A “Contemporary Classic:” Brooks Stevens’ Excalibur

Z. Taylor Vinson had the opportunity to meet and correspond with a number of automotive designers and manufacturers during his career as an attorney for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. One of these well-known personalities was noted American industrial designer, Brooks Stevens, who created over 3,000 products throughout his career, including home furnishings, cookware, and farm machinery, as well as automobiles and automotive equipment.

Photograph of a Series II Excalibur (1970-1974) from the album given to Z. Taylor Vinson by Brook Stevens.

Photograph of a Series II Excalibur (1970-1974) from the album given to Z. Taylor Vinson by Brook Stevens.

In the early 1960s, Stevens worked as a design consultant for Studebaker. Company executives asked Stevens to design an eye-catching car for an upcoming series of automobile shows. Brooks decided to create what he referred to as a “contemporary classic” for Studebaker. He designed a sports car from contemporary automotive parts and a Studebaker chassis, but his new car had the aesthetics of a classic Mercedes SSK from the 1930s. Stevens named his new car, “Excalibur,” after his sports car racing career in the 1950s.

Although Studebaker was not interested in Stevens’ prototype, the Excalibur attracted the attention of attendees at the 1964 New York Auto Show. Stevens immediately began taking orders for his new sports car, and he sold the Excalibur exclusively through a New York City Chevrolet dealer for $6,795. An advertisement for the Excalibur placed in the December 16, 1964 issue of the New York Times declared, “It has the classic beauty of the original S.S.K. coupled with the power and the reliability of the 1965 Sting Ray.” By marketing the Excalibur as a custom-built, luxury sports car, Stevens and his newly formed company, S.S. Automobiles Incorporated, pioneered the market for reproduction classic cars.

Photograph of a Series III Excalibur (1975-1976) from the album given to Z. Taylor Vinson by Brook Stevens.

Photograph of a Series III Excalibur (1975-1976) from the album given to Z. Taylor Vinson by Brook Stevens.

In 1975, Mr. Vinson met with Brooks Stevens to discuss motor vehicle safety regulations pertaining to the Excalibur. Limited production automobile manufacturers like S.S. Automobiles worked extensively with the Department of Transportation after the passage of the National Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1966. Throughout this period, S.S. Automobiles struggled to meet the passive restraint requirements for passenger cars because of the projected expense of having to incorporate air bags and seat belts into their pre-existing design for the Excalibur.

Stevens wrote a letter of appreciation to Vinson after their meeting and expressed how happy he was to learn that Mr. Vinson was also an automobile enthusiast and collector. Similar to Z. Taylor Vinson, Stevens had developed a love of automobiles during his childhood, while accompanying his father to various automobile shows. In his thank-you note, Stevens included a photograph album of Excalibur Series I-III automobiles from the 1960s and 1970s. Mr. Vinson preserved the photograph album presented to him by Brooks Stevens in his professional papers from the Department of Transportation. This album, as well as the correspondence between the two men, remains available to researchers as part of Z. Taylor Vinson Transportation Collection now housed at the Hagley Library.

Sources

“Brooks Stevens,” Wisconsin Historical Society

“Classified Ad 20,” New York Times (December 13, 1964): S15.

“Excalibur: 1975-1995,” Temporary Exemption Petitions, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Excalibur History

“Excalibur- Photograph Albums,” 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. 512-513.

Preston, Alice. “Excalibur: The Story”

Alison Kreitzer is the graduate assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at the Hagley Museum and Library.

The 1938-1939 Rolls Royce Wraith

Cars have always been a fixture within pop culture, present in stories told in books and movies, and sometimes even in song. From Herbie the Love Bug to the Dodge Challenger in 1971’s Vanishing Point, cars have always been a source of fascination in fiction, and are often as much the heroes of the stories as the people driving them. The other side is the use of cars as villains, such as with Stephen King’s Christine, a book in which a 1958 Plymouth Fury is possessed by a vengeful spirit and commits a variety of murders before being destroyed.

A recent novel, NOS4A2, by Joe Hill, happens to focus on the 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith as its villain, the weapon of a man named Charlie Manx who uses it to drive children into a world that literally exists in his mind, which he calls “Christmasland.” Once the children are driven there, they cannot escape. NOS4A2, the title and the license plate on the Wraith, is a play on “nosferatu,” a word associated with vampires due to F.W. Murnau’s famous 1922 film, Nosferatu.

