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Carter Carburetor – The Rise and Fall of an Automotive Icon



Carter Carburetor, single barrel

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A few decades ago, anyone involved in the automotive industry knew the name Carter Carburators and knew it well. With millions of units produced and sold, Carter carburetors were a constant in the car business for over six decades; however, the relentless march of progress in the form of fuel injection wiped the company off the face of the automotive landscape.

Sadly, the old Carter Carburetor factory now serves as a vacant St. Louis landmark and superfund site. Here’s the story about the rise and fall of an automotive icon.

William Carter started off in the early 1900s as a bike mechanic and owner of a successful St. Louis bicycle shop who experimented with carburetors. Becoming dissatisfied with the carburetors he repaired, he set out to make his own and created a cast brass unit that, thanks to his precision techniques, was considered the most accurate of the time.

The automotive industry was quick to take notice and Carter-built carburetors were soon in high demand. The success prompted the construction of a brand-new four-story, 480,000-square-foot factory in 1915, one built by renowned architect Hugo Graf on a 10-acre site in North St. Louis, just across the street from the stadium where the St. Louis Browns played.

In 1924, when the Carter Carburetor company was already a major enterprise supplying the likes of Packard, Hupmobile, Chevrolet, Buick and Oldsmobile, William Carter gave up ownership of the company after selling it to American Car and Foundry Company (ACF), a railcar conglomerate that was diversifying into the automotive supplier segment. He then operated as a standalone unit within ACF for the next 60 years, during which time the division was responsible for many innovations.

According to the technicians at, Carter produced the first American four-barrel carburetor for Buick’s 1952 straight-eight, which was eventually superseded by the famous Carter AFB. He also adapted carburetors for Willys four-cylinder Jeep engines, waterproofing them for water crossings.

Carter even produced Rochester Quadrajet carburetors for their arch rival whenever demand outpaced Rochester’s ability to make them. In his final years in the early 1980s, they also produced Weber carburetors — another major competitor — under license.

As innovative as Carter Carburetor was, its core business quickly slowed down in the 1980s as automakers switched over from carburetors to fuel injection. The situation worsened to the point where ACF had to shutter the once proud St. Louis factory in 1984.

As if that wasn’t enough misfortune, 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 and enough to declare the entire plant and grounds a Superfund site.

Today, the iconic Carter Carburetor name lives on merely as an historical artifact — a topic of conversation among classic car enthusiasts. Do you have any fond memories of Carter carburetors?

Article Source: Akins Dodge Jeep Chrysler

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