The Z. Taylor Vinson Collection – Open to the Public on January 2nd

One example of the of the kinds of items found in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, a trade catalog for the Hupmobile Skylark, ca. 1939-1940.

One example of the of the kinds of items found in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, a trade catalog for the Hupmobile Skylark, ca. 1939-1940.

Attention readers! For a little more than 3 years, you have been patiently waiting for the day in which you could access the materials found in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. Today, it gives me great me pleasure to notify you that the long wait is almost over. On January 2, 2014, the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection will be officially open to the general public. Beginning on January 2nd, researchers will be able to visit Hagley and take a first-hand look at the wonderful materials found in the collection.

Finding Aid for the Vinson Collection

By making the Z. Taylor Vinson collection available to you, we at Hagley have brought the project to its official conclusion. From our perspective, Vinson Collection Project was an enjoyable one to work on and satisfying to complete. The collection’s contents are truly fascinating and we learned a great deal about automobiles and automotive history over the course of the project. By working with the Vinson Collection, we also learned some immensely valuable lessons on how to best process very large imprint collections. This newly acquired knowledge will be applied to other processing projects at Hagley in the future.

Now that the project is completed, I am also writing to announce that this will be my final installment of the Vinson Collection Blog, and that I will soon be saying farewell to Hagley. I have accepted the position of Project Archivist at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My last day at Hagley will be on December 31st. Although I am sad to be leaving Hagley, I am very happy that the Vinson Collection is now being properly preserved and will soon be available to researchers. I will also be watching future developments regarding the collection with great interest.

Before I leave, I would like to use this opportunity to thank all of my colleagues at here at Hagley who made my stay here an enjoyable one and whose valuable contributions helped bring the Vinson Collection Project to its successful completion. I would also like to thank the readers for regularly tuning in to the Vinson Collection Blog and for patiently bearing with us while the collection was being processed. Once again, starting on January 2nd, we at Hagley cordially invite you to pay us a visit and have a first-hand look at the materials found in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection.

Goodbye and Good luck!

Sources

Saab 96, Fast Roomy Handsome – Built with Aircraft Quality: Saab: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 9X, 90, 92, 92X, 95, 96, Aero, Aero X, Granturismo 750, Shrike, Sonett II, Sonett III, Sonett V4, Special, Turbo, and V4, 1951-2006, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The Sensational Hupp Skylark, America’s Most Distinguished Low Priced Car: Hupmobile: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 417, 421-J, 427, 517, 518, 521, 527, Club Sedan, and Skylark, 1934-1935, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The complete finding aid for the Vinson Collection is available online

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Movie Cars – The Parker Family’s 1937 Oldsmobile Six in A Christmas Story

Now that the holiday season is upon us, a number of Christmas-themed movies are being broadcast on America’s television networks. For this week’s blog, I decided to focus on a film that is widely considered to be a holiday classic: A Christmas Story. Released in 1983 and directed by Bob Clark, A Christmas Story starred Peter Billingsly (as Ralphie Parker) and Darren McGavin (as Old Man Parker), and was narrated by Jean Shepherd (as the adult Ralphie Parker). Set in Hammond, Indiana during the 1940s, the film’s plot centers on 9-year-old Ralphie’s campaign to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.

Shot mainly in Cleveland, Ohio, A Christmas Story was only modestly successful at the box office. But when it started appearing on television in 1985, the film quickly acquired a large following and became an annual broadcast staple during the Christmas season. In 2012, A Christmas Story was declared to be “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Trade catalog for the 1937 Oldsmobile Six.

Trade catalog for the 1937 Oldsmobile Six.

Even the though the movie was shot on a small budget, the producers of A Christmas Story sought to make the film’s sets historically accurate. To help achieve this effect, a number of vintage cars were donated by Cleveland car buffs for use in the movie. With this in mind, I decided to write this week’s blog on the car that played the most prominent role in the movie: the Parker Family’s 1937 Oldsmobile Six.

The 1937 Oldsmobile Six (officially called the F-37) was a full-sized car that occupied the lower end of Oldsmobile’s model range. Selling in the $810-$965 price range, the Six was advertised as a car that featured a combination of power, economy, and luxury at a reasonable price. The car was powered by a 230 cubic-inch inline-6 engine, which was good for 95 horsepower. It was fitted with a streamlined all-steel body shell that featured a number of Art Deco styling cues, including a turret top, a grille with 7 horizontal bars, and skirted fenders. The Six was a very successful car for Oldsmobile and 137,613 of them were built during the 1937 model year.

