The Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire: The World’s First Turbocharged Passenger Car

Trade catalog for the 1962 Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire.

During the early 1960s, compact cars such as the Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant, and Rambler American were popular with the American driving public. For the most part scaled-down versions of large American cars and powered by 6-cylinder and small block V-8 engines, these compacts were designed for economy rather than performance. Although the economical attributes of these compacts were much appreciated at the time, there was a sector of the American driving public that desired more horsepower from these cars. In response to the demand for more powerful compacts, General Motors’ Oldsmobile Division took a then-novel approach of installing a turbocharger on a small block V-8 engine. The end product of Oldsmobile’s innovation was the world’s first turbocharged passenger car: the Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire.

Introduced in April 1962 and sold during the 1962 and 1963 model years, the Jetfire was a special version of the Oldsmobile F85 compact. Marketed as a sporty personal car, it offered a higher level of performance than the typical American compact of the day. The Jetfire used the F85’s chassis and rode on a 112-inch wheelbase. It was clothed with a two-door hardtop body. Inside, the Jetfire was given a sportier interior than the standard F85, being equipped with bucket seats and a front compartment console.

Trade catalog diagram of the Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire’s “Turbo Rocket” engine.

But it was the Jetfire’s exclusive “Turbo Rocket” engine that set it apart from other cars of the day. The engine itself was a high-compression version of General Motors’ 215 cubic-inch Small Block V-8. An advanced power plant originally designed by Buick, it featured an all-aluminum block and cylinder heads, and was given a single-barrel carburetor. The engine was fitted with a turbocharger supplied by Garrett AiResearch, which was powered by the engine’s exhaust gases. A particularly novel feature of this turbocharged power plant was its use of fluid injection, which cooled the engine by spraying “Turbo Rocket Fluid” into the air-fuel mix when the turbocharger was engaged. A 50/50 mixture of distilled water and methyl alcohol sold by Oldsmobile dealerships, the “Turbo Rocket Fluid” was supplied by a fluid reservoir that required periodic refilling by the car’s owner.

Fitted with this innovative engine, the Jetfire was capable of a high level of performance for an American compact car. The “Turbo Rocket” engine produced 215 horsepower, at a then-impressive power ratio of 1 horsepower per cubic inch. The car was also blessed with excellent acceleration, able to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 8.5 seconds. Oldsmobile also boasted that turbo charging allowed it to improve the car’s performance without sacrificing fuel economy.

Trade catalog image of the 1963 Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire. The 1963 model received a restyled body.

Although the Jetfire was a pioneering car, it ultimately proved to be unsuccessful. The engine was plagued by cooling problems, and drivers frequently neglected to refill the “Turbo Rocket Fluid” reservoir, which often led to engine damage. These problems led Oldsmobile to take the extraordinary step of offering to remove the Jetfire’s turbocharger system and replace it with a four-barrel carburetor, and many Jetfire owners opted to do just that. A market shift towards cars with larger engines also hastened the Jetfire’s demise.

After an unsuccessful two-year production run, Oldsmobile pulled the plug on the F85 Jetfire in 1963. Only 9,607 of these cars were built. A mere handful of fully intact F85 Jetfires are still in existence today.

Sources

’63 Oldsmobile: Ninety-Eight, Super 88, Dynamic 88, Starfire, F-85, Jetfire, Oldsmobile: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Oldsmobile Range, 1962-1964

Hunter, M. Park, “1962 Oldsmobile Jetfire,” Special Interest Autos, April 1996

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 589-593

New From Olds…Only From Olds!…Jetfire by Oldsmobile (1962), Oldsmobile: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Hurst/Olds, Jetfire, Landau, Limited, and L55, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

There’s Something Extra Under This Hood! – Exclusively in Jetfire by Olds! (1962), Oldsmobile: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Hurst/Olds, Jetfire, Landau, Limited, and L55, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The Early Days of Turbo – Part 4,” Autospeed, Issue 504, 28 October 2008

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

The 1955 Chrysler 300: An Early American Muscle Car

Trade catalog for the 1955 Chrysler 300.

Chrysler Corporation has a long and proud tradition of being a trendsetter in the American automobile industry. In spite of its being the smallest of America’s “Big Three,” Chrysler has repeatedly left its mark on automotive history through its engineering, styling, and marketing innovations. In keeping with this tradition, during the mid-1950s, Chrysler sought to create a stylish, full-sized luxury car that was capable of an astoundingly high level of performance. The end result of its labors was an automotive legend and one of the earliest examples of the American muscle car: the 1955 Chrysler 300.

