The Z. Taylor Vinson Collection – Open to the Public on January 2nd

One example of the of the kinds of items found in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, a trade catalog for the Hupmobile Skylark, ca. 1939-1940.

One example of the of the kinds of items found in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, a trade catalog for the Hupmobile Skylark, ca. 1939-1940.

Attention readers! For a little more than 3 years, you have been patiently waiting for the day in which you could access the materials found in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. Today, it gives me great me pleasure to notify you that the long wait is almost over. On January 2, 2014, the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection will be officially open to the general public. Beginning on January 2nd, researchers will be able to visit Hagley and take a first-hand look at the wonderful materials found in the collection.

Finding Aid for the Vinson Collection

By making the Z. Taylor Vinson collection available to you, we at Hagley have brought the project to its official conclusion. From our perspective, Vinson Collection Project was an enjoyable one to work on and satisfying to complete. The collection’s contents are truly fascinating and we learned a great deal about automobiles and automotive history over the course of the project. By working with the Vinson Collection, we also learned some immensely valuable lessons on how to best process very large imprint collections. This newly acquired knowledge will be applied to other processing projects at Hagley in the future.

Now that the project is completed, I am also writing to announce that this will be my final installment of the Vinson Collection Blog, and that I will soon be saying farewell to Hagley. I have accepted the position of Project Archivist at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My last day at Hagley will be on December 31st. Although I am sad to be leaving Hagley, I am very happy that the Vinson Collection is now being properly preserved and will soon be available to researchers. I will also be watching future developments regarding the collection with great interest.

Before I leave, I would like to use this opportunity to thank all of my colleagues at here at Hagley who made my stay here an enjoyable one and whose valuable contributions helped bring the Vinson Collection Project to its successful completion. I would also like to thank the readers for regularly tuning in to the Vinson Collection Blog and for patiently bearing with us while the collection was being processed. Once again, starting on January 2nd, we at Hagley cordially invite you to pay us a visit and have a first-hand look at the materials found in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection.

Goodbye and Good luck!

Sources

Saab 96, Fast Roomy Handsome – Built with Aircraft Quality: Saab: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 9X, 90, 92, 92X, 95, 96, Aero, Aero X, Granturismo 750, Shrike, Sonett II, Sonett III, Sonett V4, Special, Turbo, and V4, 1951-2006, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The Sensational Hupp Skylark, America’s Most Distinguished Low Priced Car: Hupmobile: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 417, 421-J, 427, 517, 518, 521, 527, Club Sedan, and Skylark, 1934-1935, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The complete finding aid for the Vinson Collection is available online

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

Movie Cars – The Parker Family’s 1937 Oldsmobile Six in A Christmas Story

Now that the holiday season is upon us, a number of Christmas-themed movies are being broadcast on America’s television networks. For this week’s blog, I decided to focus on a film that is widely considered to be a holiday classic: A Christmas Story. Released in 1983 and directed by Bob Clark, A Christmas Story starred Peter Billingsly (as Ralphie Parker) and Darren McGavin (as Old Man Parker), and was narrated by Jean Shepherd (as the adult Ralphie Parker). Set in Hammond, Indiana during the 1940s, the film’s plot centers on 9-year-old Ralphie’s campaign to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.

Shot mainly in Cleveland, Ohio, A Christmas Story was only modestly successful at the box office. But when it started appearing on television in 1985, the film quickly acquired a large following and became an annual broadcast staple during the Christmas season. In 2012, A Christmas Story was declared to be “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Trade catalog for the 1937 Oldsmobile Six.

Trade catalog for the 1937 Oldsmobile Six.

Even the though the movie was shot on a small budget, the producers of A Christmas Story sought to make the film’s sets historically accurate. To help achieve this effect, a number of vintage cars were donated by Cleveland car buffs for use in the movie. With this in mind, I decided to write this week’s blog on the car that played the most prominent role in the movie: the Parker Family’s 1937 Oldsmobile Six.

