1904 Central Greyhound 8-cylinder racer by H. H. Buffum Co.

Central Greyhound racer (with Lafayette Markle at the wheel?) (photo credit: The Horseless Age, April 6, 1904)
Herbert Buffum, an early pioneer of motor design, had largely been lost to history until a renewed interest was brought about by the sale of one of his early cars. Described as the first four-cylinder American car, it was consigned to Bonhams Auctions and sold at their London-to-Brighton sale in 2012. This car, said to be Buffum's first car (or prototype design) was described in the Bonhams catalog as an 1895 Buffum Four-Cylinder Stanhope (Chassis No 1BUFFUM). Although this particular car is not the focus of this post, it's a fascinating vehicle. There has been much speculation as to whether this car actually dates to 1895 and I'm told that definitive documents were brought forward by a previous owner after the car first went over the block at the Quail auction (but didn't sell) better informing prospective buyers at the London-to-Brighton sale.

Herbert H. Buffum (1861 - 1930) grew up in New Hampshire and is listed in the 1882 Manchester (NH) City Directory as a machinist working for S.C. Forsaith Machine & Company. The Dyer Memorial Library in Abington, MA has been instrumental in researching Herbert Buffum's life and they are currently hosting an exhibit on the subject. According to The Dyer Memorial Library, Herbert and his family moved to Abington, MA in 1891 - his business of manufacturing small machines is seen in the 1892 Abington and Whitman Directory. Buffum's factory on Center Avenue, seen below, still stands to this day.


Center Avenue factory in Abington, MA (photo credit: Dyer Memorial Library)

It would appear that Buffum recognized a business opportunity and moved south to sell machinery to the many fabric mills, clothing and shoe manufacturers of eastern MA. His many patents related to machinery for stitching, etc. are seen throughout the later 1890s right up to 1900. Of course, this area also happened to be a center of early automobile production as well, and his interests soon turned to designing motors for boats and cars. Herbert Buffum's patents for automotive related items first appear in 1901 and are seen through 1906.

By 1901, the H. H. Buffum Manufacturing Co. is building automobiles and the The Horseless Age of March 13, 1901 states "H. H. Buffum, Abington, MA, is building six motor carriages for local parties". Those local parties included the Ames family of North Easton, MA who were wealth industrialists and patrons of Buffum's automobiles - the photo below is most likely one of the cars built for Ames. Herbert's interests and talents appear to have been more focused engineering than manufacturing, as the volume of cars produced seems to have been small (even for the day). Regardless, his growing enterprise is revealed by the statements seen in The Horseless Age of September 17, 1902, "H. H. Buffum, Abington, MA, is preparing to turn out fifty of his gasoline touring cars next year". 1903 is a seminal year for the H. H. Buffum Manufacturing Company as Herbert starts exhibiting his automobiles - initially at the New England Automobile Association Show and later the same month at the Boston Dealers' Show (March 1903). According to Great American Automobiles by John Bentley,  this would be the Model “G” of 1903. Later in 1903, H. H. Buffum is listed among the exhibitors at the Madison Square Garden Show. The Horseless Age of November 4, 1903 reports: "H. H. Buffum, Abington, MA, is building a four cylinder (4 1/2 x5 1/2) touring car and a two cylinder runabout for 1904. Sliding gear transmission and aluminum bodies will be features".

1902 Buffum horizontally opposed 4 cylinder engine (photo credit: Dyer Memorial Library)

I 'm not sure if Buffum was the first American manufacturer to offer a 4 cylinder engine (as some have suggested)  - it appears that he built a 4-cylinder by 1900, and patented a flat opposed 4 cylinder design in 1902, but I don't believe he publicly offered for sale a 4-cylinder car until 1903. In 1902 for example, the Automobile Company of America was offering the Gasmobile in 3 and 4 cylinder models. Regardless, Herbert Buffum was on the leading edge of multi-cylinder motor design and 1904 would be the year he showed the world what he was thinking.



The Motor-Car Journal, April 23, 1904

In 1904, Herbert Buffum built a horizontally opposed, 8-cylinder racer with four carburetors for the Central Automobile Company of New York City. The Central Automobile Company, located at 1684 Broadway, was one of the largest automobile garages in the city. Specializing in storage, repair, and sales of foreign cars, they were the authorized agent for Mors here in the US. Mr. Kimball and Mr. Moody (of the Central Automobile Co) somehow became aware of Herbert Buffum and acquired a racer in the style of Alexander Winton's Bullet #2. Is it just coincidence that Kimball and Moody had been to the Boston Automobile show where Buffum exhibited his cars or that Buffum was building a 4-cylinder car and Mors (the brand they represented) had built a 4-cylinder car previously? We'll never know for sure, however we do know that Buffum turned out the racer in short order with a unique and original (for the time) engine design. Winton, of course, had built his 8-cylinder bullet racer the year prior and it seems evident that Buffum's racer - named the Central Greyhound - borrowed from it's design. It's been stated that the Central Greyhound was built to compete against Winton in the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup, however I find no reference to the Buffum designed racer until 1904. Further, I could find few pictures in period publications - I believe one image to have been taken outside Buffum's facility in Abington (The Motor, May 24, 1904) and the others on the streets of New York City (maybe Broadway?). The Horseless Age of April 6, 1904 describes the car as having four sets of horizontally opposed twin cylinders crosswise on the frame, one after the other, with their crank shafts connected by flanged couplings. They go on to say that the crank chamber is all one casting and that the cylinders had mechanically operated over-head valves.

