Prolific in the Motor Department
Photo credit: Bob Tomaine
“Billy Birdsall was a preeminent designer and an automotive engineer, and that was partly their downfall,” said Steve Heald of the designer/owner duo. Heald and his wife, Pam, own the 1908 Mora six-cylinder tourer pictured here. “He loved to engineer new motors. Every car they built, they put a new motor in it.”
Over the course of five model years, Moras were powered by fours and sixes of 20 hp to 60 hp. Heald’s car uses a 386-cid F-head six that produces 50 hp. The car had barely been run since its rebuild before the Mora centennial celebration in Newark, New York, this past August (see Revs, opposite page), and the very need for that rebuild helped to preserve this mostly original car.
“In about 1910 it threw the No. 2 rod right out the side of the crankcase,” Heald explained. “It put a hole the size of your fist in the cast-aluminum crankcase, took out the water pump, which was directly in its path, and spider-cracked the aluminum casing everywhere.” Heald said a sheetmetal patch was used. “They got it so it would run,” he said, “but it was never the same, so it was parked and pretty much left alone.”
Heald’s 1910 guess is based on the genuine Mora replacement rod, suggesting the car was recent enough that parts were available. Rebuilding the engine without a new casting was a conscious decision to maintain originality, but Heald said the Mora had run for less than an hour since completion and admitted he was not yet entirely familiar with it. Even getting it started was a challenge.
At the Mora centennial, willing volunteers push-started the car. Once the engine caught, it settled down to a relatively smooth idle. Heald drove around some back streets, the car’s 115-inch wheelbase and long-stroke engine—it has a 4.0-inch bore and 5.125-inch stroke—making for a comfortable ride and infrequent shifts.
We then got behind the wheel, and over a short distance the Mora proved to be not so difficult. Like most brass-era cars, it responds to strength, but its three-speed shifter moves through the H pattern with only a smooth and gentle resistance. The brakes stop the car in a straight line with no disconcerting noise or vibration but considerable distance would be needed at highway speed.
Beyond that, some Mora features could confound a modern driver. Adjusting to right hand drive with the handbrake and shifter to the right wouldn’t be too difficult, although seeing the clutch pedal flat on the floor might give pause. Releasing the handbrake raises the pedal to its expected position, but while the pedals are laid out as on a modern car, the throttle’s action requires practice. It’s very high and does not respond in a linear way. Heald agrees it’s unusual, but it’s almost certainly as-built, and therefore unlikely to be changed.
The Healds value the originality of not only their Mora, but a 1908 Browniekar that was also at the centennial. The Browniekar is a 3.5-hp, 66-inch-wheelbase children’s car designed by Birdsall and manufactured by Samuel Mora under the Child’s Automobile Co. and then Omar Motor Car Co.
Browniekar failed along with Mora, and Samuel Mora moved to Cleveland. With Birdsall, he established the Mora Power Wagon Co. there in 1911. A light-truck builder, the company was gone by 1914.