A little auto transport history

June 23, 2015
Juxhina Malaj

The history of automobile started back in the 15th century with different automobile types. Such were the steam and gasoline automobiles; the first real automobile was invented by German Karl Benz during the 1885-1886. The automotive industry began a few years after the invention of the first automobile and started to develop in the 1890s. As many of us know, the automotive industry was led for several decades by the United States.

In 1929, before the Great Depression, the world had 32,028,500 automobiles in use, and the U.S. automobile industry produced over 90% of them. At that time the U.S. had one car per 4.87 persons.

With the development of the automotive industry, the auto transport industry was established as well. During the 19th century automobiles were mostly transported by rail. Boxcars would usually carry 2-4 automobiles. Yet, for most auto dealers at that time, rail transportation was not very efficient; it was taking long time and it was expensive. That is why auto dealers started to purchase the cars themselves directly from the manufactures.

Auto transport – 1898 first semi-truck

With the growing number of produced cars, the automobile manufacturers’ necessity to efficiently deliver them to their clients was increasing. Many auto dealers were ‘forced’ to find easier ways to transport their cars.

Scottish-American automobile designer and racer Alexander Winton, (June 20, 1860 – June 21, 1932), started his career as an automobile manufacturer in 1896 in Ohio, after having migrated from Grangemouth Scotland to the US back in 1879. After selling his first cars in 1898, Winton soon realized that in order to deliver his cars to his customers, far away from Ohio, he had to find a quick solution. By loading cars on top of a flat cart, attached on top of the engine and to the back of a modified truck, Winton invented the world’s first semi-truck in Cleveland, Ohio in 1898.

Winton at the 1903 Gordon Bennett trophy race in Ath, Ireland

Winton at the 1903 Gordon Bennett trophy race in Ath, Ireland (source: Wikipedia)

In the same year, Winton was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the Automotive Hall of Fame. In 1899 he sold his first manufactured semi-truck. The trucks were so innovative that Winton Motor Carriage Company soon started manufacturing the semi-trucks for other manufactures approximately a year after the first sale. His semi-truck invention was pretty successful at that time and it was also used to transport goods, but the problem with Winton’s design was that the semi-truck could only transport one car at a time, and it required three people to get the cart attached to the truck.

While the manufacturers’ demand kept going up, Winston’s design did not improve a lot and that is why other car-manufacturers decided to take the initiative in their hands by designing their own semi-trailer trucks.

A good example is the car salesman George Cassens who is known for devising a trailer pulled by a 2-ton truck that could haul four cars. He was pretty successful during the early ‘20s.

Cassens Transport trailer #57 parked at the Hamel terminal in the mid-1940's. Gilbert Honnerkamp, driver

Cassens Transport trailer #57 parked at the Hamel terminal in the mid-1940’s. Gilbert Honnerkamp, driver.
Source: Cassens’ official website www.cassens.com/transport/companyhistory.html

The introduction of bi and tri-level auto transport carriers

During the 40s and 50s railroads were using automobile-loading assemblies in order to fit as many cars as possible within a boxcar, but the new approach proved to be unsuccessful and quite expensive.

In the mid-50s Volkswagen engineers in collaboration with the German railroads designed a two-level flatcar that could carry 10 vehicles on one car. Their design which was first used in 1954 proved very successful and became the first auto rack. Also in 1954 Evans Products developed a bi-level auto-loader that was able to carry six cars on a typical flatcar. Three years later, in 1957, Canadian National Railroad introduced the bi-level auto carriers which were similar to traditional boxcars but had 2 floors, could carry 8 vehicles and had doors at both ends.

The open end of a bi-level autorack that is undergoing repairs

The open end of a bi-level autorack that is undergoing repairs
source: Wikipedia

In 1959 cars started to be shipped by rail loaded on highway auto-carrier trailers that could carry 8 – 10 cars per flat car. In the same year the Saint Louis-San Francisco Railroad invented a bi-level rack prototype mounted on 42-foot flat car. “Satisfied that the basic concept was sound, the railroad contracted with Pullman-Standard to design and construct a full-size tri-level prototype. The result that rolled out of the Pullman plant on January 29, 1960 was SLSF 3000, an 83-foot tri-level car capable of carrying 12 automobiles.”

Air transport and Cargo Ships

While railroads were still finding new ways to fit as any cars in a boxcar as possible and new types of auto transport by land were being invented, airplanes and cargo ships started to further develop the history of auto transport.

Air transport

Before the late 40s, airplanes were used to transport goods and people, but with the increasing demand to transport cars even more efficiently in a short period of time, the need of using air transport increased as well. Auto transport by air dates back to late 40s and early 50s. One of the airplane companies that operated back then was Silver City, which used to transport cars by air between England and France from the late 40s to 60s.

Silver City Airways Freighter 32 loading a car for Cherbourg atSouthampton in September 1954

Silver City Airways Freighter 32 loading a car for Cherbourg atSouthampton in September 1954
source: wikipedia

Cargo ships

In early 60s cargo ships were also able to transport large quantities of cars and became very useful at the time. The US military contracted the Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1957 to construct ‘a new type of motorized vehicle carrier,’ according to Wikipedia. “The ship, the Comet, had a stern ramp as well as interior ramps, which allowed cars to drive directly from the dock, onto the ship, and into place. Loading and unloading was sped up dramatically. Comet also had an adjustable chocking system for locking cars onto the decks and a ventilation system to remove exhaust gases that accumulate during vehicle loading.”

The first pure car carrier (PCC), which could accommodate various types of vehicles, was invented by Japan’s K Line in 1973. The European Highway could carry 4,200 automobiles.

The USNS Comet

The USNS Comet
source: nonplused.org/panos/usns_comet/index.html

Modern auto transport

enclosed multi car carrier

Since the early 80s auto transportation has been evolving rapidly. Today cars are mostly transported by car carrier trucks which are equipped with the latest technology while air freight and sea freight are the most popular ways to transport cars overseas.

Air freight is sometimes also used a lot when it comes to transport cars over very long distances but it is quite expensive for most people. If you are wondering about auto transport costs, you can always call us or request a car shipping quote online. Railway transportation is still used to transport automobiles, but compared to other modes of transportation it is not very popular.

Find answers to the most important auto transport question on our website and then call our team to discuss your car shipping needs. Thank you!

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