The 1911-1914 Mercer Type 35-R Raceabout:
An American High-Performance Legend

1911 Mercer trade catalog cover showing the dashboard of a Type 35-R from the driver’s perspective.

1911 Mercer trade catalog cover showing the dashboard of a Type 35-R from the driver’s perspective.

By the early 1900s, American automakers had already become aware of the motoring public’s fascination with high-performance cars. One early American automaker who sought to capitalize on the interest in such vehicles was Mercer Automobile Company, which was based in Trenton, New Jersey. Around 1909-1910, Mercer started work on a high-performance car that it hoped would attract public attention. The end result of the company’s labors was a car that would go down in automotive history as an American high-performance legend: the 1911-1914 Mercer Type 35-R Raceabout, which was popularly known as the “Raceabout.”

The Mercer Type 35-R Raceabout was an open two-seat speedster. Conceived by Mercer’s general manager Washington Roebling II (the grandson of John A. Roebling, the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge) and designed by Finley Robertson Porter, the Raceabout, was built to meet some very specific and demanding criteria. According to Mercer company literature:

Type 35-R has been produced to meet the growing demand for a high-speed, high-grade, moderate-priced racing car, which a private individual may take out on the road, and safely and consistently drive at a speed between 70 and 80 miles an hour.

Trade catalog image of the 1911 Mercer Type 35-R Raceabout.

Trade catalog image of the 1911 Mercer Type 35-R Raceabout.

Introduced in late 1910 and initially sold at a then-hefty price of $2,250, the Raceabout was a very advanced car for time. It was built on a pressed-alloy chassis and rode on a 108-inch wheelbase. The chassis was positioned unusually low to the ground for its time, which gave it a lower center of gravity than its contemporaries. The car’s chassis was clothed with an all-aluminum body, which consisted of little more than a hood, fenders, and running boards. Passenger accommodations were minimal, consisting of only two bucket seats and a small monocle windshield for the driver. The overall chassis and body design made the Raceabout extraordinarily light for its time, weighing in at 2,300 pounds.

The Raceabout’s drive train was equally innovative. Power was provided by a 300 cubic-inch inline-4 engine. Featuring a T-head, dual spark plugs, and a high compression ratio of 7 to 1, the engine was officially rated at 34 horsepower, but was actually good for a then-impressive 58 horsepower. The engine was initially mated to a 3-speed manual transmission, which was noted for its smooth shifting. Power was transmitted to the rear wheel by a drive shaft, another advanced feature for its time.

The Raceabout’s combination of light weight, horsepower, and advanced technology made it a more-than-capable performer. Due to its low ground clearance and low center of gravity, the car was blessed with excellent handling characteristics. The car was also notably fast, having a top speed of around 75-80 miles per hour. Mercer also guaranteed that the Raceabout would cover a mile in 51 seconds.

Photograph of a 1912 Mercer Type 35-R Raceabout.

Photograph of a 1912 Mercer Type 35-R Raceabout.

The Raceabout’s reputation for high performance was further enhanced by its success on the racetrack. Between 1911 and 1914, factory-supported teams of Raceabouts dominated the American racing scene. Campaigned by top drivers that included Ralph DePalma, Eddie Pullen, and Barney Oldfield, the Raceabout won chalked up numerous victories. Additional race victories were earned by cars campaigned by private owners.

After achieving legendary status in the course of its production run, the Type 35-R Raceabout was replaced by the 22/70 Raceabout for the 1915 model year. A very rare car in its heyday, less than 600 Type 35-R Raceabouts were built. The few surviving examples are cherished collector items today.

Sources

Fitzgerald, Craig, “1911 Mercer 35R Raceabout,” Hemmings Motor News, March 2007

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1008-1009.

How Stuff Works – 1911-1915 Mercer Raceabout Model 35-R 

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 958-961.

Mercer (1911): Mercer: Trade Catalogs: Various Models, 1911-ca. 1924, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Photograph of 1912 Mercer Raceabout 

Strohl, David, “Magical Mercer, Already legendary, this 1914 Mercer Raceabout came with an impressive history of previous owners,” Hemmings Motor News, April 2009

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

The 1962-1964 BMW 1500

During the late 1950s, BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke) was teetering on bankruptcy.  Its large sedans, sports cars, and motorcycle were selling very poorly.  The company kept itself afloat by building the Isetta, 600, and 700 microcars, which sold well, but were not very profitable.  In addition to its financial difficulties, BMW also had to fend off an unsuccessful takeover bid by German competitor Daimler-Benz.  But all was not lost for the Munich, Germany-based automaker.  In 1959, BMW started work on an advanced mid-range car that it hoped would sell in large numbers.  The end result was a car that not only saved the company, but is also credited with truly establishing BMW a world-class automaker: the 1962-1964 BMW 1500.

