in the tonneau.

The spelling “Brake” is more popular but less informative, and has come to mean a station wagon, particularly in Europe.



Wool cloth woven on a broad loom, that has been pre-shrunk by the use of trip hammers in hot soapy water, so that the finished product was of standard width; this made for a very tight weave that was resistant to water, wear, and fraying.

Wool broadcloth was used for auto upholstery.

It was often twilled; a weave with progressive rows of warp creating a ribbed pattern; or a napped wool or other worsted (long straight fiber) fabric, with a smooth, lustrous, face and a dense texture.

In the US, the name was also used for cotton, or cotton wool blend, poplin.



The Brougham was named for Scots jurist, and Lord Chancellor of Great Britton (1830-1834), Henry Brougham.

This was a Coupé, which is French for “cut,” with a front windshield so that Sir Henry could see where he was going.

For classic electric cars it came to be used for the larger Coupés. Where a Coupé ends and a Brougham begins was a matter left to the marketing department. Various manufacturers used the two terms interchangeably for similar bodies. “Brougham” was thought to have more status.

Most companies called an enclosed car where the doors started at the windshield frame (“A” pillar) Coupés. If there was a bit of glass between the door and windshield, it was an extension Coupé or Brougham.

After 1915, most fully enclosed coach like electric cars were called Broughams.



The parts of a motor that deliver electricity to the commutator on the armature (or spinning field). They are generally made of carbon, and are spring loaded to maintain good contact with the commutator segments, which are copper.



A simple four-wheel (in US, 2-wheel in UK) horse drawn vehicle with a front seat, folding top, and a box or flat bed in back.



A 3 or 4 bow folding-top, without permanent side curtains, as used on a buggy or runabout.




In Brougham bodies, the third set of roof supports; located between the rear door/window and the small window in the rear ¼-panel. Doors that opened at the front, traditional for electrics made in Cleveland, such as Baker or Rauch & Lang, were hinged to the C pillar.



Before 1908, this was a vehicle for hire in which two or more passengers were enclosed in a cabin, or partially enclosed as with a Hansom cab, while the driver was situated some distance away; usually up front and unprotected, or seated high up at the rear. Later cabs let the driver come in out of the weather.



Derived from a French verb describing a prancing horse. It was initially used to describe a light, open, two-seat, horse-drawn carriage, fitted with a top that could be raised to protect the occupants in inclement weather. Later, it came to designate a two door convertible (drop head) automobile for two or three passengers. Distinguished from a roadster by side windows, so that the cabin could be completely enclosed.



Initially a train car, after 1880 the term usually referred to a streetcar. It came to be the common US term for an automobile sometime around 1915.



Carriages are any dry land passenger conveyance, usually supported by wheels. Originally used for horse drawn road vehicles, later for rail cars.



1.       A device for providing electricity; either electrochemical, with an anode and a cathode, as poles in the same electrolytic bath; or a solid-state component, such as a solar cell, that produces electrical energy from light or heat. Fuel cells use controlled oxidation of a gas to produce more electricity than heat.

2.       Minimalist inconvenient housing; often noisy, rarely private.


          Given an electrical path, current will flow from one pole of a cell to the other, until the electrochemical reaction is exhausted, or, in the case of a fuel cell, it runs out of fuel or oxidizer.

          Cell plates are made of dissimilar electrically conductive materials in an electrolyte that may be acid or alkaline. With a lead-acid cell both plates are lead, but the positive plate has a lead oxide coating.

          Regardless of size, or number of plates, the voltage of any cell is determined by the basic electro-chemistry. The working surface area available to the electrolyte from both plate surfaces determines the storage capacity of each cell (relative to others of type).

          Depending on cell type, there can be a significant difference between open circuit Voltage and Voltage under load. This usually indicates a cell with higher internal resistance.


          Any number of cells, electrically connected in any combination of series and/or parallel, is called a Battery.


          An individual cell may also be called a battery, and groups of cells not electrically connected are commonly (but incorrectly) called batteries. This leads to some linguistic confusion. Better to call a cell a cell.