The 1937 Oldsmobile Six (officially called the F-37) was a full-sized car that occupied the lower end of Oldsmobile’s model range. Selling in the $810-$965 price range, the Six was advertised as a car that featured a combination of power, economy, and luxury at a reasonable price. The car was powered by a 230 cubic-inch inline-6 engine, which was good for 95 horsepower. It was fitted with a streamlined all-steel body shell that featured a number of Art Deco styling cues, including a turret top, a grille with 7 horizontal bars, and skirted fenders. The Six was a very successful car for Oldsmobile and 137,613 of them were built during the 1937 model year.

Trade catalog image of a 1937 Oldsmobile Six Four-Door Touring Sedan, an example of which served as the Parkers’ family car in A Christmas Story.

Trade catalog image of a 1937 Oldsmobile Six Four-Door Touring Sedan, an example of which served as the Parkers’ family car in A Christmas Story.

The 1937 Oldsmobile Six that appeared in A Christmas Story was a 4-door touring sedan, which appeared frequently over the course of the movie. This car was portrayed as being troublesome in the winter, which led Old Man Parker to complain that it would “freeze up in the middle of the summer on the equator!” The car also figured prominently in a couple of the movie’s funniest scenes. While helping his father change a flat tire (which occurred while the Parkers were driving their Christmas tree home), Ralphie accidently dropped the lug nuts, to which he reacted by blurting out a naughty word. For this indiscretion, Ralphie was punished by having a bar of soap put in his mouth. At the end of the movie, after the family’s roast turkey is eaten by the neighbors’ dogs, Old Man Parker used the car to drive his family to a Chinese restaurant for a memorable Christmas dinner.

It is not known what happened to the Parker Family’s 1937 Oldsmobile Six after the movie was completed. On a happier note, a 1937 Oldsmobile Six similar to the one used in the movie is preserved at the A Christmas Story House & Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sources

A Christmas Story – Internet Movie Cars Database

A Christmas Story – Internet Movie Database

A Christmas Story – Wikipedia

A Christmas Story House & Museum

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 1083.

Oldsmobile Six (1937): Oldsmobile: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Six, 1930-1936, 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.

1934 Graham Custom Eight

The Great Depression was a difficult time period for the American automobile industry. During this economic downturn, some American automakers attempted to boost sales by offering cars featuring advanced technology. One automaker in particular who sought to do this was Graham-Paige Motors, a struggling independent firm based in Detroit, Michigan. Around 1933, Graham-Paige came up with the idea of mass-producing a car fitted with a device usually reserved for race cars and high-end luxury cars: the supercharger. The end result was America’s first moderately-priced supercharged car: the 1934 Graham Custom Eight.

Trade catalog image of a 1934 Graham Custom Eight four door sedan.

Trade catalog image of a 1934 Graham Custom Eight four door sedan.

Introduced at the New York Auto Show in December 1933 and offered at a decidedly moderate price range of $1,245-$1,330, the Graham Custom Eight was a modified version of the widely acclaimed, but slow-selling, Graham Blue Streak (which appeared in late 1931). Even without its supercharged engine, the Custom Eight was an advanced car for its time. A relatively large car, it was built on the Blue Streak’s innovative and low-slung “Banjo” chassis, in which the car’s rear axle was placed in large openings in both sides of the frame. The car was clothed with the Blue Streak’s trend-setting body shell. Designed by Amos Northup and detailed by Raymond Dietrich, the body featured styling cues that were already being widely copied by other American automakers at the time of the Custom Eight’s introduction, including a sloped grille, skirted fenders, and a hidden radiator cap.

But it was the Custom Eight’s supercharged engine that really set it apart from its contemporaries. The engine itself was a well-proven 265.4 cubic inch straight-8. It was fitted with a centrifugal supercharger designed by Graham-Paige’s Assistant Chief Engineer F.F. Kishline, which was largely inspired by a Duesenberg design. Mounted between the carburetor and the intake manifold, the supercharger itself was powered by the engine’s crankshaft and its rotor was capable of spinning up to 23,000 RPM.

