122 artifacts in this set
This vehicle is the oldest surviving American automobile. In the 1860s, a small steam carriage running under its own power -- without horses! -- was so startling that people paid to see it driven. It was a curiosity, not transportation. By the time its inventor, Sylvester Roper, died in 1896, new innovators were transforming horseless carriages from curiosities into practical vehicles.
The stagecoach is a symbol of the American West, but its origins are in New England. First built in the 1820s, Concord coaches featured an innovative leather-strap suspension that produced a rocking motion over rough roads -- easier on passengers and horses alike. This example carried passengers and mail in New Hampshire and Maine before the automobile made it obsolete.
Early automobile inventors tended to make one-of-a-kind vehicles. Charles and Frank Duryea had a different idea. In 1896, they established the Duryea Motor Wagon Company and built thirteen identical vehicles. Based on their second model that had recently won America's first automobile race, this car was user friendly. A single lever controlled steering, shifting, and accelerating. The Henry Ford owns the only known surviving 1896 Duryea.
The Quadricycle was Henry Ford's first attempt to build a gasoline-powered automobile. It utilized commonly available materials: angle iron for the frame, a leather belt and chain drive for the transmission, and a buggy seat. Ford had to devise his own ignition system. He sold his Quadricycle for $200, then used the money to build his second car.
Auto pioneer A.L. Riker built this electric tricycle in Brooklyn, NY in 1896. Its tubular steel frame, wire wheels, and pneumatic tires are adapted from bicycle practice. Lead acid batteries are under the seat, and a 40-volt, one horsepower electric motor powered the rear wheel. Although quite successful at building electric vehicles, Riker sold his company after the turn of the 19th century, and became chief engineer of Locomobile, a builder...
Cars of this era usually looked like squarish horse-drawn buggies. But Charles Duryea was inspired by the more graceful curves of a victoria carriage. The curling front forks support the single front wheel and flex to absorb jolts. The driver used a control stick to steer, shift gears, and accelerate. The automobile may have looked good, but passengers sat back to back, making conversation difficult.
This steam-powered runabout, by Locomobile, was built from designs by twin brothers, F. E. and F. O. Stanley. These early vehicles were fast, cheap, and relatively uncomplicated. However, fuel needs, excessive water consumption, and other inherent problems dogged the lightweight steamer. In 1902, Locomobile began production of a gasoline internal combustion engine. The company phased out their steam-powered vehicles in 1904.
B. Altman and Company, a New York City department store, purchased this electric truck from F. R. Wood and Son around 1900. Altman employed horse-drawn delivery wagons but began to experiment with electric trucks in 1898 as a cost cutting measure. Electric trucks dispensed with the care and maintenance costs of horses. This truck made twice-daily trips from a warehouse to a distribution center.
Early automobiles, even electric-powered ones like this 1901 Columbia, looked like carriages. Batteries located over the front and rear axles powered this victoria. The carriage had a 20 to 30-mile range between charges. The owner, Washington Post publisher John McLean, rode in the covered center, while his chauffeur steered from behind.
This is Henry Ford's first race car. After his first auto company failed, Ford turned to racing to restore his reputation. He raced "Sweepstakes" against Alexander Winton on October 10, 1901, and, to everyone's surprise, the novice Ford beat the established Winton. The victory and resulting publicity encouraged financiers to back Ford's second firm.
Henry Ford hired a fearless bicycle racer named Barney Oldfield to drive "999." Although he had never driven a car, Oldfield not only mastered it but also won his first competition. He went on to become America's first nationally famous racing hero, known for his thrilling exhibition races and the trademark cigar he chewed to protect his teeth in a crash.
After his first two attempts at commercial auto-making failed, Henry Ford found success with the Ford Motor Company, established in 1903. The firm's first product, the Model A, was conventional by the standards of the day. It featured a two-cylinder engine mounted under the seat and rear wheels driven by a chain.
