Treasures from the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection – 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight Trade Catalog

Cover of the 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight trade catalog in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection.

Over the course of his long career, Z. Taylor Vinson collected and preserved thousands of examples of automobile literature. In his autobiography A Collector’s Life, he listed a small handful of items that he referred to as his “Treasures,” which he was particularly proud of owning and considered to be especially significant. For this week’s blog, I decided to highlight an item that Vinson identified as being especially rare: a trade catalog for the 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight.

The Custom Imperial Eight was a prestige luxury car built by the Chrysler Division of Chrysler Corporation. Aimed at a wealthy clientele and selling in the $2800-$3600 price range, it occupied the top rung of Chrysler’s 1932 model lineup. Essentially an enlarged and dressed-up version of the smaller and less expensive Chrysler Imperial, it was intended to compete with other American prestige cars of the day, including those manufactured by Cadillac, Lincoln, Packard, and Pierce-Arrow.

Rendering of a 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight 4-Door Sedan Limousine from the trade catalog in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection.

Like other American prestige cars of the time, the Custom Imperial Eight was a truly extravagant and luxurious machine. It was a very large and heavy car, riding on a 146-inch wheelbase and depending upon model trim, weighing in between 4900 and 5300 pounds. Customers were offered a choice of 6 semi-custom bodies: 3 built by Chrysler and 3 built by famed coach builder LeBaron, Incorporated. The cars’ interiors were sumptuously appointed, featuring high-end upholstery materials, a walnut dashboard, and amenities that included a cigar-lighter and personal accessory compartments.

In terms of engineering, the Custom Imperial Eight was a very innovative car for its time. The car was built on a rigid “Double-Drop, Girder-Truss” chassis, which gave the car a lower center of gravity and improved its handling. Power was provided by a 384 cubic-inch straight-8 engine, a high-compression unit that was good for 125 horsepower. The engine was mated to a 4-speed transmission which featured free-wheeling and an automatic clutch that permitted gear changes without the clutch pedal. Passenger comfort was improved by installing the engine on “Floating Power” rubber engine mounts, which reduced the amount of engine vibrations transmitted to the car’s interior. The car also came equipped with self-lubricating springs fabricated from a porous metal called “Oillite,” which blessed it with a remarkably smooth and quiet ride.

Rendering of a 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight Convertible Roadster from the trade catalog in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection.

A single example of the 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight trade catalog is preserved in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. In his autobiographical manuscript A Collector’s Life: (an autobiography), Mr. Vinson describes this particular trade catalog as being very rare, stating that he had only seen one copy of it advertised for sale in over 40 years of collecting. He also revealed that he it took him nearly 20 years of searching to find it.

As for the 1932 Custom Imperial Eight itself, it is also quite rare. Due to its high sticker price and the bad economy brought on by the Great Depression, only 220 of these cars were built. Surviving examples are highly prized collectables today.

Sources

Brown, Arch, “Classic Chrysler, 1932 Custom Imperial,” Special Interest Autos, June 1988

Chrysler Imperial Eight Custom Models, Chrysler: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Imperial, 1929-1935, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Imperial Club

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 317-318.

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.

The 1949 Ford

At the end of World War II, Ford Motor Company, which had just resumed peacetime automobile production, was in serious trouble. The company was in organizational disarray and losing money at a frightful rate. Because the war had prevented it from designing and developing any new cars for several years, Ford could only offer warmed-over cars of pre-war design to a car-hungry American motoring public.

Trade catalog for the 1949 Ford.

However, all was not lost at Ford. On September 21, 1945, at the tender age of 29, Henry Ford II assumed the presidency of Ford Motor Company from his aging and ailing grandfather Henry Ford. Surrounding himself with a crack team of executives, engineers, and designers, Henry II set out to modernize the company and its product line. In 1946, as part of this modernization program, he ordered the development of a brand new car that would “make or break” the company. The end result of Ford’s labors was the car that is credited with saving the company from its post-war troubles: the 1949 Ford.

Trade catalog images touting the specifications of the 1949 Ford.

The 1949 Ford was the company’s first completely new car of the post-war era. Designed by a team of engineers led by Henry Youngren, it represented a significant technological upgrade from the company’s earlier offerings. The car was built on a modern box-frame chassis and rode on a 114-inch wheelbase. The 1949 Ford also boasted a brand new suspension system, featuring coil springs with hydraulic shock absorbers in the front and longitudinal leaf springs in the rear, which gave the car better handling and a more comfortable ride than its predecessors. Customers could choose between 2 well-proven Ford power plants: a 226 cubic-inch inline-six (good for 95 horsepower) or a 239 cubic-inch Flathead V-8 (good for 100 horsepower). Both engine choices were mated to a 3-speed manual transmission, which was offered with automatic overdrive as an option.

