The Datsun 240Z

During the 1960s, Japanese automakers were making inroads into the American market. At the time, they were widely (and I would argue unfairly) perceived as being manufacturers of cheap and unimaginative economy cars. One Japanese automaker who actively sought to change that perception was Nissan Motor Company, which at the time built and marketed cars under the Datsun nameplate. In 1965, Nissan designers started work on a sports car that was specifically aimed at the American market. The end result of the of the Japanese firm’s labors was a legendary sports car that is credited with establishing Nissan as a world-class automaker: the Datsun 240Z.

Photograph of a Datsun 240Z.

Introduced in late 1969 as a 1970 model, the Datsun 240Z (called the Datsun Fairlady Z in Japan) was a medium-priced sports car. Designed by a team led by Fumio Yushida, it was intended to compete with European mid-price sports cars in the American market, which included offerings from Jaguar and Porsche. In terms of engineering, the 240Z was a thoroughly conventional, yet state-of-the-art sports car for its time. It employed a front engine, rear-wheel drive layout and rode on a 90.5 inch wheelbase. Power came from a potent inline-6 engine, which displaced 2.4 litres (146 cubic-inches) and was initially good for 150 horsepower. Customers were offered a choice of either a 4-speed manual transmission or a 3-speed automatic. The 240Z was equipped with 4-wheel independent suspension, which employed McPherson struts and coil springs. Outwardly, the car was clothed in a sleek and stunning-looking body shell, which featured a long hood and a fastback roof.

The Datsun 240Z was also a very capable performer. According to Nissan, it could accelerate from 0 to 60 in less than 9 seconds and had a claimed top speed of 125 miles per hour. It was also blessed with outstanding road-holding abilities. Owners and automotive soon discovered the 240Z’s high quality of construction and it earned an enviable reputation for being tougher and more reliable than comparable European sports cars of the time. The 240Z’s reputation for high-performance, durability, and dependability was further enhanced by its successes in motorsports competition. In the United States, the 240Z became a dominant force in SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) sports car racing. Elsewhere in the world, the 240Z proved to be a capable rally car, twice winning the prestigious (and notoriously rough) East African Safari Rally (1971, 1973).

Photograph of a Datsun 240Z.

To top it all off, not only was the 240Z a modern design capable of a high level of performance, it was noted for being a bargain package that gave exceptional value for the money. Initially offered at a base price of $3,526, it undersold other mid-price sports cars of the day. Due to its durability and reliability, it proved cheaper to operate and maintain than its European competitors. American sports car enthusiasts quickly grasped the exceptional value offered by the 240Z and the demand for it soon exceeded supply.

The Datsun 240Z enjoyed a successful, albeit relatively short, production life (1969-1973). For the 1974 model year, largely due to tightening American safety and emissions regulations, it was replaced by the Datsun 260Z, which was essentially a 240Z with a larger 2.6 litre engine. Over 140,000 Datsun 240Z’s were sold in the United States. Surviving examples are highly sought after today.

Sources

240Z: Datsun: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 240Z, 1970, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 212-215.

Datsun 240-Z: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 240Z, 1970, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 389.

How Stuff Works – Datsun Sports Cars

How Stuff Works – Nissan Z History

The Z Car Home Page

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

The Renault Dauphine: A Competitor to the Volkswagen Beetle in the United States

Trade catalog for the Renault Dauphine, 1956

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Volkswagen Beetle was the top selling foreign car in the United States. But the much-loved German import did not lack for competition. During this time period, a large number of foreign automakers sought to penetrate the American market and did so with varying degrees of success. Among those jockeying for position in the American marketplace was Renault, an internationally renowned French automaker based in Billancourt, France. During the late 1950s-early 1960s, the French firm marketed a car that was for a short time the Volkswagen Beetle’s most serious competitor in the United States: the Renault Dauphine.

Trade catalog cut-away image of the Renault Dauphine’s interior, 1960s

First introduced at the 1956 Paris Auto Show, the Renault Dauphine was a small economy sedan designed to compete directly with the Volkswagen Beetle. The Dauphine and Beetle had some design characteristics in common. Both cars employed a rear-engine, rear-wheel drive setup and both were equipped with swing-axle independent rear suspension. In most other respects, the Dauphine was designed to be a more modern alternative to the Beetle. Instead of an air-cooled engine like that found in the Beetle, the Dauphine was fitted with a water-cooled inline-4 engine, which displaced 845 cc (51.5 cubic inches) and was good for 30 horsepower. A three-speed manual transmission came standard, but the Dauphine could also be ordered with a Ferlec automatic clutch, which permitted gear changes without a clutch pedal. In contrast to the Beetle’s two-door body, the Dauphine featured an arguably more convenient four-door body shell. Renault also offered a performance variant of the Dauphine tuned by Amédée Gordini, which came equipped with a more powerful engine (good for 37.5-40 horsepower) and a four-speed manual transmission.