Trade catalog image the 1934 Graham Custom Eight’s supercharged straight-8 engine.

Trade catalog image the 1934 Graham Custom Eight’s supercharged straight-8 engine.

Equipped with this innovative engine, the Graham Custom Eight was capable of a high level of performance for a car of its price range. The engine produced a then-impressive 135 horsepower and gave the car a top speed of over 90 miles per hour. The supercharger gave the engine excellent mid-range torque, which was very useful for passing on two-lane roads. Much to the surprise of Graham-Paige, the Custom Eight’s supercharged engine also proved to be remarkably fuel-efficient and easy to start in cold weather. Perhaps most importantly of all, the supercharger was very reliable and a number of them lasted over 100,000 miles without breaking down.

Largely due to the bad economy and its relatively expensive (but by no means excessive) sticker price, the Custom Eight was not a huge seller. Nevertheless it was well-received by the American motoring public, and it sold well enough to help Graham-Paige Motors survive the Great Depression. With assistance from the Custom Eight, the firm succeeded in significantly boosting its sales to 15,745 cars for the 1934 model year. The success of the 1934 Custom Eight encouraged Graham-Paige Motors to continue offering moderately priced supercharged cars, which it did until 1941. It can also be argued that in the long term, the Custom Eight helped Graham-Paige stay in business long enough to sell off its car assets and turn itself into a thriving real estate firm, a transformation it successfully carried out in 1947.

The 1934 Graham Custom Eight was replaced by an updated and restyled version for the 1935 model year. Surviving examples are technically fascinating collector items today.

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 642-644.

Graham (1934): Graham: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Graham Range, 1931-1934, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Graham Custom Eight (1934): Graham: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Cavalier, Crusader, Custom Eight, Deluxe Six, Eight, Prosperity Six, 1931-1937, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Graham Owners Club International

How Stuff Works – 1932-1935 Graham Blue Streak

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 647, 650.

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

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 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.

Hagley Car Show – September 15, 2013

Trade catalog image of the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette.

Trade catalog image of the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette.

Along with the rest of our colleagues here at Hagley Museum and Library, it is with great enthusiasm that we of the Z. Taylor Vinson Project staff cordially invite you to attend the Hagley Car Show, which will be held on Sunday, September 15th. This year marks the eighteenth year for this annual car show and it promises to be an exciting event. More than 500 examples of classic cars, trucks, and motorcycles will be on display for this year’s show.

The theme for this year’s Hagley Car Show will be American high-performance cars. American high-performance cars, often called “muscle cars,” have long captured the imagination of motorists in the United States and throughout the world. In their most classic form, American high-performance cars are factory-modified versions of base automobiles. Equipped with more powerful engines, light-weight bodies, beefed-up suspensions, and fat tires, these cars are capable of astounding levels of performance. An impressive collection of American high-performance cars, including, but not limited to, a 1957 Chevrolet Corvette, a 1965 Pontiac GTO, a 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302, and a 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda, are expected to be in attendance. This year’s car show will also feature food, car music, a historic jukebox display, a pedal car course, and NASCAR simulator.

Trade catalog image of the 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302.

Trade catalog image of the 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302.

Last but not least, you will also be able to get a sneak peak at some items in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection! As we did last year, there will be a Vinson Collection booth in front of the Library. Show patrons will get the opportunity to view reproductions of items preserved in the Vinson Collection. Project staff will also be available to answer questions and provide information about the collection. Most fun of all, we are asking you to help us identify some items in the collection! At the Vinson Collection, will have some photo reproductions of unidentified cars. We invite you to take the share your knowledge and help us identify the cars depicted in the images!

Click here for further information about the upcoming car show

We will look forward to seeing you on Sunday, September 15th!

Sources

Boss 302: Ford: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Mustang, 1969-1974

Chevrolet’s New Corvette – Fun!: Chevrolet: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Corvette, 1954-1967

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist 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.