Trade catalog image of a 1937 Oldsmobile Six Four-Door Touring Sedan, an example of which served as the Parkers’ family car in A Christmas Story.

Trade catalog image of a 1937 Oldsmobile Six Four-Door Touring Sedan, an example of which served as the Parkers’ family car in A Christmas Story.

The 1937 Oldsmobile Six that appeared in A Christmas Story was a 4-door touring sedan, which appeared frequently over the course of the movie. This car was portrayed as being troublesome in the winter, which led Old Man Parker to complain that it would “freeze up in the middle of the summer on the equator!” The car also figured prominently in a couple of the movie’s funniest scenes. While helping his father change a flat tire (which occurred while the Parkers were driving their Christmas tree home), Ralphie accidently dropped the lug nuts, to which he reacted by blurting out a naughty word. For this indiscretion, Ralphie was punished by having a bar of soap put in his mouth. At the end of the movie, after the family’s roast turkey is eaten by the neighbors’ dogs, Old Man Parker used the car to drive his family to a Chinese restaurant for a memorable Christmas dinner.

It is not known what happened to the Parker Family’s 1937 Oldsmobile Six after the movie was completed. On a happier note, a 1937 Oldsmobile Six similar to the one used in the movie is preserved at the A Christmas Story House & Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sources

A Christmas Story – Internet Movie Cars Database

A Christmas Story – Internet Movie Database

A Christmas Story – Wikipedia

A Christmas Story House & Museum

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 1083.

Oldsmobile Six (1937): Oldsmobile: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Six, 1930-1936, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

1934 Graham Custom Eight

The Great Depression was a difficult time period for the American automobile industry. During this economic downturn, some American automakers attempted to boost sales by offering cars featuring advanced technology. One automaker in particular who sought to do this was Graham-Paige Motors, a struggling independent firm based in Detroit, Michigan. Around 1933, Graham-Paige came up with the idea of mass-producing a car fitted with a device usually reserved for race cars and high-end luxury cars: the supercharger. The end result was America’s first moderately-priced supercharged car: the 1934 Graham Custom Eight.

Trade catalog image of a 1934 Graham Custom Eight four door sedan.

Trade catalog image of a 1934 Graham Custom Eight four door sedan.

Introduced at the New York Auto Show in December 1933 and offered at a decidedly moderate price range of $1,245-$1,330, the Graham Custom Eight was a modified version of the widely acclaimed, but slow-selling, Graham Blue Streak (which appeared in late 1931). Even without its supercharged engine, the Custom Eight was an advanced car for its time. A relatively large car, it was built on the Blue Streak’s innovative and low-slung “Banjo” chassis, in which the car’s rear axle was placed in large openings in both sides of the frame. The car was clothed with the Blue Streak’s trend-setting body shell. Designed by Amos Northup and detailed by Raymond Dietrich, the body featured styling cues that were already being widely copied by other American automakers at the time of the Custom Eight’s introduction, including a sloped grille, skirted fenders, and a hidden radiator cap.

But it was the Custom Eight’s supercharged engine that really set it apart from its contemporaries. The engine itself was a well-proven 265.4 cubic inch straight-8. It was fitted with a centrifugal supercharger designed by Graham-Paige’s Assistant Chief Engineer F.F. Kishline, which was largely inspired by a Duesenberg design. Mounted between the carburetor and the intake manifold, the supercharger itself was powered by the engine’s crankshaft and its rotor was capable of spinning up to 23,000 RPM.

Trade catalog image the 1934 Graham Custom Eight’s supercharged straight-8 engine.

Trade catalog image the 1934 Graham Custom Eight’s supercharged straight-8 engine.

Equipped with this innovative engine, the Graham Custom Eight was capable of a high level of performance for a car of its price range. The engine produced a then-impressive 135 horsepower and gave the car a top speed of over 90 miles per hour. The supercharger gave the engine excellent mid-range torque, which was very useful for passing on two-lane roads. Much to the surprise of Graham-Paige, the Custom Eight’s supercharged engine also proved to be remarkably fuel-efficient and easy to start in cold weather. Perhaps most importantly of all, the supercharger was very reliable and a number of them lasted over 100,000 miles without breaking down.