The Dauphine made its American debut at the 1956 New York Auto Show. When a sharp recession hit the United States in 1957, sales of the Dauphine unexpectedly took off and it became the Volkswagen Beetle’s most serious competitor. American customers were attracted by Dauphine’s cute looks, low sticker price ($1,645 in 1957) and excellent gas mileage (claimed to be capable of exceeding 40 miles per gallon). Led by the Dauphine, Renault became the #2 selling import make in the United States in 1957, a position it would hold for several years.

Trade catalog for the Renault Dauphine, 1960s

Although the Dauphine was initially well received by the American motoring public, owners soon became disenchanted with this car. The Dauphine was widely criticized for being too slow and underpowered for American driving conditions. Unlike its competitor, the Volkswagen Beetle, the Dauphine earned a reputation for being a low-quality car. American owners found the Dauphine to be mechanically troublesome and its body prone to rusting. Also in contrast to Volkswagen, Renault lacked a well-organized American dealer network for servicing its cars. This combination of factors caused Renault’s American sales to drop dramatically from a peak of 91,073 in 1959 to 12,106 in 1966. The Dauphine was withdrawn from the American market in 1967 and Renault ceased production of it in 1968.

More than 200,000 Renault Dauphines were imported to the United States between 1956 and 1967. Even though a significant number of them were brought to American shores, surviving examples are rarely seen today.

Sources

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 675, 677-680.

Dauphine, Renault: Renault: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Alliance, Alpine, Caravelle, Dauphine, Eight, and Encore, ca. 1950s-1986, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Dauphine, Renault, Régie National: Renault: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Alliance, Alpine, Caravelle, Dauphine, Eight, and Encore, ca. 1950s-1986, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1318-1319.

How Stuff Works – 1956-1968 Renault Dauphine

Renault

Ward’s 1960 Automotive Yearbook, Twenty-Second Edition; Detroit, Michigan: Ward’s Automotive Yearbook, 1960, p. 177.

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

Movie Cars – Ford Anglia 105E in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

1959 trade catalog for the Ford Anglia 105E.

The Harry Potter movie series is one of the more remarkable pop culture phenomena of recent years. A series of 8 movies based on the enormously popular fantasy novels written by J.K. Rowling, they are much loved by millions of fans worldwide. For this week’s blog, I decided to focus on the second film of the series: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which was released in November 2002. Directed by Chris Columbus and starring Daniel Radcliffe (as Harry Potter) and Rupert Grint (as Ron Weasley), the film is about Harry Potter’s adventures during his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was a smash hit with movie-going audiences, grossing more than $800,000,000 worldwide.

Although I never became a Harry Potter fan myself, I was surprised and delighted to learn that a car played a notable role in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I was even more delighted to learn that it was a car endowed with magical properties. In the course of the film Harry Potter spent a significant amount of time travelling in an enchanted vintage car: a Ford Anglia 105E.

1960 trade catalog for the Ford Anglia 105E.

First introduced at the 1959 London Motor Show, the Anglia 105E was small economy car built by Ford of England. It was Ford of England’s direct response to the energy crisis brought on the by the closure of the Suez Canal in 1956. A thoroughly conventional economy sedan, the Anglia 105E rode on a 90.5-inch wheelbase and was powered by a 997 cc (61 cubic-inch) inline-four engine, which was good for 41 horsepower. Outwardly, it was clothed with a striking-looking body displaying American styling influences, including a downward-sloped nose, a reverse-angled rear window, and tail fins. Performance-wise, the Anglia 105E was claimed to be capable of a top speed of 75-77 miles per hour and gas mileage of up to 43 miles per gallon. The Anglia 105E was well-received by the British motoring public and went on to have a long and successful production run, with more than 1.1 million examples being built between 1959 and 1968.

Photograph of a light-blue and white Ford Anglia 105E similar to the one portrayed in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The car portrayed in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was a light-blue and white Ford Anglia 105E. Enchanted by Ron Weasley’s father Arthur, the car was blessed with magical properties one can only dream of, including the ability to fly, to become invisible, and to run without ever running out of fuel. The Weasleys’ Anglia figured prominently in three key scenes of the movie. Early in the film, the car was used to rescue Harry Potter from the home of his Uncle Vernon Dursley. A short time later, Harry and Ron Weasley used it to travel to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where they crashed it into the Whomping Willow. In the latter stages of the movie, the Anglia rescued Harry and Ron from Aragog and his family in the Forbidden Forest.