1961 trade catalog for the not-yet-released BMW 1500.  Note the car’s trademark kidney-shaped grille.

1961 trade catalog for the not-yet-released BMW 1500. Note the car’s trademark kidney-shaped grille.

Popularly known as the “New Class,” the BMW 1500 was a medium-priced, 4-door sport sedan.  Designed by a team headed by Fritz Fiedler, it was a remarkably advanced medium-priced car for its time.  An efficient compact design, the 1500 was built on a monocoque chassis and rode on a 100-inch wheelbase.  It employed a front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout.  Power was provided by a sophisticated 1499 cc (91 cubic-inch) inline-4 engine, which featured a chain-driven overhead camshaft and was good for 80 horsepower.  The engine was mated to a four-speed manual transmission.  The 1500 was equipped with a then-advanced 4-wheel independent suspension system, which employed MacPherson struts and coil springs on the front and semi-trailing arms and coil springs in the rear.

Not only did the 1500 feature advanced engineering, it was given a practical, yet striking-looking unit body.  Styled by Wilhelm Hofmeister, the body featured a forward slanted nose, a low-hood and trunk line, and BMW’s trademark kidney-shaped grille, thus creating an unmistakeable outer profile that would appear on BMW cars for many years to come.  The low hood and trunk line allowed for a large window glass area, which gave drivers exceptional visibility.  Inside, the 1500 could seat 5 passengers and had a surprisingly spacious trunk.

Trade catalog for the 1964 BMW 1500.  Note car’s distinctive profile.

Trade catalog for the 1964 BMW 1500. Note car’s distinctive profile.

To top it all off, the BMW 1500 offered a level of performance that was considered excellent for a sport sedan of its day.  The 1500 was capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 14 seconds and had a claimed top speed of 92 miles per hour.  Thanks to its 4-wheel independent suspension, the car was also blessed with outstanding handling characteristics.

The BMW 1500 was released to the motoring public in the summer of 1962.  Initially offered at a price of $2,125, the car was a smash hit and the demand for it quickly exceeded supply.  Customers and critics alike were impressed with the 1500’s advanced design and lively performance.  The car sold so well that BMW’s financial position improved dramatically and firmly established the company as a world class automaker.  On a negative note, the earliest 1500s did experience some serious quality issues, which included problems with their transmissions, trailing arms, and rear axles.  But BMW was able to address many of these issues over the course of the car’s production run.  The lessons learned from the experience of the 1500 enabled BMW to build higher quality cars in the future.

After a 3-year model run, the BMW 1500 was replaced by the BMW 1600 for the 1965 model year.  23,807 BMW 1500s were built.  Surviving examples are sought-after collectibles today.

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 174-175.

BMW 1500 (1961), BMW: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 1500, 1961-1964, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

BMW Group Archives

ConceptCarz – 1962 BMW 1500

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 134-135, 139-140.

Die Neue Klasse BMW 1500, Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 1500, 1961-1964, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Wikipedia – BMW New Class

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

The Subaru 360 – Subaru’s Inauspicious Start in the United States

Subaru occupies a prominent place as niche manufacturer in the American automobile market these days. Built by Fuji Heavy Industries of Tokyo, Japan and marketed towards drivers who live an active and outdoorsy lifestyle, Subaru cars are much loved by American drivers for their dependability and durability. The Japanese automaker is also renowned for employing fascinating technological features, including all-wheel drive, horizontally-opposed engines, and continuously variable transmission (my present car, a 2012 Subaru Impreza, is equipped with all three of these features). But it was not always this way. When Subaru first started selling cars in the United States, it struck an inauspicious note by offering a car that was not appropriate for the American market: the Subaru 360.

Trade catalog for the Subaru 360, ca. 1960s

Trade catalog for the Subaru 360, ca. 1960s

The Subaru 360 was a microcar originally designed for crowded Japanese driving conditions. A truly tiny car, the 360 weighed in at a mere 993 pounds and ran on 70-inch wheelbase. It employed a rear-engine, rear-wheel drive layout. Power was provided by a 356 cc (22 cubic-inch) 2-stroke inline-2 engine, which utilized air-cooling and was good for 25 horsepower. The engine was mated to a 4-speed manual transmission. The car rode on a suspension system which employed trailing arms with torsion bars and coil springs on the front wheels, and torsion bars and semi-axles on the rear wheels. Styling wise the 360 was clothed in a bulbous (and some argued ugly) 2-door body shell, which featured rear-hinged “suicide” doors.”

