This year marks the centennial of one of America’s best-loved and most influential automobile designs of all time: Of course, we’re referring to the Reeves Octo-Auto. As the vehicle that made Columbus, Indiana, the automotive captial that it is today turns 100, fans around the globe are lining up a year’s worth of celebrations.
“I think it goes without saying that the Octo-Auto is the most important vehicle that the Reeves Pulley Company ever produced,” said Barnabas Trimalchio “Bunty” Reeves, a descendant of company founder Milton O. Reeves and president-for-life of the Octo-Auto Owners and Preservation Society, or OOPS. “In fact, it’s not much of a stretch to say that the Octo-Auto was the most important American car ever produced. Aw, heck, it’s probably the most important car the world has ever produced, and one of humankind’s most stunning achievements. I mean, can you imagine if four-wheeled cars caught on?”
Automotive historians have long marveled at the genius of Reeves’s design. In a world where conventional wisdom dictated that automobiles should have four, or perhaps three, wheels, it was Reeves who broke the barrier with his idea for an eight-wheeled automobile.
“Somehow, Reeves just knew that eight was the magic number,” said Wallace Takenail, the noted automotive historian whose book, “Crazy Eights: Milton O. Reeves and the Reinvention of the Automobile,” is considered the definitive biography of the celebrated inventor. “It might be apocryphal, but the story goes that the idea occurred to him one day while he was putting on his roller skates. He just happened to count the wheels, and – bingo, the light bulb went off!” Takenail said. “He realized that, if you needed eight wheels to support a human being, you’d need at least that many to safely support an automobile, which is generally much heavier.”
Reeves experimented with his eight-wheeled idea; One early prototype, with five wheels on one side and three on the other, was disappointing, while another, with seven wheels on one side, led to an accident during a test run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that nearly took the inventor’s life. But when he arranged four wheels on each side, he realized he had found the magic formula. His invention immediately took hold and the Reeves Pulley Company prospered, leading it to become the multi-billion, multi-national auto producer it is today.
The highpoint of this year’s celebrations is expected to be the unveiling of a statue of Reeves at his Rush County, Indiana, birthplace, with what’s anticipated as the largest gathering ever of all the surviving 1911 Octo-Autos. That takes place August 24, which would have been Reeves’s 147th birthday. “We’ve got a 2011 Octo-Auto running as the pace car at this year’s Indianapolis 500, and we expect that some of the major concours will have some announcements to make pertaining to Reeves in the coming weeks,” Bunty Reeves confided.
“We’re pleased to be helping to honor Milton O. Reeves and his accomplishments in this landmark year,” said Bruscoe Schrader, a spokesman for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. “I mean, after all, we owe him a debt of gratitude. We wouldn’t be what we are today without him.”