Non-Automotive Materials in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection: Ships Series

As I have already stated in past installments of this blog, Z. Taylor Vinson was interested in many different modes of transportation. I have also already mentioned that Mr. Vinson was an avid traveler and that he took numerous trips throughout the United States and overseas. While pursuing these interests, he availed himself of the opportunity to travel on various modes of transportation and while he was at it, accumulated a fascinating collection of memorabilia regarding the various modes of transportation that he travelled on. This week, I decided to focus on the portion of the collection that pertains to marine transportation: the Ships series.

Ship plan for the ill-fated SS Normandie.

The Ships series is one of the smallest portions of the collection, containing only 1.5 boxes of materials. But as is the case with the other non-automotive series, the depth and significance of its contents more than make up for its small size. The materials found in the Ships series date from 1880 to 2008, but a large majority of them were published in twentieth century. The series’ contents focus mainly on ocean-going passenger ships (ocean liners and cruise ships) and passenger ship lines. A number of ocean liners and cruise ships are represented in this series, including ships of the past such as the SS Atlantic and RMS Queen Elizabeth, and present-day vessels such as the Queen Mary 2. Passenger ship lines represented in this series include defunct companies such as French Line (officially called Compagnie Générale Transatlantique) and Home Lines, and present-day companies such as Cunard.

Although the Ships series focuses mainly on ocean-going passenger ships and the companies that operated them, it also contains a very small amount of materials regarding other types of passenger vessels, including ferries, river boats, and hydrofoils. Also found in this series are a handful of materials regarding pleasure boats, including those manufactured by Horace E. Dodge Boat and Plane Corporation. A few items concerning manufacturers of marine equipment, including Sterling Engine Company, are preserved in the Ships series as well.

Passenger list for the T.S.S. Atlantic. Z. Taylor Vinson is listed as one of the ship’s passengers on this particular voyage.

The contents of the Ships series consist mainly of materials published by ship lines for the various vessels they operated. Many of the publications, including, but not limited to, timetables, fleet catalogs, menus, and passenger information brochures, are strikingly similar to those found in the Airline Companies series and Trains series. Other items, including, but not limited to, ship passenger lists, ship plans, and ship activity programs, are found only in the Ships series. Also found in this series are a handful of magazine and newspaper advertisements through which the ship lines, pleasure boat manufacturers, and marine equipment manufacturers publicized their services and products. A few items not published by any of the represented firms, including magazine clippings, newspaper clippings, and research notes are found in the Ships series as well.

Although the Ships series is very small, it does not lack for fascinating items. One such item is a ship plan for the SS Normandie, a famed French ocean liner that burned and capsized in a spectacular fashion at its moorings in New York Harbor in 1942. Also of particular interest are the ocean liner passenger lists, including several that include the names of Mr. Vinson and other members of his family.


CIE CLE Transatlantique French Line, Longitudinal Section S/S Normandie, Ships: French Line, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, 1935-1939, n.d., Hagley Museum and Library.

Home Lines, Passenger List, T.S.S. Atlantic, June 28, 1953: Ships: Atlantic: Music Logs, Passenger Lists, and Ship Plan, 1953, Hagley Museum and Library.

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

The Thomas Flyer: Winner of the 1908 New York to Paris Race

Cover of E.R. Thomas Motor Company publication commemorating the Thomas Flyer’s victory in the 1908 New York to Paris Race.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, automobiles were not seen as a truly reliable form of transportation by the general public. Seeking to disprove this perception, the French newspaper Le Matin and The New York Timesissued a seemingly impossible challenge to the automakers of the world: to drive a car around the world from New York City to Paris, France. When several automakers agreed to take up the challenge, the two newspapers organized a long-distance race that achieved legendary status in the annals of automotive history: the 1908 New York to Paris Race.

The 1908 New York to Paris Race was conceived as the ultimate test automotive endurance and dependability. Starting at New York’s Times Square, it followed a 22,000 mile route (of which 13,000 miles were over land) that took it west across the continental United States, through Japan and China, across Russia via St. Petersburg, and most of the way across Europe to Paris. Six cars started the race and three made it to the finish. The winner was an American car built by a small manufacturer based in Buffalo, New York: the Thomas Flyer.