The new Ford was clothed in a sleek and rigid new body. Designed by stylists George Walker and Richard Caleal, the car’s “Lifeguard Body” featured slab-sided styling, which eliminated the rear fender bulges seen on previous Ford cars. The body was also given distinctive looking chrome moldings on the front, which included Ford’s now-iconic “spinner” nose positioned in the center of the car’s grille. The car’s interior was designed for greater comfort over the previous year’s model, featuring “Mid-Ship Ride,” in which all of the passenger seats were placed between the front and rear axles. Passenger visibility was improved by increasing the window area and giving the driver and passengers a higher seating position.

Trade catalog image of the 1949 Ford Fordor Sedan.

The 1949 Ford made its public debut at New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on June 10, 1948. Happily for Ford, the car was a smash hit with the motoring public. The car’s fresh new styling was very well received and drivers appreciated its overall improvement over the previous year’s model. Because of its popularity, the new Ford put the company back on the road to prosperity. On the strength of the car’s sales, Ford beat out Chevrolet as America’s best-selling make for the 1949 model year. It also helped Ford Motor Company overtake Chrysler Corporation and regain its position as the number two producer of the American Big Three automakers.

The 1949 Ford was replaced by a slightly revised successor for the 1950 model year. More than 1.1 million 1949 Fords were built.

Sources

The ’49 Ford!, Ford: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Ford Range, 1942-1949, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Ford Motor Company

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 563, p. 568.

Henry Ford Museum

How Stuff Works – 1949 Ford

It’s Here….the ’49 Ford, The Car of the Year, Ford: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Ford Range, 1942-1949, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 382, p.387-389.

The Lotus Seven – A No-Frills Sports Car

Photograph of a Lotus Seven, ca. 1950s-1960s.

Sports cars have long captured the imagination of the motoring public. Usually small two-seaters, they are designed to feature a combination of brisk performance and excellent handling. The philosophy regarding what a sports car should be varies widely from company to company. Some manufacturers believe that sports cars should be basic machines of simple design. One company that adhered to this philosophy was Lotus Engineering Company, a small specialist car manufacturer based in Hornsey, England. At the 1957 London Auto Show, the British company introduced one of the most basic, no-frills sports cars ever conceived: the Lotus Seven.

The Lotus Seven was the creation of Lotus’ founder and chief engineer Colin Chapman. Conceived as club racer that could also be legally driven on the road, it was built according to Chapman’s engineering philosophy of “simplify, then add lightness,” which remains a Lotus company hallmark to this day. To accomplish these ends, the Seven was constructed using as few materials as possible. The Seven was built on a simple, yet sophisticated, multi-tubular space frame chassis. The car’s chassis was clothed in an all-aluminum body. In lieu of full fenders, motorcycle-style fenders were placed over the front wheels. The car’s driver accommodations were decidedly spartan. The cockpit was cramped and barely had enough room for two people. Initially, only a small fold-down windshield provided any measure of driver comfort. Because the Seven was so insubstantial in terms of physical form, it was an extraordinarily light car, weighing in at a mere 1,655 pounds.

Trade catalog for the 1959 Lotus Seven Series 1.

Not only was the Lotus Seven intended to be simple and light, it was also designed to be inexpensive. To keep costs down, the car made extensive use of readily available components sourced from other automakers. The Seven was initially powered by a British Ford 100E inline-four engine, which displaced 1072 cc (72 cubic inches) and was good for 36-40 horsepower. At the time of its introduction, it also used a Ford three-speed manual transmission and a BMC (British Motor Corporation) rear axle. Most cleverly of all, to avoid Britain’s purchase tax on new automobiles, the Lotus Seven was for many years available only in kit form. According to Lotus, the Seven could be assembled using ordinary hand tools.

In spite of being simple and inexpensive, the Lotus Seven was a remarkably brisk performer for its day. Although the earliest examples were modestly powered, their light weight gave them a surprisingly high top speed of 81-90 miles per hour. The Seven was also renowned for its outstanding road-holding abilities. Such performance characteristics made the Seven one the most dominant club racers of all time, chalking up hundreds of class wins over the course of its competitive life.