Photograph of the 1939 Rolls Royce Wraith

Photograph of the 1939 Rolls Royce Wraith

Although Charlie Manx is the main antagonist, the Wraith has a will of its own, shutting its doors or driving itself, or trapping victims in a “pocket universe” in the backseat. The Wraith also drains the life from those within, transferring the energy to Charlie Manx and allowing him to heal or to remain young forever. It is up to a troubled biker named Victoria McQueen to stop Manx (with her restored Triumph motorcycle, no less), whom she simply calls “The Wraith.” The image of the Wraith slicing up a drive through the fog, its narrow headlights like two eyes, becomes a frankly terrifying image by the end of the novel.

The Rolls Royce Wraith itself was a very rare pre-war model, produced over only 2 years, 1938-1939, before production ceased due to World War II. In all, there were only 491 Wraiths ever made. It was meant to be an updated 25/30, and had the same engine, a 4257 cc Straight 6, but with larger valves and new crankshaft. The chassis was now welded rather than riveted, and was designed along the Phantom III lines, but on a smaller scale. The wheelbase was 136.0 inches, extended 4 inches from the 25/30, and the car was heavier. It was not much faster than the 25/30, maxing out at about 80 mph.

Photograph of a Rolls Royce Silver Wraith

Photograph of a Rolls Royce Silver Wraith

After the war, production on the Wraith never restarted, and instead Rolls Royce began building the new Silver Wraith, which was similar to the pre-war Wraith in that it shared the cylinder block and gearbox, as well as a similar chassis. However, the head was changed to an inlet-over-exhaust model, and over time a variety of other changes were made. The production of Silver Wraiths would continue until 1959.

The Z. Taylor Vinson Transportation Collection contains a variety of photographs of both the 1938-1939 Wraith as well as the post-war Silver Wraith models. While processing the collection, I was thrilled to come across images of the very car that had been so recently haunting me as I read NOS4A2, and to be able to see the car as it was first presented to the world, especially considering the rarity of the 1938-1939 model.

Strangely enough, Rolls Royce announced in January of this year a new Wraith, which of course looks nothing like the 1938-1939 model, but was declared by Rolls Royce to be “the most potent and technologically advanced Rolls-Royce in history.” Some of the promotional footage is eerily similar to the imagery in NOS4A2, the lights slicing through the fog once again, perhaps hunting another victim in a new form.

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1356-1361.

How Stuff Works-1938-1939 Rolls Royce Wraith

Rolls Royce

Sedgwick, M. and Gilles, M., A-Z Cars of the 1930s; Bideford, Devon: Bay View Books, 1989, p. 169.

Annalise Berdini is a Z. Taylor Vinson Collection summer intern in the Imprints Department at Hagley Museum and Library.

The Vinson Pictorials Series: A Window to the Past

Hello, readers! My name is Annalise Berdini and I am the summer intern processing the Pictorials Series of the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. I’d like to give a little overview of what I have been doing since I started and highlight some of the interesting materials I’ve come across while working through the collection.

Postcard of a Baker electric car advertisement.

Postcard of a Baker electric car advertisement.

As a devoted collector of automotive literature and materials, Z. Taylor Vinson spent much of his life corresponding with other like-minded collectors across the globe, sharing tips, materials, and insights. Many of the items in the Pictorials Series, which consists of photographs, prints, postcards, and the like, include letters or notes from the collectors who sent them along to Vinson. This gives unique insight into the way Vinson was able to develop his collection, making global contacts, and often close friends, who sought out and shared the same items for which Vinson searched.

My job so far has been to process the Pictorials Series. This involves surveying the series’ contents, arranging the materials, and placing the materials in acid-free folders and protective sleeves. The images in the Pictorials Series depict the development and growth of the automobile, even including images of mockups, prototypes, or one-of-a-kind vehicles that never made it to the production line. Some of the images, especially the postcards, are as much an example of the automobiles of the period as the social and economic climate of that time period.

Henry J advertising postcard.

Henry J advertising postcard.