This 1903 Holsman runabout could negotiate America's early rural roads. Its big wheels with puncture-proof solid rubber tires cleared ruts, climbed hills, and traveled through dirt, sand, and mud. These high-wheelers were inexpensive and low maintenance. High-wheelers were popular especially among farmers until other automobiles became better and cheaper.
When it inspires a song, you know it's popular. This Olds was the bestselling car in America from 1902 to 1905. Automobiles had an emotional appeal. A driver in 1901 said that controlling a car satisfied "an almost universal sense, the love of power." Despite the attraction, cars were not a significant player in the transportation world. In 1903, 4000 people bought Oldsmobiles, but more than 900,000 bought buggies and carriages.
In 1903 this car became only the second to drive across America coast-to-coast. Packard plant foreman Tom Fetch and journalist Marius C. Krarup made the trip from San Francisco to New York City in 61 days. Their journey was an enormous challenge. Roads scarcely existed west of the Mississippi, and those east of the river were often simple dirt paths.
James Ward Packard built his first car in Warren, Ohio, in 1899. By 1903 a group of Detroit investors had purchased the company and moved the operation to a new factory in Detroit. One of the first cars built there was the Model L touring car. It was the first four-cylinder Packard and the first with the tombstone-shaped radiator shell that became a Packard trademark.
The Model B was Ford's first four-cylinder car and the first to have the engine mounted up front in the European manner. Design difficulties delayed production of the Model B and, although conceived much earlier, it went on the market long after the two-cylinder Model C. Priced at $2,000, the Model B was the most expensive Ford yet, and sold poorly.
Two-seater runabouts like this 1906 Ford Model N were favored by middle-class Americans who could afford one. They were fast and rugged. Most runabouts featured one- or two-cylinder engines and bicycle-style chain drives. But this Ford Model N offered four cylinders and a shaft drive, plus it cost less. At $500, it became the bestselling car in America.
In 1908, George Robertson drove this car to victory in the Vanderbilt Cup, America's first great automobile race. It was the first time an American car won a major international road race in the United States. The Locomobile competed while wearing race number 16, and it's been known as "Old 16" ever since.
The Rapid Motor Vehicle Company of Pontiac, Michigan produced this twelve-passenger vehicle in 1906. The bus could shuttle travelers to and from hotels and rail depots or provide local sightseeing tours. In 1908, General Motors Company began purchasing Rapid's stock. The purchases of Rapid and other commercial truck companies led to the formation of General Motors Truck Company in 1912.
The E. R. Thomas Company of Buffalo, New York, manufactured this touring car during its peak production year of 1906. Known for their high performance, born out in 1908 when a Flyer won the New York to Paris race, they were also expensive. This vehicle sold for $3,700. The company faltered a few years after Henry Ford perfected his Model T.
Steam powered 19th-century America. Some early car manufacturers used this familiar technology to power their vehicles. The White Company was one of the best. Several well-known Americans purchased White steamers and President Taft included one in the first presidential car fleet. White, unlike other manufacturers of steam cars, shifted to gasoline-powered automobiles. It made its last steamer in 1911.
The Ford Model S was a composite of the Models N and R. The Model R had used the engine and chassis of the hot-selling Model N, but added running boards, a wider body, and larger wheels. When Ford ran out of Model R bodies and wheels the company put the new running boards on the Model N and called it the Model S.
Early car buyers knew what motor vehicles should look like -- carriages, of course! But automobiles need things carriages don't: radiators, windshields, controls, horns, and hoods. Early automakers developed simple solutions. Brass, often used for carriage trim, was adopted for radiators, levers, and horns. Windshields were glass plates in wood frames. Rectangular sheet metal covers hid engines. The result? A surprisingly attractive mix of...
Henry Ford crafted his ideal car in the Model T. It was rugged, reliable and suited to quantity production. The first 2,500 Model Ts carried gear-driven water pumps rather than the thermosiphon cooling system adopted later. Rarer still, the first 1,000 or so -- like this example -- used a lever rather than a floor pedal to engage reverse.