Largely due to the bad economy and its relatively expensive (but by no means excessive) sticker price, the Custom Eight was not a huge seller. Nevertheless it was well-received by the American motoring public, and it sold well enough to help Graham-Paige Motors survive the Great Depression. With assistance from the Custom Eight, the firm succeeded in significantly boosting its sales to 15,745 cars for the 1934 model year. The success of the 1934 Custom Eight encouraged Graham-Paige Motors to continue offering moderately priced supercharged cars, which it did until 1941. It can also be argued that in the long term, the Custom Eight helped Graham-Paige stay in business long enough to sell off its car assets and turn itself into a thriving real estate firm, a transformation it successfully carried out in 1947.

The 1934 Graham Custom Eight was replaced by an updated and restyled version for the 1935 model year. Surviving examples are technically fascinating collector items today.

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 642-644.

Graham (1934): Graham: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Graham Range, 1931-1934, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Graham Custom Eight (1934): Graham: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Cavalier, Crusader, Custom Eight, Deluxe Six, Eight, Prosperity Six, 1931-1937, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Graham Owners Club International

How Stuff Works – 1932-1935 Graham Blue Streak

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 647, 650.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

The 1911-1914 Mercer Type 35-R Raceabout:
An American High-Performance Legend

1911 Mercer trade catalog cover showing the dashboard of a Type 35-R from the driver’s perspective.

1911 Mercer trade catalog cover showing the dashboard of a Type 35-R from the driver’s perspective.

By the early 1900s, American automakers had already become aware of the motoring public’s fascination with high-performance cars. One early American automaker who sought to capitalize on the interest in such vehicles was Mercer Automobile Company, which was based in Trenton, New Jersey. Around 1909-1910, Mercer started work on a high-performance car that it hoped would attract public attention. The end result of the company’s labors was a car that would go down in automotive history as an American high-performance legend: the 1911-1914 Mercer Type 35-R Raceabout, which was popularly known as the “Raceabout.”

The Mercer Type 35-R Raceabout was an open two-seat speedster. Conceived by Mercer’s general manager Washington Roebling II (the grandson of John A. Roebling, the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge) and designed by Finley Robertson Porter, the Raceabout, was built to meet some very specific and demanding criteria. According to Mercer company literature:

Type 35-R has been produced to meet the growing demand for a high-speed, high-grade, moderate-priced racing car, which a private individual may take out on the road, and safely and consistently drive at a speed between 70 and 80 miles an hour.

Trade catalog image of the 1911 Mercer Type 35-R Raceabout.

Trade catalog image of the 1911 Mercer Type 35-R Raceabout.

Introduced in late 1910 and initially sold at a then-hefty price of $2,250, the Raceabout was a very advanced car for time. It was built on a pressed-alloy chassis and rode on a 108-inch wheelbase. The chassis was positioned unusually low to the ground for its time, which gave it a lower center of gravity than its contemporaries. The car’s chassis was clothed with an all-aluminum body, which consisted of little more than a hood, fenders, and running boards. Passenger accommodations were minimal, consisting of only two bucket seats and a small monocle windshield for the driver. The overall chassis and body design made the Raceabout extraordinarily light for its time, weighing in at 2,300 pounds.

The Raceabout’s drive train was equally innovative. Power was provided by a 300 cubic-inch inline-4 engine. Featuring a T-head, dual spark plugs, and a high compression ratio of 7 to 1, the engine was officially rated at 34 horsepower, but was actually good for a then-impressive 58 horsepower. The engine was initially mated to a 3-speed manual transmission, which was noted for its smooth shifting. Power was transmitted to the rear wheel by a drive shaft, another advanced feature for its time.

The Raceabout’s combination of light weight, horsepower, and advanced technology made it a more-than-capable performer. Due to its low ground clearance and low center of gravity, the car was blessed with excellent handling characteristics. The car was also notably fast, having a top speed of around 75-80 miles per hour. Mercer also guaranteed that the Raceabout would cover a mile in 51 seconds.

Photograph of a 1912 Mercer Type 35-R Raceabout.

Photograph of a 1912 Mercer Type 35-R Raceabout.

The Raceabout’s reputation for high performance was further enhanced by its success on the racetrack. Between 1911 and 1914, factory-supported teams of Raceabouts dominated the American racing scene. Campaigned by top drivers that included Ralph DePalma, Eddie Pullen, and Barney Oldfield, the Raceabout won chalked up numerous victories. Additional race victories were earned by cars campaigned by private owners.

After achieving legendary status in the course of its production run, the Type 35-R Raceabout was replaced by the 22/70 Raceabout for the 1915 model year. A very rare car in its heyday, less than 600 Type 35-R Raceabouts were built. The few surviving examples are cherished collector items today.

Sources

Fitzgerald, Craig, “1911 Mercer 35R Raceabout,” Hemmings Motor News, March 2007

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1008-1009.