The Pictorials Series provides a fascinating look at how these early cars were marketed, and how those strategies evolved during each change that affected the countries in which they were made. For example, a Baker postcard of a reproduction of an ad from the early 1900s shows the car being marketed to “high society.” A set of Henry J. postcards from the 1950s includes images of the nuclear family ideal that was prevalent at the time. One item in the Chevrolet file is a photo of assorted ads depicting changes in attitudes towards women and the need for an economic car. Vinson’s pictorial materials also provide a unique window into the past, giving a taste of how automobiles developed and changed, along with the world itself.

Photograph of three Chevrolet advertisements.

Photograph of three Chevrolet advertisements.

Sometimes, the materials do not quite fit into the car make hierarchy, simply because they are not about cars! Vinson was a true collector, and as such, did not limit his acquisitions entirely to autos. The Pictorials Series contains materials depicting airplanes and airships, buses, trains, and ships. It also holds stamps depicting the royal families of some of the countries Vinson visited (he was extremely well-traveled) and postcards depicting scenes from various locales. An assortment of personal items that show Vinson and his family, and a few photos that capture the construction of his “Autotorium” are found in this series as well.

It is fascinating to have a collection of images that expand beyond automobiles into general transportation and travel, as well as to have a record of Vinson’s life and interests in images. Researchers and car enthusiasts alike will find the Pictorials Series of the Z. Taylor Vinson collection to be a valuable and exciting resource.

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

Introducing the Z. Taylor Vinson Manuscripts Series!

Greetings!  My name is Alison Kreitzer, and I am the Z. Taylor Vinson Graduate Assistant.  I am currently processing the Manuscripts Series of the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, which will be available to researchers in 2014.  The Manuscripts Series document Mr. Vinson’s career as an attorney for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from 1967-2003.  These materials provide insight into the development of Federal motor vehicle safety standards in the decades following the passage of the National Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966.  Throughout his career, Mr. Vinson was instrumental in implementing safety regulations for passenger and commercial vehicles that we continue to benefit from today.  The Manuscripts Series of his collection is a notable resource for researchers interested in automobile design, automotive safety, and the history of consumer advocacy in the United States.

Lamborghini badge on the cover of the company’s 1975 certification petition for the Lamborghini Countach LP400.

Lamborghini badge on the cover of the company’s 1975 certification petition for the Lamborghini Countach LP400.

As an attorney-advisor for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Mr. Vinson corresponded extensively with automobile manufacturers, congressmen, citizens, and fellow NHTSA staff members to interpret and enforce Federal regulations for automobile safety.  His correspondence files make up the bulk of the Manuscripts Series.  These files predominately focus on issues of manufacturer compliance with Federal policies regarding the production, importation, and sale of automobiles and automotive equipment within the United States.  Mr. Vinson and his fellow legal staff members worked extensively to provide manufacturers and citizens with interpretations of the various safety standards that regulated everything from windshield wipers to braking systems.  The NHTSA’s litigation team also drafted and reviewed proposed amendments to these regulations before they were passed into law.  Unpublished and published copies of these Federal Register dockets pertaining to specific safety standard rule-making decisions are included within these correspondence folders.

Photograph of the Lamborghini LP400 from Lamborghini’s 1975 certification petition.

Photograph of the Lamborghini LP400 from Lamborghini’s 1975 certification petition.

A second substantive section within the Manuscripts Series documents petitions made by both foreign and domestic automobile manufacturers for exemption of their vehicle models from specific aspects of the Federal motor vehicle safety regulations.  Manufacturers requested exemptions due to financial hardship, limited production runs, and made arguments that elements of their automobile designs were inconsequential to the overall safety of their vehicles.

This section of the Manuscripts Series is predominately arranged by automotive manufacturer and will be of particular interest to scholars and enthusiasts of renowned automotive manufacturers.  For example, Lamborghini petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 1975 for certification of their Countach LP 400, which influenced the shape and design of sports cars throughout the 1970s and 1980s.  The applications for exemption and certification includes over 90 pages of information, diagrams, and photographs documenting the various internal and external components of the Countach LP 400!

The Manuscripts Series also contains correspondence documenting Mr. Vinson’s involvement with the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH) in the 1990s.  He held various positions on the Society’s executive committee during this period.  The files in this section document Mr. Vinson’s involvement in several administrative tasks for the organization, including planning of yearly meetings, organizing membership materials, and overseeing SAH finances.