Clara Ford, wife of Henry Ford, drove this Detroit Electric. In the years before World War I many women chose electric cars because they started instantly without hand cranking and had no difficult-to-shift transmission. The superintendent of the Detroit Electric factory employed his daughter, Lillian Reynolds, to sell to women -- including Clara Ford, who drove this car into the 1930s.
This 1914 Touring Car is one of several Model T cars given to naturalist John Burroughs by his friend Henry Ford. Ford Motor Company experienced a milestone year in 1914. The automaker fully implemented the moving assembly line at its Highland Park plant, and it introduced the Five Dollar Day profit-sharing plan for its employees.
Brewster and Company had built elegant horse-drawn carriages since the early 1800s. When Brewster finally began building automobiles in 1915, they looked like carriages. Chauffeurs dealt with the 20th-century auto technology -- a quiet 55-horsepower engine, an electric starter, and electric lights -- while owners rode in 19th-century carriage comfort. Tradition eventually lost out to the rush of modernity, and Brewsters began to look like cars.
Designed to appeal to adventurous drivers, Chevrolet's Royal Mail looked like a race car -- long hood, short rear deck, and a fuel tank behind the seats. Add the stylish fenders and a hood that flowed smoothly into the body and you had a rakish little car. Auto enthusiasts could race away with this vehicle for under one thousand dollars.
In 1916, gasoline was cheap, and no one cared about tailpipe emissions. But this hybrid wasn't about fuel prices or pollution. Woods Motor Vehicle Company built it to capture new customers. Sales of the company's electric cars were falling as more people chose gasoline-burning cars. The Dual-Power supposedly combined the best of both, but customers disagreed. The car and the company disappeared in 1918.
Overland was one of the most successful early car companies. Founded in 1903, Overland had by 1912 become the second best-selling American car behind Ford. This Model 90 Overland was more stylish, comfortable, and powerful than a Ford Model T, with a six inch longer wheelbase and 12 more horsepower. It also cost $345 more.
The Model T's basic design received many updates over the car's 19-year life. Some incorporated mechanical improvements, some responded to growing consumer demands, and some simply reduced costs. The 1919 sedans were the first with electric starters and demountable tire rims. These features were standard on other makes but cost extra on a Ford, keeping the base price low.
This limousine was designed to make a grand entrance. And it wasn't short on style either. Owners gazed through French plate-glass windows lined with silk curtains. They enjoyed an umbrella holder, a hat rack, a flower vase, and interior electric lights. Even the chauffeur's compartment was done up in leather and mahogany.
The first car to wear the Chrysler nameplate was perfectly suited to the Roaring Twenties. It was a decade of fast profits, fast music, and fast driving. A lightweight chassis and an efficient engine meant Chrysler drivers could out-accelerate Cadillacs costing twice as much. When Chrysler drivers stopped, they used modern hydraulic brakes instead of the Caddy's old-style mechanical brakes. Small wonder that Chrysler sales increased 500...
With the introduction of the superb Silver Ghost model in 1907, the British-made Rolls-Royce became known as the world's best automobile. In 1925 the New Phantom replaced the aging Silver Ghost. This 1926 New Phantom was ordered by American banker J.P. Morgan, Jr. It features British-style right hand drive but the custom limousine body is by American coach builder Brewster.
Until the 1920s, most cars lacked permanent roofs. They were "open" to the elements, noise, and dirt. People bought them only because they were cheaper than closed cars. When the 1922 Essex Coach came along -- closed, and costing just a little more than an open car -- people snapped it up. This 1924 model cost even less -- truly a car for all seasons.
In 1912, a new European fad took America by storm: the cyclecar -- slim, light, cheap, with a motorcycle engine. By 1914, Americans could choose from over 80 home-grown versions. Most were poorly built and rattled to pieces on America's rough, unpaved roads. And by 1917, a durable five-passenger Ford Model T cost $25 less than this Scripps-Booth. The cyclecar fad was over.
This 1927 Blue Bird is the oldest surviving school bus in America. Albert Luce, Sr., built his first bus in 1925 by mounting a purchased wood body to a Ford truck frame. The body could not withstand the Georgia roads. Luce, convinced he could make a better bus, applied a steel framework under the wood body. His success led him to make school buses full time.