The 360 was capable of a level of performance that sufficed in Japan, but was considered unacceptable in the United States. On the positive side, it was an economical car to run, with a claimed gas mileage in excess of 50 miles per gallon, and its small size made it well-suited for use in urban areas. On the down side, it was a decidedly slow car. According to Consumer Reports, it took the 360 37.5 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 50 miles per hour and had a top speed of around 55 miles per hour.

Trade catalog for the Subaru 360, ca. 1960s

Trade catalog for the Subaru 360, ca. 1960s

Teaming up with automotive entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin, Subaru started importing the 360 to the United States in 1968 and offered it at a remarkably low sticker price of $1,297. Using the slogan “Cheap and Ugly Does It” (which probably drew its inspiration from well-remembered advertising campaigns for the Volkswagen Beetle), Subaru sought to market the 360 as an inexpensive, yet distinctive economy car. Unfortunately for Subaru, the 360 received a very chilly reception from the American driving public and sold poorly. Potential customers were put off by the 360’s small size, odd styling, and slow performance. Among those who did buy it, the car earned a reputation for being difficult to get serviced.

Perhaps most damaging of all, the 360 was publically branded as an unsafe car by the American motoring press. Consumer Reports rated the 360 as “Not Acceptable,” describing it as “the most unsafe car on the market.” The magazine was highly critical of the car’s lack of speed and unusual handling characteristics. It also harshly criticized the 360’s lack of safety equipment and poor performance in crash testing with larger American cars of the day. Its reputation damaged, Subaru withdrew the 360 from the American market after the 1970 model year. But Subaru learned some immensely valuable lessons from the 360’s experience, which enabled the Japanese firm to build cars that would become favorites with American drivers in years to come.

Around 10,000 Subaru 360s were imported to the United States between 1968 and 1970. Surviving examples are considered to be interesting collector items today.

Sources

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 748-749.

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1537.

McCourt, Mark J., “A Small Start for Something Big, The tale of how Subaru came to America with the 360 and how it nearly all ended,” Hemmings Motor News, February 2006.

Subaru 360, Subaru (Japan): Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 360 and 450, ca. 1960s, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Subaru 360 Drivers Club

Subaru 360, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., Subaru (Japan): Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 360 and 450, ca. 1960s, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

“The Subaru 360 (Not Acceptable)” Consumer Reports, April 1969, p. 220-222.

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

The Jeep FC-150 – A Unique, but Forgotten Four-Wheel Drive Vehicle

During the mid-1950s, Jeep, which was then owned by Willys Motors, Incorporated (a subsidiary of Kaiser Motors), was the leading manufacturer of 4-wheel drive vehicles in the United States. Although Jeep enjoyed a great deal of renown, the firm started to encounter more competition as other manufacturers, most notably the American Big Three automakers, started to enter the 4-wheel drive sector. In response to the increasing competition, Jeep sought to build something not offered by any other manufacturer of the day. The end result was as not a huge success, but did go down as one of the most unique-looking, albeit forgotten, four-wheel drive vehicles to appear on America’s market: the Jeep FC-150.

Trade catalog for the 1957 Jeep FC-150.

Trade catalog for the 1957 Jeep FC-150.

Also known as the “Forward Control” and “Flat Front,” the FC-150 was the first all-new Jeep vehicle since 1947. Engineered by A.C. Sampieto and marketed as a work vehicle suitable for both civilian and military use, the FC-150 was based on the much-beloved Jeep CJ-5. The FC-150 was built on the CJ-5’s chassis and rode on an 81-inch wheelbase. It was powered by Jeep’s well-proven Hurricane inline-four engine, which displaced 134.2 cubic inches, and was good for 75 horsepower. In FC-150’s standard form, the engine was mated to a Borg Warner three-speed manual transmission. Like other Jeep 4-wheel vehicles, the FC-150 was equipped with the firm’s famous “Hi-Lo” 4-wheel drive system, which permitted on-the-fly shifting between 2-and 4-wheel drive.

But the FC-150 was most memorable for its unique looks. It was clothed with a boxy “Safety View” cab, which featured an unusual cab-over-engine design. Styled by Brooks Stevens, the body took its design cues from cab-over-engine semi-trucks and was given Jeep’s familiar seven-slot grille. The cab was remarkably roomy, and designed for visibility and comfort. Fitted with an unusually large amount of window glass, it allowed for an exceptional amount of driver visibility. Wide doors, concealed steps, and rubber front fenders eased the entry and exit of the FC-150’s occupants. Access to the engine was provided by an easily removable fiberglass engine cover, which was designed to reduce engine heat and noise inside the cab.

Trade catalog image of the 1957 Jeep FC-150.

Trade catalog image of the 1957 Jeep FC-150.

