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Maytag-Mobile: 1939

Maytag-Mobile: 1939

February 2, 1939. "Builds own Jalopy. Thirty dollars was all it cost Robert Preston, 16-year-old high school senior, to build this midget automobile. Weighing approximately 250 pounds, the 'jalopy' is powered with a washing machine motor of ¾ horsepower and has a maximum speed of 20 miles an hour. His license tags for this year will cost 32 cents." Harris & Ewing glass negative. View full size.


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Not So Cheap

I ran an inflation calculation and that car for $30 would cost $465 in today's dollars. Plus that registration for 32 cents would run almost $5 today. Back then, that was a pretty good sum.


Or as Lewis Hine might have put it: "Preston says he is 16. Others in street much younger. Delivers telegrams to red light district, taverns."

Maytag 92

I have a Maytag® Model 92 on a square tub washing machine on our carport. I used to use it to wash my shop rags because my loving wife didn't like the metal chips from my machining operations getting in her washer and dryer. Maybe with the money/gas situation like it is, I should build me a car and install the engine on it. In my mind I can hear it coming down the streets in our little Tennessee town of Troy: Whizzzzzzz Bang, Whizzzzzzz Bang etc until it runs out of gas-oil mixture. I also have one of the later twin Maytag engines, but it is not as much fun to run as is the Whizzzz Bang Model 92.

Maytag actually built a limited number of small automobiles that used its engines. I think they were sold to their washing machine dealers and are rarer than hen's teeth these days.

Maytag Motors

Here's my page on the Maytag engine. They made gasoline-powered washing machines for about 40 years.

Slippery When Wet

I like those rear block brakes that address the tire tread. Not the best on a wet road though. In the old movies there would be an anchor aboard for use as an emergency brake.

California "Chugs"

Just seen recently in Tulare, California, at an antique farm equipment show, at least a half dozen of these, among hundreds of statonary gas engines. Some running and some not.

A friend and I used one of these on a primitive cart in the mid '40s. We called them "chugs."

The engines can be spotted at a distance because the cooling fins are slanted on the cylinder.

On the Road

If the comment about getting license tags wasn't a joke, they must have had a pretty loose definition of "street legal" back then. Still looks like it would be fun tooling around in, just avoid the Interstate.

More Reasonable Investment

It seems like we saw this jalopy before, parallel-parked by a curb between two cars. The caption then said he had invested more like hundreds of dollars. I recall commenting on the unreasonableness of the amount. Thirty bucks makes more sense.

[That was a different boy and a different car, with a lawnmower engine. - Dave]

Neighborhood entertainment

When I was in grade school, my father came up with one of these engines. I don't have a clue where he found it or what he had in mind. He brought it home and showed me how to mix the gas and gas it up and start it.

The engine became neighborhood entertainment for our gang of neighborhood kids. We would take turns applying our rubber soled US Keds to the flywheel to apply a load so the governor would allow it to fire more often. When the smell of burning rubber became pungent, it was time to allow another kid his or her turn. Dad also taught me how to perform basic maintenance of the engine.

Eventually, I would delve into the innards of the engine without his presence and enjoyed a feeling of achievement when it would crank up again after I tinkered with it. Perhaps it was his intention simply to have it there as a learning resource for me. I never asked and wish I had.


Sudden Stops

were out of the question for Robert. I hope he didn't run into any long downhill stretches. With that rear brake set up, it could be a problem. I can imagine what the bureaucratic response would be if one tried to register this vehicle today.


Tough to believe in 1939 that this would actually be a licensed automobile.
I could see it happening in the early 20's or earlier, but I can't imagine
this on the streets in 39. Some of the potholes in my area would take the
wheels right off this car.

Trouble in River City

I liked him much better in "The Music Man."

Maytag Model 92

Made during the late '20s to the mid '30s. Here's a video of one in action.

These old engines are called hit-or-miss because the governor only lets it fire once in a while when there's no load.

Out for a Spin

A gas-powered washing machine -- wow, put on your goggles.
No rumble seat for his swell dame on a date, however.

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