How Stuff Works – 1911-1915 Mercer Raceabout Model 35-R 

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 958-961.

Mercer (1911): Mercer: Trade Catalogs: Various Models, 1911-ca. 1924, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Photograph of 1912 Mercer Raceabout 

Strohl, David, “Magical Mercer, Already legendary, this 1914 Mercer Raceabout came with an impressive history of previous owners,” Hemmings Motor News, April 2009

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

The 1962-1964 BMW 1500

During the late 1950s, BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke) was teetering on bankruptcy.  Its large sedans, sports cars, and motorcycle were selling very poorly.  The company kept itself afloat by building the Isetta, 600, and 700 microcars, which sold well, but were not very profitable.  In addition to its financial difficulties, BMW also had to fend off an unsuccessful takeover bid by German competitor Daimler-Benz.  But all was not lost for the Munich, Germany-based automaker.  In 1959, BMW started work on an advanced mid-range car that it hoped would sell in large numbers.  The end result was a car that not only saved the company, but is also credited with truly establishing BMW a world-class automaker: the 1962-1964 BMW 1500.

1961 trade catalog for the not-yet-released BMW 1500.  Note the car’s trademark kidney-shaped grille.

1961 trade catalog for the not-yet-released BMW 1500. Note the car’s trademark kidney-shaped grille.

Popularly known as the “New Class,” the BMW 1500 was a medium-priced, 4-door sport sedan.  Designed by a team headed by Fritz Fiedler, it was a remarkably advanced medium-priced car for its time.  An efficient compact design, the 1500 was built on a monocoque chassis and rode on a 100-inch wheelbase.  It employed a front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout.  Power was provided by a sophisticated 1499 cc (91 cubic-inch) inline-4 engine, which featured a chain-driven overhead camshaft and was good for 80 horsepower.  The engine was mated to a four-speed manual transmission.  The 1500 was equipped with a then-advanced 4-wheel independent suspension system, which employed MacPherson struts and coil springs on the front and semi-trailing arms and coil springs in the rear.

Not only did the 1500 feature advanced engineering, it was given a practical, yet striking-looking unit body.  Styled by Wilhelm Hofmeister, the body featured a forward slanted nose, a low-hood and trunk line, and BMW’s trademark kidney-shaped grille, thus creating an unmistakeable outer profile that would appear on BMW cars for many years to come.  The low hood and trunk line allowed for a large window glass area, which gave drivers exceptional visibility.  Inside, the 1500 could seat 5 passengers and had a surprisingly spacious trunk.

Trade catalog for the 1964 BMW 1500.  Note car’s distinctive profile.

Trade catalog for the 1964 BMW 1500. Note car’s distinctive profile.

To top it all off, the BMW 1500 offered a level of performance that was considered excellent for a sport sedan of its day.  The 1500 was capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 14 seconds and had a claimed top speed of 92 miles per hour.  Thanks to its 4-wheel independent suspension, the car was also blessed with outstanding handling characteristics.

The BMW 1500 was released to the motoring public in the summer of 1962.  Initially offered at a price of $2,125, the car was a smash hit and the demand for it quickly exceeded supply.  Customers and critics alike were impressed with the 1500’s advanced design and lively performance.  The car sold so well that BMW’s financial position improved dramatically and firmly established the company as a world class automaker.  On a negative note, the earliest 1500s did experience some serious quality issues, which included problems with their transmissions, trailing arms, and rear axles.  But BMW was able to address many of these issues over the course of the car’s production run.  The lessons learned from the experience of the 1500 enabled BMW to build higher quality cars in the future.

After a 3-year model run, the BMW 1500 was replaced by the BMW 1600 for the 1965 model year.  23,807 BMW 1500s were built.  Surviving examples are sought-after collectibles today.

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 174-175.

BMW 1500 (1961), BMW: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 1500, 1961-1964, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

BMW Group Archives

ConceptCarz – 1962 BMW 1500

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 134-135, 139-140.

Die Neue Klasse BMW 1500, Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 1500, 1961-1964, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Wikipedia – BMW New Class

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Treasures from the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection: 1924 Delaunay-Belleville Portfolio

Cover of the 1924 Delaunay-Belleville portfolio in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection

Cover of the 1924 Delaunay-Belleville portfolio in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection

In his autobiography “A Collector’s Life (an autobiography),” Z. Taylor Vinson listed and described a handful of items that he referred to as his “Treasures.” The Treasures are individual collection items that Mr. Vinson, for various reasons, was particularly proud of owning. This week, I decided to highlight one of the more unusual items from Vinson’s list of treasures: a 1924 Delaunay-Belleville portfolio.