In terms of performance, the FC-150 was a very capable and versatile vehicle. Like other four-wheel drive vehicles in the Jeep model lineup, the FC-150’s 4-wheel drive system gave it extraordinary off-road capabilities and allowed it to safely traverse all kinds of terrain. Like its Jeep stable mates, the FC-150 was also very durable and could take a lot of abuse. Its compact size blessed it with exceptional maneuverability. The FC-150’s forward control cab allowed for a surprisingly large 6-foot cargo bed, which could carry an impressive amount of cargo.

The Jeep FC-150 was introduced to the public as a 1957 model in November 1956. Although it was initially well-received by automotive critics of the time and well-liked by those who bought it, the FC-150 proved to be a disappointingly slow seller. Its overall design was arguably a little too advanced for its time. Because it was marketed primarily as a work vehicle, it is also possible that it did not appeal to more casual owners. Nevertheless, it enjoyed a surprisingly long production life (1957-1965).

The Jeep FC-150 was discontinued after the 1965 model year. Because it was not a big seller, the FC-150 has largely been forgotten and surviving examples are seldom seen today.

Sources

Ackerson, Robert C., Standard Catalog 4x4s, 1945-2000, Second Edition, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2000, p. 596-601.

Donnelly, Jim, “1957-’65 Jeep Forward Control Pickups, The oddball little pickups that Jeep produced,” Hemmings Motor News, October 2006.

How Stuff Works

Jeep Forward Control, FC-150, The All New 4-Wheel Drive Truck, Turnpike Performance Plus Off-Road Traction: Willys-Overland: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Jeep, ca. 1945-1963.

Jeep Forward Control – Wikipedia

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

The 1966 Studebakers

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Cruiser.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Cruiser.

During the 1960s, Studebaker was clearly on its last legs as an automaker. Due to falling sales and overwhelming competition from the American Big Three, Studebaker shuttered its South Bend, Indiana assembly plant in late 1963 and moved all vehicle production to its smaller facility in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. By this time, the company was also in the process of de-emphasizing its automobile division in favor of its other more profitable business ventures, which included being the makers of STP engine additives and Paxton superchargers.

For the 1966 model year, Studebaker made its final attempt to remain in the car business. It sought to do this by offering a line of compact cars for the American market. The end result was not successful, but instead became significant for being the last cars produced by a once great American automaker: the 1966 Studebakers.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Daytona.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Daytona.

Essentially warmed-over versions of the company’s 1965 cars, the 1966 Studebaker lineup consisted of four models built on the same platform: the Commander, Cruiser, Daytona, and Wagonaire. Designed by Brooks Stevens and the Detroit, Michigan design firm of Marcks Hazelquist Powers, the 1966 Studebakers were reasonably modern American compact cars for their time. Depending upon the model ordered, the cars rode on 109-inch and 113-inch wheelbases. Customers were offered a choice of three engines supplied by General Motors: a 194 cubic-inch inline-6, a 230 cubic-inch inline-6, and a 283 cubic-inch V-8. The cars were clothed in body shells styled in what the company advertised as the “Smart New Look,” which featured a new grille, single headlamps, and restyled side panels.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Wagonaire.  Note the sliding roof.

Trade catalog image of the 1966 Studebaker Wagonaire. Note the sliding roof.

In keeping the company’s reputation for engineering prowess, the 1966 Studebakers also offered features that were novel for their time. Most significantly, all 1966 models were equipped with the “Refreshaire” ventilation system, which is widely considered to be Studebaker’s last technological innovation. Essentially a system in which air came in through front vents and went out through openings placed above the taillights, Refreshaire eliminated the need for ventilation windows and was praised by automotive critics of the day. 1966 Studebakers could also be ordered with one of the first electronic ignition systems (standard on the Daytona, optional on all other models) to appear on an American car. Last but not least, the Wagonaire station wagon could be ordered with an optional sliding roof, a design feature not seen again until 2001, when it re-appeared on the Pontiac Aztek.

When the new Studebaker lineup was introduced in late 1965, it received a chilly reception from the American motoring public. Customers were very reluctant to buy cars from a company they feared would soon disappear. Enough cars were sold to make a small profit, but it was not enough to suit the company’s board of directors. In March 1966, Studebaker announced that it was ceasing all automobile production. The last Studebaker car, a timberline turquoise Cruiser with a white top, rolled off the assembly line on March 17th.

A little over 8900 1966 Studebakers were built. The very last Studebaker is currently preserved at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana. A photo of this car can be viewed on the museum’s website

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1534.

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 762-763.