The 1955 Chrysler 300 (officially known as the C-300) was a limited edition car that offered a combination of styling, luxury and high performance not offered by other American manufacturers during the mid-1950s. Essentially an extensively modified version of the 1955 Chrysler New Yorker, the 300 was a striking looking car for its time. It was built on the New Yorker’s chassis and rode on a 126- inch wheelbase. It was clothed by a two-door hardtop version of the New Yorker’s body styled in Chrysler’s newly introduced “Forward Look” (designed by famed American designer Virgil Exner), which featured a long hood, a short deck, and rear tailfins. Inside, the car was also given a luxuriously appointed interior, which featured genuine leather upholstery that was exclusive to the 300.

Trade catalog image of the 1955 Chrysler 300.

Although the 300’s rakish looks and sumptuous interior were more than enough to impress, it was its high level of performance that truly captured the imagination of the American motoring public. The 300 was fitted with a hopped-up version of Chrysler’s legendary V-8 Hemi Engine (equipped with dual four-barrel carburetors and a racing camshaft), which had a displacement of 331.5 cubic inches and developed a then-outstanding 300 horsepower, which made it the most powerful American car of its day (and also gave the car its name). This powerful engine was mated to Chrysler’s famous PowerFlite automatic transmission. Chrysler further improved its performance capabilities by giving the car a lower ride height and heavy-duty suspension. Thus equipped, the 300 was capable of a top speed well in excess of 130 miles per hour and possessed high-speed stability and road-holding capabilities that were exceptional for a large car of its time.

The 1955 300’s reputation for high performance was further advanced by its outstanding performance on the racetrack, especially on the NASCAR stock car circuit. During the 1955 NASCAR season, Chrysler backed a team of 300s campaigned by car owner Karl Kiekhafer. Led by driver Tim Flock, this team of 300s dominated the series and Flock won the driver’s championship by a handsome margin.

The 1955 Chrysler 300 was superseded by an upgraded version of the car for the 1956 model year. But it’s concept of a high performance engine in a large car lived on and became the basic formula for American muscle cars of the 1960s and 1970s. Only 1,725 1955 Chrysler 300s were built and surviving examples are highly prized collectables today.

Sources

Chrysler 300 Club International, Incorporated

Chrysler Corporation and Walter P. Chrysler Foundation

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p.287-288.

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 266-267.

The Chrysler 300: Chrysler: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, 300, 1955-2000, 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 1957-1975 Fiat 500

Trade catalog image of a 1959 Fiat 500.

Over the past year and a half, you may have noticed the cute little Fiat 500 driving around on America’s roads. A thoroughly modern city car manufactured by Fiat SpA, Italy’s largest automobile manufacturer, it represents Fiat’s attempt to reestablish itself in the American market after a long absence. Not only do I consider the 500 to be an attractive little car, I also find it very interesting because it is one of the latest cars to feature a retro design, which involves drawing upon the designs of cars manufactured in the past for inspiration. For this week’s blog, I decided to take a look at the classic car that provided Fiat with the design inspiration for the present day 500: the 1957-1975 Fiat 500.

Trade catalog interior diagram of the 1959 Fiat 500.

Designed by famed Italian designer Dante Giacosa, the 1957-1975 Fiat 500 is considered to by automotive historians to be one of the first modern city cars.  It featured a very simple and practical design that was well-suited for use in crowded European cities.  In terms of size, the classic 500 was truly tiny, measuring only 4 feet 4 inches tall, 4 feet 4 inches wide, and 9 feet 9 inches long.  Yet it possessed enough interior room for four adults.  The little car was initially powered a by a rear-mounted 479 cc 2-cylinder engine, which utilized air cooling and produced 15 horsepower.  The engine was mated to a four-speed non-synchronized manual transmission. The car rode on four-wheel independent suspension, employing leaf springs on the front wheels and coil springs on the rear wheels.  Styling wise, the car was clothed in a distinctive egg-shaped body shell, which featured rear-hinged “suicide doors.”

In terms of performance, the classic Fiat 500 possessed attributes that were quite desirable for a European city car of its day.  At the time of its introduction, Fiat claimed the 500 to be capable of a top speed of over 53 miles per hour and gas mileage of up to 52 miles per gallon.  The car’s rear-engine layout and four-wheel independent suspension gave it excellent traction and road-holding characteristics.  The 500’s small size made it highly maneuverable on narrow and crowded European city streets, and allowed for it to be parked in very small parking spaces.

