Sometimes I feel like I’ll encounter a little automotive fact that, while not really worthy of a deep dive, may still be one that you have a right to be made aware of. And I think I have just such a fact for you today: between 1919 and 1920, if you had 4,750 francs to throw around (in today’s honest American money, that would be about $15,600), you could buy a car called A.S.S. Yes, a car named “ass,” pretty much. But not really, but also, yes, ASS. I’ll explain.
You see, A.S.S. was a French car, and was so named not in celebration of plump, glorious derrières, but rather for something that the car did not have: valves. In French, the way you said “automobiles without valves” was Automobiles Sans Soupapes, and our clever readers have likely already deduced that the acronym from those words delivers a big helping of A.S.S.
The A.S.S. lacked valves because its 12 horsepower, 1.3-liter engine was a two-stroke supplied by Thomas, and two-stroke engines don’t have valves. Well, that’s not exactly true – they have things like valves usually called ports, but those ports don’t require any additional moving parts to work, being opened and closed by the motion of the piston as you can see in this animation from 2strokeengine.net:
I like how big that exhaust pipe is there, too.
So, no valves, technically. The A.S.S. was targeted as a sort of early peoples’ car, with the advertising tagline L’automobile pour tous (the automobile for everyone). Impressively for a relatively inexpensive car for everyone in 1919, the A.S.S. had electric lighting and an electric starter, both pretty advanced features for the era.
In design, the A.S.S. appears to be pretty conventional, with a quite narrow hood reminiscent of a cyclecar, but this was much more of a “real” automobile. Suspension was by leaf springs, and a two-speed epicyclic/planetary transmission gave those dozen horses a path to the rear wheels.
A four-seat tourer was the one usually pictured, but sources say a two-seat coupé was also available. The car was produced in limited numbers between 1919 and 1920, and there were plans for more full-scale mass production, but they fell through. The A.S.S. company merged with the Société des Moteurs Thomas, and that was the end of the car named A.S.S.
Kind of a shame, really. I mean, look, it even said ASS right on the radiator grille, and in some alternate world maybe they could have bought out Ford and there would have been a real world version of that old game with Ford model names, and people would be driving around ASS Explorers or ASS Probes or ASS Rangers.
I guess some realities are just too beautiful for us.