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Topless to windshields: See 7 of the most-Canadian cars

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Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Thursday, June 22, 2017, 1:29 PM - We've come a long way from the open carriage.

From no tops and windshields to introducing wipers and air conditioning, the automobile has changed vastly over the last 150 years and weather proofing has been a major part of its evolution.

Co-curator of the Art and the Automobile exhibit at the Canadian International Auto Show Rob McLeese took The Weather Network on a cruise down memory lane to identify several key aspects of automotive development over the years.

1867 Seth Taylor Steam Buggy

Let's take a journey back in time to 1867. Henry Seth Taylor was a prosperous jeweller in Stanstead, Quebec who was fascinated by all things mechanical. In 1865, he saw a steam buggy built by inventor Sylvester Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts at a county fair and decided to build one of his own, according to McLeese.

Fitted with bright red wheels and a two cylinder steam-powered engine, the buggy reached a speed of 24 km/h. 

"The carriage was built very high because the roads were so mucky at the time and the carriages had the tendency to sink. So, they wanted the body high enough off the ground that it wouldn't get stuck."

As you can see in the photo below, the buggy had no windshield, top or doors to protect the driver. 

1903 Columbus Electric

The 1903 Columbus Electric was developed in Columbus, Ohio and is owned by Canadian collector Peter Fawcett. The vehicle was discovered in 1957 in Kingston, Ontario by Fawcett's father. It is from the first year of production, during which the folding top roadster body style was offered, McLeese noted.

"The wheels have gotten much smaller and fatter because it helped the car stay about the ruts in the road," said McLeese. "It has suspension now, so that it's not as rough for the participants that are riding. It now has a top, still no windshield, but it has more of a windscreen. The car is also starting to get a little bit lower as it gets a little bit more mature."

1910 McKay

The 1910 McKay (as seen below) was one of the first vehicles to be built in Nova Scotia until the arrival of the Volvo in 1963. The body was locally produced with an imported Buda engine and American drivetrain. To test its durability, the car was driven to Regina, Saskatchewan in 1911 -- a 4,000 km trip.

The vehicle has brass fittings as the material was readily available at the time.

"The tires are more refined, bigger and a little wider to improve the ride," McLeese noted. "But, the windshield was the biggest single development here. They also had lights, so they could see when it got dark and other people could see them."

1914 Russell

This luxury touring car was assembled by the Russell Motor Car Company, a division of the Canada Cycle and Motor Company (CCM). The entire vehicle was designed and made in Canada, which makes the Russell a unique piece.

"You can see they're getting more refined with how the windshield is put together," said McLeese. "These cars also had side curtains because they started to look at the weather and started to close the car in. A soft top was still a major thing in 1914. It wasn't until the early 1920s when they started to go to hard top."

Wooden spokes on the wheels posed various problems such as being prone to rot. However, it was a material that was affordable and easily crafted, noted McLeese.

1927 McLaughlin-Buick Royal Tour Car

Hand built for the use of the royal family during their 1927 tour of Canada, the McLaughlin-Buick Royal Tour Car is referred to as the car of the two princes.

Two of these were built for the Prince of Wales and Prince George to mark the 60th anniversary of Canadian Confederation.

The princes insisted on using McLaughlin/General Motors designed and built cars that had open tops. When Sam McLaughlin, president of General Motors of Canada explained to the Canadian government that no open touring cars were being built in Oshawa in 1927, he was instructed to build them anyway.

The car displayed at the Auto Show belongs to Elaine and Tony Lang of Hanover, Ontario. It was lost to Europe after the tour and had not been seen until 2015 when a Canadian researcher managed to find it in Italy, according to McLeese.

This was a turning point in the evolution of the automobile, as these cars were fitted with hydraulic wipers.

"We've gone from no windshield to windshield and now we have a wiper. It has made the car a lot safer because people could then see out their window when it was raining," said McLeese. The tires are getting more traditional like the ones we see today and they realized that they could actually get a better, more consistent ride with the metal spokes as they didn't break as frequently."

1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville Prototype

The 1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville was a prototype car built by General Motors for the Transportation Unlimited Exhibition of the first Post World War II Auto Show held in New York. The vehicle was made by two different teams in Michigan, Detroit. One team was assigned the left side and another team the right. Both pieces were then welded together. There were only four prototypes produced, according to McLeese.

"It has a radio and air conditioning, which was an option in the late 40s," said the co-curator. "Now we have a permanent top. The cars had evolved from no top at all, to a floating top, to a more fixed top and now a full hard top."

Windshield wipers were also synchronized by the 1940s.

1951 General Motors Le Sabre Concept Car

The futuristic 1951 Le Sabre concept car was inspired by the lines of the F-86 Sabre Jet Fighter. The vehicle was owned by Harley Earl, head designer of General Motors at the time.

It includes an automatic rain-sensing top that raised itself in stormy conditions. However, this feature posed a problem for drivers on the highway.

"They had to put a safety feature in here so that you had to be going below a certain speed before the top would be able to come up and I think it was about 15 to 20 mph," McLeese said.

The vehicle has a powerful V-8 engine and a dual gasoline and alcohol fuel system. The front of the car also pulls back and turns 180 degrees to reveal the headlights.

"This thing was a little rocket and it only weighs 3,800 pounds because he [Earl] used composites in the body materials instead of the heavy sheet metal at the time," McLeese noted. "It is so low to the ground, but the roads had improved so much by this time. This car has an amazing suspension, so it could go through a lot of stuff. Although, I suspect he wouldn't drive it too much in the winter."

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