Although popularly called the Thomas Flyer, the race winner was officially a 1907 Thomas Flyer Model 35 Tourer. Built by the E.R. Thomas Motor Company, the Thomas Flyer was a large and powerful car for its day. Weighing in at 5,000 pounds and riding a 118-inch wheelbase, the car was powered by an 8.5 litre four-cylinder engine that produced 60 horsepower. Equipped with this powerful engine, the Thomas Flyer was capable of a then-impressive top speed of around 60 miles per hour. In addition to being large and powerful, the Thomas Flyer Model 35 was also noted for its reliability. It was this combination of power and reliability that prompted the company to enter this particular car in the race.

Publication photographs of the Thomas Flyer during the 1908 New York to Paris Race. Note the difficult winter conditions encountered while crossing the United States.

The Thomas Flyer was a last-minute entry in the 1908 New York to Paris Race, being entered only three days before the start of the event. It was chosen from a group of four completed cars in the company’s inventory. Unlike the cars with which it competed, it was essentially stock and received few modifications. In spite of the lack of preparation, the Thomas Flyer performed remarkably well throughout the race. Driven first by Montague Roberts, then later by driver/mechanic George Schuster, the car successfully negotiated the extremely difficult driving conditions encountered by the competitors throughout the race, including, but not limited to, deep snow, thick mud, treacherous river crossings, and terrain where roads were nonexistent. The Thomas Flyer also proved reliable and experienced remarkably few mechanical failures. When it did break down, George Schuster drew upon his considerable mechanical skills and resourcefulness to get the car back in the race.

The Thomas Flyer was the second race participant to reach Paris, arriving four days behind the German Protos entry on July 30, 1908. When organizers learned that the Protos had been illegally shipped by rail across the Rocky Mountains instead of driven across, the Protos was given a 30-day penalty and the Thomas Flyer was declared the winner!

Happily, the famed Thomas Flyer survived and was eventually purchased and restored by car collector William F. Harrah. It is now on display at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.


Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1585.

The Great Auto Race

The Greatest Race on Earth

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 1463-1465.

New York to Paris, The Thomas Flyer – Champion Endurance Car of the World, Thomas: General Publications, Trade Catalog: Fleet Vehicles, and Trade Catalog: Various Models, 1904-1912, 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.

Treasures from the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection: 1938 and 1939 Maybach SW38 Portfolios

Cover of the 1938 Maybach SW38 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 was particularly proud of owning and considered to be of special significance. This week, I decided to highlight two items from Vinson’s list of treasures: a pair of portfolios for the Maybach SW38.

The Maybach SW38 was an exclusive luxury car built from 1936 to 1939 by Maybach GmbH, a now defunct German automobile manufacturer based in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Aimed at a wealthy clientele, the SW38 actually represented the low end of Maybach’s model lineup and was offered as a smaller and more modest alternative to the firm’s top-of-the-line Maybach Zeppelin. It was designed and built in response to the difficult economic conditions brought on the by the Great Depression, which reduced the demand for premium luxury cars in Germany.

Rendering of a Maybach SW38 Sport Cabriolet from the 1938 portfolio in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection.

Although it was not Maybach’s flagship model, the SW38 was an extravagant and luxurious machine in its own right. It was a very large car, measuring more than 16 feet long and riding on an 11-foot wheelbase. In keeping with the specifications of the firm’s wealthy customers, SW38’s were luxuriously appointed, being equipped with sumptuous interiors and fitted with custom bodies built by Herman Spohn, a famed coachbuilder based in Ravensburg, Germany. In terms of engineering, the SW38 was a very advanced a car for its time. It was powered by 3.8 litre inline-six engine, which produced a then-impressive 140 horsepower and gave it a claimed top speed of 87-93 miles per hour. The engine was mated to Maybach’s then-innovative “Doppelschnellsang” semi-automatic transmission, which allowed the driver to change gears without a clutch.