Of the few period reports on the Central Greyhound, it seems clear that Kimball and Moody intended to race the car in speed trails and hill climbs on the east coast. Central Automobile Company had campaigned the Mors cars previously - using their driver at the time, Lafayette Markle. The Automobile of July 16, 1904 - reporting on the upcoming attractions at the Empire City Track - states "Thirty cars have been entered... and the Central Greyhound, an 8-cylinder racer which has never yet been given a thorough trial. The latter machine will make an attack on the track record of 55 seconds, established by Barney Oldfield with the Winton Bullet." Markle was set to drive the Central Greyhound, but the car appears to have had issues. The Motor Age of March 13th, 1904 gives some indication into the challenges Kimball and Moody were having with getting the car race ready, "Mr. Kimball says there is some trouble with the carburation, which is defective and will need to be remedied." The car was designed with four float feed carburetors that sat between the valve chambers of adjacent cylinders. However, the same article notes "One of the companies employees says he had the car out on the Coney Island boulevard early one morning and that it was timed between mile posts in not far from 42 seconds..." Curiously, the Central Greyhound seems not to have made an appearance at the Empire City Track, and in fact, I can find no reference to it ever having been raced at all.

The Motor Age, March 31, 1904

Soon after building the racer, H. H. Buffum introduces the car that would mark his place in history. The 45 degree, "V" style 8 cylinder engine of 1905 which appears to be the first V-8 car offered for sale by an American manufacturer (and I use the term loosely). Buffum had limited success an automobile manufacturing, however he did secure a Boston sales agent for his cars - E. S. Breed (a dealer that carried other brands as well). Additionally, Buffum cars were privately campaigned in motor racing events of the day -  Glen Breed (I don't know if there is any relation to E. S. Breed) drove a Buffum in the 1906 Worcester Hill Climb - event 24 (Special runabout class).

1907 seems to be the last year of automobile production for the H. H. Buffum Company - still offering their 8-cylinder (40 hp; 45 degree V-8; 4 in × 4 in; 6.6 liter; 402 cubic inch). The Automobile Topics of May 25th, 1907 reports "H. H. Buffum of Abington, Mass., is having a hydroplane built for use on Winnipisaukee this summer. The boat will be but 14 feet long, and with an engine installed will weigh but 500 pounds. The boat is copied after the French hydroplanes, and will prove a novelty in New England waters." I can only guess that Buffum would design the engine himself. In 1909, Buffum sold his home and factory on Center Avenue and moved back to New Hampshire.

Unemployed for a time, Buffum is seen listed in the Laconia (NH) Directory in 1911 as a boat builder. The 1912 New Hampshire Motor Vehicle Registrations list him as living in Weirs (Laconia area on Lake Winnipesauke) and having two vehicles registered - a Hudson and a Peerless. By 1914, Buffum's cars were already forgotten as illustrated by the letter to the editor of The Horseless Age of October 7, 1914 in which the writer is reminding the editor that Buffum had built a V-type eight cylinder car in 1905 - said to have been sold in the spring of 1906 - "These cars were heard from as recently as a year or two ago and are probably still giving satisfactory service... these motors of eight or nine years ago were remarkably prophetic of what the public abroad and in this country is just beginning to consider as an improvement in several respects over both fours and sixes."

Herbert Buffum continues his boat-building career through 1920 and is said to have built the first pier at Weirs. In 1925, Buffum is associated with the C. S. & B. Sprinkler Company of Boston - this is the same year that the Laconia Directory notes Herbert and his wife having moved to Portland, OR. Buffum's daughter had moved to Portland upon being married back in 1912 and Herbert lived there until his death in 1930. Other than the car sold by Bonhams and rumors of an incomplete car said to be owned by a Buffum relative, no other cars are known to have survived - what a shame.
The Motor, May 24, 1904
The Automobile, July 2, 1904


The Buffum V-8 engine (photo credit: Dyer Memorial Library)

Cycle and Trade Journal, February, 1904

2 comments:

  1. Excellent in every way. Super interesting and informative. Thank you!!

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  2. I have a 1904 copy of The Motor and there this fearsome machine appears. Alas, the paper printed no technical detail. Thank you ever so much for letting me in the know. Jukka Luoma, Helsinki

    ReplyDelete