The Vespa 400 – A Microcar Built by a Motor Scooter Company

French trade catalog the 1958 Vespa 400.

Vespa is best known for building two-wheeled vehicles. This Italian company has long been renowned for building stylish and economical motor scooters, which have achieved iconic status in Europe. However it is not so well known that Vespa briefly built vehicles of the four-wheeled variety. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, it marketed a microcar that went down as an intriguing footnote in the annals of automotive history: the 1958-1961 Vespa 400.

Introduced in 1957, manufactured in France by A.C.M.E. (Ateliers de Constructions de Motos et Accessoires), and sold at a low sticker price of $1080, the Vespa 400 was the brainchild of Enrico Piaggio. Reportedly developed over a period of six years, it was an attempt by Vespa to broaden its product line by offering a small economy car at an affordable price. The 400 arrived at a particularly opportune time. When first introduced, Europe had just experienced a fuel shortage brought on by the closure of the Suez Canal. This event caused a market shift in Europe towards small cars, which increased the level of interest in microcars.

American trade catalog for the 1960 Vespa 400.

In terms of size, the Vespa 400 was a truly a microcar, measuring a mere 112 inches long, 49 inches high, and 50 inches wide. Inside, it was able to seat two adults in the front seats and either a small amount of luggage or perhaps two small children in the rear seat. But in terms of design, the 400 was a surprisingly sophisticated machine. The car was powered by a rear-mounted 2-stroke inline-2 engine, which displaced 393 cubic centimeters and was good for 20 horsepower. A particularly novel feature of the engine was its semi-automatic oil/fuel metering system, which maintained the correct mixture of 2-cycle oil and gasoline (2% oil and 98% gasoline). The 400 was equipped with 4-wheel independent suspension, which consisted of 4 hydraulic shock absorbers with coil springs. Outwardly, the 400 was clothed with a bulbous steel body shell that featured unitary construction. The body was fitted with rear-hinged “suicide” doors and a plastic roll-down sunroof.

Cutaway view of the Vespa 400, ca. 1958-1960.

The Vespa 400 was capable of a level of performance considered acceptable for a car of its type. Vespa claimed it capable of a top speed of around 60 miles per hour and fuel mileage of 60 miles per gallon. The car was highly maneuverable and could be parked in very small parking spaces, which made it ideal for use in crowded European cities. Its four-wheel independent suspension gave it excellent road-holding abilities. The 400 received a significant amount of praise from automotive critics of the time, who described it as well-engineered, economical, and fun to drive.

Although the 400 was reasonably well-received by the European motor public, it did not sell as well as Vespa would have liked. One reason for this was Europe’s quick recovery from the Suez oil shortage, which shrank the market for microcars. The 400 also had the misfortune of competing against somewhat larger and more practical economy cars, such as the Fiat 500 and Citroën 2CV, which were available for a little more money. Faced with such realities, Vespa decided to concentrate on building its famous motor scooters and pulled the plug on the 400 in 1961. Around 30,000 Vespa 400s were built.

Sources

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p.810.

Franzel, Erwin, “Readers Drive ‘Em,” Small Car Parade, March 1960.

McCahill, Tom, “The Vespa 400,” Mechanix Illustrated, October 1959.

Vespa 400, Vespa: Serial and Trade Catalogs: Specific Model, 1959-1961, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Vespa 400, Perfect in Town, Brilliant on the Road, Fascinating Everywhere, Vespa: Serial and Trade Catalogs: Specific Model, 1959-1961, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Vespa Website

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

The Cord 810 – Innovation and Beauty

American trade catalog for the Cord 810, 1936.

The Great Depression had a devastating effect on the American automobile industry, drastically shrinking the market for new cars. Small manufacturers of upscale luxury cars found themselves particularly hard put to survive difficult economic climate of the time. One small company that saw the demand for its products dry up was Auburn Automobile Company, which was the manufacturer of three luxury marques: Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg. In a last-ditch effort to survive the depression, Auburn Automobile Company’s president E.L. Cord ordered the development of an upscale luxury car that he hoped would sell in the midst of the depression. The end result did not save the company, but did go down in history as one of the most innovative and recognizable cars ever built: the Cord 810.

