The world is always on the hunt for the best mousetrap – or, in this case, a different, if not better, automobile. In today’s world, with rising gas prices, we are turning to more fuel-efficient cars to get us from place to place.
My first car was a 1966 Pontiac Lemans with a 250 horsepower engine. It was a used rusty green car that only did about 14 mpg. Sure, gas prices were around 39 cents a gallon when I was 16 and eager to learn to drive. Times have changed over the decades.
While we have plenty of gasoline available in today’s society, the world is turning to electric cars that will bring us to a new generation of transportation. This has been the case since the invention of the internal combustion engine. There have been those people who see the possibility of a better way to get from place to place.
Before the cars:In the early 1800s, people and goods traveled by ark from Cortland to Binghamton and beyond
Many who attempt to break out of the mold of the modern automobile have often been met with sneers, doubts and anger from the big three automakers. Think of the efforts of people like Preston Tucker with his Tucker automobile – years ahead of the cars of the late 1940s; John DeLorean, whose car was essential in “Back to the Future”; and Felix Wankel and his Wankel engine design.
In this arena of courageous inventors, we must add the name of Rudolph Papiri.
Rudolfo Papiri was born in 1896 in Italy and as a young man immigrated to the United States in the Dunmore area outside of Scranton around the time of World War I. He worked for a coal company, but in 1930 he left the Binghamton area with his young wife, Ida.
They lived on the south side of Binghamton, most on what was then called DeRussey Street, later changed to South Washington Street in the late 1940s.
Papiri moved away from coal and into the auto service area. Over the next two decades he became very good at repairing and replacing parts for all different car models. He understood their mechanics.
His first business partnership resulted in the New York Radiator Co. through 1942. It was during America’s first full year of involvement in World War II that he dissolved that partnership to create his own business called Collier Auto Body Repair, at 3 Collier St. near the Susquehanna River and across from his home on South Washington Street. He specialized in repairing automobile bodies and fenders to make the owner’s cars look “shaped like a fiddle,” according to a newspaper report.
During World War II, factors were involved in the region requiring this specialty. Gas rationing and a shortage of metal for the home front meant that new car production stopped during the war years. Everyone had to make do with their current car, and auto repair was essential to sustaining a community. At the same time, Papiri began to see that the design of a new type of car could find a real market among consumers.
In 1947, while Papiri was working for the Civil Service Garage, he took discarded fenders and body parts and designed what the newspaper affectionately called a miniature car. The car had a single-cylinder engine in the trunk of the car, and the driver’s feet went under the hood. The wheels were 10-inch rubber wheels, and the driver literally sat 3 inches off the floor of the car.
Although the car might have been tiny, it worked. As soon as the announcement of the completion of this first model that could adapt to any parking space, Papiri received offers to buy the car. One offered him $1,000 and others thought he should start a $250,000 factory to make them. All good suggestions without the money to back up these offers. It seems that Mr. Papiri’s idea was ahead of its time, and his death in 1967 put an end to it.
It was an idea, like many, that was good and got lost in the clouds due to cars speeding down the highways.
Gerald Smith is a former Broome County historian. Email him at [email protected]
Curfew:During World War II, the Air Guardians helped the region stay prepared by keeping their eyes on the sky