The 1949 Mercury: How a Family Car Became the First “Lead Sled”

Mercury was launched in 1938 as a result of Edsel Ford’s determination to fill the large gap between the economic Ford V8 offering and their higher-priced Lincoln-Zephyr.  Ford had stylists led by E.T. Gregorie create a model to fill that gap and to prevent customers from looking at other car makes like Dodge.   The first prewar Mercury 8 did not share paneling with the existing Fords or Lincolns, but in essence was similar to the existing Ford models, although it had a more powerful engine and extra space in the passenger area.  Most of the differences were in style, but it still looked like a Ford.

Postcard for 1949 Mercury Sport Sedan.

Postcard for 1949 Mercury Sport Sedan.

The Mercury 8 did not change drastically from year to year until 1949, when suddenly, the Mercury 8 became a brand new car, unlike many ever seen before.  Ford had set up the now separate Lincoln-Mercury Division in 1947, most likely accounting for some of the changes that set the 1949 Mercury 8 apart, and in a sense even predicting the shift in design.  The 1949 Mercury 8 was the make’s first new post-war model. The styling looked far more like a Lincoln, with a long sleek body that completely stood apart from the boxier Fords and other American models available at that point.  In fact, it actually shared a few body panels with some of the smaller Lincoln models.  It was released unusually early, in April of 1948. The car featured a 118-inch wheelbase and was powered by Ford’s Flathead V8 engine, which developed 110 hp.

Trade catalog image of 1949 Mercury.

Trade catalog image of 1949 Mercury.

This change had a marked effect on the Ford and Mercury lineup.  The Mercury 8 exploded into popularity, and sales that year broke records for both Ford and Mercury, although this might be partially because of the much longer sales year.  Production reached 301,307, and as a result, the model did not change much between 1949 and 1951.  The car filled the gap for those looking for an “entry-level” luxury vehicle, and was meant to appeal to anyone who was not quite able to reach for the high-priced Lincoln models.  This potentially accounts for some of the popularity of the vehicle, as well as the longer- than-normal sales year.

Trade catalog image of 1949 Mercury 6-Passenger Coupe.

Trade catalog image of 1949 Mercury 6-Passenger Coupe.

However, there is possibly another reason for the 1949 Mercury’s popularity.  Almost immediately, the car became an eagerly sought-after model for customization.  One of the more famous examples was the 1949 Mercury chopped by Sam Barris.  It became the first of the “lead sleds,” customized mid-size American cars focusing on style rather than speed, as opposed to the hot rods that were very often made from Ford’s V8.  The Mercury 8 became the signature model to chop into a “lead sled.”

As a result of the new image created by these customized versions, the car made its most notable appearance in the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause.  James Dean drove a customized 1949 Mercury in his role as Jim Stark, cementing the image of the Mercury as a “cool” car, optimal for those looking for  something to chop.  This was quite different from the idea that Ford had in mind when it created the Mercury to be an affordable family car, but it helped preserve the popularity of the 1949 Mercury, and in fact it is still a model sought after by car collectors today.

Sources

The 1949 Mercury! – New…All New!: Mercury: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Mercury Range, 1946-1951, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Auto Museum Online  

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1010-1011.

Legendary Collector Cars 

Postcard for 1949 Mercury Sport Sedan, Pictorials Series: Mercury: Postcards, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Vance, Bill. “Family Car Became a Hollywood Hit.” National Post. October 6, 2000

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

“To Build Soundly Whatever Their Generation May Require:” The Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild, 1930-1968

Ever wonder why the Fisher Body Corporation, makers of automobile bodies, used an early 19th century carriage as their logo?

Image of the Body by Fisher logo. Saturday Evening Post, September 2, 1922, page 35.

Image of the Body by Fisher logo. Saturday Evening Post, September 2, 1922, page 35.

The Fisher emblem was modeled after a carriage belonging to Napoleon I of France. This carriage symbolized the luxury and elegance that the Fisher Body Company hoped to bring to American consumers. Napoleon’s coach also evoked a strong tradition of craftsmanship. The company began as a family-operated carriage-making shop in Ohio during the late 1800s. This carriage logo was prominently displayed in “Body by Fisher” advertising campaigns. The emblem also appeared on the Fisher Body Company’s automobile frames produced throughout the 20th century for manufacturers, such as Ford, Buick, Cadillac, Studebaker, and General Motors.