The brainchild of famed automobile designer Gordon Buehrig, the Cord 810 was a technological marvel for its time. It employed a longitudinal front-wheel drive layout, which was a setup Auburn Automobile Company had previously pioneered on the 1929-1931 Cord L-29. The 810 was the first American car equipped with independent front suspension. Power was provided by a Lycoming V-8 engine, which had a displacement of 289 cubic inches (4.7 litres) and produced a then-impressive 125 horsepower. The engine was mated to an innovative 4-speed semi-automatic transmission, with which the driver changed gears by flipping a lever, then pressing the clutch.

Dutch trade catalog for the Cord 810, 1936. Note the car’s hidden headlamps.

The Cord 810’s was equally renowned for its avant-garde looks that set it apart from all other cars on the road. It was fitted with a sleek streamlined Art-Deco style body shell which had a number of distinctive visual cues, including a “coffin” nose, a wrap-around louvered grille, and pontoon fenders. In addition to being futuristic looking, the car’s body featured a number of innovations. The 810 was the very first car equipped with hidden headlamps, which were mounted in the car’s front fenders. It was also one of the first cars to be equipped with a rear hinged hood and hidden door hinges, both of which later became common design features throughout the automobile industry.

The Cord 810 made its debut at the New York Auto Show in November 1935, where it caused a public sensation. But in terms of sales, the 810 proved to be a disappointment, which was attributable to a number of factors. Delays in bringing the 810 into production, something Auburn Automobile Company was not able to accomplish until February 1936, prompted a number of customers to cancel their orders. Because it was rushed into production, the 810 experienced a number of serious teething troubles, most notably problems with its transmission, which turned even more potential customers away. Last of all, the 810 was expensive, selling in the $1900-$2200 range. During the Great Depression, few people could afford to buy a car at that price and most of those who could were not willing to pay that kind money for an unconventional car known to have serious bugs.

For the 1937 model year, the Cord 810 was replaced by the Cord 812, an improved version of the 810 which was available with a supercharged engine. But neither the 810 nor the 812 was enough to save Auburn Automobile Company, which ceased all automobile production in August 1937. A total of 1,764 Cord 810s were built. Surviving examples are highly prized collectibles today.

Sources

Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 335-337.

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 377-379.

The New Cord (Dutch), Cord: Trade Catalogs: Specific Model and Various Models, 1931-1978, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The New Cord (English), Cord: Trade Catalogs: Specific Model and Various Models, 1931-1978, n.d., 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 Toyopet Crown – First Japanese Car Sold in the United States

In late 1950s, the United States found itself in the midst of a sharp recession, which caused a market shift towards small imported economy cars. One company who noticed this trend in the United States was Toyota Motor Corporation, a then-small Japanese automaker that marketed its products under an odd-sounding nameplate: Toyopet. In an effort to tap this potentially huge market, Toyota imported the first Japanese car to be officially sold in the United States: the Toyopet Crown.

Trade catalog for the 1959 Toyopet Crown Custom Sedan.

First imported to the United States in 1957, the Toyopet Crown was designed for the small, but growing, Japanese market, which was in the latter stages of its recovery from the devastation of World War II. When the Crown was first introduced, private automobiles were rare in Japan because they were too expensive for the average Japanese citizen to own and operate. In addition to that, much of Japan’s highway network at that time still consisted of rough unpaved rural roads and narrow city streets, neither of which permitted high-speed driving. Such conditions put a strong premium on economy and durability.

In terms of design, the Toyopet Crown was a thoroughly conventional small car for its time. It rode on a 100-inch wheelbase and employed a front-engine, rear-wheel drive setup. Initially, power was provided by a 1.5 litre engine, which produced a decidedly modest 60 horsepower and gave it a claimed top speed of 65-70 miles per hour. Outwardly, the Crown was fitted with a body shell featuring American-influenced styling, which included a chrome-bedecked front end and small tailfins in the rear. Its interior was surprisingly roomy, able to seat 6 adults in reasonable comfort. The Crown was also notably heavy for a small car, weighing in at 2,668 pounds.

Trade catalog for the 1960 Toyopet Crown Custom Sedan.