Mr. Vinson was very successful at combining his personal interests in collecting automobile ephemera with his professional career working to implement vehicle safety standards as an attorney for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Not only did he leave Hagley a wonderful collection of automobile memorabilia, he also left behind a comprehensive record of his contributions to automobile safety.  The Manuscripts Series of the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection promises to be a fascinating resource for years to come.

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

1927 Chevrolet Capitol AA – Displaced the Model T

Trade catalog for the 1927 Chevrolet Capitol AA Capitol, featuring an image of the 2-Door Sport Cabriolet.

Trade catalog for the 1927 Chevrolet Capitol AA Capitol, featuring an image of the 2-Door Sport Cabriolet.

At the beginning of the 1920s, the Ford Model T reigned supreme in the American automobile market. Cheap, mechanically simple, and easy to repair, the “Tin Lizzie” was much beloved by the American driving public. But Ford changed the Model T very little and by the middle of the decade, a combination of stiffer competition, advancing technology, and changing customer tastes rendered the Model T obsolete. Faced with such realities, in May 1927, Ford shut down its production lines for 6 months to retool for production for of the Model T’s successor, the Model A. When Ford temporarily went offline, other manufacturers sought to fill the gap in the market. One car succeeded in displacing the Model T as America’s best-selling car: the 1927 Chevrolet Capitol AA.

The 1927 Chevrolet Capitol AA was the end result of some very shrewd product planning and development. Starting in 1923, at the instigation of General Motors Corporation’s president Alfred S. Sloan, Chevrolet adopted a strategy of offering cars that were low-priced, but a little more expensive than the Model T. In return for a little more money, Chevrolet offered its customers much more in the way of updated technology, modern styling, and creature comforts. Built and marketed in accordance with this strategy, Chevrolet cars proved quite competitive with the Model T and the company dramatically increased its market share between 1924 and 1926. When the Capitol AA was formally introduced in January 1927, it helped drive the Model T out of the market. When Ford temporarily ceased production, the Capitol AA became the top-selling American car for the 1927 model year.

Trade catalog images of 3 of the 8 available body styles for the Chevrolet Capitol AA: Landau, Sedan, and Coupe.

Trade catalog images of 3 of the 8 available body styles for the Chevrolet Capitol AA: Landau, Sedan, and Coupe.

The 1927 Chevrolet Capitol AA was a reasonably modern low-priced car for its time. Riding on a 103-inch wheelbase, the car was powered by a 171 cubic-inch inline-4 engine, which was good for 26 horsepower and featured air and oil filters as standard equipment. The car’s engine was mated to a modern 3-speed sliding gear manual transmission. The Capitol AA was fitted with a handsome contemporary body shell, which featured full crown fenders and bullet-shaped headlights. Customers had a choice of 8 different body styles, ranging from a 2-Door Roadster to a 4-Door Landau Sedan. Of particular interest was the 2-Door Sport Cabriolet, which came equipped with rumble seat, a Chevrolet first.

Selling in the $525-$745 range, the Chevrolet Capitol AA typically cost $160-$200 more than the Ford Model T. Nevertheless, it was more than a match for the Model T and was well-received by the motoring public. American drivers liked the Capitol AA’s modern appearance and were pleased to discover that it was a more comfortable and better performing car than the Model T. The Capitol AA also earned a reputation for being a high-quality car over the course of its production life and was found to be quite durable. Such qualities made it a worthy top-seller.

The Chevrolet Capitol AA was superseded by the Chevrolet National Model AB for the 1928 model year. More than 678,000 Capitol AA’s were built. Largely due to the events of 1927, Ford and Chevrolet became archrivals in the American automobile market and remain so to this day.

Sources

83 Quality Features – Chevrolet for Economical Transportation: Chevrolet: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Chevrolet Range, 1925-1927, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

How Stuff Works – 1927 Chevrolet Series AA Capitol

How Stuff Works – 1908-1927 Ford Model T

How Stuff Works – 1923-1927 Ford Model T

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 283, 292, 571, 586-587.

The Most Beautiful Chevrolet in Chevrolet History – World’s Lowest Modern Quality Cars: Chevrolet: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Chevrolet Range, 1925-1927, 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.

