1914 Trumbull Coupe Cyclecar (One of two extant)
Dr. Jake Gerlach was a General Practitioner who used to make house calls when I was still a toddler. He and his wife Helen were close friends of my mom and dad because the two doctors practiced at the same hospital and they both had an unnatural affliction regarding antique cars. Jake had a 1908 Lancia and a 1933 LaGonda. Helen had a 1914 Trumbull.
The Trumbull is a cyclecar. Cyclecars were built in the USA from 1913 to 1914. There were 136 different cyclecar companies that operated during that short two-year span in America. Most of these cars were little more than go-karts. The common recipe was to take a motorcycle engine, some motorcycle wheels and make a four-wheel vehicle with any number of different home-designed bodies. In most cases, this meant a two-cylinder, air-cooled engine, wooden frame or body and in some cases, a sheet metal body without any framing.
The Trumbull was one of the notable exceptions. It had a four-cylinder, water-cooled engine, a stamped steel frame, torque-tube drive to a transaxle shifting mechanism and a body that began with a complete wooden frame that had a sheet-metal skin attached. It was considerably more sophisticated than almost all other cyclecars and came in two body styles: a roadster and a coupe. There are still quite a few of the roadsters left around the country, but only two known coupes.
Back in 1997, Jake asked me if I could do a few “minor” repairs on the Trumbull. He wanted me to go through the engine and touch up a little paint. The car had not run for about a decade and he wanted to make it available to Helen to drive again. I agreed and brought the car to my shop.
Almost immediately upon taking it off the trailer, some of the more serious problems started to make themselves evident. It started with the wheels. You could rock the car from side to side and watch the wire-spoke wheels flex. The hubs had “flanges” that were supposed to transfer drive torque from the drums to the wheels. Most of these flanges were cracked or missing. The hubs themselves had been worn out of round where they attached to the wheel bearing.
Similarly, the engine was worn out. I could only measure twenty-five pounds of compression on the best cylinder. The entire short-block would need to be rebuilt. It was decided that the only way to make the car safe again was to give it a complete restoration.
Upon doing research on the car, I learned that the vehicle had been assembled in 1946 from a pile of parts along with another coupe, which I new was currently living in Findlay, Ohio. There were quite a few unoriginal or incorrect parts on the chassis of both cars. I worked on the car for two years while simultaneously starting a music publishing business. As the business demanded more time, the restoration began to slow its pace.
Around this time, Jake passed away from a long-term illness and it appeared as though Helen may be having some health problems too. I left the restoration on hold even though it was nearly completed. The entire chassis was rebuilt. The wheels and brakes were like new again. The body had already been painted once, but the color was deemed unsatisfactory, so I created a computer model of the car that we could use to test various new color combinations. We had the car repainted with a red chassis and wheels, black fenders and skirts and a grey body with the stripe pattern on the passenger door that was characteristic of the Trumbull.
In 2002, the family brought the car back home with the intention of finishing the restoration themselves. The only truly daunting challenge would be fabricating the new clutch and shaft that had originally been replaced with a much newer and incorrect mechanism. Before the family had finished the project, they sold the car to a collector who had far more resources to finish the car correctly. The picture shown above is the new owner enjoying a ride.