Trade catalog of image of a 1960-1965 Fiat 500. Note the car’s small size. Also note its clear resemblance to the present day Fiat 500.

Over the course of its production life, the 1957-1975 Fiat 500 was an enormously successful car.  Due to its simple design, economic attributes, performance characteristics, and irresistible looks, it enjoyed a very long career as a car of choice for residents of European cities.  The classic 500’s basic design remained unchanged, but received a number of upgrades over its production run, most notably larger and more powerful engines and a switch to conventional rear-hinged doors.  When the production run of the classic Fiat 500 finally came to an end, more 3.5 million examples had been built.

The last classic Fiat 500 rolled off the assembly line in 1975, but it remained well ingrained in Fiat’s corporate memory.  When Fiat started work on a new city car for the 21st century, it turned to the classic 500 for design inspiration.  The design influence is plainly seen in the present day Fiat 500, which bears a striking resemblance to the 1957-1975 Fiat 500.

Sources
Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 297-301.

Fiat 500 (1959): Fiat: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, 500, 1959-1975, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Fiat 500 (1972): Fiat: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, 500, 1959-1975, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Fiat 500 America

Fiat 500D (ca. 1960-1965): Fiat: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, 500, 1959-1975, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 541-543.

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

Hollywood Cars: Fozzie Bear’s 1951 Studebaker Commander in The Muppet Movie

I have long been a fan of Jim Henson’s Muppets. I was introduced to them as a small child during the 1970s, first seeing them on Sesame Street and then later on The Muppet Show. One of my fondest childhood memories of the Muppets was seeing them in their first feature film, The Muppet Movie, which was released in 1979. A musical comedy, The Muppet Movie was a hit with movie-going audiences, and won a Grammy Award and a Golden Globe Award.

Produced by Jim Henson, directed by James Frawley, and featuring an all-star cast (including Charles Durning, Dom DeLuise, and Steve Martin), The Muppet Movie’s plot centered on Kermit the Frog’s and Fozzie Bear’s cross-country trip to Hollywood for an audition, which they hoped would lead to fame and fortune in show business. Along the way, Kermit and Fozzie were joined by a crew of additional Muppet characters, including Miss Piggy (who became Kermit’s love interest) and Gonzo. Throughout their trip, Kermit was relentlessly pursued by the villainous Doc Hopper, who sought to make Kermit an unwilling spokesman for his frog leg restaurant chain. For much of the movie, the Muppets travelled in a distinctive car driven by Fozzie, which he inherited from his hibernating uncle: a 1951 Studebaker Commander.

Trade catalog image of a 1951 Studebaker Commander Regal two door sedan. Note the car’s “bullet nose” styling.

The 1951 Studebaker Commander was built by Studebaker Corporation, a now defunct automobile manufacturer based in South Bend, Indiana. The 1951 Commander was positioned on the upper end of Studebaker’s model lineup and sold in the $1,800-$2,200 price range. The car was powered by a 232 cubic inch overhead valve V-8 engine, which was a rather advanced power plant for its time. The 1951 Commander also featured Studebaker’s famous “bullet nose” body, which was styled by famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy. It was well received by the American motoring public and became a notable sales success for Studebaker, which sold more than 124,000 Commanders in the course of the 1951 model year.

Two 1951 Studebaker Commanders portrayed Fozzie’s car in The Muppet Movie. For close-up shots in which Fozzie was portrayed driving his car, one of the Commanders was rigged with a camera hidden in its nose, and a steering wheel and a television monitor hidden in its trunk. This allowed the car to be driven by an unseen driver in the trunk while Henson puppeteer Frank Oz portrayed Fozzie driving in the front seat. The other Commander received no mechanical alterations and was used for far-away shots of Fozzie’s car driving down the road. Both cars were painted with poster paint (a psychedelic paint job courtesy of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem), which photographed better than automobile paint, but was vulnerable to rapid deterioration.

Out of the two 1951 Studebaker Commanders used in the production of The Muppet Movie, only the altered car used for the close-up shots is still in existence. This car is now on display at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana. A photograph of this car can be viewed on the Studebaker National Museum’s website.

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1527-1534.

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 768-769.