          A primary cell is used until exhausted, then disposed of.

When the electrochemical reaction is reversible, it is called a secondary or rechargeable battery, or an accumulator.



A horse drawn coach had an enclosed cabin suspended by means of leather bands or springs from a sub-frame holding the wheels. Typically, four to eight passengers sat vis-à-vis at the front and rear. Windows were on the sides, at the ends of the seats, and/or in the doors. The driver sat high and outside at the front (on a “box” seat). Coaches for hire, such as stagecoaches, sometimes had additional passenger seating on the roof.

With an inside drive vehicle; the driver’s seat must have a view of the road, so they were “cut” coaches, cut is “coupé” in French. Essentially half of a coach, they had a back seat facing a front windshield. Coupés and Broughams are both cut coaches.

The electric car companies pioneered enclosed inside-drive road vehicles in 1898. Although they only had a small share of the overall car market, the majority of enclosed automobiles in the US were still electric as late as 1915.



The electrical contacts for moving motor windings. They are made of copper, with segments arranged around the armature shaft, electrically insulated from the shaft and each other, as the face of a cylinder, or in rings. Electricity is transferred through carbon brushes from stationary wires held by the motor fame to the freely spinning windings.



Heavy-duty electrical switches; for controlling the speed and direction (forward/reverse) of an electric vehicle.



A car having a folding or removable top, with lift-up or removable windows, converting the car from open to fully enclosed.

Some makes, before the mid teens, such as Waverley and Woods, had removable Coupé bodies that were put on top of open models; true convertibles.



Early cars had either leather, rubberized fabric, or mohair (Angora goat hair) tops that could be raised to keep out inclement weather or lowered to take in the sun and sights.

Leather tops were usually made with a black patent leather exterior, backed by a cotton or wool padded, rubber-impregnated cloth.

Rubberized tops were made of high quality, rubber-covered, 3-ply cloth, web-reinforced with heavy woven backing; they were padded with cotton or wool.

Mohair tops were stitched from black mohair Mackintosh cloth. Unlike wool from sheep, Mohair does not “shrink” from weather exposure.

Many preferred the rubberized top as it held its shape well, and gave the car a smooth top line when raised.



A two door enclosed car for two or more passengers. Originally, motorized versions had a driving position outside of the cabin, as with a draft vehicle. Correctly pronounced "koo-pay," a "coop" is for the birds.

The inside drive electric Coupé was introduced in 1899 by Elmer Sperry (the Cleveland) as a “Doctors Coupé.” This model was designed for, and marketed to, individuals with money who were expected to travel at all hours and in all weather.

They soon became popular with wealthy independent women who liked to drive themselves, and were not fond of inclement weather, dust, or grime.



An intermediate drive shaft, aka “jackshaft.” Originally from the line shaft and belt drive systems used in factories and such. In chain-drive cars, these are the shafts between the drive system (motor, reduction gears, and differential) and the drive sprockets. The name is from the shaft rotating in the opposite direction from the primary drive shaft.



In the context of classic electric car bodies, it is usually the shaped metal body panel between the engine hood and the windshield or dasher. Often used to move the firewall and front hood forward for more legroom. Some large gasoline touring cars were dual-cowl, with a secondary division and windshield behind the front seat.



The mechanism used to raise and lower windows and windshields.




When a vehicle turns, the opposite wheels rotate at different speeds. When wheels turn individually on axles, this is not a factor. When two drive wheels are turned by a common axle, a device is needed to allow them to turn at different speeds, while being under the same amount of torque. The mechanism that accomplishes this is the differential. The first heavy electrics simply had an independent motor at each drive wheel.



Either a solid disc attached to the wheel hub supporting the rim at its outer perimeter; or a thin, decorative disc, that hid the spokes of the wheels.

Disc wheels were typically nickel, black, or the color of the body.



Early horseless carriages, with motors placed under the vehicle (usually under the seats) were sometimes referred to as dogcarts. The term came from small two or four passenger horse drawn carts, with boxes under the seats for the transport of hunting dogs. The engine was put in the doghouse.



