Woods Dual-Powered Car

Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles

Historic Overview

Woods Dual Powered Coupe

A few years ago, the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, featured an exhibit entitled "Alternative Power: Propulsion after Petroleum". This exhibit had an expansive display of vehicles ranging from 1866 - modern autos, and various prototype designs. Some of them were steam driven, others ran by jet turbine, electric, solar panels, hydrogen, and one was even converted to run on coal gas.

Museum director, Dick Messer commented “Experimentation and discovery of new technologies is what really drives the auto industry and a walk though this exhibit is an entertaining trip from the past, into our future beyond petroleum.”

One of the museum's gems on display is an early example of a hybrid vehicle. It is a 1917 Woods Dual Power Coupe. The car has a central electric motor as well as a 4 cylinder gas engine. The coupe operated on the electric motor below 15 mph, and ran on the gas powered engine between 15 mph and its top speed of 35 mph.

Driving simplicity was the major selling point of the Woods Dual Power. It could be operated using a single foot pedal, and didn't require any gear shifting. Drivers would use two "pivoting levers" fastened to the steering wheel, which operated each power source, and could adjust the maximum speed. Once the levers were set to the desired speed, the power was directed from either the gas engine or the electric motor through the propeller shaft to the rear axle-without the need of a clutch or other gearing mechanisms. The single pedal could be pressed to accelerate and then released in order to brake.

The gasoline engine and the electric motor were connected through the use of a magnetic clutch. This allowed the gas engine to become magnetized when the gas pivoting lever was set near full retard of the flywheel. The magnetic force pulled an iron backed copper disk against the flywheel, connecting the electric motor to the gasoline engine. As a result, the vehicle could be operated on electric power only, on gasoline only, or on both simultaneously. When traveling in reverse, the electric motor was used, as the gasoline engine only powered the vehicle in one direction due to the lack of gears.

To start the car using the electric motor, the driver simply moved the electric pivot lever, which connected the storage battery with the electric motor. The Exide battery used in the Woods Dual Power was specifically designed for the vehicle, and was about half the size of the batteries used in other electric vehicles at the time. Once the vehicle was started, the lever was advanced, increasing the speed of up to 15 mph. To travel at higher speeds, the driver engaged the gasoline lever, which connected the two power sources, running both the gasoline engine and the electric motor at the same time.

Through adjustments of the two pivot levers, the battery could be discharged or recharged during driving at speeds of ten to 30 mph. Recharging was accomplished with the gasoline engine being used to power the electric motor which, once retarded, acted as a generator. Recharging of the battery also took place at speeds over 6 mph, by braking on level ground, or when coasting down hills, while adjusting the lever. A conventional brake pedal was only used at speeds of less than 6 mph.

The aluminum-bodied Woods Dual Power was offered only in a blue or green coupe model, accommodating four passengers, for $2,650. Wire wheels were available for $25 extra.

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Pre-Treatment Condition

Woods Dual Powered Coupe

This Woods Dual Power Coupe will be used for static display only, and is not intended to run. All the original paint and coatings will be retained. Components will not be stripped of their original finishes. All work will be performed by our graduate trained conservators and skilled technicians.

Howard Auto Preservation was contracted by the Petersen Automotive Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History to perform a full conservation treatment to this unique hybrid vehicle. The museum concluded that a “traditional restoration” would not be appropriate on such a rare and early vehicle and opted for conservation instead. They fully understood the historical significance of what they had, and wanted to properly preserve the car for an upcoming exhibit on alternative power and yet retain the vehicle as an “unaltered” document.

The Woods sat for nearly a century with very little done to it; many years ago several layers of varnish and linseed oil had been added to protect the paint. These coatings tend to darken over time which gave the vehicle an uneven, streaky appearance. The Woods was covered by layers of dirt, dust, and grease as well as corrosion caused by several leaking batteries. The car was going to have to be disassembled in order to gain access to the damage caused by corrosion and chlorides. The old varnish layers needed to be removed from the body, and the original flaking paint had to be consolidated and carefully reattached.

The rare hybrid car was carefully packed and prepared for transport to Howard Auto Preservation. After the car was delivered, it was thoroughly documented and photographed as each stage of work progressed.

Before the body could be lifted off the chassis, the batteries had to be removed from the trunk. New wooden crate boxes for the series of batteries were accurately reproduced because the wood had disintegrated and could no longer support the weight of the batteries. The batteries were submerged in water filled tanks until the acids were removed and neutralized. Once the batteries were thoroughly dried, they went into the new crates. The original parts of the old crates were retained and placed in archival storage boxes.

The wiring harness, foot pedal, and steering column were disconnected before the body could be unbolted and lifted off the frame using nylon slings and a gantry crane. We also removed the fenders, running boards, and radiator in order to have full access to the engine and frame, all which were covered in dirt, grease, and areas of active corrosion. Every surface of the Woods was then cleaned; the corrosion was chemically neutralized prior to being coated with clear, reversible coatings. These coatings are designed to stabilize existing painted surfaces and to prevent rust. They differ from any commercial products because of their unique reversibility. Our coatings can be safely removed without affecting the original paints, unlike many of the proprietary lacquers that are currently being used today.

The exterior of the body had an uneven, brown varnish coating which dramatically affected the appearance of the car. Analytical testing was conducted, and we found a method to safely remove the varnish without causing any damage or loss to the original paint. However, before we removed the varnish, a consolidant was used to reattach the flaking or tented paint to prevent further loss.

Interior textiles as well as the fabric covered wiring were vacuumed, cleaned, and stabilized. The treatment procedures used by our textile conservator were guided by The American Institute for Conservation Code of Ethics. Frayed and torn edges of the fabrics were stabilized, visually improving their appearance. While working on the interior, a small compartment was found that contained a ring box, the 1926 driver's license renewal receipt, and a few newspaper clippings that belonged to the original owner. These artifacts were stabilized by our on-staff paper conservator.

The fractured glass on the rear window was repaired using a Class I, water clear epoxy similar to those used to fix windshield cracks today.

The body was returned to the chassis and secured using all the original hardware. The Woods Dual Coupe will soon be returned to the Petersen Auto Museum in Los Angeles.

The objective of this project was not to restore the automobile, but to preserve all the original materials, retaining its unmolested originality and maintaining its historical significance. Our treatment met the goals and expectations of the museum's curatorial staff by stabilizing all areas of active deterioration, visually improving its overall appearance, and enabling this car to be preserved as a resource for future study.

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