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Although there were four Doble brothers, Abner Doble went down in history as the genius behind the Doble steam car. While still in high school in California, Abner and his brothers built their first steamer in their parents’ basement. More prototypes were to follow, and although Abner moved to Massachusetts to attend MIT in 1910, he only lasted one semester before quitting, so he could get back to work building cars. Abner’s first major innovation was improving the range of the steamer. In those days, a Stanley, the only other steam car in production, would only drive about 30 miles before needing to be filled with water. Abner’s innovations allowed his condenser to recirculate water, extending the car’s range to about 1500 miles, and orders for the car piled in.
While Doble steam cars were widely recognized as the work of genius, engineering difficulties, steel shortages caused by World War I, and financial foibles made production a rocky road. In 1921, Abner and his brothers shuttered their Detroit factory, and moved back to California. By 1923, they developed their most enduring car, the classic Model E. Jay’s is No. 18, with a limousine-style body by Murphy of Pasadena, which also bodied Jay’s Beverly Murphy Duesenberg.
Jay’s Doble has a 4-cylinder compound engine, which heats up two quarts of water in a sealed system, creating 1000 ft.-lb. of torque. Thus, the Doble starts up right away even in freezing weather, as compared to the Stanley, which takes at least 20 minutes to heat 15 gallons of water before driving is possible. Because the system is sealed, it easily passes all current emissions standards, and is ultimately much safer than a Stanley, as there’s little chance of blowing up. The E series could go from 0 to 75 mph in about 10 seconds, and was capable of speeds in excess of 90 mph. With no transmission, no clutch, and no distributor, there was virtually no noticeable engine vibration, and the ride was smooth as silk, and eerily quiet.
Aside from the fact that the public seemed to have chosen internal combustion engines, the Doble’s success was also hampered by its price. The chassis alone cost upwards of $9000 without the body, so it was hardly affordable at a time when the country was heading into the Great Depression. Another issue was Abner’s perfectionist tendencies, which prevented him from putting down the wrench and settling on a firm design for extended production. When the company finally went out of business in 1931, a mere 43 Dobles had been produced, of which only three of four are still roadworthy today.
Though only 1,100 of these were made, and none intended for international export, Jay Leno has still managed to add one of these unusual vehicles to his collection.