          Center-hinged:        both front and rear doors are hinged to the "B" pillar, aft of (or adjacent to) the front seat.


          Front-hinged:         Standard on modern cars; the front doors are hinged at the "A" pillars and the rear doors at the "B" pillars.


          Rear-hinged: popularly known as "suicide doors” as the wind, at speed, could throw them open with force. The front doors are hinged at the "B" pillars and the rear ones at the "C" pillars.


          Center opening:     front doors hinged at the "A" pillar and rear doors at the "C" pillar, this made for easy access of passengers and loading of parcels.



Either the location of the vehicle operator, or of the drive-chain transferring motor power to the road.



From the British: any top that can be lowered out of the way.



Until about 1930, car doors did not extend below the frame rails. In 1928, the French coachbuilder Gaston Grummer dropped the doors to running board level, covering the valances.



The car’s frame rails were lower at the center than at the axles, allowing a lower threshold and floor. Became popular with electrics in the mid-teens.



An exterior nitrocellulose paint first used on 1923-24 General Motors Vehicles, with quick drying properties that speeded up automobile production. Ford had only offered cars in black as it dried faster, color paint had taken a couple of weeks to dry. GM spent so much money on colorful paint that DuPont became a major shareholder.




In Standard English, engine is synonymous with motor. For most engineers, an engine is a type of motor, but an electric motor is not an engine.

These are heat engines, which are motors that convert thermal differential into mechanical force. The most basic ones are the hot-air engines, such as the Stirling, which can be powered by any external heat source, including solar. The earliest and largest ones are steam engines, which take advantage of the immense volumetric and pressure increase of boiled water to move pistons or turbines. Internal combustion engines (I.C.E.) use the pressure resulting directly from the expansion of gases as the products of combustion, to move the pistons or turbines.




Fenders covered the wheels to reduce the impact of mud and rocks flung from the tires. Also known as mudguards (archaic) or wings (GB). They are of various types: cycle, flat, ridged, crowned, skirted, and clamshell. The earliest electrics had cycle type fenders made of leather stretched over steel frames.



The motor windings at the inside of the motor case, wound around the radial field magnets. In traction motors (typically with four poles), they are often grouped in two sets for speed control. They may be wired in series with the armature, or in parallel.



At or near the rated motor speed, the Voltage from induction currents between the components (back EMF) gets close to equaling the battery supply voltage. This kills current flow, and keeps the motor from spinning faster. This can be overcome to a modest extent by limiting the current flow through the field coils by means of a shunt, allowing the motor to spin faster, but reducing available torque (doesn’t help climb hills), and wasting valuable energy as heat, reducing range.




Archaic term for the chassis or platform of a car, as in “running-gear.” Also used to mean one’s equipage.



Moving (with rare exception) parts, cut with teeth in matched sets, to transfer torque and motion. They can be used for change in rotational speed, torque, and direction. Most gear types were used by clock makers, long before automobiles came about.

There is a direct linear relationship between an increase in rotational speed to a reduction in torque, and vise-versa.



          Spur:                      Wheels or cylinders on parallel shafts with the teeth cut straight across the face or edge parallel to the axis of rotation. Often found at the end of a motor’s armature shaft, or other drive shaft, to engage a ring gear, or a rack. On cars made before 1902, they were generally small gears on both motor shafts mated to very large ring gears mounted on or near the drive wheels. In one-motor cars, they were used to drive a ring gear mated to the drive axle(s), or reduction gears driving intermediate shafts, which drove the wheels through sprockets and chains. Spur gears tend to be noisy. They were sometimes made out of rawhide to reduce the noise.


          Pinion:                   The smaller gear in a set, usually the gear on the end of a shaft for driving a ring or crown gear. They may be straight, bevel, and/or helical cut.


