The first mass-produced automobile was the gasoline-powered Curved Dash Oldsmobile. Mass-produced means that it was built on an assembly line using interchangeable parts. The Curved Dash Runabout was introduced by the Oldsmobile company in 1901 and was manufactured through 1907 – 427 examples were produced in the first year, 2500 in 1902, with a total of 19,000 built overall.

This runabout model seats two passengers and sold for $650 (equivalent, today, to $17,100).

The flat-mounted water-cooled single-cylinder engine is located at the center of the car, produces 4 HP (3kW), relying on a brass gravity fed carburetor. The semi-automatic transmission has two forward speeds and one reverse. The low speed forward and reverse gear system are a planetary type (epicyclic), final drive is by chain and sprocket. The car weighs 850 pounds and has Concord springs.

The Curved Dash Runabout’s success was partly by accident. In 1901 a fire destroyed a number of other models before they had been approved by Olds Motor Works, leaving the Curved Dash the only one intact. Production was in Lansing/Detroit, Michigan.

From the 1904 Oldsmobile Curved Dash Owner’s Manual: Operating. “In operating a gasoline machine on the road, there are certain things that should be understood in order to operate it correctly. It is entirely different from a steam or electric machine. In the latter case in order to get greatest power, the high speed must be used, while in the gasoline machine the slow speed gear must be used with increased speed on the motor. Never allow motor to run slow when greater power is needed.”

There are 22 pages of illustrations and text. On the deck and inside it lists the motor, 4 gallon gasoline tank, water-cooling supply, muffler, steering lever, exhaust system, spark changing lever, battery sets, gasoline and controller levers, gears and throttle.

Operating instructions include how to start, steer, slacken/increase the speed, turn, ascend/descend hills and stop the automobile.

The song "In My Merry Oldsmobile" was written with the Curved Dash Oldsmobile in mind. Remember the chorus?

"Come away with me, Lucille

In my merry Oldsmobile

Down the road of life we’ll fly

Automobubbling you and I…."

Ransom E. Olds’ company survived some tough years, with the last Oldsmobile produced April 29, 2004, one hundred and three years after the Curved Dash was introduced.