Three New Faces Join the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection Project Staff

I am pleased to announce that some new faces have just joined the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection Project staff at the Hagley Museum and Library. Without further ado, I would like to use this week’s blog to introduce three new staff members who will be helping us process the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection this summer: Alison Kreitzer, Annalise Berdini, and Cassia Balogh.

Alison Kreitzer is the Z. Taylor Vinson Graduate Assistant. This summer, she will be responsible for processing the Vinson Collection’s manuscript materials, which document Mr. Vinson’s professional career with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ms. Kreitzer is a graduate student at the University of Delaware, where she is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History’s American Civilization Program. Her research interests include twentieth century cultural history, material culture, and the history of technology. She is currently working on her dissertation, which explores the history of American dirt track automobile racing in the mid-Atlantic region during the twentieth century. Ms. Kreitzer also has previous processing experience. In the summer of 2010, she processed the Collins J. Seitz Papers at the Delaware Historical Society in Wilmington, Delaware.

Annalise Berdini is one of two Z. Taylor Vinson Summer Interns. This summer, she will be responsible for processing the Vinson Collection’s visual materials, which consist of a wide variety of visual formats, including, but not limited to, photographs, photo negatives, slides, and postcards. Ms. Berdini is a graduate student at Drexel University, where she is working towards an MLIS with concentrations in digital libraries and archives. Previous to joining the Vinson Collection staff, she worked in public libraries and volunteered at Hagley in the Library’s Digital Collections. Ms. Berdini is also the President-elect of the Special Libraries Association’s Drexel Student Chapter.

Cassia Balogh is the other Z. Taylor Vinson Summer Intern. This summer she will be responsible for processing the Vinson Collection’s artifacts, which consist of a wide variety of three-dimensional objects, including, but not limited to, toy cars, model cars, numerous other types of automobile memorabilia, and award plaques. Ms. Balogh is a recent graduate of Marist University in Poughkeepsie, New York and Scuola Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence, Italy, where she studied Conservation and Art History. Previous to joining the Vinson Collect staff, she gained experience working with artifacts at the Penn Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In her spare time, she enjoys all kinds of arts and crafts.

Please join me in welcoming Alison, Annalise, and Cassia to the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection Project. I will look forward to seeing them contribute to the project in a big way as the summer progresses!

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

The 1957-1958 “Packardbakers” – The Last Packards

During the 1950s, Packard Motor Car Company, once a renowned American manufacturer of luxury cars, found it difficult to compete against the Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) in the American automobile market. Deciding that it could not survive as an independent, Packard looked for a merger partner and found one in Studebaker Corporation, a struggling American manufacturer of low and medium priced cars. In 1954, the two companies merged to form Studebaker-Packard Corporation, whose headquarters were based in South Bend, Indiana. But instead of getting better, Packard’s fortunes continued to get worse. By 1956, Packard’s sales had dropped to point where it was forced to cease the design and production of its own cars.

Postcard of 1957 Packard Clipper 4-Door Sedan

Postcard of 1957 Packard Clipper 4-Door Sedan

For the 1957 and 1958 model years, Studebaker-Packard made a last-ditch effort to keep the Packard nameplate alive. It sought to do this by marketing rebadged Studebakers under the Packard nameplate. The end result of this endeavor was unsuccessful and was considered by some purists to be the ignominious end of the once prestigious Packard nameplate: the 1957 and 1958 “Packardbakers.”

For the 1957 model year, the Packard line consisted of only one model, the Packard Clipper. The Clipper was based on the Studebaker President, a large car that occupied the high end of the Studebaker model lineup. It was built on the President’s chassis and fitted with the President’s body shell. Outwardly, the Clipper was distinguishable from its Studebaker counterpart by body modifications, which included finned rear fenders and distinctive chrome trim. The car was also given a more luxurious interior that featured what Studebaker-Packard called the “Packard Look.” To give the Clipper horsepower considered appropriate for a Packard, it was fitted with an engine not offered on the President: Studebaker’s 289 cubic-inch supercharged V-8. Featuring a McCulloch supercharger, this engine was good for a then-impressive 275 horsepower, which endowed the Clipper with excellent performance for a large car of its time.