Although the first two examples of the Toyopet Crown arrived in the United States in August 1957, it was not released to the American motoring public until July 1958. Unfortunately for Toyota, the car did not do well in the American market. To start with, the Crown was ill-suited for American driving conditions. Overweight and underpowered, it could not be driven at high speeds for extended periods without causing serious mechanical damage. The Crown was also overpriced, costing at least $600 more than the 1958 Volkswagen Beetle, the best-selling import in the United States at that time. From a marketing point of view, its image was not helped by its use of the nameplate “Toyopet,” which some potential customers associated with toys and pets instead of cars.

Although the Crown was heavily criticized, it did possess a number of desirable qualities that were duly noted by some automotive critics of the time. It was praised for the high quality of its construction. It was also found to be economical to operate, capable of fuel mileage in excess of 30 miles per gallon. The Crown revealed itself to be surprisingly rugged and durable in low-speed city driving conditions. Such attributes greatly helped Toyota’s position in the American market a number of years down the road.

2,137 Toyopet Crowns were sold in the United States between 1958 and 1960 before it was replaced by the Toyota Tiara for the 1961 model year. Although unsuccessful in terms of sales, Toyota learned much from this car’s experience in the American market. The Toyopet Crown is credited with laying the groundwork for Toyota’s long-term presence in the American automobile market.

Sources

Conceptcarz

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 772-773.

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1600.

Toyopet Crown Custom Sedan…the world’s greatest automotive value, Toyota: Trade Catalogs: Specific Model: Crown Custom, 1959-1961, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Toyopet Crown Custom Sedan for 59, Toyota: Trade Catalogs: Specific Model: Crown Custom, 1959-1961, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Toyopet Crown, “it’s a the big little car”, “it’s the little big car”, Toyota: Trade Catalogs: Specific Model: Crown Custom, 1959-1961, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Toyota Motor Corporation

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

The Citroën 2CV – A French Icon

Trade catalog for the 1950 Citroën 2CV.

During the mid-1930s, market research conducted by Citroën, the ever-innovative French automaker, revealed a great deal of interest in a small utilitarian car, especially among France’s rural population. In response to this perceived need, Citroën’s vice-president Pierre Boulanger ordered the development of a car that met all of the following criteria:

1. Cheap to operate
2. Easy to repair
3. Able to seat four adults in comfort
4. Able to carry a barrel of wine or a large sack of potatoes
5. Able to carry a basket of eggs across a plowed field without breaking them

Development of the new car was delayed for many years by the German occupation of France during World War II, which forced Citroën’s engineers to work on it in secret. But the firm’s efforts paid off in 1948 when it introduced an odd-looking, albeit technologically advanced utilitarian car that became a much-beloved French motoring icon: the Citroën 2CV, also popularly known as the Deux Chevaux.

Trade catalog for the 1953 Citroën 2CV, showing the car’s interior.

Designed with the needs of French rural dwellers in mind, the 2CV is arguably one of the most ingenious cars ever conceived. It featured a design that was advanced, yet the same time, amazingly simple and practical. The 2CV was tiny, riding on a 94.4-inch wheel base. It employed a front-engine and front-wheel drive layout, a setup Citroën successfully used on its famed Traction Avant. Initially, power was provided by an air-cooled flat-2 engine, which displaced a mere 375 cubic centimeters (22.9 cubic inches) and developed 9 horsepower. The engine was mated to an advanced four-speed manual transmission. The 2CV was also equipped with a sophisticated 4-wheel independent suspension system, which employed a leading arm on the front and a trailing arm on the rear.

The 2CV’s body and interior were equally advanced, yet simple and practical. The body shell was bulbous and odd (and some argued ugly) looking, but it featured easily removable bolt-on fenders and a detachable hood and doors that slid off their hinges. The car’s interior was remarkably roomy, able to seat four adults in reasonable comfort. The 2CV’s cargo space could easily be increased by removing the rear seats and rolling back the canvas sun-roof.

Image from trade catalog for the 1963 Citroën 2CV, demonstrating it off road capability and usefulness to farmers.

In terms of performance, the 2CV proved very well-suited for its time. In its initial form, the 2CV had a top speed of only 37-40 miles per hour. But it was very economical to run, being notably easy to repair and capable of gas mileage in excess of 35 miles per gallon. The car’s combination of front-wheel drive gave it excellent handling and impressive off-road capability, which allowed it to safely negotiate rough roads characteristic of post-war France and also permitted it to be driven in farmers’ fields. The 2CV was also renowned for its comfortable ride and its ability to carry fragile cargo without damaging it.