          Rack:                     A toothed section or rail that has teeth cut to mesh with a pinion gear, thus transferring rotational motion to lateral motion without slipping, such as a cog railway, or rack and pinion steering. In a few early electrics, with king-pin front wheel carriages, they were curved.


          Ring:                      The teeth can be cut on the inside, outside, or face. On the inside they are generally straight cut; on the outside either straight or herringbone. When on the face they are usually a helical cut, as with the ring and pinion gears in contemporary rear axles.

When the teeth are cut on the outside, the ring turns the opposite direction of the drive pinion. When cut on the inside, they turn the same direction.


          Bevel:                     Can be used where the gears are not on parallel shafts. Teeth are cut at an angle to the direction of spin, mating with a complementary angle on the other gear. The teeth can be cut straight, radial, or helical.


          Crown:                   An archaic gear with teeth on the side of the rim. Usually associated with the escapement of a mechanical clock.


          Helical:                  Erroneously called spiral gears; they include worm, herringbone, and spiral-bevel gears. Although quieter than strait-cut gears they create lateral thrust.

On semi-parallel shafts, they are known as skew gears.


          Hypoid:                 The classic modern ring-and-pinion gear set between the drive shaft and the driving axles of an automobile is a spiral bevel, cut as a hypoid pinion gear, mated to a hypoid ring gear. They are quiet, and spread the torque evenly. The torque is carried by more than one tooth at a time. The spur is mounted slightly above or below the pivot center of the ring gear. They are a cross between Helical and Worm gears.


          Herringbone:         A double helical gear. The herringbone pattern gives the advantages of other helical gears (less noise, more working surface area), without creating thrust loads. In practice the herringbone pinion gear often has free lateral play on the motor (or intermediate) shaft making the alignment self-adjusting. Splines, or a sliding key channel, prevent rotation on the shaft. The teeth are chevron shaped, and were made in halves bolted or pressed together with dowel pins. Usually, the pinion gear is steel and the ring gear is brass.


          Planetary:               An epicyclical speed reduction and/or differential gear-set using two or more (often four) smaller outside toothed (planetary) gears, meshing with the inside (internal) teeth of a larger ring gear. These planetary gears are held in a carrier frame (spider) driven by a sun gear at the center. This allows for a significant ratio between the inner sun gear and outer ring gear in a small package, or, when geared one to one (as with a differential), both output sides have the same potential torque, but can turn at different speeds. Differentials typically use straight cut bevel ring and planet gears.


          Spiral:          Bevel gears where the teeth are curved rather than straight, like a cross between a spur and a worm gear. See helical.


          Sprocket:               Toothed wheel for driving a chain (not technically a gear).


          Worm:         A helically cut pinion gear, usually longer than wide, which mates with a worm wheel. Used in cars to achieve a 90-degree change in direction with a reduction in speed and increase in torque. As more than one tooth is in contact with the mated gear wheel teeth at a time, they can take a greater load than straight cut teeth. They are also much quieter. Some worm gears have an hourglass shape to conform to the curve of the worm wheel. The Worm spur gear can be mounted at the top or bottom of the ring gear. Due to higher friction from the sliding faces, they are less efficient than some other ring and pinion gear sets.




Designed in 1834 by British architect Joseph Aloysius Hansom, and perfected by John Chapman. This is the one-horse two-passenger cab with the driver up top behind the cabin. They are often featured in Victorian London dramas such as Sherlock Holmes. The design was adapted for electric taxies by the Electric Vehicle Co, and quite a few ran on Manhattan Island in the early 1900’s. It was a design for easy egress, which went out of style due to minimal weather protection, especially for the driver.



A patented fiberboard. Homasote (Agasote) panels have a high degree of weather-resistance and became a popular automotive roofing material in the mid-teens through the mid-twenties.



A measurement of traction force in motion, coined by James Watt to rate his steam engines. Horses were measured as producing 23,000-32,400 foot-pounds of work per minute.

In practice, a horse can briefly produce as much as 15-hp from a static position (i.e. out of mud), but less than 1-hp for a useful (four hour) work cycle. It is said that around 3-hp is actually produced, but 2-hp is needed to move the horse.