In 1926, Alfred P. Sloan Jr., president of General Motors, sought a lower-priced companion to the Cadillac to fill out General Motors product line. He lured a custom designer named Harley Earl to Detroit for the project and the result was the 1927 LaSalle, the first mass-production car to be consciously "stylized." The stylish and affordable LaSalle marked the demise of individually-designed and prohibitively expensive custom cars.
A tiny, fuel efficient car like this might seem perfect for the hard times of the Great Depression. Mechanically it was identical to the British Austin, with an attractive body styled by famed designer Alexis de Sakhnoffsky. But at $445 the Austin roadster cost $10 more than a full-sized Ford roadster. Despite its cuteness, the American Austin failed in the marketplace.
The Model A's two-year old styling was refreshed for 1930, with new sweeping fenders, new radiator, smaller wheels, and a longer hood. Ford sold nearly 1,160,000 Model As in 1930, but only 16,470 were open phaetons like this car. Most buyers preferred closed sedans or coupes, with permanent roofs and roll up windows
Longer than a Duesenberg. Twice the horsepower of a Rolls-Royce. More costly than both put together. The Bugatti Royale was the ultimate automobile, making its owners feel like kings. Not only did it do everything on a grander scale than the world's other great luxury cars, it was also rare. Bugatti built only six Royales, whereas there were 481 Model J Duesenbergs and 1767 Phantom II Rolls-Royces.
The classic proportions of the 1932 Ford roadster make it a hot rod favorite. Rodders modified these inexpensive vehicles with more modern and powerful engines and parts. Dick Smith of Arizona purchased this hot rod in 1949. From 1954 to 1963, Smith dropped in a 1951 Chrysler V-8 engine and other non-Ford parts making this home-built hot rod his own.
The 1932 Ford automobile combines the attractive facelift of the 1931 Model A with the world's first low-priced, cast-in-one-piece V-8 engine. Powered by Henry Ford's latest personal engineering triumph, his "en block", or one piece, V-8 engine, the 1932 Ford outperformed all other popular competitors. The vehicle's improved proportions and styling reflected Edsel Ford's, Henry's son, genius for design.
When machinist George Montgomery started racing in 1953, all drag racers were amateurs with "real jobs" supporting their hobby. This car helped change all that. Montgomery bought an old Willys in 1958 and built a dragster so successful that promoters started paying him to run at drag strips nationwide. In 1966, Montgomery became one of drag racing's first full-time professional drivers.
Harry Miller, one of America's most important racing designers, built this car for Ford Motor Company's effort at the 1935 Indianapolis 500. It has all of Miller's hallmarks -- innovation, craftsmanship, and an almost sculptural presence. All that it lacks is a victory. Miller built ten similar cars, but a hurried production schedule led to mechanical problems and none finished the race.
Automobiles, like other everyday objects, underwent streamlining in the 1930s. The 1936 Lincoln Zephyr joined aerodynamic styling with attractiveness. Its flowing teardrop shape suggests motion. Its V-shaped grille slices the air. Headlights blend smoothly into the front fenders. Rear fenders hug the body and fender skirts hide the rear wheels. Even the tail lights are streamlined. The Zephyr was a streamlining success.
The 1937 Cord's swooping fenders, sweeping horizontal radiator grille, and hidden headlights were unlike anything else on American highways. And although it wasn't the first, Cord was the only front-wheel-drive production car available in America for the next three decades.
This 1937 LaSalle coupe combined utility, comfort, and style. The LaSalle cruised at 50 miles per hour. Plush upholstery, heater, radio, watertight windows, and room for luggage added comfort. And General Motors' Styling Section, headed by Harley Earl, added streamlined and Art Deco touches to complete the package.
This streamlined tank truck connected local Texaco service stations to a larger national distribution network. Each of America's competing oil companies had a branded fleet of trucks that took gasoline from refineries to its retail service stations. Even independently operated stations had to buy gasoline from a big oil company's refinery. This truck's capacity is 1175 gallons.
