CLASSIC CAR LITERATURE
The Best of Both Worlds — Woods Dual Power (1917-1918)
By Chris Ritter
When the most recent gasoline-electric hybrid craze hit the United States in the first decade of the 21st century, many people thought that the automotive manufacturers had developed a new technology. The truth is, that gasoline-electric hybrid technology was first used in automobiles over one hundred years earlier. In fact, the technology was already nearly two decades old when the Woods Dual Power was offered to the public in the 1917 model year.
Woods, like other early electric car manufacturers, watched their sales steadily dwindle after Cadillac introduced the electric starter in 1912. While Woods supplemented their electric production with gasoline automobiles from 1905-1907, they focused exclusively on electrics for the next nine years. The Dual Power was a last ditch effort to save the already struggling company and they described the hybrid as the best of both worlds; the simplicity of operating an electric coupled with the range, power and speed of a gasoline automobile.
The 1917 promotional brochure produced by Woods measures 4" X 9" and opens to 16" X 9". It's here where we learn that the aluminum bodied Dual Power "is a beautiful, roomy, easy riding, four passenger car that any woman can drive — and it's a smart, powerful car for a man." The car ran in a 110" wheelbase and its 4-cylinder gasoline engine (produced in house) generated 14-horsepower. According to the brochure, the electric motor produced an additional 20-horsepower.
1917 Woods Dual Power brochure.
Regarding operation, the brochure reports the car "is started as an electric car alone." When the car reaches 6 mph the gasoline engine kicks in and the gasoline and electric systems work in tandem up to 20 mph. For speeds greater than 20 mph the gasoline motor operates exclusively, "neither charging nor discharging the batteries."
An illustration in the centerspread of the 1917 brochure highlights the Dual Power and shows off its "simplicity, elegance and convenience." Using the finger-operated steering wheel controls, the driver has complete control of the electric motor and gas engine. There is "no clutch pedal, no shifting levers, and no transmission gears" as power is "applied direct from the motors to the wheels."
1917 Woods Dual Power brochure centerspread.
In 1918, Woods increased the wheelbase of the Dual Power to 124" and used a Continental 4-cylinder engine. Their 1918 brochure opens to 23-1/2" X 18" and features full-color illustrations of the Dual Power in green and yellow.
In the 1918 brochure a close-up of the steering wheel is shown, focusing on the finger levers and push-button gear selector. Emphasis is also placed on the car's dynamic braking system — the same system used in 1917 — where the electric motor lever is retarded at speed and the motor acts as a generator and slows the vehicle. For speeds below 6mph, and in emergency situations, mechanical brakes were applied.
1918 Woods Dual Power brochure is geared to women drivers.
1918 Woods Dual Power is easy to drive.
The brochure promises that the Dual Power "will give an infinity of speeds", but, the reality was a top speed of 35 mph. This relatively low speed coupled with an astounding price tag of $2,950 was too much for the market to bear and the Woods Motor Vehicle Company would be out of business by the end of 1918 with a total production of 1,166 cars.