Trade catalog image of the 1958 Packard Series 58L 2-Door Hardtop

Trade catalog image of the 1958 Packard Series 58L 2-Door Hardtop

In the 1958 model year, Packard dropped the Clipper designation, but expanded its line to two models: the Packard Series 58L (simply referred to as the “Packard”) and the Packard Hawk. The Series 58L was based on the Studebaker President. The Hawk was based on the Studebaker Golden Hawk, which is considered to be an early example of an American muscle car. Efforts were made to cosmetically differentiate the Series 58L and Hawk from their Studebaker siblings. Both cars were given body modifications, this time in the form of odd-looking fiberglass bolt-on noses and distinctive chrome trim. The interiors of both cars were given a “Packard Look.” But underneath their skin, both 1958 models used the same engines as their Studebaker counterparts. The Series 58L was fitted with the Studebaker President’s normally aspirated 289 cubic-inch V-8. The Hawk was given the Studebaker Golden Hawk’s supercharged 289 cubic-inch V-8 engine, which gave it muscle car-like performance.

Trade catalog image of the 1958 Packard Hawk

Trade catalog image of the 1958 Packard Hawk

When the 1957 and 1958 “Packardbakers” were introduced to the motoring public, they received a chilly reception and few people bought them. One reason for this was Studebaker-Packard’s failure to sufficiently differentiate the Packards from the Studebakers. In addition to that, many Packard purists resented their favorite make’s association with Studebaker (although some conceded that the cars were of very good quality) and refused to view the rebadged cars as “real Packards.” Perhaps most damaging of all, customers hesitated to buy cars from a make they feared would soon disappear. Faced with these realities, Studebaker-Packard ceased production of the Packard line. The last Packard automobile rolled off the assembly line on July 13, 1958.

Only 4,809 1957 “Packardbakers” and 2,622 1958 “Packardbakers” were built. Surviving examples are rare collector items today.

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1175-1176.

How Stuff Works – How Packard Cars Work – The Packardbaker and the End of Packard http://auto.howstuffworks.com/packard-cars9.htm

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 623-624, 638-639.

Packard Club

Photograph of a trade catalog image of the 1958 Packard Series 58L 2-Door Hardtop 

Photograph of a trade catalog image of the 1958 Packard Hawk

Postcard of 1957 Packard Clipper 4-Door Sedan 

Studebaker – Packard (1958): Packard: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Packard Range, 1941-1958, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The 1956-1958 Dual-Ghia: Hollywood Status Symbol

Hollywood celebrities have long had a reputation for swanky and opulent lifestyles. Their taste for luxury often extends to the cars they buy for their personal transportation. For some entertainment luminaries, only the most exclusive and luxurious cars will do. During the late 1950s, there was one car in particular that was much-coveted by the Hollywood celebrity set: the 1956-1958 Dual-Ghia.

1956 Dual-Ghia Convertible.

1956 Dual-Ghia Convertible.

The 1956-1958 Dual-Ghia was a limited edition luxury car built by Dual Motors Corporation of Detroit, Michigan. It was based on the Dodge Firearrow, a concept car exhibited at the 1953 Turin Auto Show in Italy. Offered at a then-hefty sticker price of $8,000, it was specifically intended for a wealthy and stylish clientele. The Dual-Ghia was a decidedly large and heavy car, riding on a 115-inch wheelbase and weighing in at a hefty 3600 pounds. It was fitted with a striking low-slung convertible body hand built by Carrozzeria Ghia, an exclusive custom coach builder based in Turin, Italy. The car was also given a sumptuously appointed interior, which included Connolly leather upholstery, full-deck carpeting, and a chrome-framed dashboard.

Underneath its skin, to make this exclusive car easy to service, the Dual-Ghia used readily available components sourced from Chrysler Corporation. Customers had a choice of two engines: a Dodge Firebomb V-8 engine, which had a displacement of 315 cubic inches and was rated at 230 horsepower, or the more popular Dodge D-500 Hemi V-8, which had the same displacement, but was good for 260 horsepower. Both engine choices were mated to a Chrysler Powerflite automatic transmission. In addition to being easy to service, the Dual-Ghia proved to be an excellent performer for a large car. According to Motor Trend magazine, the Dual-Ghia could accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 8.2 seconds and had a top speed of around 124 miles per hour.

Publicity photo of the 1957 Dual-Ghia Convertible.

Publicity photo of the 1957 Dual-Ghia Convertible.