Over the course of its extraordinarily long production life (1948-1990) the Citroën 2CV became a French motoring icon. It was regarded very fondly by the French motoring public for its quirky looks, and was also much appreciated for its role in helping France recover from the devastation of World War II. The 2CV received a number of upgrades over the years, most notably in the form of larger engines and suspension improvements, but its basic design and concept remained unchanged.

The last Citroën 2CV rolled off the assembly line in 1990. More than 5 million Citroën 2CVs were built.

Sources

La 2 CV Citroën, Citroën: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, 2CV, 1948-1970, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The 2 CV Citroen, Citroën: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, 2CV, 1948-1970, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Citroën Car Club UK 

Citroënët 

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 185-194.

freedom in 2cv, Citroën: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, 2CV, 1948-1970, 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. 298-304.

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

The 1932 Ford Model 18

Trade catalog for the 1932 Ford Model 18. Note the “V-8” emblem on the car’s grille.

In 1930, Henry Ford, the aging founder of the Ford Motor Company, embarked on a truly ambitious project. Working in secret, Ford and a team of engineers set out to accomplish a task considered impossible by many within the automobile industry: the design and construction of a V-8 engine that was cheap and easy to produce. The efforts of Ford and his engineers paid off when the company introduced the world’s first low-priced V-8 engine car: the 1932 Ford Model 18, also known as the Ford V-8.

The Model 18’s development was largely prompted by the onset of the Great Depression. Ford offered a popular low-cost car at the beginning of the depression, the 4-cylinder Model A, but the worsening economy severely reduced demand for this car. Additional motivation was brought on by fierce competition from Chevrolet in the low-cost sector of the American automobile market. In response to this combination of a bad economy and tough competition, Henry Ford ordered the development of a low-cost V-8 engine. He did so hoping that a high-powered and low-cost car would capture the imagination of the American motoring public. He also hoped that the development of a V-8 would steal a technological march on Chevrolet, who had recently one-upped Ford by introducing a low-cost 6 cylinder car in 1929.

Trade catalog image of the 1932 Ford Model 18 De Luxe Coupe.

In terms of design, the Model 18 was essentially a more powerful version of the Model B, Ford’s 4-cylinder economy car for the 1932 model year. It employed the same chassis as the Model B and rode on a 106-inch wheel base. Handsomely styled by Edsel Ford, the Model 18 was offered in the same 14 different body styles as the Model B, ranging from the 2-Door Roadster to the 2-Door Convertible Sedan. Outwardly, the Model 18 was distinguishable from the Model B by its now-iconic “V-8” emblems, which were placed on the car’s grille and hubcaps.

But it was the car’s innovative Flathead V-8 engine that set it apart. Manufactured from cast iron, it was a 90-degree side-valve unit with a cylinder displacement of 221 cubic inches. The engine block, including its crankcase and cylinders, was cast in a single piece, which made this power plant cheaper and easier to produce than all other V-8 engines of the day. Ford claimed a then-impressive output of 65 horsepower for the Flathead V-8, which was enough to give the Model 18 a top speed of around 80 miles per hour.

Trade catalog image of the 1932 Ford Model 18 Fordor Sedan.

The Model 18 was formally introduced on March 31, 1932. Sold at the astoundingly low price of $460-$650, the public response was overwhelmingly positive. The motoring public was impressed with the Model 18’s combination of high-performance, low-price, and handsome styling. The car sold well, but not as well as Ford hoped, mainly due to the prevailing bad economic conditions of the time. The Model 18’s Flathead V-8 engine experienced serious teething troubles, including but not limited to piston failures, bearing failures, and cracked blocks. But Ford soon solved these problems and the Flathead V-8 became a mainstay in the company’s engine lineup, remaining in production until the 1950s.

The Ford Model 18 was replaced by the Ford Model 40 V-8 for the 1933 model year. Approximately 223,000 Model 18s were built in the United States and overseas. Surviving examples are highly prized collectibles today.