Muppet Wiki

Studebaker National Museum

The New Studebaker for 1951: Studebaker: Trade Catalogs: Studebaker Range, 1948-1954, 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 Citroën DS 19

Trade catalog image of a 1956 Citroën DS 19.

Citroën, a much-renowned French automobile manufacturer, has a long tradition of building mass-produced cars that feature innovative engineering and head-turning looks. In keeping with this tradition, Citroën dropped a bombshell on an unsuspecting motoring public at the 1955 Paris Auto Show. At this prestigious international auto show, the firm unveiled a technologically advanced luxury car that looked completely unlike anything else on the road: the Citroën DS 19.

Trade catalog image of the interior of a Citroën DS 19. Note the semi-automatic gearshift under the steering wheel and ride height adjuster knob under the dashboard.

Designed by André Lefèbvre, the DS 19 was an enormously advanced car for its time. It employed a longitudinal, front-wheel drive layout, which was a setup Citroën previously used on the Traction Avant, a successful luxury car built by the firm between the early 1930s and mid 1950s. The car rode on an uneven wheel track featuring a front wider than the rear, which reduced the inherent understeer characteristic of front-wheel drive cars. Power was originally provided by an overhead valve inline-four engine, which produced a relatively modest 75 horsepower. The engine was mated to a semi-automatic transmission, which required the driver to shift gears manually, but did so without a clutch pedal.

But the one design feature that truly set DS 19 apart from all other cars was its extensive use of hydraulics. The DS 19 was the first car to be equipped with a central hydraulic system, which provided power assist to the transmission, steering and brakes. It was also one of the first cars to employ a self-levelling hydropneumatic suspension, which permitted the driver to adjust to the car’s ride height and provided a remarkably smooth ride. The hydropneumatic suspension also blessed the car with outstanding road-holding abilities.

Trade catalog image of two 1958 Citroën DS 19s.

Although the DS 19 was noted for its advanced design, it was even more renowned for its otherworldly looks. The car was fitted with a streamlined body styled by Flaminio Bertoni. The body was of a monocoque construction and employed detachable steel panels and a plastic roof. Styling cues included a long, low hood, a short, streamlined rear end, and covered rear wheels. Not only was the body striking looking, it was also quite aerodynamic. Rated at a then impressive drag coefficient of 0.38, it made the DS 19 capable of fuel economy of up to 30 miles per gallon of gasoline and a claimed top speed of 90 miles per hour. The body was also designed for passenger safety, featuring front and rear crumple zones.

Over the course of its production life (1955-1965), the Citroën DS 19 became a much-beloved luxury car in postwar France. Its combination of a comfortable ride, good economy, and excellent performance proved well-suited for driving conditions characteristic of France at the time. Largely due to its innovative design and futuristic looks, the DS 19 also came to symbolize France’s recovery from World War II. The DS 19 later became the basis of two additional model lines produced by Citroën: the ID 19 (a DS 19 stripped of its central hydraulic system) and its eventual replacement the DS 21 (essentially a DS 19 with a larger engine).

The last Citroën DS 19 rolled off the assembly line in 1965. Surviving examples are highly collectable today.

Sources
Citroën DS 19, Citroën: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, DS, 1955-1962, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Citroënët

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 185-194.

DS 19 Prestige, Citroën: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, DS, 1955-1962, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 299-300.

Untitled, 1958 Citroën DS 19 Trade Catalog, Citroën: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, DS, 1955-1962, 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 Detroit Electric

1914 Detroit Electric Model 48 Five-Passenger Brougham. Note how this car is being marketed to women.

In recent years, rising gas prices and environmental concerns have encouraged renewed interest in electric cars. These days, one occasionally sees them on the road, mostly notably the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Roadster. Although they appear to be strikingly new, the concept of the electric car is actually as old as that of the internal combustion engine powered car. For a brief time during the early twentieth century, they competed directly with their internal combustion engine counterparts. In the United States, there was one electric car in particular that enjoyed a fair amount of success for a short time: the Detroit Electric.

The Detroit Electric, which enjoyed a brief period of popularity during the late 1900s and mid-1910s, was manufactured by Anderson Carriage Company of Detroit, Michigan (later renamed Anderson Electric Car Company in 1911, then Detroit Electric Car Company in 1919). Designed by George M. Bacon, the first Detroit Electric rolled out of the factory in 1907. These cars soon found favor with certain parts of the motoring public and yearly production correspondingly grew, increasing from 125 in 1907 to a peak of 4,669 units in 1914.