The Dual-Ghia made its public debut at the 1957 New York Sports Car Show, where it caused a public sensation and garnered rave reviews. It also attracted the attention of entertainment luminaries and soon became a very fashionable automotive status symbol among the Hollywood celebrity set. Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford, high-living members of the famed “Rat Pack,” were probably the most iconic Dual-Ghia owners. Singer Eddie Fisher and actor Glenn Ford also owned Dual-Ghias. Actor Desi Arnaz and songwriter Hoagy Carmichael were noted Dual-Ghia owners as well.

Although the Dual-Ghia was a prestigious car and highly sought after by the Hollywood set, it was not a profitable venture for Dual-Motors Corporation. One reason for this was because of Dual Motors’ owner Eugene Casaroll’s insistence that the Dual-Ghia be built to the highest degree of craftsmanship possible, it was an extraordinarily expensive and labor-intensive car to build (it took 1300 hours to fabricate the body and 200 hours for final assembly). In addition to that, because the Dual-Ghia was aimed at a very wealthy clientele, the market for it proved to be quite small. As a result, it was not the financial success Dual Motors hoped for.

A total of 117 1956-1958 Dual-Ghias were built. It is believed that around 30 of these cars are still existence and surviving examples are cherished collector items today.

Sources

Adventure…with Elegance!, Dual-Ghia: Dual-Ghia: General Publication, Serial, and Trade Catalog: Specific Model, ca. 1956, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Conceptcarz – Dual-Ghia

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 259-260.

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 459.

How Stuff Works – 1956-1958 Dual-Ghia

MacDonald, Don, “Not Just a Bomb…A Dual Bomb,” Motor Trend, August 1956

Photograph of 1956 Dual-Ghia Convertible

Publicity photograph of the 1957 Dual-Ghia Convertible

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

The Datsun 240Z

During the 1960s, Japanese automakers were making inroads into the American market. At the time, they were widely (and I would argue unfairly) perceived as being manufacturers of cheap and unimaginative economy cars. One Japanese automaker who actively sought to change that perception was Nissan Motor Company, which at the time built and marketed cars under the Datsun nameplate. In 1965, Nissan designers started work on a sports car that was specifically aimed at the American market. The end result of the of the Japanese firm’s labors was a legendary sports car that is credited with establishing Nissan as a world-class automaker: the Datsun 240Z.

Photograph of a Datsun 240Z.

Introduced in late 1969 as a 1970 model, the Datsun 240Z (called the Datsun Fairlady Z in Japan) was a medium-priced sports car. Designed by a team led by Fumio Yushida, it was intended to compete with European mid-price sports cars in the American market, which included offerings from Jaguar and Porsche. In terms of engineering, the 240Z was a thoroughly conventional, yet state-of-the-art sports car for its time. It employed a front engine, rear-wheel drive layout and rode on a 90.5 inch wheelbase. Power came from a potent inline-6 engine, which displaced 2.4 litres (146 cubic-inches) and was initially good for 150 horsepower. Customers were offered a choice of either a 4-speed manual transmission or a 3-speed automatic. The 240Z was equipped with 4-wheel independent suspension, which employed McPherson struts and coil springs. Outwardly, the car was clothed in a sleek and stunning-looking body shell, which featured a long hood and a fastback roof.

The Datsun 240Z was also a very capable performer. According to Nissan, it could accelerate from 0 to 60 in less than 9 seconds and had a claimed top speed of 125 miles per hour. It was also blessed with outstanding road-holding abilities. Owners and automotive soon discovered the 240Z’s high quality of construction and it earned an enviable reputation for being tougher and more reliable than comparable European sports cars of the time. The 240Z’s reputation for high-performance, durability, and dependability was further enhanced by its successes in motorsports competition. In the United States, the 240Z became a dominant force in SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) sports car racing. Elsewhere in the world, the 240Z proved to be a capable rally car, twice winning the prestigious (and notoriously rough) East African Safari Rally (1971, 1973).

Photograph of a Datsun 240Z.

To top it all off, not only was the 240Z a modern design capable of a high level of performance, it was noted for being a bargain package that gave exceptional value for the money. Initially offered at a base price of $3,526, it undersold other mid-price sports cars of the day. Due to its durability and reliability, it proved cheaper to operate and maintain than its European competitors. American sports car enthusiasts quickly grasped the exceptional value offered by the 240Z and the demand for it soon exceeded supply.

