Who was Z. Taylor Vinson?

Zachary Taylor Vinson was born July 7, 1933 in Huntington, West Virginia.  He graduated from Princeton University in 1955.  He served in the Army in Germany and spent time in New York working in advertising until his 1961 graduation from the University of Virginia law school.

In 1967 when the new U.S. Department of Transportation opened, Mr. Vinson took a position as senior lawyer with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a position he held until his retirement in 2003.  He played a significant role in the drafting of regulations requiring high-mounted brake lights in the rear window of automobiles, which began with the 1986 model year.  Leading up to his retirement, he worked to draft new safety regulations governing tires.

His exposure to automobile literature began with a 1938 Ford catalog.  It was during the 1941 model year that he felts his passion for collecting literature began to thrive.   As a child, he would collect two copies of each catalog so that he could cut pictures out from both sides of the paper, an activity which he grew to deeply regret later in life.

At the age of 7½ he stopped passively accepting catalogs from friends and relatives and began going to the showrooms to collect.  He would request that his parents drive him down “Automobile Row” and wait while he ran in and out of each showroom collecting literature.

It was at the age of 14 that he began writing to British, French, Italian, and Czech embassies in Washington, DC to get addresses of automobile factories in these countries to request literature.

The collection grew over the years, eventually requiring a wing be added to his house to contain it all, which he referred to as the “Autotorium.”

Z. Taylor Vinson in his Autotorium

Z. Taylor Vinson in his Autotorium

In addition to collecting, Mr. Vinson was an active member of automotive organizations.  He was president of the Society of Automotive Historians from 1993 to 1995 and editor of its Automotive History Review from 1995 to 2009.

Mr. Vinson died at the age of 76 in 2009 and his collection was gifted to Hagley Library in January of 2010.

The collection contains a draft of an autobiography, entitled A Collector’s Life: An Autobiography, written by Mr. Vinson in November 2008.  In it, he discusses how he began collecting and how he acquired much of his collection.  Additionally, he highlights his prized features in the collection.  Future blog posts will highlight these treasures and feature excerpts from the autobiography.

To learn more, read a 2004 interview with Z. Taylor Vinson from The Automotive Chronicles in which he talks about his collection.

If you have any questions, contact the Imprints Reference Desk, 302-658-2400 x227 or send an email request using the online AskHagley form.

Emily Cottle is the Project Archivist/Cataloger for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

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