Interior of a Detroit Electric Model 47 Four-Passenger Brougham. Note the control levers on the right.

Specifically designed as a city car, the Detroit Electric is a truly fascinating piece of automotive technology. The cars were powered by electric motors supplied by Elwell-Parker Company of Cleveland, Ohio (which became part of Anderson Carriage Company in 1909). Energy for the electric motor was initially provided by lead-acid batteries, which could be recharged either at a rectifier kept in one’s garage (the more common charging method) or at a charging station (if one could be found). Most Detroit Electrics were equipped with lever control, employing a side lever for steering and a horizontal lever for the throttle. Throughout its production life, the car’s design was continuously improved. Direct shaft drive was introduced in 1911 and more powerful Edison nickel-iron batteries were offered as an option that same year.

Trade Catalog for Detroit Electric’s 1931 model lineup.

In terms of performance, the Detroit Electric had characteristics that were considered acceptable for city driving in its day. It had a top speed of approximately 20 miles per hour, but was blessed with quick acceleration. In terms of mileage, its batteries were advertised as having a reliable range of 80 miles. Because they employed electric propulsion, Detroit Electrics were easier to start and operate than internal combustion engine cars (most of which were started by hand cranks at the time). They were also renowned for their dependability, and their clean and quiet operation. It was these performance characteristics that led to most Detroit Electrics being purchased by affluent women and physicians living in urban areas. Women liked to use them to go shopping and for short trips to social engagements. Doctors frequently used to them to go on house calls.

After enjoying a brief period of popularity, sales of the Detroit Electric declined after 1916, dropping from 3,000 units that year to a mere handful during the 1930s. This was mainly brought on by a combination of advances in internal combustion technology (such as the invention of the electric starter) and problems that bother electric cars to this day (limited battery range and lack of charging infrastructure). The last Detroit Electrics were manufactured around 1938-1939. It is estimated that approximately 35,000-37,000 of these cars were built.

Sources

Detroit Electric: http://www.detroitelectric.org/

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 430

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 444-449.

The Detroit Electric, Detroit Electric: Trade Catalogs: Various Models, 1916-1931, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The Detroit Electric, Society’s Town Car, 1914, Detroit Electric: Trade Catalogs: Various Models, 1912-1915, 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 Baby Austin: A British Interpretation of Motoring for the Masses

Trade catalog for the Austin Seven, better known as the "Baby Austin," ca. 1930

In 1920, the Austin Motor Company found itself in receivership, a misfortune largely brought on by a depression that hit Britain immediately following World War I. In response to these economic difficulties, company founder Herbert Austin proposed the development of a small economy car that would be affordable for Britain’s middle class families. When the company’s board of directors opposed the idea on economic grounds, Mr. Austin developed the car using his own personal resources. The end result was a much-beloved car that turned Austin Motor Company around and in the process helped put Britain on wheels: the Austin 7, which was popularly known as the Baby Austin.

The Baby Austin was designed by Herbert Austin and eighteen year old draftsman Stanley Edge. In terms of overall design, it was a remarkably advanced car for its time and place in the market. As its nickname suggests, the Baby Austin was indeed tiny. Designed around an A-frame chassis, it initially featured a 75-inch wheelbase and a 40-inch track. Mechanically, the Baby Austin was equipped with a number of innovative features. Instead of a two cylinder engine initially planned by Mr. Austin, the Baby Austin was by powered by a water-cooled, inline-four power plant (initially 696 cc, but soon enlarged to 747 cc) at Stanley Edge’s suggestion. It also was also fitted with uncoupled four-wheel brakes, a transverse-leaf front suspension, and quarter-elliptic rear suspension.

Dutch trade catalog for the Austin Seven, better known as the Baby Austin, 1935.

In addition to being an innovative design, the Baby Austin was blessed with a number of attributes that made it a very desirable economy car for its time. It was initially offered at a sticker price of £ 165, which made it affordable to British middle class families. Because it was powered by a small engine rated at 7.2-7.5 horsepower, it was taxed at a lower rate than most other British cars of the day. In a nod towards the needs of growing families, the first Baby Austins were four-seat touring cars designed to accommodate two adults and two children.

