Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Benson Automobile

The Benson Automobile was the first automobile built in the state of Oregon. Garage Inventor Nils Benson and his teenage assistant James Chance started working on the car in 1904. Benson ordered some parts and made others at his machine shop on SE Grand Avenue in Portland. The rubber tires were shipped from Indochina.

The Benson Automobile was displayed at the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland and operated there for 3 months. Later, Benson added a crankshaft and 2 more cylinders for a total of 4 before the automobile was considered finished in 1906. Though he originally planned to build more, this was the only automobile Benson ever built.

The Benson automobile ended up being stored in a shed behind Benson's home on NE 92nd Place. It was sold to neighbor William McAllister in 1951 and then to Walter Rusk in 1973. Rusk restored to automobile in 1973-74 and donated it to the Oregon Historical Society in 1999. Today, the Benson automobile is on display at the Oregon Historical Society's Museum in Portland.

(Photography is not permitted at the OHS museum, but I took these before I was told about the rule. I am posting them so that no one else will be tempted to break the rules.)

The Cambellini

This is something special. I saw this car back in 2008 at the Northwest Car Collectors Association Car Show and Swap Meet in Portland, Oregon. It was labelled simply as a 2006 Cambellini owned by Tom and Jan Campbell. I didn't know anything else about it until I received an email a few months ago from a friend of Tom Campbell named Rick Sanders who gave me the rest of the story, which I have consolidated here in my own words.

Tom Campbell was an engineer who became the head engineer and manufacturing mamager at a compeny with over 200 employees and with his wife Jan raised two boys. Tom spent about 20 years designing and building the Cambellini from scratch in his 4,000 square foot shop. By 1991, he had built his second clay design model of the car at approximately 18" in length. From that model he used a projector to blow up slices of the model to full size using tools and jigs he designed, and from those slices built a full-size clay model. He built the entire body and chassis from scratch, only purchasing items like the engine, wheels & tires & windshield. Tom Campbell passed away in December 2009 at the age of 56.

The Cambellini absolutely looks like it could be a production car, and is a testament to one man's talent and determination to fulfill a dream.

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