In an effort to preserve their craft tradition while simultaneously grooming a new generation of automobile innovators, the Fisher Body Company organized the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild in 1930. The Craftsman’s Guild worked to encourage American and Canadian boys between the ages of twelve and nineteen to become interested in automobile technology and design. Organizers created a yearly model-making contest for members who competed to build the miniature Napoleonic carriage of the Body by Fisher logo until the contest switched to producing model cars after World War II.

This image shows a young boy working to carve his model Napoleonic carriage for the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild Contest. Saturday Evening Post, April 2, 1932, page 46.

This image shows a young boy working to carve his model Napoleonic carriage for the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild Contest. Saturday Evening Post, April 2, 1932, page 46.

The Fisher Body Company distributed information about the Craftsman’s Guild through organizations such as the Boy Scouts and the YMCA. Young men also learned about the carriage-building contest from periodical advertisements. The July 14, 1946 issue of American Weekly featured a “Body by Fisher” advertisement stating that the company offered, “Thousands of dollars in university scholarships and cash awards for best miniature Napoleonic coaches or model cars submitted by boys of 12-19 years inclusive.” Boys who saw these advertisements could visit their local car dealer or they could write directly to the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild to receive more information about the contest.

The Craftman’s Guild granted university scholarships of $5,000 each to the top four model builders at their annual convention. Historian Ruth Oldenziel notes that, “When the guild was founded in 1930, $5,000 was an average worker’s income for three years and would buy eight Chevrolets or Fords; in 1940 Americans could buy a house at that price” (Oldenziel, 143). Therefore, young men highly coveted these scholarships, especially by those teenagers who dreamed of being the first members of their families to attend college during the years of the Depression.

An early 1960s advertising campaign for Body by Fisher featured a model carriage like those created by Craftsman’s Guild members. This advertisement declared, “The tailored trunk tells the tale…Built-In Quality of Body by Fisher.” Saturday Evening Post, Februrary 13, 1960, page 119.

An early 1960s advertising campaign for Body by Fisher featured a model carriage like those created by Craftsman’s Guild members. This advertisement declared, “The tailored trunk tells the tale…Built-In Quality of Body by Fisher.” Saturday Evening Post, Februrary 13, 1960, page 119.

In an undated magazine advertisement, Fisher Body Company executives explained that their goal in establishing the Craftsman’s Guild was to “see this country peopled by men to whom honor can be given for their ability to design well and to build soundly whatever their generation may require.” Participants worked towards this goal by spending long hours working to complete their replica carriages or model cars. The rules of the contest required that all the parts of the Napoleonic coach be made by hand and have functional moving parts. While working with a variety of mediums including wood, metal, and fabric to construct their models, young men gained patience and cultivated an attention to detail, which were skill sets necessary to become successful engineers and automobile designers. Fisher Body’s coach building contest was successful in grooming a future generation of male technophiles, and over half of the General Motors design staff by the late 1960s had been members of the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild as teenagers.

Several advertisements from Fisher Body, including information about the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild, are currently being processed as part of Hagley Museum and Library’s Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. Share your memories of the Fisher Body Craftsman Guild on the Vinson Blog!

Sources

Body by Fisher advertisements, Fisher Body: Tear Sheets, ca. 1920-1970, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

“Fisher Body Company” .

Oldenziel, Ruth, “Boys and Their Toys: The Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild, 1930-1968, and the Making of the Male Technical Domain,” in Boys and Their Toys?: Masculinity, Class, and Technology in America edited by Roger Horowitz (New York: Routledge, 2001): 139-169.

“Our Heritage” .

“Styled for Smartness, Steeled for Strength,” The American Weekly (July 14, 1946), Fisher Body: Tear Sheets, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Alison Kreitzer is the Graduate Assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at the Hagley Museum and Library.