- Written by webmin
Everybody’s gotta start out somewhere. Martin Carl Fischer, born in 1866 and a native of Zürich, Switzerland, was already a trained and accomplished watchmaker when the automobile became less of a tinkerer’s delight and more of an actual conveyance. Yet as the size of the automobile quickly ballooned in the years following the turn of the century, requiring garages and other specially constructed accommodations, Fischer, like all good inventors, hit the sketchpad.
Envisioning a motor vehicle narrow enough to fit in a standard door, thus allowing it to be easily carried inside and even up flights of stairs, Fischer eliminated or simplified just about everything possible. The single-seat vehicle – on little more than a buckboard frame – used an air-cooled single-cylinder motorcycle engine and chain drive for motivation. Fischer also employed the driver’s legs for steering the center-pivot front axle, thus freeing up the driver’s hands, presumably with the primary purpose of allowing the driver to enjoy a cohiba while out scaring horses. Whether it was engineered this way or simply a pleasant byproduct of the design, Fischer also claimed that it should have been a great handling machine:
With the object of imparting to the car, notwithstanding its small width, a great stability and absence of risk of tipping over when traveling round sharp curves the motor-car is made extremely low.
Not only did Fischer build a prototype of his leg-steer car in 1904, not only did he also patent it in the United States two years later (834,007), but he also gained financing to form a company building the car and found a partner in the venture in Paul Vorbrodt. The second prototype was built along many of the same lines, but added a friction-disk transmission of Fischer’s design (which he patented in the United States – 844,011) between the engine and chain drive. Friction-disk transmissions thus became the defining characteristic of the Turicum, as Fischer’s light car came to be known.
The Turicum became a modest success and allowed Fischer to explore several other innovations (including using the engine as a stressed member of the frame – see U.S. Patent 834,283). However, Fischer left the company in either 1908 or 1909 to start another company building a very similar light car with a friction-disk transmission. It was also about this time, according to periodicals from the day, that he began developing two of his most revolutionary ideas: the slider-valve engine and the internal-gear transmission.
Doubtless the slider-valve engine was inspired by Charles Knight’s sleeve-valve engine, invented in about 1905 and displayed a year later in Knight’s unsuccessful Silent-Knight cars (the failure of which sent Knight to Europe, where Fischer likely first encountered the concept). Unlike Knight’s complicated elliptic-camshaft arrangement, Fischer conceived a box-camshaft arrangement that activated sliders fit into crescent-shaped pockets on either side of the piston. The piston remained circular in shape and still rode on a significant portion of the cylinder wall, thus Fischer claimed better cooling and less oil consumption in his design than in a typical sleeve-valve design, along with the positive valve actuation of a poppet-less design, and the ability to form a hemispherical combustion chamber. In the United States, he was granted two patents on the design – 1,103,901 and 1,129,461 – and the engine was also discussed extensively at the December 1912 meeting of the Society of Automobile Engineers, where it was noted that the engine was tested on Hudson’s dynamometer.
The internal-gear transmission took an even more radical departure from standard designs of the day. Based on the theory that gears facing inward provide a stronger connection with a pinion than do gears facing outward, Fischer designed a four-speed transmission with four concentric gears (stepped to form a reverse-cone shape) that actuated the transmission’s output shaft. The pinion gear rode on a spring-loaded input shaft with a universal joint that allowed it to swing side to side and front to back to mesh with each of the gears. Fischer claimed that his design used about half the parts of a normal transmission and was thus lighter and stronger. In the United States, he was granted just one patent on the design – 1,085,677 – but it received quite a bit of attention among contemporary automotive trade periodicals. While the patents were assigned to the Motor and Gear Improvement Company of New York and to the Martin Fischer Motor Corporation of New York, both were essentially the same company and were formed for the sole purpose of administering Fischer’s patents in the United States. The latter was located at 30 Church Street, right where the World Trade Center would eventually be located.
One note on the two companies that show up as assignees of the patentsWhile it appears he was aligned with the Motor and Gear Improvement Company of New York for the patents on his transmission and a few other patents on wheels, his slider-valve patents are all assigned to the Martin Fischer Motor Corporation of New York.
Both the slider-valve engine and the internal-gear transmission debuted in Fischer’s 1911 automobiles, and over the next couple years, Fischer built about 200 such cars. However, he seemed to have adopted Knight’s business method of licensing his technology rather than building it himself: In 1913, the French firm of Delaugere (which previously used a Fischer-designed side-valve engine) obtained a license to build the entire Fischer automobile; about the same time, Fischer not only patented his innovations in America, and began marketing the slider-valve engine here as the Magic engine, but he also sold a license to build the Magic engine to Palmer & Singer, which built it for just a few months in early 1914. The Aristos Company also bought a license to the Magic engine and had Palmer & Singer build the vehicle that Aristos branded the Mondex Magic. We so far see no reference of any company licensing the internal-gear transmission.
World War I, unfortunately, brought an end to both Turicum and to the Fischer company (but not to Delaugere, which survived the war by securing war-production contracts), while bankruptcy brought an end to Palmer & Singer and Mondex. Fischer himself survived the war, and though we see no record that he returned to automobile production, he was still developing the slider-valve engine through 1917 (see U.S. Patent no. 1,222,615), and he was still filing clockwork- and automobile-related patents into the late 1920s (see U.S. Patent no. 1,724,649). Beaulieu notes that Fischer had at some point after the war proposed a motorcycle-engined cyclecar with friction-disk drive, perhaps a return to his roots, but that venture never gained traction. Fischer died in 1947.