Delaunay-Belleville was a renowned French manufacturer of prestige luxury cars during the first half of the twentieth century. Based in St. Denis, France and originally a manufacturer of locomotive and marine boilers, the firm started building luxury cars in 1904, which were outwardly distinguishable by their round grilles and hoods. By 1914, Delaunay-Belleville cars were considered to be among the most prestigious in the world and were owned by a number of luminaries, including Czar Nicholas II and the Kings of Greece and Spain. During the 1920s, Dellaunay-Bellevelle started to fall out of favor with its wealthy clientele. In response to its decline in the marketplace, the company sought to renew interest in its line of luxury cars through some creative advertising.

The 1924 Delaunay-Belleville portfolio is a trade catalog for the firm’s 1924 model range. According to the portfolio, 3 Delaunay-Belleville chassis were available that model year: the low-end 12 CV, the mid-range 14/16 CV, and the high-end 25/30 CV. The smaller 12 CV was powered by an incline-4 engine. The larger 14/16 CV and 25/25 were powered by inline-6 power plants. All three models were fitted with custom coachwork tailored to the customer’s specifications. Like other prestige luxury cars of the day, the interiors of all three models were sumptuously appointed.

Plate featuring fanciful Illustrations by French illustrator Georges Lepape.  According to Z. Taylor Vinson, a Delaunay-Belleville car with a plaid paintjob was actually built!

Plate featuring fanciful Illustrations by French illustrator Georges Lepape. According to Z. Taylor Vinson, a Delaunay-Belleville car with a plaid paintjob was actually built!

Although the portfolio does contain the vital statistics of the 1924 Delaunay-Belleville model range, it is its artwork that makes it a fascinating of automobile advertising. The portfolio was printed by Draeger, a famed Paris, France-based printing house, which was noted for printing visually striking advertising materials. It contains five plates of artwork by five celebrated illustrators of the 1920s: Georges Lepape, Eduardo Garcia Benito, René Lelong, Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, and Charles Martin. The illustrations are drawn in Art Deco and Bauhaus style.

All five of the plates found in the portfolio are of Delaunay-Belleville cars. But the cars depicted in the plates are best described as “fanciful.” According to Mr. Vinson:

1924 Delaunay-Belleville: This catalogue-portfolio may be viewed as a post-war manifestation of the manufacturer’s desire to charm and amuse the reader. Certainly there has never been an item that so completely distorted the nature of what it was purporting to be to advertise, the cars impossibly elongated. The portfolio plates are by fashion artists of the day such as Lepape (whose names adorn the embossed card covers of this Draeger production), and show the cars in fanciful plaids and other impossible color treatments. The plaid car was actually produced.

Plate featuring fanciful illustrations by French illustrator Charles Martin.

Plate featuring fanciful illustrations by French illustrator Charles Martin.

Although Delaunay-Belleville succeeded in producing one of the more memorable luxury car trade catalogs of the 1920s, its use of striking visuals was not enough to ensure its survival. Due to a combination of factors that included a failure to keep up with automotive technology, competition, and the onset of the Great Depression, Delaunay-Belleville continued to struggle in the marketplace. After a slow decline that lasted many years, Delaunay-Belleville built its last car in 1950. Surviving examples of Delaunay-Belleville cars are rare collector items today.

Sources

Description Des Chassis Delaunay-Belleville 1924: Delaunay-Belleville: Trade Catalogs: Various Models, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Georgano, G.N., ed., The New Encyclopedia of Motorcars from 1885 to the Present, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1982, p. 190.

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 320.

Solley, Thomas T., Prestige, Status, and Works of Art, Selling the Luxury Car 1888-1942, Boston, MA: Racemaker Press, 2008, p. 143-145, 150, 161.

Vinson, Z. Taylor, A Collector’s Life (an auto-biography), Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library

The Subaru 360 – Subaru’s Inauspicious Start in the United States

Subaru occupies a prominent place as niche manufacturer in the American automobile market these days. Built by Fuji Heavy Industries of Tokyo, Japan and marketed towards drivers who live an active and outdoorsy lifestyle, Subaru cars are much loved by American drivers for their dependability and durability. The Japanese automaker is also renowned for employing fascinating technological features, including all-wheel drive, horizontally-opposed engines, and continuously variable transmission (my present car, a 2012 Subaru Impreza, is equipped with all three of these features). But it was not always this way. When Subaru first started selling cars in the United States, it struck an inauspicious note by offering a car that was not appropriate for the American market: the Subaru 360.