Trade catalog image of a disassembled Lotus Seven Series 2, 1960s

The Lotus Seven enjoyed a long production run and was constantly developed. Four generations of the car made their appearance: the Series 1 (1957-1960), Series 2 (1960-1968), Series 3 (1968-1970), and Series 4 (1970-1973). Most of the changes to the Seven were evolutionary in nature, including, but not limited to, larger and more powerful engines, the full front fenders, and fiberglass body panels. But the car’s basic design concept remained remarkably unchanged.

Around 3,000 Lotus Sevens were built, but interestingly, the car never went out of production. Lotus sold the rights to the Seven to Caterham Cars in 1973, which continues to develop and build the Seven under the Caterham nameplate to this day.

Sources

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 479-484.

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 924-927.

Lotus Cars http://www.lotuscars.com/

Lotus Seven: Lotus: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Lotus +2 and Seven, 1964-1967, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Lotus 7, the build-it-yourself sports car, 1959

Lotus Seven Register http://www.lotus7register.co.uk/


Photograph of a Lotus Seven, ca. 1960s.

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

Land Rover Series I – Britain’s Answer to the Jeep

Trade catalog for the 1950 Land Rover Series I.

The years immediately following World War II were a period of austerity for the British automobile industry. One company struggling to survive the difficult economic climate of the day was Rover Company, Limited, which was seeking to resume peacetime motor vehicle production. In 1947, Rover started work on a 4-wheel drive utility vehicle that it hoped would help the firm to get back on its feet. The end result of Rover’s labors was Britain’s effective answer to America’s 4-wheel drive Jeep: the Land Rover Series I.

The Land Rover Series I (originally dubbed simply as the Land Rover) was the brainchild of Maurice Wilks, Rover Company’s chief engineer. He derived its concept directly from his war-surplus Willys Jeep, which he operated on his farm in Wales. Wilkes was impressed with his Jeep, but was disturbed that nothing like it was built in Britain. With the help of his brother Spencer (Rover’s managing director), Wilks set about developing a 4-wheel drive utility vehicle that met the following criteria:

1. Simple and cheap to build.
2. Make use of as many existing Rover components as possible.
3. Appeal to British farmers.
4. Appeal to customers in export markets.

Trade catalog image of the 1950 Land Rover Series I’s chassis.

In terms of design, the Land Rover Series I was simple and functional. It was built on a steel box-section chassis and rode on an 80-inch wheel base. The Series I was initially powered by an already existing engine, Rover’s 1.6 litre (97 cubic-inch) inline-four, which was good for 50 horsepower. The engine was mated to a four-speed manual transmission. Of particular note was the Series I’s 4-wheel drive system, which featured a two-speed transfer case fitted with a freewheel unit. This system allowed the driver to switch between 2-wheel and 4-wheel drive. Outwardly the Series I was clothed with a spartan, yet distinctive-looking body shell. Because steel was in short supply in Britain, the body was fabricated from an aluminum alloy called “Birmalight,” which was notably light weight and highly resistant to corrosion.

But it was the Series I’s performance attributes that truly made it an exceptional vehicle for its time. Its 4-wheel drive system gave it excellent traction and allowed it to safely traverse all kinds of terrain, including mud, ice, snow, and sand. Because of its stout construction, the Series I was extraordinarily durable and could take a lot of abuse. When it did break down, its mechanical simplicity made it easy to service, whether it be at a garage or in the field.

Trade catalog images of the 1950 Land Rover Series I being used for farm work.

The Land Rover Series I made its debut at the 1948 Amsterdam Auto Show. It was immediate hit and demand for this vehicle soon exceeded supply. Just as Rover hoped, it quickly found favor with British farmers, who appreciated its off-road abilities and used it to operate farm machinery. Also as intended, the Land Rover proved immediately popular in export markets, especially in developing countries where roads were bad and service facilities were few and far between. The Series I received a number of upgrades over the course of its production run (1948-1958), most notably larger engines and longer wheel bases. But its basic design remained remarkably unchanged.

The Land Rover Series I was replaced by the Land Rover Series II in 1958. Around 200,000 Land Rover Series I’s were built.

Sources

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 470-471.

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 870-871.

Hacket, Kevin, “Land Rover: The Sands of Time,” London Daily Telegraph, March 28, 2008.

Land Rover FAQ

The Land Rover, The “Go Anywhere Vehicle” (1950), Land Rover (UK): Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Land Rover, 1950-1974, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The Land Rover, The “Go Anywhere Vehicle” (1951), Land Rover (UK): Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Land Rover, 1950-1974, 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.