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.

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.

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.

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.

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.