One horsepower is 746 Watts. The rating for a motor is the output power.

When an electric traction motor is given a horsepower rating, it is a bit like the horse. An early traction motor rated at 2-hp will usually give continuous service up to 4-hp and briefly produce 10-hp. As with a horse, series wound motors have maximum torque at low speed, and require no clutch.

The internal combustion engine has maximum torque near 3/4 speed, and maximum horsepower near top speed. A motor rated at ten horsepower will only deliver it to the wheels at speed. From a dead stop, they depend on gears and a clutch to produce useful torque. If more than the rated power is demanded, it will stall. When an I.C.E. engine stalls it quits, when an electric motor stalls, it still produces torque, at least until it burns out.

Piston type steam engines are also similar to the horse as a traction motor, but they are limited by the ability of the boiler to store and deliver steam.




A transparent material used for windows in folding car tops. Several materials were called isinglass at one time or other, none of them held up well when exposed to (one or more of) abrasion, weather, ultra-violet light, or ozone.

Originally, it was used in reference to material made from a Sturgeon’s swim bladder, or thin sheets of mica. Later it was used for other transparent, preferably flexible, plastic materials used in rear windows and side curtains.

Although impervious to most environmental hazards, Mica is stiff and easily scratched or cut. As it will tolerate high heat, mica was often used as the window for the firebox of a boiler or furnace.




Auxiliary seats that folded into the firewall, a division partition, or the rear of the front seat, and could accommodate up to 3 adults, facing the rear seats in relative comfort. They were fitted in a number of the larger Broughams, sedans, limousines and touring cars.




From the German city of Landau. It was used in earlier times to describe an open, 4-wheel, horse-drawn carriage, having two opposite-facing seats, aligned in parallel with the wheel axles, with one or two folding tops covering both the front and the rear seats.



These could be functional or purely decorative; they are to be seen on many formal sedans, hearses, and limousines fitted with leather or rubberized roof covering. They could be painted or plated according to customer preference. When functional, they formed an integral part of the folding mechanism for the roof. The decorative irons were attached to the rear roof quarters whereas the functional ones reached down below the belt line.



An automobile in which the driver's compartment is separated from the passenger area by a glass division. This was generally a formal body style with a leather or cloth roof portion over the rear seating area that could be folded back to afford the occupants the pleasure of an open-air ride. The Landaulet feature (folding roof) was reserved mostly for town cars, although it was occasionally used on sedans and limousines.



A smaller two-door car with a Landaulet roof (the top over the rear seats folds down).



From the French word for belonging to, or being from, the town of Limoges; a place more famous for fine porcelain, tableware, and oak for Cognac barrels.

The limousine generally differed from a sedan in having a partition between a chauffeur, in the front, and the rear passenger compartment.  When the driver’s compartment is fully enclosed it is called a Berline.

In the mid-teens: most electric car brands used this term for an Extension Brougham with front or duplex drive, they had no partition. Rauch & Lang called this style a Coach.




The yarn and cloth produced from the hair of Angora goats. Mohair is robust and easy to clean. Used for folding top material or, with a pile surface, in seating fabrics. It is often blended, and gives fabrics a nice sheen. The smooth hair surface did not cause shrinkage as with sheep’s wool.

J.C. Haartz of Boston, MA introduced mohair to the North American auto industry in 1907.



Any device that converts electrical current or thermal energy into mechanical force. The energy source in a vehicle is usually from a chemical reaction.

Most DC traction motors were series wound, with the armature in series with the field windings. Although they had a high-end speed limit, speed was largely regulated by Voltage. They had maximum torque at or near zero rpm.

Parallel wound motors had the armature and field windings wired in parallel. These had far less torque at zero rpm, and with no load, would run at the same speed regardless of voltage. They had the advantage of working as a generator when the vehicle’s inertia turned the motor, allowing regenerative braking.




Most electric coupés were thought of as Opera Coupés, as they were typically used on formal occasions, especially after dark, the touring car was left in the garage.

