Carter Carburetor – An Automotive Icon

Carter carburetors were a constant in the car business for over six decades and millions of units were produced. Anyone who worked in the car business a few decades ago knew them well however, the relentless march of progress came in the form of fuel injection and wiped the company out long ago. The old Carter Carburetor factory is now a vacant St. Louis landmark and, sadly, a superfund site. Here’s the story about the rise and fall of a major automotive institution.

William Carter was a bike mechanic who experimented owned a successful bicycle shop in the early 1900s. Like many such shops, he also repaired some motorized vehicles. He discovered a weakness in many of them, their carburetors, and set out to make his own replacements. His carburetors were made of cast brass and due to his precision machining techniques were considered the best of the time. The automotive industry quickly took notice and soon many automobile manufacturers were knocking at the door for Carter-built carburetors.

Before long business was booming and Carter Carburetors was supplying major automobile manufacturers such as Packard, Hupmobile, Chevrolet, Buick, and Oldsmobile. Business was so good that in 1915, a brand new four-story, 480,000-square-foot factory designed by renowned architect Hugo Graf was built on a 10-acre site in North St. Louis, just across the street from the stadium where the St. Louis Browns played.
In 1924, William Carter left the company when it was sold it to American Car and Foundry Company (ACF), a railcar conglomerate that had started to diversify into automotive suppliers.
Carter operated as a standalone unit within ACF for the next 60 years, during which time it was responsible for many innovations. The technicians at tell us that Carter produced the world’s first American four-barrel carburetor for Buick’s 1952 straight-eight. This was eventually superseded by the famous Carter AFB.
Carter even produced Quadrajet carburetors for their arch rival Rochester Carburetors whenever demand outpaced Rochester’s ability to make them. In Carter’s final years in the early 1980s, they also produced Weber carburetors, another major European competitor, under license.

By the early 1980s, as automakers switched over from carburetors to fuel injection, however, Carter’s core business began to quickly slow down. By 1984, ACF shuttered the once proud St. Louis factory. Sadly, three years after ACF closed the plant, the Environmental Protection Agency found polychlorinated biphenyls on the site, left over from the hydraulic fluid used in the die cast machines that William Carter had worked so hard to perfect, enough to declare the entire plant and grounds a Superfund site.

Today, the iconic Carter Carburetor name is a historical artifact and is typically a topic of conversation only among classic car enthusiasts and restorers.

Article Source: Reedman Toll Autoworld


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