A sales catalog for the 1932 Ford Model 18 is available for viewing on the Vinson Digital Collection

Sources

“1932 Ford Models B and 18,

Early Ford V-8 Club of America

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 562.

A Great New Motor Car, The New Ford, Ford: Trade Catalogs, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 571, 591-592.

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

The 1962-1964 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder – A Forgotten Classic

Trade catalog cover for the 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder. Note the illustration of the “Turbocharged” emblem which appeared on the rear deck of the car.

The Chevrolet Corvair holds the unenviable distinction of being one of the most maligned cars in American automotive history. It is best known for being harshly (and I would argue unfairly) criticized in consumer advocate Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed. This is unfortunate because the bad publicity obscured the fact that the Corvair was an innovative American car for its time and that its model lineup included a technically fascinating high-performance economy car. In 1962, Chevrolet took the then-novel approach of installing a turbocharged engine in the sporty Corvair Monza. The end result was a truly innovative, albeit much overlooked classic: the Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder.

Introduced in the spring of 1962, (only a few weeks after the world’s first turbocharged passenger car, the Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire), the Corvair Monza Spyder was a limited edition version of the Corvair Monza. It was the product of considerable market research. When first introduced in late 1959, the Corvair was originally intended to be a small economy car. But Chevrolet soon discovered that many customers who bought Corvairs were motoring enthusiasts who enjoyed the car’s lively handling characteristics. The company also learned that many of these enthusiasts desired more horsepower. In response to this demand, Chevrolet’s engineers went back to the drawing board and determined that turbocharging was the most feasible way of increasing the horsepower of the Corvair’s engine to high-performance levels.

Trade catalog illustrations of the two body styles available for the 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder.

In most respects, the 1962-1964 Corvair Monza Spyder closely resembled its stable mates. It employed the same rear-engine, rear-wheel drive layout and rode on a 108-inch wheelbase. However, it differed from its Corvair brethren in that it was offered in only two body styles: a 2-door Club Coupe and a 2-door Convertible. Outwardly, the Monza Spyder was identifiable by discretely placed emblems, which included “Spyder” emblems placed on the front fenders and a “Turbocharged” emblem placed on the rear deck. Inside, the Monza Spyder was given a sporty interior, which featured bucket front seats and a special instrument panel that included a 120-mile per hour speedometer, a tachometer, a manifold pressure gauge, and a cylinder head temperature gauge.

Trade catalog illustrations of the instrument panel and engine for the 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder.

But it was the Corvair Monza Spyder’s engine that really set it apart. The engine itself was a 145 cubic-inch flat-six power plant. An innovative engine for its day, it featured an aluminum block and employed air cooling. The engine was fitted with a turbocharger supplied by Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge, Incorporated, which was powered by exhaust gases. To cope with the heat generated by the turbocharger, the engine received a number of modifications, including a chrome-steel crankshaft and a modified exhaust system.

Thus fitted with this turbocharged power plant, the Corvair Monza Spyder was capable of an impressive level of performance. The engine produced 150 horsepower at a then-impressive ratio of just slightly over 1 horsepower per cubic inch. The car also had excellent acceleration, able to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 10.8 seconds. The Corvair Monza Spyder’s performance was further improved by some upgrades it received over the course of its model run, which included receiving a 164 cubic-inch engine in 1964 and transverse leaf springs on its rear suspension that same year.

The 1962-1964 Chevrolet Corvair was arguably a more successful turbocharged car than the Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire. Approximately 40,000 cars were built before it was replaced by a turbocharged version of the Chevrolet Corvair Corsa for the 1965 model year. Surviving examples are prized collector items today.

Sources

Corvair Corsa

Introduction to the 1962-1964 Corvair Spyder, HowStuffWorks

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 216-221.

New Sun and Fun Car!!! Corvair Monza Convertible, Chevrolet: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, Corvair, 1960-1962, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Step Out and Go with New Corvair Monza Spyder, Sports Car Optional Equipment, Chevrolet: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, Corvair, 1960-1962, 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.

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.

Sources

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.

Sources

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.

Sources

Conceptcarz.com

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 (http://americangraffiti.net/) and Unofficial American Graffiti(http://unofficialamericangriffiti.weebly.com).

Sources

ImpalaForums.com

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.