The Baby Austin was introduced to the British motor public in July 1922. Over the course of its long production life (1922-1939), it became an enormously successful and influential car. The Baby Austin succeeded admirably in fulfilling Herbert Austin’s goals of returning his firm to solvency and providing affordable cars to the British middle class. As for the Baby Austin itself, it proved itself to be the right car for its time. Due to its affordability and innovative design, it became enormously popular with the British motoring public. As the car’s popularity grew, a number of models were developed, and it eventually became available in five body different styles (Tourer, Saloon, Cabriolet, Sport, and Van). The Baby Austin also became well known outside of Britain and was exported to a number of countries. It was also built under license outside of Britain in France (Rosengart), Germany (Dixi), and the United States (American Austin).

Trade catalog for the Austin Seven, 1930s. Note the Baby Austin's accommodations for two adults and two children.

The last Austin 7, aka Baby Austin, rolled off the assembly line in March 1939. Approximately 290,000 of these cars were built.

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 101-104.

The Austin Seven, Britain’s dependable Car, Austin: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Seven, 1930s, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The Austin Seven, Proved by Time, Austin: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Seven, 1930s, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The Austin Seven, The Little Friend of All the World, Austin: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Seven, 1930s, 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 1958-1960 Rambler American: Successful Revival of a Compact

Trade catalog for the 1958 Rambler American

During the late 1950s, American Motors Corporation, the creation of a 1954 merger between Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and Hudson Motor Car Company, was struggling to compete against the Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) in the American automobile market. The firm’s problems were further exacerbated by a sharp recession that hit the United States in 1957, which caused a market shift towards smaller and more economical cars, particularly imports such as the Volkswagen Beetle. Faced with these economic realities, AMC’s president George Romney (the father of 2012 U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney) implemented a novel corporate strategy. Rather than compete directly with the Big Three, AMC focused its efforts on compact cars, which it marketed under a nameplate inherited from Nash-Kelvinator: Rambler.

Trade catalog for the 1959 Rambler American

As part of this strategy, Romney saw the need for a small economy car at the lower end of the Rambler range, but AMC lacked the resources to develop a brand new model. However, AMC did possess the design and tooling for a small car that it had discontinued just a couple years earlier. Under Romney’s direction, this car was dusted off, refreshed, and put back into production. The end result was the successful revival of a previously discontinued car in an essentially unchanged form: the 1958-1960 Rambler American.

The 1958-1960 Rambler American was based on the 1955 Nash Rambler, which had been developed by Nash-Kelvinator and discontinued by AMC at the end of its model year. In terms of engineering, the American’s design was nearly identical to that of its forebear, featuring a 100-inch wheelbase and was powered by a 195.6 cubic inch inline-six engine. Appearance wise, the Rambler American differed only slightly from the Nash Rambler. It employed the same body, but was given a redesigned grille and open rear wheel wells.

Trade Catalog for the 1955 Nash Rambler. Note the strong similarity between this car and the Rambler American.

Because the Rambler American was clearly based on the Nash Rambler, AMC did not attempt to market it as a brand new design. Instead, AMC hyped the car’s economic attributes, touting its low sticker price, excellent fuel mileage, and low maintenance costs. AMC also emphasized the American’s practicality, describing it as roomy and easy to maneuver. AMC s also marketed the car as an import fighter, pointedly emphasizing that it was made in America and designed for American driving conditions.

Even though it was a warmed-over design, the 1958-1960 Rambler American was well received by the motoring public. It proved well suited for its time and acquired a reputation for being a practical and dependable economy car. Along with other Rambler stable mates, the American helped little AMC make money while the Big Three struggled. In the 1958 model year, AMC was the only major American automobile manufacturer to post a profit. In 1959 and 1960, with help from the American, AMC earned healthy profits in spite of competition from compacts introduced by the Big Three, such as the Ford Falcon and Plymouth Valiant.

The 1958-1960 Rambler American was replaced by a restyled version of the car for the 1961 model year. Over the course of its production run, over 240,000 examples were built. Surviving examples are highly collectable today.

Sources

American Motors Presents: The Newest Idea in Automobiles, The 1955 Rambler, America’s Smartest Car for Town and Travel, Rambler: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Rambler Range, 1952-1959.

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1294-1296.

Here by Popular Demand, Rambler American for 1958, Rambler: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Airflyte, Ambassador, American, and Classic, 1950-1967, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Here by Popular Demand, The New Rambler American for 1959, Rambler: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Airflyte, Ambassador, American, and Classic, 1950-1967, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 9-15, 559-560.