At least 15 Ford Anglia 105E’s were used in the production of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. 14 cars were destroyed in the shooting of the scene in which Harry and Ron crashed into the Whomping Willow. One car, a 1966 model, is known to have survived production of the movie and is now on display at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, England.

Sources

The Completely New Anglia, The World’s Most Exciting Light Car: Ford (GB): Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Anglia, 1947-1959, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 321-324.

Ford Anglia 105E Owner’s Club

The National Motor Museum

The World’s Most Exciting Light Car: Ford (GB): Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Anglia, 1960-1966, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The World’s most exciting light car, The Completely New Anglia: Ford (GB): Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Anglia, 1947-1959, 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.

Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference Spring Meeting Recap

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference Spring Meeting, which was held in Erie, Pennsylvania from April 25-27. At this professional conference, I had the privilege of participating in the panel session “Advancing the Front Line: Innovative Outreach,” which focused on innovative outreach methods used by archival institutions to promote their collections to the general public. The session was chaired by Andrew Cassidy-Amstutz of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and featured a panel consisting of three archivists from three different institutions in the Middle Atlantic region: myself, Rachel Jirka of The Society of Cincinnati in Washington, D.C., and Sierra Green of the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

As a member of the panel, I gave the presentation “The Z. Taylor Vinson Collection: 3 Years and 3 Types of Research.” In my presentation, I discussed Hagley’s innovative long-term outreach program for promoting Vinson Collection which employs three types of outreach methods: on-site, off-site, and online. I identified and described the actual outreach methods we use on the project and discussed the advantages and disadvantages each of them posed. I also analyzed the overall success of the outreach program. In addition to discussing the outreach program, I also showed images of items preserved in the Vinson Collections and invited my colleagues to visit the Vinson Collection Blog and the Vinson Collection Digital Online Archive.

My colleagues on the session panel gave fascinating presentations on the innovative outreach being undertaken by their respective institutions to promote their collection holdings. Rachel Jirka discussed The Society of Cincinnati’s Master Teachers Seminar, which instructs teachers on the use of primary materials preserved in the society’s archives holdings. Sierra Green gave a presentation on the John Heinz History Center’s digital repository for teachers, which it uses to promote its archival holdings regarding the history of Western Pennsylvania. Both of these institutions have wonderful archival holdings and I strongly encourage blog readers to visit their web sites.

I would like to thank my colleagues at MARAC for kindly attending “Advancing the Front Line: Innovative Outreach.”

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

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.

My First Car – 1976 Chevrolet Nova

It has long been my personal observation that American drivers tend to fondly remember their first car. I have also observed that there seems to be a long-standing tradition of one’s first car being an old clunker. So this week, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about my first car. During my junior year at the University of Pittsburgh, it became clear that I needed a car for my personal transportation. Like many of my fellow students at Pitt, all I could afford was a clunker, but that did not dampen my excitement over the prospect of having my own vehicle. In the spring of 1991, I proudly joined the ranks of car owners when I purchased my first car: a 1976 Chevrolet Nova.

Example of a 1976 Chevrolet Nova with a vinyl roof. Aside from its different color and better physical condition, this car is an accurate representation of what my own Nova looked like.

My car was specifically a 1976 Chevrolet Nova 2-Door Coupe, which was a very popular American compact car at the time it was built. I bought it for from its original owner, the next-door neighbor of a family friend. At the time I acquired it, it had 125,000 miles on it. The car had its original power train, which consisted of a 305 cubic-inch Chevrolet Small Block V-8 engine and General Motors’ Turbo Hydramatic automatic transmission. Outwardly, the car was painted metallic light-blue and sported a dark-blue vinyl top, both of which showed obvious signs of wear. In terms of interior appointments, my car was decidedly basic, featuring bench seats covered with blue vinyl upholstery, which was also well-worn.

Although my Nova was a clunker, it did have some redeeming qualities. The car’s old V-8 engine exhibited surprising power for its age and gave it acceptable performance in expressway traffic. I also found the car to be very durable and it experienced remarkably few mechanical problems. Most of the mechanical issues that did pop up were of a minor nature. The old Nova proved itself dependable for local use. For the most part, it ran when I needed it to run and it got me to where I needed to go.

On the down side, my 1976 Nova had its share of issues common to older cars. It was a rough starter in cold weather and once it did turn over, I usually had to let it warm up for up to 15 minutes before it would run comfortably. This led me to characterize the car (sometimes fondly, sometimes not) as having the personality of a grumpy old man. My car also had an oil leak, which required me to periodically top off the engine oil. The engine had a tendency to knock when run on low-octane fuel, which I remedied by using more expensive high-octane gasoline. Last of all, it did not get good gas mileage, mainly because it was heavy and powered by a thirsty V-8. The mileage issue was further compounded by my using it strictly for local transportation.

