Automobile Companies During World War II: Follow-up

This post serves as a follow-up to an earlier post called What Happened to World War II? Earlier this year, we shared a post about automobile companies during World War II. In honor of Memorial Day, we’d like to return to this topic once again. Since we are still currently processing, new items are being discovered each day. On this particular topic, we have recently unearthed several books. All of these titles include large quantities of photographic material and reproductions of period advertisements. (Don’t forget that the books are the only part of the collection currently open for use, so feel free to come visit the Library to use any of the books listed below.)

First we have VW Beetle at War (Pam 2012.0301) by Dr. Hans-Georg Mayer. This publication is a part of the German Trucks & Cars in World War II series. Its forty-seven pages are heavily illustrated with black and white photos documenting the Beetle during World War II.

Another booklet in the German Trucks & Cars in World War II series is called Opel at War (Pam 2012.0302) by Eckhart Bartels. Similarly to the Beetle volume, the booklet contains photographs of Adam Opel AG cars during World War II. It highlights the fact that despite a lack of specialized military vehicles in the Opel line-up, Opel vehicles were still heavily utilized.

Oldsmobile: A War Years Pictorial (f UA18.U5 E23 1997) by Helen J. Earley and James R. Walkinshaw does not focus entirely on World War II, but includes additional chapters on World War I, The Korean War, and a short chapter call “The Years After” focusing on Oldsmobile’s post Korean War activities. In addition to photographs, this volume includes extensive reproductions of period advertisements.

The last item I have for you returns to focusing solely on World War II, but moves away from the specific company accounts of wartime efforts. This title is called Detroit Goes to War: The American Automobile Industry in World War II (HF6161.A9 W79 1993) by V. Dennis Wrynn. Chapters are broken down to cover specific time periods and there are chapters for 1940-1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, and 1945.

Come to Hagley Library to view any of these items.

Emily Cottle was project archivist/cataloger for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Bye Bye Bye: 1998 Dodge Viper

Cover of a Dodge Viper catalog from 1999.

Before coming to work on this extraordinary collection, nobody would have described me as a “car person.” In fact, while growing up, I had never really paid much attention to cars at all. One of the first memories I do have of actually noticing a car was as a teenager. This car was the red 1998 Dodge Viper used in ‘N Sync’s 2000 music video for the song Bye bye bye. At the time I was sure I would one day have one of my very own (note: I do not own a Dodge Viper…yet and yes, I am indeed a child of the nineties boy band craze). It is with a heavy heart that I must bid the Vinson project and Hagley a sad bye bye bye.

I have accepted the position of University Archivist/Special Collections Librarian at Delaware State University. My last day at Hagley will be May 30. I want to express my gratitude to all of our readers and especially to my colleagues, whom I will miss very much (speaking of my wonderful colleagues, in addition to reading this Vinson blog, you should also check out what the rest of the Library is doing, with their newsletter and the latest Hagley article published on Bloomberg). The last fifteen months that I have spent on this project have been very memorable, not to mention how much of a car expert I have become!

I know you’re all very worried about the collection and where you’ll get your weekly Vinson fix. I can assure you that there is a stockpile of blog articles queued up to keep your weekly read going all summer long! I hope you’ll all stick with us through the transition because I know you all will not want to miss what is to come as we get closer and closer to the collection opening in early 2014!

It is an especially sad time because in addition to my impending departure, we are bidding farewell to Robin Valencia, who has been my dedicated graduate assistant since last summer. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to Robin for all of her hard work over the last year. Thanks to her diligence, we have made exceptional progress in processing. Her positive attitude made her a pleasure to work with and she never once complained about the heavy boxes or cold temperatures of our storage facility. I wish Robin the best and I can say with certainty this project is much better off for her having been a part of it. Thank you, Robin!

We aren’t all tears and heartache here today though, as we are also very excited to welcome back to the Vinson Collection, Laura Muskavitch. Laura did a brief internship with me last March and has now returned for the summer. She began a few weeks ago and has quickly jumped back into processing and is already making great headway.

As I mentioned, though I will be gone, the blog posts from  Robin, Laura, and I will continue on into the summer, so please stay tuned for some great pieces on summer travel tips from Studebaker, a history of the Willys-Overland company, another methodology post, and much more!

Thank you again to all of you; knowing that people like you are interested in what we’re doing is a great feeling and your readership and comments have meant the world to me! I’ll miss you and the Vinson collection very much!

