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.

2013 Hagley Car Show

1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS Convertible

1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS Convertible

On Sunday, September 15th, I had the privilege of attending the eighteenth annual Hagley Car Show. Held on a gorgeous September day, this year’s show was a great success, attracting a large crowd and a field of over 500 cars. This year’s theme focused on American high-performance cars, which have long captured the imagination of motoring public both in the United States and throughout the world. The year’s theme of proved to be very popular, and a large contingent of these unforgettable cars showed up for this year’s show.

A pair of 1957 Chevrolet Corvettes

A pair of 1957 Chevrolet Corvettes

An excellent cross-section of the various types of American high-performance cars appeared at Hagley on Sunday. Classic American muscle cars of the 1960s and 1970s, including examples of the Chevrolet Chevelle, Ford Fairlane, and Plymouth Roadrunner, were out in force. Not to be outdone, American pony cars, including the Ford Mustang, Pontiac Trans Am, and AMC Javelin, also made their appearance in noticeable numbers. Some beautiful examples of American two-seater sports cars, including the Chevrolet Corvette and Shelby Cobra, were also in attendance. A few early examples of factory-built high-performance cars such as the Hudson Hornet and a grab bag of custom hot rods turned up as well.

In addition to providing automobile enthusiasts with an opportunity to show off their vehicles, the Hagley Car Show presented us with an opportunity to display items from the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. The Vinson Collection table was set up in front of the library building and exhibited several trade catalogs for a number of American high-performance cars, including a few which were present at the show. We also displayed trade catalogs for other types of vehicles that are found in the Vinson Collection. Most fun of all, we exhibited some photo reproductions of unidentified cars and asked show attendees to help us positively identify them.

1964 Ford Falcon Sprint

1964 Ford Falcon Sprint

Over the course of the day, a number of show attendees stopped by the Vinson table to learn more about the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. Those who did showed great interest in the collection and were delighted to have the opportunity to look at the various trade catalogs we had on display. Some took particular delight in seeing trade catalogs for cars they had actually owned and/or appeared at this year’s show. We had a great time talking with these automobile enthusiasts and hearing them fondly reminisce about cars they used to own. Attendees at this year’s show were also helpful in identifying the images of unidentified cars.

If you are interested in learning more about the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, we strongly encourage you to regularly check back with this blog to see some of the unique and rare items in this collection and to learn about the latest project developments. If you were unable to attend the show but would like to view individual items from the collection, we encourage you to visit the Z. Taylor Vinson Digital Library Preview in the Hagley Digital Archives.

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

AMC Javelin – A Classic Pony Car

Between the mid-1960s and early-1970s, compact “pony cars” such as the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Plymouth Barracuda were an immensely popular segment of the American automotive market. Aimed at younger drivers and typically cobbled together from readily available components, they offered style, sporty performance and a long list of options at an affordable price. In 1965, as part of an effort to give itself a sportier image and attract younger customers, American Motors Corporation started work on its own entry in the pony car class. The end result went on to become an American classic: the 1968-1974 AMC Javelin.

Photograph of 1968 AMC Javelin

Photograph of 1968 AMC Javelin

Designed by a team led by Richard A. Teague and initially available at a surprisingly low sticker price range of $2400-$2600, the Javelin had much in common with other American pony cars of the day. Like its competitors, it was a compact by American standards, riding on a 109-inch base. Also in common with its competitors, the Javelin made extensive use of off-the-shelf components. The car was built on the chassis of the Rambler American, which at the time was American Motors’ economy model. When first introduced, customers were offered a choice of three already existing American Motors engines: a 232 cubic-inch inline-6, a 290 cubic-inch V-8, or a 343 cubic-inch V-8. Just a like its contemporaries, the customers could also choose from an extensive list of options, which included an automatic transmission, air conditioning, and a GO-Pack Performance Package (which consisted of the 343 V-8 engine, a beefed-up suspension system, dual exhaust, and power brakes).

What really set the Javelin apart from its pony car contemporaries was its sleek and distinctive body shell. Like its competitors, the body featured a long hood and short deck. But instead of being given angular lines like those found on the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Plymouth Barracuda, the Javelin was given a smoother and rounder look, which was accomplished by giving it flowing body panels and semi-fastback roof. American Motors further enhanced the car’s sporty look by giving it a blacked-out grille and form fitting bumpers. The Javelin’s interior was decidedly sporty as well, featuring bucket seats and a recessed instrument panel.

Trade catalog of 1972 AMC Javelin AMX.

Trade catalog of 1972 AMC Javelin AMX.

A late comer to the pony car field, the AMC Javelin made its public debut in August 1967. Sleek looking and a sporty performer, it was very well received by the American motoring enthusiasts and sold well in its first year, with over 50,000 rolling off the assembly line. AMC continuously updated the Javelin over the course of its production life. Mechanical upgrades included larger and more powerful engines and improved suspension systems. Changes to the body shell included a redesigned grille, sculpted front fenders, and a rear spoiler. The Javelin’s sporty image was further enhanced by its success on the racetrack, with factory supported teams twice winning the Sport Car Club of America’s Trans Am Series Manufacturers Championship (1971 and 1972).

Although the Javelin was popular in its time, like other pony cars of its era, its heyday was short lived. A combination of factors, including declining sales, tightening federal safety and emissions regulations, and the 1973 Energy Crisis, prompted AMC to pull the plug on the Javelin after the 1974 model year. Around 235,000 AMC Javelins were built. Surviving examples are prized collector’s items today.

Sources

Allpar.com http://www.allpar.com/amc

American Motors – 1971 Javelin: American Motors: Specification Models: Gremlin, Hornet, and Javelin, 1970-1974, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

“American Motors Javelin SST: A Bright, New All-American Image Buster,” Car Life, December 1967; American Motors: Specification Models: Gremlin, Hornet, and Javelin, 1970-1974, 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. 52.

HowStuffWorks.com – 1968-1969 AMC Javelin 

HowStuffWorks.com – 1968-1974 AMC Javelin

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 26-27, p. 31-48.

Photograph of 1968 AMC Javelin 

Trade catalog image of 1972 AMC Javelin AMX 

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.

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.

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.

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.