I drove my 1976 Chevrolet Nova for 18 months, before selling it for $375. I have no idea what happened to the car after that. In spite of its being an old clunker that had its share of annoying issues, it holds the special distinction of being my very first car. For that reason, I remember it very fondly to this day.

Sources

1976 Concours & Nova, Chevrolet: Chevrolet: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Chevrolet Range, 1976-1978, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Flammang, James M. and Ron Kowalke, 3rd Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1976-1999, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1999, p. 201-206.

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

The Fabulous Hudson Hornet

Trade catalog for the 1951 Hudson Hornet.

During the early 1950s, Hudson Motor Car Company was finding it increasingly difficult to compete as independent automaker against the American Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler). In an effort to boost sales and maintain its independence, the Detroit, Michigan-based company set about developing a high-performance car that it hoped would capture the imagination of the motoring public. Although the end result was not enough to save the company, Hudson did succeed in creating the hottest American car of the early 1950s and an automotive legend in the process: the 1951-1954 Hudson Hornet.

Positioned at the high end of Hudson’s model range and initially selling in the $2500-$3100 price range, the Hornet was essentially a modified version of the Hudson Commodore. It was built on the Commodore’s chassis and rode on a 123-inch wheelbase. The Hornet was also one of the first American cars to feature unit body construction. It was clothed with the Commodore’s sleek “Step Down” body, so named for its recessed floorboard, which gave the Hornet a lower ground clearance and a lower center of gravity than other American cars of the time. Outwardly, the Hornet was distinguishable from the Commodore by its gold and chrome plated “Skyliner Styling” head ornament and “Hornet H” badges on the front fenders. The car was also given a luxurious interior, which included striped upholstery and a chrome-appointed dashboard.

Trade catalog image of the 1952 Hudson Hornet and its standard H-145 engine.

But it was the Hornet’s high-performance capabilities that set it apart from other American cars of its day. Its low ground clearance and low center of gravity gave it outstanding road handling abilities. A range of 3 powerful 308 cubic-inch inline-6 engines became available over the course of the Hornet’s production life. Initially, the Hornet was powered by Hudson’s H-145 engine, which produced a then-impressive 145 horsepower and gave it a top speed approaching 100 miles per hour. As if this was not enough, starting in the 1952 model year, Hudson offered the famous engine option for the Hornet: the “Twin H-Power” engine. Equipped with 2 interconnected manifolds and twin dual-throat carburetors, the Twin H-Power engine produced an even more startling 170 horsepower. When fitted with this engine option, the Hornet had a top speed of around 107 miles per hour. In the 1953 model year, Hudson offered the Hornet’s rarest and most powerful engine option: the 7-X engine. Intended for competition use, it produced a then-staggering 210 horsepower.

Trade catalog image of the 1953 Hudson Hornet.

The Hornet’s reputation was further solidified by its dominating performance on the race track. Between 1951 and 1954, factory-backed teams of Hudson Hornets dominated both the NASCAR and AAA stock car racing circuits. Driven by top drivers that included Marshall Teague, Herb Thomas, and Tim Flock, the Hornets won most of the races they entered. Between the three of them, Teague, Thomas, and Flock won a combined total of 5 NASCAR and AAA driver championships.

Although the Hornet was an outstanding car, it was not enough to save Hudson. One reason for this was its styling, which was already outdated at the time of its introduction. The Hornet’s unit body construction made it too expensive for the financially-strapped company to restyle the body on a regular basis. The classic Hornet’s fate was sealed in 1954 when Hudson, irreparably damaged financially by the failure of the Hudson Jet compact car, merged with Nash-Kelvinator Corporation to form American Motors Corporation. The original Hudson Hornet was superseded by a Nash-based replacement for the 1955 model year.

Around 131,000 1951-1954 Hudson Hornets were built. Surviving examples are prized collectibles today.

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 729-730.

Hudson Car Club

Hudson for ’51 in 4 Matchless Series, Hudson: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Hudson Range, 1951-1957, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Hudson for ’52, Hudson: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Hudson Range, 1951-1957, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Hudson for ’53, Hudson: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Hudson Range, 1951-1957, 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. 465-466, 472-478.

Legends of NASCAR

McCourt, Mark J., “Hudson Hornet, 1951-1954,” Hemmings Motor News, June 2004

Performance Unlimited!, New Hudson Hornet, Hudson: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Hornet, Jet, Metropolitan, and Pacemaker, 1949-1954, 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.