The Martin Stationette was pitched as the American economy car of the future. It was supposed to make our lives better, our roads clearer, but only one prototype was ever built. That’s probably for the best. On this week’s episode of Jason Drives (I am writing the post for it because Jason is off doing stupid shit in Mexico) we found out that there’s a lot wrong with the Stationette—and that’s leaving aside that it’s made entirely out of wood.
The Stationette was the last work by American automotive dreamer James V. Martin, who wanted to take aeroplane-style construction and aerodynamics and apply it to cars. This gets kind of confusing, as James Martin is not to be confused with Glenn Martin, the Martin of Lockheed-Martin, who was also working in planes at this time. Ahem.
In any case, Martin’s idea for the Stationette was to make a car a simply as possible and as space-efficiently as possible, so that suburban commuters wouldn’t take up unnecessary space, and there’d be less traffic and more general happiness. This approach doesn’t exactly explain the execution.
Martin went for a unibody design. Great! Only he made it entirely out of wood. Not so great.
Martin went for a wind-cheating one-box design. Again, great! Only he made it so cramped that he had to put in flip-down theater-style seats and chop out the bottom third of the steering wheel so that anyone would fit. Again, not so great.
Complicating things more was that Martin used no shock absorbers whatsoever and only had something like bungee cords for suspension, Martin selected a stationary engine only really designed to sit at a single RPM to power the car, he stuck that very loud engine right behind the passenger compartment, he only gave the car a single rear wheel, which is the only wheel with any brakes, and also handles all of the power of the car running through Harley-Davidson running gear. It’s sort of like a 1950s motorcycle with a generator engine driving around a small log cabin. The ride is troublingly bad, the steering wheel is a constant challenge, and the Harley sequential transmission (reverse-first-neutral-second-third) is not exactly user-friendly.
Though Martin wanted a large company to license his design to produce wooden economy cars for the everyman, the Stationette didn’t pick up any takers. Martin hoped that swathes of 1950s Americans would be buying Stationettes for $995, shifting gears with its oddly sexual leather-wrapped shifter, but only this one prototype was built.
It might be the most lovable-looking, instantly charming car ever made, what with al the wood and truly beautiful, adorable construction. But it was still terrible, and it’s probably for the best it didn’t make it.