Studebaker National Museum

Studebaker Nineteen Sixty-Six, The New Smart Look, Studebaker: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Studebaker Range, 1955-1966, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Wikipedia – Studebaker

Wikipedia – Studebaker Lark

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

The Renault 4

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to be reading the news when I learned that Pope Francis had taken delivery of a car for his personal use in the Vatican. But it was not the latest version of the “Popemobile,” which is an armored limousine. Instead, the Pope had taken delivery of a decidedly humble used car which was donated to him by an Italian priest: a 1984 Renault 4 with more than 186,000 miles on it! The Pope was very pleased to receive this car, having previously owned one when he was a Catholic Church official in his home country of Argentina. Thinking that American readers might not be familiar with this car, I decided to feature the Renault 4 in this week’s blog.

Trade catalog image of a 1966 Renault 4.

Trade catalog image of a 1966 Renault 4.

Although it was never officially available in the United States, the Renault 4 is in fact one of the most popular cars in automotive history. Conceived by Renault president Pierre Dreyfus and introduced at the Paris Motor Show in 1961, the 4 was designed to be a “blue jeans” car, which Mr. Dreyfus defined as being an inexpensive and simple car that could be used for multiple purposes in many different countries. It was also intended to be Renault’s answer to another iconic French utility car: the Citroën 2CV.

The Renault 4 is arguably one of the simplest and most practical cars ever conceived. The 4 was decidedly small, running on a 96.1-inch wheelbase. It also had the honor of being Renault’s first front-wheel drive car. Power was initially provided by a longitudinally mounted 747 cc engine, which was good for 26.5 horsepower. The engine was mated to a three-speed manual transmission, which was operated by an unusual push/pull gear shift lever mounted in the dashboard. The 4 was equipped with a four-wheel independent suspension system, much like that of a Citroën 2CV, which used longitudinal torsion bars on the both the front and rear, and hydraulic telescopic shock absorbers on all four wheels. Because the rear torsion bars were mounted one in front of the other, the car’s left wheelbase (94.3 inches) was slightly shorter than its right wheelbase (96.1). But this odd design quirk did not negatively affect the car’s handling and allowed for a flat interior floor.

The 4’s body and interior were equally simple and practical. It was clothed with a body that featured four passenger doors and a top-hinged tailgate. Initially advertised as a small station wagon, it is considered by some automotive experts to be the world’s first mass-produced hatchback. The car’s interior was spartan, yet remarkably roomy and could seat five passengers in surprising comfort. The 4’s interior room could easily be increased by folding down the rear seat.

The 4 was capable of a level of performance considered acceptable for a small European economy car of its time. The 4 had a claimed top speed of around 68 miles per hour and was capable of gas mileage in excess of 40 miles per gallon. The car’s combination of front-wheel drive and 4-wheel independent suspension gave it capable handling and impressive off-road capability. The 4 was also renowned for roominess and comfortable ride.

Over the course of its extraordinarily long production life (1961-1994), the Renault 4 became a much-beloved car both in France and all over the world. The car received a number of upgrades over the years, including larger engines, a four-speed transmission, and slightly revised body panels, but its basic design remained remarkably unchanged throughout its production run.

The last Renault 4 rolled off the assembly line in 1994. More than 8 million Renault 4s were built, which makes it the third-best selling car of all time.

Sources

4 Renault: Renault (France): Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 4, 1966-1990, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Atiyeh, Clifford, “Pope Francis drives off in a 1984 Renault 4,” MSN Autos 

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

Renault

Renault 4: Renault (France): Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 4, 1966-1990, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Renault 4 – Aux 4 Coins Du Monde: Renault (France): Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 4, 1948-1965, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Renault 4 – Tout Sur Les Modeles 1963: Renault (France): Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 4, 1948-1965, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Renault Owners Club

Wikipedia – Renault 4

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

Aston Martin DB5

The Aston Martin DB5 is one of the most recognizable cars in the world. Used in multiple James Bond films, the attractive DB5 has been established as one of the seminal vehicles of the series and has maintained popularity ever since its production. It made its debut in 1964’s Goldfinger, standing in for the Aston Martin DB Mark III Ian Fleming had written into the original novel. It continued to appear throughout the series, up to “and including” the most recent installation, Skyfall, in which it was outfitted with its traditional ejection seat and front machine guns.

Trade catalog image of Aston Martin DB5 Coupe.

Trade catalog image of Aston Martin DB5 Coupe.

The Aston Martin DB5 was only produced from October 1963 to November 1965, a fairly short run by most standards of the time. Although the look and shape of the car did not change much from the previous model, the Aston Martin DB4, there were some important changes under the hood that made the model unique and deserving of the change to a new name. The DB5’s engine, for example, was enlarged from the DB4’s 3670 cc version to 3995 cc. This engine produced 282 horsepower, which made the DB5 one of the fastest models in the Aston Martin lineup. Initially, the car was also equipped with a David Brown 4-Speed gearbox, with the option of adding overdrive at extra cost. However, by mid-1964, the gear was standardized to a ZF 5 speed gearbox, which essentially added an overdrive feature without having to select it from the list of available options.