Trade catalog for the Subaru 360, ca. 1960s

Trade catalog for the Subaru 360, ca. 1960s

The Subaru 360 was a microcar originally designed for crowded Japanese driving conditions. A truly tiny car, the 360 weighed in at a mere 993 pounds and ran on 70-inch wheelbase. It employed a rear-engine, rear-wheel drive layout. Power was provided by a 356 cc (22 cubic-inch) 2-stroke inline-2 engine, which utilized air-cooling and was good for 25 horsepower. The engine was mated to a 4-speed manual transmission. The car rode on a suspension system which employed trailing arms with torsion bars and coil springs on the front wheels, and torsion bars and semi-axles on the rear wheels. Styling wise the 360 was clothed in a bulbous (and some argued ugly) 2-door body shell, which featured rear-hinged “suicide” doors.”

The 360 was capable of a level of performance that sufficed in Japan, but was considered unacceptable in the United States. On the positive side, it was an economical car to run, with a claimed gas mileage in excess of 50 miles per gallon, and its small size made it well-suited for use in urban areas. On the down side, it was a decidedly slow car. According to Consumer Reports, it took the 360 37.5 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 50 miles per hour and had a top speed of around 55 miles per hour.

Trade catalog for the Subaru 360, ca. 1960s

Trade catalog for the Subaru 360, ca. 1960s

Teaming up with automotive entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin, Subaru started importing the 360 to the United States in 1968 and offered it at a remarkably low sticker price of $1,297. Using the slogan “Cheap and Ugly Does It” (which probably drew its inspiration from well-remembered advertising campaigns for the Volkswagen Beetle), Subaru sought to market the 360 as an inexpensive, yet distinctive economy car. Unfortunately for Subaru, the 360 received a very chilly reception from the American driving public and sold poorly. Potential customers were put off by the 360’s small size, odd styling, and slow performance. Among those who did buy it, the car earned a reputation for being difficult to get serviced.

Perhaps most damaging of all, the 360 was publically branded as an unsafe car by the American motoring press. Consumer Reports rated the 360 as “Not Acceptable,” describing it as “the most unsafe car on the market.” The magazine was highly critical of the car’s lack of speed and unusual handling characteristics. It also harshly criticized the 360’s lack of safety equipment and poor performance in crash testing with larger American cars of the day. Its reputation damaged, Subaru withdrew the 360 from the American market after the 1970 model year. But Subaru learned some immensely valuable lessons from the 360’s experience, which enabled the Japanese firm to build cars that would become favorites with American drivers in years to come.

Around 10,000 Subaru 360s were imported to the United States between 1968 and 1970. Surviving examples are considered to be interesting collector items today.

Sources

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 748-749.

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1537.

McCourt, Mark J., “A Small Start for Something Big, The tale of how Subaru came to America with the 360 and how it nearly all ended,” Hemmings Motor News, February 2006.

Subaru 360, Subaru (Japan): Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 360 and 450, ca. 1960s, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Subaru 360 Drivers Club

Subaru 360, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., Subaru (Japan): Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 360 and 450, ca. 1960s, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

“The Subaru 360 (Not Acceptable)“ Consumer Reports, April 1969, p. 220-222.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

The Jeep FC-150 – A Unique, but Forgotten Four-Wheel Drive Vehicle

During the mid-1950s, Jeep, which was then owned by Willys Motors, Incorporated (a subsidiary of Kaiser Motors), was the leading manufacturer of 4-wheel drive vehicles in the United States. Although Jeep enjoyed a great deal of renown, the firm started to encounter more competition as other manufacturers, most notably the American Big Three automakers, started to enter the 4-wheel drive sector. In response to the increasing competition, Jeep sought to build something not offered by any other manufacturer of the day. The end result was as not a huge success, but did go down as one of the most unique-looking, albeit forgotten, four-wheel drive vehicles to appear on America’s market: the Jeep FC-150.

Trade catalog for the 1957 Jeep FC-150.

Trade catalog for the 1957 Jeep FC-150.

