Runabout (car)

Last updated
1903 Oldsmobile Curved Dash on the 2009 London to Brighton Veteran Car Run Oldsmobile 1903 Curved Dash Auto on London to Brighton Veteran Car Run 2009.jpg
1903 Oldsmobile Curved Dash on the 2009 London to Brighton Veteran Car Run

A runabout is a car body style that was popular in North America until about 1915. It was a light, basic style with no windshield, top, or doors and a single row of seats. Runabouts eventually became indistinguishable from roadsters and the term fell out of use in the United States. The approach has evolved into the modern "city car".

Automobiles' body styles are highly variable. Some body styles remain in production, while others become less common or obsolete. They may or may not correlate to a car's price, size or intended market classification. The same car model might be available in multiple body styles comprising a model range. Some distinctions, as with four-wheel drive vs. SUV models or minivan vs. MPV models, the distinction between body style and classification can be particularly narrow.

Roadster (automobile) open two-seat car

A roadster is an open two-seat car with emphasis on sporting appearance or character. Initially an American term for a two-seat car with no weather protection, usage has spread internationally and has evolved to include two-seat convertibles.


Description and history

The runabout was a light, inexpensive, open car [1] [2] with basic bodywork and no windshield, top, or doors. [1] Most runabouts had just a single row of seats, providing seating for two passengers. [1] [2] [3] Some also had a rumble seat at the rear to provide optional seating for one or two more passengers; [1] [3] those without rumble seats may have had a trunk platform, a box, or a fuel tank instead. [3] They differed from buggies and high wheelers mainly by having smaller wheels. [1]

Rumble seat Historical automobile element

A rumble seat, dicky seat, dickie seat or dickey seat, also called a mother-in-law seat, is an upholstered exterior seat which folded into the rear of a coach, carriage, or early automobile. Depending on its configuration, it provided exposed seating for one or two passengers.

Buggy (automobile) car

Buggy is generally used to refer to any lightweight automobile with off road capabilities and sparse bodywork. Most are built either as a kit car or from scratch.

High wheeler

A high wheeler is a car which uses large diameter wheels that are similar to those used by horse-drawn vehicles. These cars were produced until about 1915, predominantly in the United States.

Early runabouts had their engines under the body toward the middle of the chassis. [1] This sometimes made maintenance difficult, as on the Oldsmobile Curved Dash where the body had to be removed in order to access the engine. [4] The Gale runabout dealt with this problem by hinging the body at the rear of the car such that it could be tilted to access the engine. [4] [5] Some later runabouts had the engine in what became the conventional position at the front of the car. [1]

A mid-engine layout describes the placement of an automobile engine between the rear and front axles and generally behind the passenger compartment.

Oldsmobile Curved Dash car model

The gasoline-powered Curved Dash Oldsmobile is credited as being the first mass-produced automobile, meaning that it was built on an assembly line using interchangeable parts. It was introduced by the Oldsmobile company in 1901 and produced through 1907; 425 were produced the first year, 2,500 in 1902, and over 19,000 were built in all. When General Motors assumed operations from Ransom E. Olds on November 12, 1908, GM introduced the Oldsmobile Model 20, which was the 1908 Buick Model 10 with a stretched wheelbase and minor exterior changes.

Western Tool Works (automobile company)

Western Tool Works was a pioneering brass era automobile manufacturer in Galesburg, Illinois. The company made Gale automobiles from 1904 to 1910. Early Gale runabouts were notable for having bodywork hinged at the rear of the car that could be lifted to ease access to the engine, essentially making the entire body the hood.

1907 Cadillac Model K at AutoWorld in Brussels 1907 cadillac model k autoworld brussels.jpg
1907 Cadillac Model K at AutoWorld in Brussels

Runabouts were popular in North America from the late 19th century to about 1915. [1] They were designed for light use over short distances. [6] By the mid-1910s, they became almost indistinguishable from roadsters. [7]

Notable examples of runabouts include the Oldsmobile Curved Dash mentioned earlier, which was the first mass-produced car, [4] and the Cadillac runabout, which won the Dewar Trophy for 1908 by demonstrating its use of interchangeable parts. [8]

Mass production production of large amounts of standardized products

Mass production, also known as flow production or continuous production, is the production of large amounts of standardized products, including and especially on assembly lines. Together with job production and batch production, it is one of the three main production methods.

Cadillac Runabout and Tonneau The first Cadillac automobiles

The first Cadillac automobiles were the 1903 Model built in the last quarter, 1902. These were 2-seater "horseless carriages" powered by a reliable and sturdy 10 hp (7 kW) single-cylinder engine developed by Henry Martyn Leland and built by Leland and Faulconer Manufacturing Company of Detroit, of which Henry Leland was founder, vice-president and general manager.

The Dewar Trophy was a cup donated in the early years of the twentieth century by Sir Thomas R. Dewar, M.P. a member of parliament of the United Kingdom (UK), to be awarded each year by the Royal Automobile Club of the United Kingdom "to the motor car which should successfully complete the most meritorious performance or test furthering the interests and advancement of the [automobile] industry".

Later use of the term

The 1964 GM Runabout was a three wheel concept car first exhibited at Futurama II, part of the 1964 New York World's Fair. The car was designed specifically for housewives and had detachable shopping carts built into it. [9]

Three-wheeler vehicle with three wheels

A three-wheeler is a vehicle with three wheels. Some are motorized tricycles, which may be legally classed as motorcycles, while others are tricycles without a motor, some of which are human-powered vehicles and animal-powered vehicles.