 In our Ford-centric world, they were coupes with small folding seats behind the front seats.



Sidelights (carriage lights) mounted on the center (B) pillar, or front quarter panel, depending on the direction of the door opening. These lights illuminated egress.




A synthetic leather material used for the folding tops of some landaulet models; it was less flexible than canvas, but afforded greater protection in inclement weather. Introduced in 1905 by the Pantasote Company of New York as the first surface-coated double texture material that could withstand exposure to gasoline and oils. Thus, it became one of the favored choices of carmakers throughout North America. Available in a standard black surface coating, with a few choices of embossing patterns, as well as brown and two shades of red. 

The word was also used generically for any surface-coated, double ply fabric.



Components in an electrical circuit are connected in parallel or series. When in parallel they are all supplied with the same voltage, when in series they divide the voltage between them, depending on the relative impedance.



From the Greek Phaethon, son of Helios, who drove his father’s sun chariot recklessly.

Phaëtons were open cars with a folding top for inclement weather; they often had a seat behind the top for the servants (or children). These sporty owner-driven four-wheel vehicles were lighter than standard carriages. The small Victorias were a type of Phaëton.

The term was later used for some gasoline touring models.




The side window behind the rear door.

On the classic electric “Clear Vision” electric Brougham, they are the curved glass sections at the front and rear corners.




A radius rod is a ridged member, hinged at one or both ends, so that either end is held in a given radius to the other. In a chain-drive car the term usually refers to the rod between the drive sprocket and the sprocket on the wheel (or axle), keeping the chain at proper tension. When used for this purpose the length of the rod is adjustable.



Rods between the front and rear axles used to keep them in place relative to each other, generally employed as a parallel or trapezoidal pair, occasionally as a wishbone. Necessary on a vehicle with full elliptical springs.

Reach rods were common on horse drawn vehicles, partly to transfer pull directly to the rear axle, rather than though the carriage body.

They were little used after around 1909, as semi-elliptical spring mounting or other axle locating methods, became more popular. Reach rods required a relatively high clearance above the roadbed.



A continuously variable resistor for limiting current to a load, thus dimming a light or slowing a motor. The energy diverted from the load is wasted as heat.



An American term referring to an open bodied car with one bench seat or two bucket seats. Roadsters usually have two doors (without windows) and a windshield, Runabouts & Phaëtons generally don’t. Convertibles have roll up, or removable, side windows and a removable top.



A piano box runabout; open top with a bench seat up front and a small flat area behind, often with side panels like a pickup truck. A term used by Studebaker for their runabouts, and a Baker model.



The body panel below the doorsills and between the front and rear wheels.



An early American design for a light two-passenger carriage, originally with no front hood. They had a piano-box body and vertical leather dash. The body was usually mounted on full elliptic springs at the corners with the front and rear axles connected by reach rods. Waverley’s most popular model 1901-1906.



A long step outside of a car’s doors; running between the front and rear fenders. Generally made of a metal or wooden shelf, covered with a rubber mat, or of cast aluminum.




An automobile with two rows of seats facing forward, typically seating four to six passengers, with four doors and a trunk in the rear.



Electrical components are wired in series or parallel. Series components are sequential. As the load, they divide the supply Voltage depending on relative impedance. As a source they are additive.



A rod or tube drive shaft, between the motor and the drive axle. Baker introduced a shaft drive model in 1904. After 1910, most electrics switched from chain to shaft drive. Also known as a propeller shaft.



An electrical shunt diverts some of the current from a component in a circuit. They are wired in parallel with the component. An Ammeter shunt carries the great majority of the current allowing a small precise amount to go through the delicate meter movement.



Any of several patented high-strength drive chains. In early electrics they were used in place of gears for speed reduction from the motor to a drive shaft. They were often housed in an oil-filled case.



          Coil:             A round bar of spring steel made into a coil to increase the working length into a compact space.


          Leaf:            Long flat steel plates that are usually stacked and fastened together in different lengths for varying loads. Friction between the leaves absorbs some rebound, important before the use of shock absorbers (snubbers).


