The Hunt for the Owen Magnetics

One of the more enjoyable aspects of writing for Barn Finds is getting exposure to stories about significant cars being brought back to life by passionate caretakers. I’ve mentioned my love of the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum in the past, and its excellent collection of significant automobiles that shaped the technology and features of every car that came after them. Recently, the Museum reached out with news about a new addition to its collection with the acquisition of its third Owen Magnetic. The one pictured here is the second example they rescued, a 1916 O-36 Touring, which had been hiding out in a barn in Mobile, Alabama since 1972. Find the full collection of Owen Magnetics here on the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum website.

This 1916 Owen Magnetic chassis was acquired when the Tupelo Museum wound down operations. Why, you may ask, is the Museum so keen on collecting these obscure machines? Well, because it fits in with the rest of the collection and the assortment of game-changing machinery. The Owen Magnetic was notable for its use of an electromagnetic transmission and is considered to be a pioneer of the electric hybrid drivetrain. Powered by a six-cylinder engine, power for the wheels used a similar electromagnetic principle that propelled the Battleship U.S.S. New Mexico.

The latest addition to the collection is an O-36 limousine that was spotted on a dealer’s website. It’s quite complete, and while it will be undergoing a mechanical restoration, the roughshod cosmetics and original interior will be left in place. I agree wholeheartedly with this approach, as the limousine looks incredibly honest, and with so few of these gasoline-electric hybrids left, preserving the original examples that are left is essential to maintaining a template for future examples that have yet to be discovered.

The Museum initially believed that only nine survivors remained; with these latest two discoveries, that number has increased to 11. With just over 900 ever made, there are slim pickings for projects if you’re a fan of these hybrid pioneers. Approximately 200 were made in East Harlem, NYC; 700 assembled in Cleveland; and less than 100 in Wilkes-Barre, PA. While many of us may not be as devoted to tracking down and preserving unusual models like the Owen Magnetic, we’re fortunate to have organizations and collectors like the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum that keep their history alive.

Comments

  1. Cadmanls Member

    https://youtu.be/LYQ2PiX_Z9o Here is a brief summary of operation by Jay Leno he has an operating Magnetic. It’s quite an engineering triumph for the era. I never knew this existed and I am a car enthusiast from early on in my life. Very cool.

    Like 12
    • MikeH

      Thanks for that link. I was wondering what made an Owen unique. Thanks as well to Jay Leno and the Tampa Bay Museum for saving these obscure autos.

      Like 3
  2. scott m

    What a great collection of cars! Reminds me of the Lane museum in range, and from all over the world it looks like. Thanks for the write-up!

    Like 5
  3. Gator

    Leno has an amazing collection and a broad knowledge also. Of course, having but loads of money helps too! The Owen Magnetic is amazing. I’d never seen or heard of one before. Thanks for sharing it!

  4. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

    The Owen-Magnetic may well be the first automobile to use a hybrid gas/electric drive!

    Like 1
    • Chinga-Trailer

      Did it precede the hybrid that Dr. Porsche designed in the late 1800s or early 1900s? I think not. I believe his was the first precursor to the Prius!

      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

        Chinga-

        You are correct, I always thought the car was battery only.

        Like 1
  5. P Wentzell

    I am still saddened by the closing of the Tupelo Auto Museum. There were a lot of rare cars on display. On one wall were two viewing windows where you could see cars being restored.

    Like 1
  6. Jim Benjaminson

    There used to be one on display at the Brooks Stevens Museum in Mequon, Wisconsin – deep burgundy red as I remember – wonder where it is today?

  7. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    Interesting article, thanks for posting it.

    In the opening photo of this article, I wonder what the orange car in the foreground is. I am not familiar with the logo.

    • Jim Duhig Member

      I believe that is a Massey Ferguson tractor.

    • John King

      It’s a Massey Ferguson tractor!

  8. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

    PRA4SNW,

    It’s not a car, the M-F logo says it’s a Massey-Ferguson tractor!

    Like 1
  9. HC Member

    Didn’t know much about these magnetic assist cars, but learn something new every day. Interesting article

    Like 1
  10. Frank Barrett Member

    There used to be a guy in California who specialized in Owen Magnetics, but that was years ago, and I can’t recall his name. Anyone know?

  11. George Birth

    I live about 2 hr. drive from Tampa and now I have an excuse to go there. I hope to get to see the cars in this museum. Thanks for a great write up!

  12. Brakeservo

    A car you are either attracted or repelled by . . .

    Like 5

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