The DB5 was offered as both a Coupe and a Volante Convertible. 1,021 Coupes were produced over the 2 years it was built, with an additional 120 Volantes created. Additionally, because of the lack of space available in the original model, there were also 12 “shooting brake” conversions created by Harold Radford, which are considered high in value due to their rarity today.

Trade catalog image of Aston Martin DB5 Volante Convertible.

Trade catalog image of Aston Martin DB5 Volante Convertible.

One of the interesting notes about the DB5, which came with an assortment of gadgets during its stint as a Bond car, was that it lacked some of the finer accoutrements that many would find surprising today. The DB5 had no air conditioning, for example, and it lacked power steering, which meant that drivers had to use a more arm strength for best steering performance. These were not even offered as options for the DB5, so buyers could not add them in at extra cost. These details were not initially a problem, but as time went on it meant the car had lesser staying power than other models. Therefore, these were some of the issues addressed by the DB6 when it was released two years later, adding them as optional features.

Despite some of these flaws, as well as the fact that the DB5 was not a huge shift in design, nor a highly demanded and produced model, its appearance as James Bond’s car has cemented its place in history as one of the most popular, or at least most recognizable cars. It is still considered highly collectable, and a replica of the Aston Martin DB5 used in Goldfinger is even on display in the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC.

Sources

Aston Martin DB5 Trade Catalog: Aston Martin: Trade Catalogs: Specific Model: DB5 and DB6, 1963-1971, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Aston Martin Webpage

Aston Martin Webpage

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 86.

How Stuff Works – Aston Martin Sports Cars

International Spy Museum

Annalise Berdini is a Summer Intern for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

1934-1937 Chrysler Airflow

Chrysler Corporation (officially known today as Chrysler Group LLC) has long been noted for its engineering and design prowess.  Over the course of its history, the company has repeatedly made its mark through its automotive engineering and design innovations.  But over the years, Chrysler has also learned the hard way that innovation does not always translate into sales.  During the 1930s, Chrysler introduced an advanced car that left a lasting influence upon automotive engineering and design, but failed to find acceptance with the American motoring public: the 1934-1937 Chrysler Airflow.

Trade catalog image of 1934 Chrysler Airflow Imperial Sedan.

Trade catalog image of 1934 Chrysler Airflow Imperial Sedan.

Designed by a trio of famed automotive engineers known as “Chrysler’s Three Musketeers:” Carl Breer, Fred Zeder, and Owen Skelton, the Airflow was the first American car to feature a streamlined body and the very first car to be designed in a wind tunnel.  These innovations resulted in the Airflow being fitted with a sleek body shell that looked completely unlike anything else on the road at the time.  The Airflow’s body was given a rounded front end, which featured a “waterfall” grille and flush headlamps.  Chrysler also smoothed out the car’s sides by integrating the fenders into the body panels.  The Airflow’s aerodynamics was further improved by giving the body a tapered rear end.  The performance gains realized from this attention to aerodynamics were striking.  Chrysler discovered that the Airflow’s streamlined body gave it a higher top speed and made it significantly more fuel efficient than other comparable cars of the time.

Trade catalog image of 1935 Chrysler Airflow Eight Sedan.

Trade catalog image of 1935 Chrysler Airflow Eight Sedan.

Underneath its skin, the Airflow’s design was equally innovative.  The Airflow was one of the first American cars to feature all-steel construction.  In what was a precursor to unit construction, the Airflow’s body was built on a cage-like steel frame, which was enormously rigid and strong.  To achieve a more even distribution of weight, the Airflow’s engine was mounted over its front axle.  To give the car’s occupants a smoother and more comfortable ride, the Airflow’s passenger compartment was placed between the front and rear axles and the car was fitted with larger leaf springs.  The Airflows were powered by well-proven Chrysler straight-8 engines, which were mated to a manual transmission equipped with automatic overdrive, another industry first.

Trade catalog image of 1936 Chrysler Airflow Eight Six Passenger Coupe.

Trade catalog image of 1936 Chrysler Airflow Eight Six Passenger Coupe.

The Chrysler Airflow debuted at the New York Auto Show in January 1934, where it was initially well received.  But in terms of sales, the Airflow proved to be an expensive failure, which is attributable to several factors.  To start with, the Airflow was introduced during the Great Depression, which shrunk the market for new cars.  Chrysler also experienced delays in bringing Airflow into production, which caused many customers to cancel their orders.  When production finally started in April 1934, the first Airflows were plagued by quality control issues, which further discouraged potential buyers.  Most importantly of all, the motoring public did not like the Airflow’s looks, finding its streamlined body too unconventional for their tastes.  In subsequent model years, Chrysler revised the Airflow’s body to give it a more conventional appearance, most notably by giving it a V-shaped grille, but to no avail.