          Elliptical:     Leaf springs that are curved to vary the resistance with the degree of compression. Full elliptical springs have a top and bottom spring, typically in mirror image. Leaf springs were often used in fractions of a full ellipse.



Originally a light one horse two-wheel “gig” built for Captain Henry Fitzroy Stanhope. Also known as a “Tilbury,” after its London coachbuilder. The motor driven versions had four wheels.

Most Victorias were Stanhopes with Victoria tops, others were called Phaëtons.



A vehicle designed to take travelers from the train station to a hotel or estate. Early motorized station wagons were like town cars or Limousines; later the term was used for a utility car, typically with four doors, three rows of seats and no trunk. In Europe often called a “Brake.”



A door hinged at the back and opening at the front. At speed, any chance opening can cause the door to blow backward with great force. The possibility of this throwing the occupant out on to the road, if holding the door, gave the name.



An open body style with a permanent full width rear seat (usually a duplicate of the front), and entrance from both sides (no doors). The name is from a county in England.



A flat canopy top with no side curtains; they traditionally had a fringed edge.




An open bus, typically accommodating six to nine passengers. They were often used by resorts and hotels, for transport and tours.



Any rod retaining relative position from one component to another; to limit or convey movement. With vehicles it usually refers to the rod(s) between the steering gear and the steering knuckle lever(s), and the rod between the left and right levers, which has a threaded adjustment for toe-in.



In rear-drive cars, when front wheels are perfectly parallel, they have a tendency to wander a bit, and can go into a shimmy if there is any play in the steering linkage. This can be remedied by setting a slight toe-in, which keeps the pressure in one direction. As it increases rolling resistance it is kept to a minimum for maximum mileage. Toe-in (or out) also affects handling.



French for “barrel.” The open space behind the front seat of a vehicle. In early passenger vehicles, it referred to a removable passenger seat, or compartment, mounted at the rear of a car’s body, usually with sideways facing seats and a rear entry. Used to convert a delivery vehicle into a passenger vehicle.



The cross members of the folding framework of a convertible top that supports the cloth, leather, or rubberized top, keeping the top tight when in a closed position. Originally made of hardwood, they where later made of metal.



A smooth bodied aerodynamic car, without raised moldings.

For gasoline touring cars; it is when the waistline extends the hood line.



An open car with two, three, or four doors accommodating at least 4-persons on two or three bench seats facing forward; fitted with a folding cloth top (and occasionally side curtains) for use in inclement weather.

More generally; a large family-sized convertible automobile with 4-doors and seating capacity for 4 to 9 passengers.

In the 1920s, especially after the introduction of the all steel body, fully enclosed cars with permanent roofs became the most popular. Enclosed wood framed bodies tended to become “rattle traps.”



A chauffeur-driven automobile, traditionally with an open front. The passenger compartment, separated from the driver by a glass division, had luxurious appointments. Similar models were also known as Station Wagons and Limousines. In the mid teens electric Broughams were sometimes called Town Cars.



An open 2 or 4 seat car driven by the owner. A boxier, heavier car than a piano box runabout or Phaëton, but lighter than a Break.




A joint in a driveshaft that delivers torque whether the shaft is straight or at a slight angle.



An automobile with the frame under the axles. The 1911 model 17 Detroit Electric, and the later Century Electric, had underslung chassis’.




These were similar styles of light carriages, with one forward facing bench seat or two seats vis-à-vis under a Calash top. The Victoria (aka Queen Victoria) was styled after the open horse-drawn carriage made for the British monarch in 1851. The Mylord was always driven by a chauffeur; seated on a box up front.

A Victoria has a folding top with permanent side curtains, giving more privacy to the occupants than a buggy top (the Queen could lean forward to wave at the adoring public). They often had small oval or trapezoidal windows in the side curtains.