Also known as the “Forward Control” and “Flat Front,” the FC-150 was the first all-new Jeep vehicle since 1947. Engineered by A.C. Sampieto and marketed as a work vehicle suitable for both civilian and military use, the FC-150 was based on the much-beloved Jeep CJ-5. The FC-150 was built on the CJ-5’s chassis and rode on an 81-inch wheelbase. It was powered by Jeep’s well-proven Hurricane inline-four engine, which displaced 134.2 cubic inches, and was good for 75 horsepower. In FC-150’s standard form, the engine was mated to a Borg Warner three-speed manual transmission. Like other Jeep 4-wheel vehicles, the FC-150 was equipped with the firm’s famous “Hi-Lo” 4-wheel drive system, which permitted on-the-fly shifting between 2-and 4-wheel drive.

But the FC-150 was most memorable for its unique looks. It was clothed with a boxy “Safety View” cab, which featured an unusual cab-over-engine design. Styled by Brooks Stevens, the body took its design cues from cab-over-engine semi-trucks and was given Jeep’s familiar seven-slot grille. The cab was remarkably roomy, and designed for visibility and comfort. Fitted with an unusually large amount of window glass, it allowed for an exceptional amount of driver visibility. Wide doors, concealed steps, and rubber front fenders eased the entry and exit of the FC-150’s occupants. Access to the engine was provided by an easily removable fiberglass engine cover, which was designed to reduce engine heat and noise inside the cab.

Trade catalog image of the 1957 Jeep FC-150.

Trade catalog image of the 1957 Jeep FC-150.

In terms of performance, the FC-150 was a very capable and versatile vehicle. Like other four-wheel drive vehicles in the Jeep model lineup, the FC-150’s 4-wheel drive system gave it extraordinary off-road capabilities and allowed it to safely traverse all kinds of terrain. Like its Jeep stable mates, the FC-150 was also very durable and could take a lot of abuse. Its compact size blessed it with exceptional maneuverability. The FC-150’s forward control cab allowed for a surprisingly large 6-foot cargo bed, which could carry an impressive amount of cargo.

The Jeep FC-150 was introduced to the public as a 1957 model in November 1956. Although it was initially well-received by automotive critics of the time and well-liked by those who bought it, the FC-150 proved to be a disappointingly slow seller. Its overall design was arguably a little too advanced for its time. Because it was marketed primarily as a work vehicle, it is also possible that it did not appeal to more casual owners. Nevertheless, it enjoyed a surprisingly long production life (1957-1965).

The Jeep FC-150 was discontinued after the 1965 model year. Because it was not a big seller, the FC-150 has largely been forgotten and surviving examples are seldom seen today.

Sources

Ackerson, Robert C., Standard Catalog 4x4s, 1945-2000, Second Edition, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2000, p. 596-601.

Donnelly, Jim, “1957-’65 Jeep Forward Control Pickups, The oddball little pickups that Jeep produced,” Hemmings Motor News, October 2006.

How Stuff Works

Jeep Forward Control, FC-150, The All New 4-Wheel Drive Truck, Turnpike Performance Plus Off-Road Traction: Willys-Overland: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Jeep, ca. 1945-1963.

Jeep Forward Control – Wikipedia

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

The 1966 Studebakers

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Cruiser.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Cruiser.

During the 1960s, Studebaker was clearly on its last legs as an automaker. Due to falling sales and overwhelming competition from the American Big Three, Studebaker shuttered its South Bend, Indiana assembly plant in late 1963 and moved all vehicle production to its smaller facility in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. By this time, the company was also in the process of de-emphasizing its automobile division in favor of its other more profitable business ventures, which included being the makers of STP engine additives and Paxton superchargers.

For the 1966 model year, Studebaker made its final attempt to remain in the car business. It sought to do this by offering a line of compact cars for the American market. The end result was not successful, but instead became significant for being the last cars produced by a once great American automaker: the 1966 Studebakers.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Daytona.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Daytona.

Essentially warmed-over versions of the company’s 1965 cars, the 1966 Studebaker lineup consisted of four models built on the same platform: the Commander, Cruiser, Daytona, and Wagonaire. Designed by Brooks Stevens and the Detroit, Michigan design firm of Marcks Hazelquist Powers, the 1966 Studebakers were reasonably modern American compact cars for their time. Depending upon the model ordered, the cars rode on 109-inch and 113-inch wheelbases. Customers were offered a choice of three engines supplied by General Motors: a 194 cubic-inch inline-6, a 230 cubic-inch inline-6, and a 283 cubic-inch V-8. The cars were clothed in body shells styled in what the company advertised as the “Smart New Look,” which featured a new grille, single headlamps, and restyled side panels.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Wagonaire.  Note the sliding roof.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Wagonaire. Note the sliding roof.