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

Archival Processing Methodology: Part 6 – Dates

In our last methodology post, we discussed the challenge presented by the international scope of the collection and the wide array of languages which accompany that diversity. Today’s discussion will focus on another challenge in the collection: undated materials.

Depending on the era and the company, car catalogs and other printed materials contain important date information, sometimes even down to the month. These dates are often included as part of the literature code on the back cover, which identify the specific publication for a company. However, there are also many catalogs that do NOT provide this information. In an arrangement scheme where all the folders are dated and much of the material is being arranged chronologically, this can be somewhat problematic.

Often, the best context clues will be the style of the cars being advertised or even the format brochure itself (such as condition, type of paper, etc.). Additionally, the style of clothing on people can also be clues. This evidence often provides enough information to narrow it down to a decade or two. When this is the best we can do, the date will be listed on the folder and finding aid as “ca. 1960s” or “ca. 1970s-1980.”

Sometimes, if the material is for a particular model that we can use a reference work to determine the years during which it was produced. When this is a short span of years, this information allows us to achieve slightly better precision than just the decades. We can then use dates such as “ca. 1964-1968” or “ca. 1994-2000.” Other similar context clues suggest whether a particular company was only around for a few years. We can use such tentative information to narrow down the date range for the item.

Any of the estimated dates will always include “ca.” before the date to let you know that it is an estimate supplied during processing and not from the actual item itself.

Despite all of these available clues, sometimes the date span for an item cannot be easily discerned. In this case, instead of using a poor guess, the item is labeled “n.d.” which is short for no date. Undated materials are filed at the end of a chronological run. If a particular folder contains chronologically arranged materials, the dated materials come first and the undated ones at the back of the folder. The date will be written on the folder like this: “1970-1981, n.d.”

Another factor in trying to assign estimated dates comes down to available time. A large part of the More Product, Less Process strategy that we are implementing involves not getting bogged down in item level description. The scope of what we have to accomplish is so wide that often it’s not that we can’t find a date for an item but that the time value of such information is to low for the necessary investment of effort. Surely with enough time and research, most models or body styles can be discerned. However, we lack the time to do this, and instead must keep progress moving forward and use circa (ca.) or undated (n.d.).

Past methodology posts can be viewed here.

Don’t forget to come out to Winterthur Museum on Saturday for their Historic Autos and to hear a talk about the Vinson Collection!

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

How reliable is the Reliant Robin?

The Reliant Robin.

Three-wheeled automobiles are some of the most unique vehicles on the market. Most of them have two wheels in the front and one in the rear to prevent them from tipping over when the vehicle is turned. There are models, however that defy this pattern and instead have one tire in front and two in the back. One example of this type of three-wheeler was the Reliant Robin, a very popular car in northern England. Its most popular feature: it was known to tip over whenever the car turned.

You may think a car like this would not survive for very long, but in fact the Reliant Robin was manufactured for about 27 years, with the last model released in 2002. With the dangers the Robin posed, it is surprising how popular the Robin was and how long it was manufactured.

Pink Reliant Robin.

The Reliant Robin was featured on an episode of BBC’s Top Gear with host Jeremy Clarkson taking a red Robin out for a drive in northern England where the Robin was most popular. In this comical clip, Clarkson constantly tips over his Robin while passersby, mostly British celebrities, help him flip it back over. He later meets with a Reliant Robin enthusiast groupwhere Robins are painted in every color (including bright pink), and the enthusiasts explain to Clarkson why they love their Robins.

According to the clip, Robins were popular in northern England because they were classified as motorcycles because they lacked a fourth wheel. With this classification, the Robin was cheaper to register and insure for the mining and working-class communities of northern England. The Robin was also useful during winter. Since it was so light, the Robin rarely got stuck in the snow as they would just glide over the top of snow banks.

Even though there were hazards with driving the Robin, they were still popular. So how do the Robin enthusiasts keep their Robins from tipping over? They suggest putting a large cement block or heavy toolbox in the passenger seat to act as a counterweight. They also recommend driving in a straight line.


“Robin.” Reliant Owners Club. (accessed April 19, 2012).

“Rolling a Reliant Robin – Top Gear – BBC.” YouTube. “Robin.” Reliant Owners Club. (accessed April 19, 2012).

Verdin, Mike, “End of the Road For Reliant Robin,” BBC News, September 27, 2000. (accessed April 19, 2012).

