These images have been chosen for their uniqueness. Subject matter ranges from
historic events, to really cool phenomena in science and engineering, to relevant
place, to ingenious contraptions, to interesting products (which now has its own
dedicated Featured Product
If the Volt looked like Jay Leno's
Owen Magnetic, Government Motors (GM) wouldn't be able to produce them fast
enough to satisfy demand rather than having them languish on dealers' lots and scheduling
plant shut-down in summer of 2012. The "wow" capacity of the Magnetic
alone would potentially induce car buyers to charge over to Chevy dealerships and
drain their accounts. The Owen Magnetic was one of quite a few turn-of-the-last-century
electric and hybrid cars. I have written before about the purely electric cars that
were produced by Ford and other companies back in the 1910s and 1920s. They were
green when green wasn't cool (*). Women drivers loved
them because it was not necessary to hand-crank the engine.
Owen Magnetic is more like a Prius than a Volt from the standpoint of locomotion.
It uses a gasoline-powered engine to drive a generator that charges a battery that
powers the electric motor. There is no mechanical linkage between the engine and
the wheels other than the motor shaft. The Owen Magnetic is more like the Volt than
the Prius, though, from the standpoint of price. It was so expensive for the available
performance that not many were sold. The Owen Magnetic was unlike either the Prius
or the Volt from the standpoint of appearance and luxury. It is beautiful whereas
the Prius and Volt are butt-ugly. The Owen Magnetic was plugged in ads as "The Car
of a Thousand Speeds."
I look forward to Jay's column in
Popular Mechanics each month. His famous humor combined with an incredible
knowledge of auto mechanics and history always makes for an interesting read. Per
Jay, "The Owen Magnetic's technological leap was its electromagnetic transmission.
Invented by the wonderfully named Justus B. Entz, an electrical engineer from New
York who once worked with Thomas Edison, the electromagnetic transmission compactly
housed both a 24-volt generator and an electric traction motor. The crankshaft of
a 75-hp gas engine was attached to the generator, which sent juice to the traction
motor, which in turn powered the rear wheels." The Owen Magnetic also broke new
ground in regenerative braking since, "with the Owen Magnetic, you rarely have to
get on the brakes unless you need to stop completely, like at a stop sign. If you're
going 35 to 40 mph, you engage "regen" and you coast, or freewheel. As soon as you
hit 25 mph, you feel the transmission go eeehhhhrrr! And the car slows right down
to 3 or 4 mph. Plus, you can watch gauges that show the batteries charging." I'm
wondering whether Toyota is paying royalties to Owen heirs for use of that intellectual
property (IP) in the Prius.
A sophisticated "relay-and-wiring shift
mechanism," commanded by a multi-position shifter on the steering column, is mounted
under the hood alongside the steering column. "I haven't opened mine up because
it seems to work fine. And, quite frankly, I'm frightened to poke around in there.
A plate on it says, 'If something goes wrong, do not attempt to work on this yourself.
Send it back to the factory.' Who would want a car that a blacksmith couldn't
fix?" Car and Driver
writers don't produce lines like that in their reviews!
So, why didn't the electric and hybrid cars of yesteryear dominate and flourish
rather than fossil fuel powered internal combustion engine vehicles? Simple, the
technology simply was not ready for prime time. Neither is it ready today. I wish
it was, but it's not. When a battery-powered Boeing 747 can transport 400 people
and a full payload of cargo from New York to Tokyo, then we will be able to say
we have arrived and the dinosaurs can rest in eternal peace.
Note: If this private collection wasn't owned by someone as universally admired
as Jay Leno, the "99%" would claim he was just a rich guy (1%) who has more than
he deserves at their expense. An effigy of his head on a pike would be a fitting
tribute. Jay uses the fruits of his labor to help preserve and restore history,
as do many self-made wealthy people. The "99%" never want to pay to "share" in the
results of others' works. Yes, there are plenty of scumbag rich people, but have
you looked at the actions of some of the non-rich?
The Owen Magnetic from Jay Leno's Garage
Posted December 17, 2020 (updated from original post on 5/3/2012)
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