Two examples of Maybach SW38 portfolios are found in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection: one published in 1938 and one published in 1939. In A Collector’s Life: (an autobiography), Mr. Vinson described these portfolios and revealed how they came into his possession:

1938 Maybach SW 38 portfolio. The piece is one of the handsomest I know, with exquisite watercolor-like renderings of the cars. My copy came from my German friend Heinz (“Harry”) Neisler, who told me that he had written “Old Maybach,” asking about literature. This was Karl Maybach, one of the most noted German auto engineers of his time, and founder of the Maybach auto company. Herr Maybach had replied that he was an old man and had no further use for his copy, and that he was sending it to Harry. I should note that the 1939 version contains the same renderings; my copy of this came from Andrew Currie and his father, strolling around Carlisle one year.

Rendering of a Maybach SW38 Pullman Limousine from the 1939 portfolio in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection.

The two portfolios contain identical product information and identical renderings of the custom body styles available for the Maybach SW38. The 1938 version includes a handwritten note by Mr. Vinson regarding its provenance. The 1939 version of the portfolio includes an original business letter from a Maybach representative to a potential customer.

As for the Maybach SW38 itself, around 520 of these cars were built and only a few remain in existence. Surviving examples are highly prized collectibles today.


Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 980-982.

Maybach, 1938, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Maybach, 1939, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Maybach Club

Maybach Manufaktur Official Site

Vinson, Z. Taylor, A Collector’s Life (an auto-biography), 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.

Hollywood Cars – Steve Bolander’s 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala in American Graffiti

Trade catalog for the 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala.

Over the holiday season, I had the pleasure of watching the classic movie American Graffiti, a coming-of-age comedy released by Universal Pictures in 1973. Directed by George Lucas and featuring a cast of then up-and-coming actors including Ron Howard (as Steve Bolander), Richard Dreyfus, Paul Le Mat, and Harrison Ford, the film offered a nostalgic look at California’s youth car culture during the early 1960s. Set in Modesto, California in the summer of 1962, the film’s multiple plot lines follow the activities of a group of teenagers over the course of an evening. Shot mainly in Petaluma, California and produced on a small budget, American Graffitiwas a hit with critics and movie-going audiences alike, garnering rave reviews and winning a Golden Globe Award.

While watching American Graffiti, I could not help but notice the number of interesting vintage cars that appeared in the film. It also occurred to me that 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the film’s release. With those facts in mind, I decided to write this week’s blog on one of the cars that appeared in the film. I settled upon the car that arguably had the most prominent role in the film: Steve Bolander’s 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala.

First introduced in October 1957, the 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala was a full-sized car that occupied the upper end of the Chevrolet’s newly redesigned Bel Air series. Selling in the $2500-$2900 range, it was marketed as a sporty upmarket car that was available at an affordable price. At the time of its introduction, it was notably longer, lower, and wider than previous Chevrolet models. The Bel Air Impala was quite large, measuring 209.1 inches long and riding on a 117.5 inch wheelbase. It could be ordered with one of a number of engine options, including a 235.5 cubic inch inline-six and several 283 and 348 cubic inch V-8’s. The car was available in only two body styles: a two-door Hardtop Sport Coupe and a Hardtop Sport Convertible. Body styling cues included dual headlights, triple taillights, and sculpted rear fenders. The Bel Air Impala proved to be popular with the American motoring public and it helped Chevrolet regain the title of number one producer in the American market during a recession year.

Trade catalog image of a 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala Hardtop Sport Coupe. Note the triple taillights.

The 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala that appeared in American Graffiti was a customized two-door Hardtop Sport Coupe model. This car appeared frequently throughout the movie and figured prominently in some of the movie’s more memorable scenes (which included cruising around Modesto, being stolen, then subsequently recovered). At the time of filming, it was powered by a 348 cubic inch Chevrolet Tri-Power V-8, which was mated to a three-speed manual transmission. The car was originally painted blue, but had been repainted white by the time it appeared in the film. It was equipped with a number of non-stock items, most notably taillights from a 1959 Cadillac and a customized interior that featured tuck and roll upholstery.

Happily, the 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala used in American Graffiti is still in existence today and preserved by a private owner. Photographs of this car can be viewed at the following websites: Petaluma, California’s Salute to American Graffiti ( and Unofficial American Graffiti(


IMDb (Internet Movie Database)

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 168-170.

Petaluma, California’s Salute to American Graffiti

Unofficial American Graffiti


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