Concept car an automobile manufactured to showcase design features that may be present in a future production model

A concept car is a car made to showcase new styling and/or new technology. They are often shown at motor shows to gauge customer reaction to new and radical designs which may or may not be mass-produced. General Motors designer Harley Earl is generally credited with inventing the concept car, and did much to popularize it through its traveling Motorama shows of the 1950s.

Futurama (New York Worlds Fair) exhibit/ride at the 1939 New York Worlds Fair

Futurama was an exhibit and ride at the 1939 New York World's Fair designed by Norman Bel Geddes, which presented a possible model of the world 20 years into the future (1959–1960). The installation was sponsored by the General Motors Corporation and was characterized by automated highways and vast suburbs.

The term "runabout" is still in use in the UK, denoting a small car used for short journeys. [10]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Haajanen 2003, p. 116.
  2. 1 2 Georgano 1973, p. 216.
  3. 1 2 3 Clough 1913, p. 258.
  4. 1 2 3 Sedgwick 1972, p. 26.
  5. Georgano 1971, p. 86.
  6. Clough 1913, p. 325.
  7. Clough 1913, pp. 257, 258.
  8. Posthumus 1977, p. 48.
  9. Smith 1993, p.  238.
  10. Anderson et al. 2006, p. 750.

Related Research Articles

Ford Model T American car

The Ford Model T is an automobile produced by Ford Motor Company from October 1, 1908, to May 26, 1927. It is generally regarded as the first affordable automobile, the car that opened travel to the common middle-class American; some of this was because of Ford's efficient fabrication, including assembly line production instead of individual hand crafting.

Coupé closed two-door car body style with a permanently attached fixed roof which is shorter than a sedan

A coupe (US) or coupé (UK) is properly a passenger automobile with a sloping rear roofline and two doors, although several four-door cars have also been marketed as coupés.

Coupe de Ville

Coupe de ville — also known as town car, sedanca de ville or coupé de ville — is a car body style produced from 1908 to 1939 with an external or open-topped driver's position and an enclosed compartment for passengers. Although the different terms may have once had specific meanings for certain car manufacturers or countries, the terms are often used interchangeably.

Touring car

Touring car and tourer are both terms for open cars.

Ford Model N car model

The Ford Model N is an automobile produced by Ford Motor Company; it was introduced in 1906 as a successor to the Models A and C as the company's inexpensive, entry-level line. It was built at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant.

Isotta Fraschini automotive and engine manufacturer

Isotta Fraschini was an Italian luxury car manufacturer, also producing trucks, as well as engines for marine and aviation use. Founded in Milan, Italy, in 1900 by Cesare Isotta and the brothers Vincenzo, Antonio, and Oreste Fraschini, in 1955 it was merged with engine manufacturer Breda Motori and renamed F.A. Isotta Fraschini e Motori Breda. The company went bankrupt in 1999. In 2000, a new company was founded as a subsidiary of Fincantieri, under the name of Isotta Fraschini Milano based in Bari.

Landaulet (car) Car body style

A landaulet, also known as landaulette, is a car body style where the rear passengers are covered by a convertible top. Often the driver is separated from the rear passengers by a division, as with a limousine.

Templar automobile

Templar was a manufacturer of automobiles in Lakewood, Ohio from 1917 to 1924. The company was named for the Knights Templar and used a Maltese Cross as an emblem.

The Moline Automobile Company was an American brass era automobile manufacturer in Moline, Illinois known for the Moline-Knight.

Herreshoff (automobile) automobile brand

The Herreshoff was an automobile built in both Detroit, Michigan, and Troy, New York, by the Herreshoff Motor Company during 1909–14. The Herreshoff started as a small car with a 24 hp (18 kW) four-cylinder engine, and was made with three different models. Later models were upgraded to six-cylinder engines up to 3.8 liters capacity. For 1911, Herreshoff had a roadster with a rudimentary rumble seat at US$950; by contrast, the high-volume Oldsmobile Runabout went for US$650, the Ford Model N and Western's Gale Model A were US$500, the Black was $375, and the Success, US$250.


Keeton Motor Company was a pioneer brass era automobile maker based in Detroit, Michigan.

Cunningham automobile

The Cunningham automobile was a pioneering American production automobile, one of the earliest vehicles in the advent of the automotive age. It was produced from 1896 to 1931 in Rochester, New York by James Cunningham, Son and Company.

Brougham (car body) car body

A brougham was originally a car body style where the driver sat outside and passengers seated within an enclosed cabin, as per the earlier brougham horse-drawn carriage. Similar in style to the later town car, the brougham style was used on chauffeur-driven petrol and electric cars.

Daimler Stahlradwagen

The Stahlradwagen was Gottlieb Daimler's second motor car.

Duesenberg Model A

The Duesenberg Model A was the first automobile in series production to have hydraulic brakes and the first automobile in series production in the United States with a straight-eight engine. Officially known as the Duesenberg Straight Eight, the Model A was first shown in late 1920 in New York City. Production was delayed by substantial changes to the design of the car, including a change in the engine valvetrain from horizontal overhead valves to an overhead camshaft; also during this time, the company had moved its headquarters and factory from New Jersey to Indiana. The Model A was manufactured in Indianapolis, Indiana, from 1921 to 1925 by the Duesenberg Automobiles and Motors Company and from 1925 to 1926 at the same factory by the restructured Duesenberg Motor Company. The successors to the company began referring to the car as the Model A when the Model J was introduced.