In keeping the company’s reputation for engineering prowess, the 1966 Studebakers also offered features that were novel for their time. Most significantly, all 1966 models were equipped with the “Refreshaire” ventilation system, which is widely considered to be Studebaker’s last technological innovation. Essentially a system in which air came in through front vents and went out through openings placed above the taillights, Refreshaire eliminated the need for ventilation windows and was praised by automotive critics of the day. 1966 Studebakers could also be ordered with one of the first electronic ignition systems (standard on the Daytona, optional on all other models) to appear on an American car. Last but not least, the Wagonaire station wagon could be ordered with an optional sliding roof, a design feature not seen again until 2001, when it re-appeared on the Pontiac Aztek.

When the new Studebaker lineup was introduced in late 1965, it received a chilly reception from the American motoring public. Customers were very reluctant to buy cars from a company they feared would soon disappear. Enough cars were sold to make a small profit, but it was not enough to suit the company’s board of directors. In March 1966, Studebaker announced that it was ceasing all automobile production. The last Studebaker car, a timberline turquoise Cruiser with a white top, rolled off the assembly line on March 17th.

A little over 8900 1966 Studebakers were built. The very last Studebaker is currently preserved at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana. A photo of this car can be viewed on the museum’s website

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1534.

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 762-763.

Studebaker National Museum

Studebaker Nineteen Sixty-Six, The New Smart Look, Studebaker: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Studebaker Range, 1955-1966, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Wikipedia – Studebaker

Wikipedia – Studebaker Lark

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

2013 Auburn Heights Invitational Auto Display

A Stanley Steamer and White Steamer on exhibit at the Auburn Heights Invitational Historic Auto Display.

A Stanley Steamer and White Steamer on exhibit at the Auburn Heights Invitational Historic Auto Display.

On Saturday, September 18th, we at Hagley had the honor of presenting an exhibit on the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at the second annual Auburn Heights Invitational Historic Auto Display, which was held at the Marshall Steam Museum at Auburn Heights Preserve in Yorklyn, Delaware. Held on a beautiful September day, this year’s show was a great success, attracting a fine crowd and an impressive contingent of antique cars dating from the early 1900s to the 1930s. The theme of this year’s show was “An Era of Elegance,” which spotlighted Packard, a renowned American manufacturer of luxury cars that was in business from 1899 to 1958. True to the theme, some truly elegant examples of pre-World War II Packards turned up at this year’s show. Not be outdone, a number of beautiful antique cars from other legendary high-end makes, including, but not limited to, Cadillac, Marmon, Pierce-Arrow and Stanley made their appearance as well.

Trade catalog for the Packard 8 Speedster, which was displayed in the Z. Taylor Vinson Exhibit at the Auburn Heights Invitational Historic Auto Display.

Trade catalog for the Packard 8 Speedster, which was displayed in the Z. Taylor Vinson Exhibit at the Auburn Heights Invitational Historic Auto Display.

For this year’s Auburn Heights Invitational, Hagley was invited to present an exhibit for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. The exhibit was set up inside the Marshall Steam Museum’s exhibit hall, in which a number of cars from the museum’s wonderful automobile collection are on display. In keeping with this year’s theme, we exhibited several original pre-World War II trade catalogs for Packard and other high-end makes represented at the show, including Cadillac, Marmon, Pierce-Arrow, and Stanley. A colorful sampling of Vinson Collection trade catalogs for automakers not represented at the show, including American makes such as Lincoln and Studebaker, and foreign makes such as Renault and Saab, were displayed in the exhibit as well.

Close up of the Z. Taylor Vinson Exhibit at the Auburn Heights Invitational Historic Auto Display.

Close up of the Z. Taylor Vinson Exhibit at the Auburn Heights Invitational Historic Auto Display.

Over the course of the day, a number of show attendees took the time to view the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection Exhibit. The exhibit was enthusiastically received and those who viewed it were delighted to have the opportunity to look at the various trade catalogs we had on display. Attendees were also very pleased to see trade catalogs for automakers represented at the show and were excited to learn that the Vinson Collection will soon be open to researchers.

If you are interested in learning more about the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, we strongly encourage you to regularly check back with this blog to see some of the unique and rare items in this collection and to learn about the latest project developments. If you were unable to attend the show but would like to view individual items from the collection, we encourage you to visit the Z. Taylor Vinson Digital Library Preview on the Hagley Museum and Library’s website.

Last but not least, we at Hagley encourage you to visit the Marshall Steam Museum at Auburn Heights Preserve and check out the featured attractions that are found there. For further information, please visit their website.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.