The Datsun 240Z enjoyed a successful, albeit relatively short, production life (1969-1973). For the 1974 model year, largely due to tightening American safety and emissions regulations, it was replaced by the Datsun 260Z, which was essentially a 240Z with a larger 2.6 litre engine. Over 140,000 Datsun 240Z’s were sold in the United States. Surviving examples are highly sought after today.

Sources

240Z: Datsun: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 240Z, 1970, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 212-215.

Datsun 240-Z: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: 240Z, 1970, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 389.

How Stuff Works – Datsun Sports Cars

How Stuff Works – Nissan Z History

The Z Car Home Page

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

The Renault Dauphine: A Competitor to the Volkswagen Beetle in the United States

Trade catalog for the Renault Dauphine, 1956

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Volkswagen Beetle was the top selling foreign car in the United States. But the much-loved German import did not lack for competition. During this time period, a large number of foreign automakers sought to penetrate the American market and did so with varying degrees of success. Among those jockeying for position in the American marketplace was Renault, an internationally renowned French automaker based in Billancourt, France. During the late 1950s-early 1960s, the French firm marketed a car that was for a short time the Volkswagen Beetle’s most serious competitor in the United States: the Renault Dauphine.

Trade catalog cut-away image of the Renault Dauphine’s interior, 1960s

First introduced at the 1956 Paris Auto Show, the Renault Dauphine was a small economy sedan designed to compete directly with the Volkswagen Beetle. The Dauphine and Beetle had some design characteristics in common. Both cars employed a rear-engine, rear-wheel drive setup and both were equipped with swing-axle independent rear suspension. In most other respects, the Dauphine was designed to be a more modern alternative to the Beetle. Instead of an air-cooled engine like that found in the Beetle, the Dauphine was fitted with a water-cooled inline-4 engine, which displaced 845 cc (51.5 cubic inches) and was good for 30 horsepower. A three-speed manual transmission came standard, but the Dauphine could also be ordered with a Ferlec automatic clutch, which permitted gear changes without a clutch pedal. In contrast to the Beetle’s two-door body, the Dauphine featured an arguably more convenient four-door body shell. Renault also offered a performance variant of the Dauphine tuned by Amédée Gordini, which came equipped with a more powerful engine (good for 37.5-40 horsepower) and a four-speed manual transmission.

The Dauphine made its American debut at the 1956 New York Auto Show. When a sharp recession hit the United States in 1957, sales of the Dauphine unexpectedly took off and it became the Volkswagen Beetle’s most serious competitor. American customers were attracted by Dauphine’s cute looks, low sticker price ($1,645 in 1957) and excellent gas mileage (claimed to be capable of exceeding 40 miles per gallon). Led by the Dauphine, Renault became the #2 selling import make in the United States in 1957, a position it would hold for several years.

Trade catalog for the Renault Dauphine, 1960s

Although the Dauphine was initially well received by the American motoring public, owners soon became disenchanted with this car. The Dauphine was widely criticized for being too slow and underpowered for American driving conditions. Unlike its competitor, the Volkswagen Beetle, the Dauphine earned a reputation for being a low-quality car. American owners found the Dauphine to be mechanically troublesome and its body prone to rusting. Also in contrast to Volkswagen, Renault lacked a well-organized American dealer network for servicing its cars. This combination of factors caused Renault’s American sales to drop dramatically from a peak of 91,073 in 1959 to 12,106 in 1966. The Dauphine was withdrawn from the American market in 1967 and Renault ceased production of it in 1968.

More than 200,000 Renault Dauphines were imported to the United States between 1956 and 1967. Even though a significant number of them were brought to American shores, surviving examples are rarely seen today.

Sources

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 675, 677-680.

Dauphine, Renault: Renault: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Alliance, Alpine, Caravelle, Dauphine, Eight, and Encore, ca. 1950s-1986, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Dauphine, Renault, Régie National: Renault: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Alliance, Alpine, Caravelle, Dauphine, Eight, and Encore, ca. 1950s-1986, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1318-1319.

How Stuff Works – 1956-1968 Renault Dauphine

Renault

Ward’s 1960 Automotive Yearbook, Twenty-Second Edition; Detroit, Michigan: Ward’s Automotive Yearbook, 1960, p. 177.

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