“Rambler American”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rambler_American

Non-Automotive Materials the in Z. Taylor Vinson Collection: Airline Companies Series

Timetable for Pan Am’s “Clipper” service to the Caribbean and Latin America, 1933

Since taking over this blog in July, I have mainly been writing about automotive materials found in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. However, as many of you already know, the contents of the collection do not consist solely of automotive materials. As I mentioned in my blog installment on the Airplane Makes series of the collection (see Non-Automotive Materials the in Z. Taylor Vinson Collection: Airplane Makes Series, August 31, 2012), Mr. Vinson was keenly interested in many different forms of transportation. In addition to that, he was also a frequent and avid traveler, and he made numerous trips, for both business and pleasure, throughout the United States and overseas. While pursuing his interests in both transportation and travel, he accumulated a remarkable collection of non-automotive materials. In recognition of Mr. Vinson’s interest in these areas, I decided to highlight another non-automotive series of the collection: Airline Companies.

Fleet catalog for Air France’s De Havilland Comet jet airliner, 1953

The Airline Companies series represents a very small portion of the collection, containing only 8.5 boxes of materials. However, much like the Airplane Makes series, the depth and significance of its contents more than make up for its small size. The materials found in this Airline Companies series cover most of the history of the airline industry, dating from 1921 to 2009. One hundred and forty commercial airlines of varying sizes are represented in this series, including present-day companies such as Air France and United Airlines, and defunct companies such as Pan Am and Swissair. Most of the airlines represented in this series focused on the passenger business, but a handful of them specialized in hauling airmail and freight. The series’ contents are international in scope and concern airlines from countries all over the world, including, but not limited to, the United States, France, Germany, Japan, and China.

The Airline Companies series consists mainly of materials published by the airlines themselves. Many of the airline publications, including, but not limited to, airliner fleet catalogs, menus, passenger information brochures, route maps, timetables, and cut-out model airplanes differ significantly from those published by automobile companies. This series also contains other types of airline publications that are strikingly similar to those produced by automobile companies, including, but not limited to, company overviews, company magazines, and media information. Also found in this series are numerous magazine and newspaper advertisements through which the airlines publicized themselves and their services. The series also contains a significant amount of materials not published by the airlines, including, but not limited to, newspaper articles, magazine articles, government documents, and research notes.

There are plenty of fascinating items to be found in the Airline Companies series. One such item is a 1933 Pan Am timetable for the airline’s famed “Clipper” service to the Caribbean and Latin America. Also of interest in this series is a 1953 Air France fleet catalog advertising the airline’s use of the De Havilland Comet, the world’s first commercial jet airliner.

Sources

Air France, De Havilland “Comet”, Airline Companies-Air France: Fleet Catalogs: Specific Planes, 1948-1993

Pan American Airways System, Time Tables – Tariffs, Airline Companies-Pan Am: Timetables, 1933-1964

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

Information Day – Saturday, October 13

Trade catalog for the 1948 Nash model lineup, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection

For more than a year, we have been using this blog to highlight individual items in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection and to report on the progress of our work on this unique and significant historical resource. Although this blog is an excellent publication relations tool, we felt that there was something lacking. Even though the Vinson Collection will not be open for researchers until 2014, we know that many of you are eager to see the collection in person. We also thought that many of you would be interested in seeing how we go about processing the collection for research use by the general public.

Trade catalog for the 1951 Volkswagen model lineup, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection

With such considerations in mind, we have decided to give the public a sneak peak at the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection! As part of our celebration of American Archives Month, we cordially invite you to visit Hagley Library for Information Day, which will be held on Saturday, October 13th, from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Attendance at this event is included with admission. Visitors will be given a sneak peak at some of the treasures from the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, including items concerning automobiles and other forms of transportation, including railroads, airplanes, and ships. Visitors will also be treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the work involved in making this historical resource available to the general public.

Menu from the British mail steamer RMS Scythia, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection

By all means stop by Hagley Library to help us celebrate American Archives Month and learn more about the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection! We will look forward to seeing you on Saturday, October 13!

For further information, visit the Hagley Museum and Library’s website at www.hagley.org/events.html.

Sources
Trade catalog for the 1948 Nash model lineup, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection

Trade catalog for the 1951 Volkswagen model lineup, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection

Menu from the British mail steamer RMS Scythia, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection

The items above can be viewed in their entirety in the Vinson Digital Archive.

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