Recognizing it as a financial failure, Chrysler pulled the plug on the Airflow after the 1937 model year.  Although it flopped in the marketplace, it left a positive lasting impact upon the automobile industry for many years to come.  A number of its innovations, most notably streamlining and wind tunnel testing, were subsequently adopted by other automakers and remain standard practice in the industry to this day.  Around 29,000 Chrysler Airflows were built.  Surviving examples have a devoted following today.

Sources
Allpar.com

Chrysler Airflow 1936: Chrysler: Trade Catalogs: Specific Model: Airflow, 1934-1935, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Chrysler: The First Motor Car Since the Invention of the Automobile: Chrysler: Trade Catalogs: Specific Model: Airflow, 1934-1935, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Chrysler Website

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 285-287.

The Great New Airflow Chryslers for 1935: Chrysler: Trade Catalogs: Specific Model: Airflow, 1934-1935, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

How Stuff Works – 1934-1937 Chrysler Airflow

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 306, 319-325.

Walter P. Chrysler Museum

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

Porsche 356 – From Humble Origins to Sports Car Legend

In the years immediately following World War II, the German automobile design firm of Dr. Ing. h.c.f. Porsche AG was struggling to get back on its feet. The firm was operating out of a temporary shop in Gmünd, Austria, having been driven from its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany by Allied bombing raids. The war’s devastation upon the firm was further compounded by the imprisonment of the company’s founder, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche (the designer of the Volkswagen Beetle), and several key personnel in a French prison. In order to survive, the Porsche concern had been reduced to building and repairing farm implements, and renovating cars.

Postcard of an early Porsche 356 Closed Coupe.

Postcard of an early Porsche 356 Closed Coupe.

In the midst of these difficulties, Ferdinand Porsche’s son, Dr. Ferry Porsche, set out to get the family firm back on its feet. To accomplish this end, he started work on a sports car based mainly on Volkswagen Beetle components. The end result of this endeavor is largely responsible for making Porsche the thriving automaker that it is today and became a legendary sports car in the process: the Porsche 356.

First built in 1948 and introduced to the public at the Geneva Motor Show in 1949, the Porsche 356 was originally a decidedly humble machine. Built on a steel platform chassis, the 356 used the same rear engine, rear-wheel drive layout as the Beetle. In its initial form, the 356 was powered by a tuned version of Volkswagen’s air-cooled flat-four engine. Displacing 1086 cc (66.3 cubic inches) and equipped with dual carburetors and larger valves, this power plant was good for a rather modest 40 horsepower. The car was equipped with a Volkswagen suspension system, which employed torsion bars with trailing arms on the front and torsion bars with swing axles on the rear. Outwardly, the 356 was clothed with a highly aerodynamic, closed-coupe body. Because steel was scarce in early post-war years, the very first 356s used aluminum body panels, but these were soon replaced by steel body panels.

Trade catalog image of Porsche 356B Speedster, ca. 1959-1963.

Trade catalog image of Porsche 356B Speedster, ca. 1959-1963.

Even though it was modestly powered and cobbled together from Volkswagen parts, the Porsche 356 was blessed with truly sporty performance characteristics. Due to their light weight and excellent aerodynamics, the earliest 356s were capable of a surprisingly-fast claimed top speed of 85 miles per hour. They also possessed excellent road-holding characteristics for their time. The 356 soon acquired a reputation for high performance with sports car enthusiasts and it became a brisk seller. So much so that 356’s sales enabled Porsche to return to its original headquarters in Stuttgart in 1950. By 1955, Porsche had grown into a prosperous small automaker.

Trade catalog image of 1960 Porsche 356B Cabriolet.

Trade catalog image of 1960 Porsche 356B Cabriolet.

The Porsche 356 went on to have a remarkably long production life (1948-1966). Beginning a pattern that it would repeat with later cars, Porsche continuously developed and improved the 356 over the course of its production run. Originally a closed coupe, the 356 later became available with Cabriolet and Speedster bodies. Exterior changes eventually included a single-sheet windshield, a larger rear window, and raised headlights. Technical improvements included larger and more powerful engines and an improved suspension system. Most significantly of all, Volkswagen components were gradually replaced by those designed by Porsche.

Superseded by the Porsche 911, the last Porsche 356 (a 1965 model) rolled off the assembly line in 1966. Approximately 78,000 Porsche 356s were built. Happily, it is believed that around half of these cars remain in existence and surviving examples are highly prized collector’s items today.