Robin Valencia is the Graduate Assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

“The sporty Corvair: the ‘one-car’ accident”

Click to view the entire catalog in the Hagley Digital Archives.

Designed as a competitor to the Ford Falcon and the Plymouth Valiant, Chevrolet announced its 1960 Corvair in the fall of 1959. Motor Trend named it the 1960 “Car of the Year.” The Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1976 describes the Corvair as “a wholly unconventional automobile.” They go on to describe it as follows:

It measured a tight 180 inches in overall length and it sat on a compact 108-inch wheelbase. An aluminum, air-cooled, horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine was rear-mounted, as in the popular German Volkswagen. The fully independent suspension system used coil springs all around and swing axles in the rear. An oddly shaped trunk was up front, where the engine was on all other American cars.

The handling capabilities of the 1960-1963 models inspired Ralph Nader’s 1965 best-seller Unsafe at Any Speed. His first chapter is titled: “The sporty Corvair: the ‘one-car’ accident.” It highlights the tendencies of the car to spin out of control.

Click to view the entire catalog in the Hagley Digital Archives.

Modifications to the 1964 models to improve handling were not enough to overcome the bad publicity from Nader’s book. Corvair sales plummeted in 1966 and would never recover. It lingered, largely unsuccessfully, in the Chevrolet lineup until the production of the last Corvair in 1969. A 1972 congressional investigation cleared Chevrolet and the Corvair of any safety flaws, but clearly, this came too late. The report contributes much of the steering difficulty to improper inflation of tires, disregarding the recommendation of 15 psi front and 26 psi rear (to compensate for the weight of the engine being in the rear of the car).

The Corvair’s reputation of infamy remains to this day. It ranked number seventeen on Time’s “50 Worst Cars of All Time.” A February 2012 episode of Top Gear (USA) featured a battle to identify the most dangerous car. (The Corvair competed alongside the Ford Pinto and Suzuki Samurai for this distinction, but you’ll have to check out the episode for yourself to see who won.)

In 2011-2012, Chevy once again found itself under fire for one of its models – the electric Chevrolet Volt. Claims surfaced that a defect caused these cars to burst into flames. However, at the end of January 2012, the NHTSA reported that there is “no discernible defect trend.” They go on to report that “Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles.”

This situation has many similarities to the 1960s and the Corvair. However, this time around, the role of Ralph Nader is being played by Rush Limbaugh, who has denounced GM as the “corporation that’s trying to kill its customers.”

As of March 6th, the Washington Post reported that GM would halt production of the Volt for five weeks, from March 19th until April 23rd. The article also points out that the potential scare about fires might not even be the factor that is keeping consumers from embracing the Volt, but instead its hefty $39,125 price tag.

Just as Chevy is trying to put to rest any concerns about its Chevy Volt, an April 1st USA Today article announced that Chevrolet is now investigating fires in their 2011 Chevy Cruzes (the article also states that the Jeep Wrangler is under investigation as well).

Only time will tell if the Volt’s PR problems will linger long enough to squelch its potential and lead it to fade into the pages of history with the Corvair.

Click here to see all the Corvair materials available in the Hagley Digital Archives.


Auto Editors of Consumer Guide. “How Chevrolet Corvair Works.” How Stuff Works. (accessed March 8, 2012).

“Chevy Volt: Why Production Was Halted and What It Means,” Washington Post, March 6, 2012. (accessed March 8, 2012).

Healey, James R. “Feds Probes Fires in Chevy Cruze, Jeep Wrangler,” USA Today, April 2, 2012. (accessed April 5, 2012).

Kimes, Beverly Rae. Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975. 4th ed. Edited by Ron Kowalke. Iola, WI.: Krause Pubns Inc, 1997.

Limbaugh, Rush. “Regime Covered up Chevy Volt Dangers.” The Rush Limbaugh Show. (accessed March 9, 2012).

Motor Trend. Bar Talk: 1960 Car of the Year. December 2009. (accessed March 8, 2012).

Muller, Joann. “Government Ends Probe Into Chevy Volt Fires.” Forbes, January 20, 2012. (accessed March 8, 2012).

Nader, Ralph. Unsafe at Any Speed. New York: Pocket Books, 1966.

Plumer, Brad, “What’s Ailing the Chevy Volt?” Washington Post, March 4, 2012. (accessed March 8, 2012).

Top Gear: “Dangerous Cars.” (2012). The History Channel website. Retrieved 10:40, March 1, 2012, from

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