The electric Victoria was introduced in 1897 as the Mk V Daumon Victoria by Columbia, an electric carriage close to the equine original, even to the point of having the driving position up high behind the passenger compartment, as if to look over electric horses. William Hooker Atwood of the New Haven Carriage Co probably designed it.

In 1899, a two-passenger Phaëton version with a Victoria top was made by Columbia. It kept the nice curved tulip shape of the original, but was designed to be driven by the owner, with a low threshold for easy entry (good for the long dresses of the period).

This version came to be the standard Victoria, and a popular model for many manufacturers from 1902-1909, after which enclosed cars dominated.



French for face-to-face. Bench seating with passengers facing each other; either side-to-side behind the front seat, or with front and back seats facing each other, as in a stagecoach.



French for a light open carriage or motorcar.



The co-factor with Amperage in electrical power.

In the common water analogy, Voltage would be water pressure and Amperage the flow. The bigger the pipe, or the higher the pressure, the more water passes through in a given time. It is possible to have Voltage without current (static electricity), but not current without Voltage.




Also, kilowatt-hour (kWh). The standard measurement of electrical energy over time. Volts x Amperes = Watts



The distance between the rotational centers of the front wheels and the rear wheels.

A short wheelbase is useful for light cars with minimal materials, whether for economy or racing. In a racecar it is important to keep the mass low on all components – especially at the far ends – to reduce rotational inertia when entering or exiting corners. Short wheelbase cars deliver more road-shock to the passengers, and are susceptible to “road hop,” a pitching motion.

A longer wheelbase, with a heavier body, gives a more comfortable ride. Shock from individual wheels is distributed over a greater distance, and the movement of the wheel and axle components has less affect on the greater relative weight of the frame and body, isolated by springs.



The windshields of early cars consisted of a flat, one-piece, glass pane, set vertically between a frame or the "A" pillars. In the twenties, there was a move towards V-shaped, two-piece windshields, and/or raking the glass back at an angle, cutting down wind noise and improving aerodynamics. When early windshields broke the shards could cause major injury. Now, nearly all windshields use “safety glass,” with glass layers bonded to a clear polymer sheet at the center.



Most of the first generation cars (1895-1905) were built with bicycle technologies, including wire wheels. Wire wheels are very light for the strength they provide; however, the demands of a car are quite different from a bicycle. The wheel of a bicycle only handles the torque a peddler can produce, but an automobile wheel is driven from the hub with several horsepower, causing large twisting forces. A bicycle leans in a curve, so weight remains aligned from the hub to the rim; an automobile puts lateral cornering forces on the wheel. Wire spokes only give support in tension, so the vehicle hangs from the spokes, from the top of the rim to the hub. If one of those spokes is tighter than the others, it supports the entire load. Any bending of the rim throws off the balance and renders the wheel useless.

Wire wheels for motorcars were developed in England. They used thicker tangentially arrayed spokes, wider hubs (to take the lateral loads), and a more robust rim. Many electrics (after 1912) used wire wheels made by Houk in Buffalo NY.

The minimum number of spokes for structural integrity is twelve.



          Ash:             A structural wood with great flexibility, good for frame rails and body ribs. Where exposed to moisture, it was sometimes coated with white lead.


          Birch:           A fine-grained wood, preferred for laminated panels.


          Hickory:      Second growth hickory, long popular for hammer and axe handles, was used in wheel spokes and reach rods. Highly regarded for maximum strength with some flexibility.


          Mahogany:   Used for molding, trim, and plywood, especially where exposed to weather. Tropical hardwoods are usually more resistant to weathering and rot.


          Maple:         A hard, dense, slightly brittle wood; the best choice where wear and abrasion resistance are important. When used to hold electrical components, such as in a controller, dry maple would be cooked in linseed oil to avoid electrical leakage if exposed to water.


          Oak:            A cost-effective structural wood, often used for flooring and battery trays. A bit heavy for its strength, and less flexible than some other choices


          Pine:            White pine was used for body shaping and fill, light and soft. Takes upholstery tacks with minimal splitting.


          Poplar:         Also used for shape and fill. Uniform and easy to work.