Sources

All It Shares with Other Cars – Is the Road: Porsche: Trade Catalogs: 356, ca. 1950-1964, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 650-656.

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p.1254-1255.

How Stuff Works – Porsche 356 History

Porsche: Porsche: Trade Catalogs: 356, ca. 1950-1964, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Porsche 356 Registry

Porsche 356B: Porsche: Trade Catalogs: 356, ca. 1950-1964, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Postcard of an Early Porsche 356 Closed Coupe: Porsche: Postcards, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Type 356 Porsche: Porsche: Trade Catalogs: 356, ca. 1950-1964, 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 1930-1934 American Austin

During the 1920s and 1930s, the Austin 7, popularly known as the “Baby Austin,” was one of the most popular and influential cars in the world. Cheap to buy and economical to operate, Austin 7s were much beloved by those who owned them. Not only were they immensely popular in the United Kingdom, they were also well-liked in other countries, so much so that Austin allowed them to be built under license by Dixi in Germany and Rosengart in France (see The Baby Austin: A British Interpretation of Motoring for the Masses at http://hagleyserver.org/vinson/2012/10/the-baby-austin-a-british-interpretation-of-motoring-for-the-masses/).

Photograph of a surviving example of a 1930 American Austin 2-Place Roadster.

Photograph of a surviving example of a 1930 American Austin 2-Place Roadster.

In 1929, encouraged by the success of the Austin 7 outside of the United Kingdom, Austin’s founder Herbert Austin hit upon the idea of building and marketing the car in the United States. In order to do this, Mr. Austin established American Austin Car Company, Incorporated to build the Austin 7 under license and set up a production facility in Butler, Pennsylvania. The end result of this ambitious venture was not a success, but went down in the annals of automotive history as an early attempt to market a small economy car in the United States: the 1930-1934 American Austin.

Trade catalog image of the 1930 American Austin 2-Place Cabin Coupe.

Trade catalog image of the 1930 American Austin 2-Place Cabin Coupe.

The American Austin, which was also referred to as the Austin Bantam, was an Americanized version of the Austin 7. In most respects, it was similar to its British relative. Much like the “Baby Austin,” the American Austin was a truly tiny car, riding on a 75-inch wheelbase and a 40-inch track. Underneath its skin, the American Austin was built on an Austin 7 chassis and was powered by a “mirrored” version of the Austin 7’s inline-4 engine (engine components that were mounted on the left side of the British car were moved to the right side on the American car), which displaced 747 cc (45 cubic inches) and was good for 15 horsepower. In an effort to make them more visually appealing to American customers, the American Austins were given striking new body shells, which were designed by Alexis de Sakhnoffsky and built by Hayes Body Company of Detroit, Michigan. American Austin Car Company also went to great lengths to promote the car’s economic attributes, claiming it to be capable of fuel economy in excess of 40 miles per gallon.

Trade catalog for American Austin’s (referred to as Austin Bantam in this case) “Free Motoring” maintenance plan, in which one year’s worth of gasoline, oil, tires, and repairs are included in the car’s purchase price.  Unfortunately, even during the Great Depression, this innovative marketing idea was not successful.

Trade catalog for American Austin’s (referred to as Austin Bantam in this case) “Free Motoring” maintenance plan, in which one year’s worth of gasoline, oil, tires, and repairs are included in the car’s purchase price. Unfortunately, even during the Great Depression, this innovative marketing idea was not successful.

The American Austin made its debut at a private exhibition during the 1930 New York Auto Show and the first examples rolled off the assembly line later that year. Initially, it appeared that it might succeed, with American Austin Car Company claiming that it received 184,000 orders. But the onset of the Great Depression prompted the cancellation of most of these orders. This problem was further exacerbated by the American motoring public’s resistance to small economy cars. Even more remarkably, good fuel economy was not seen as being terribly important at the time. As a result of this combination of factors, the American Austin never became a big seller.

American Austin Car Company, Incorporated went bankrupt and ceased production of the American Austin in 1934. Approximately 19,000-20,000 American Austins were built. The few surviving examples are highly collectible today.

Sources

A Car to Run Around In: Bantam: Trade Catalogs: Various Models, 1930-1937, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

American Austin Bantam Club

the Bantam keeps ahead – Gasoline, oil, tires, and Repairs for a year now included in the purchase price!: Trade Catalogs: Various Models, 1930-1937, 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. 49-50.

How Stuff Works – 1930-1934 American Austin

How Stuff Works – How American Austin Cars Work

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 37.

Photograph of 1930 American Austin 2-Place Roadster: Bantam: Photographs, 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.