Americans sped through the 1930s in a variety of vehicles. This 1939 Ford convertible coupe provided drivers with a V-8 engine, 1930s styling, and something new for a Ford -- hydraulic brakes. This was the last year however Ford equipped its vehicles with a rumble seat.
World War II produced one of America's all-time favorite vehicles -- the Jeep. Soldiers loved the homely little car because it could go anywhere and do almost anything. They used it to tow artillery, carry the wounded, and deliver ammunition. When fitted with a machine gun, it became a weapon itself. The Jeep came to symbolize American ingenuity and productivity to allies and enemies alike.
This 1946 Fruehauf Model FF Aerovan was a standard dry freight trailer during the 1940s. A freight trailer was a simple idea. Built with no front axle, the trailer's front is supported by a vehicle that pulls it, now called a tractor. This trailer has been painted to match the tractor used by the Coles Express, Inc. of Maine.
Swooping fenders and six exhaust pipes make the Tucker look like a rocket ship. But Preston Tucker's car mixes fantasy with practicality. The center light turns with the front wheels to cast light around corners. Tail lights are visible from the side for safety. Doors curve into the roof for easier entry and exit, while grilles on the rear fenders feed cooling air to the rear-mounted engine.
This familiar riveted, aluminum-skinned trailer was introduced in 1936 by trailer manufacturer Wally Byam. As tourism flourished after World War II, the Airstream gained a reputation as the quality leader in the travel trailer industry. Its popularity spawned well-organized caravans to famous travel destinations across the country.
The 1949 Ford was revolutionary when it was introduced. After the Second World War, Ford Motor Company had been producing only remodeled designs of their 1942 automobile. Sleek and slab-sided with the trademark circle in the front grille, the 1949 Ford broke from previous ideas of design and engineering.
Henry Kaiser, who had become famous building ships during World War II, and Joseph Frazer, an experienced auto executive, combined in 1945 to form a new car company. Kaisers were stylish and well built, but competing against established car companies proved too big a task. American Kaiser production ceased in 1955, although cars were made in Argentina between 1958 and 1962.
Fred Duesenberg set out to build an automotive masterpiece. Its superlative engineering included a 265-horsepower engine that could push the car to a 116 mph top speed. Duesenberg built only 472 Model Js between 1928 and 1935. No two are identical because independent coachbuilders crafted each body to the buyer's specifications.
This was the first car built expressly for presidential use. It was nicknamed the "Sunshine Special" because President Franklin Roosevelt loved to ride in it with the top down. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 the car was returned to the factory where it was equipped with armor plate and bullet-resistant tires and gas tank. The "Sunshine Special" was retired in 1950.
Long, low, and well rounded, stock 1949-51 Mercurys became the favorite cars of 1950s customizers. When lowered even more and smoothed out by filling body seams with lead, these Mercs were called "lead sleds." This car shows many early customizing techniques. It was updated in the 1960s with sparkly Metalflake paint and blue "scallops."
The Volkswagen Beetle was different from any American car. It looked like an insect, its engine was where the trunk should be, and it didn't have a radiator. But it recalled the spirit of Henry Ford's legendary Model T. Both cars were simple, reliable, economical, and never deviated from their basic original design. The VW would go on to break the Ford's all time sales record.
This massive convertible Lincoln was built for President Harry S Truman in 1950, but it is most associated with Truman's successor Dwight D. Eisenhower, who used the car from 1952 until 1960. Eisenhower added the distinctive plastic "bubble top." Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson also used this car as a spare until its retirement in 1967.
This 1950 Nash Rambler convertible was an attempt to market a small automobile to the American public. Other independent automobile manufacturers had produced small vehicles, but none to the success of the Rambler. The compact Rambler was attractive, well equipped, and sensibly priced. But in the 1950s, big cars ruled. Only by 1960 did the larger "Big Three" auto companies produce an "in-between-sized" car.
The earliest station wagons appeared in the 1910s and actually were used to haul people and luggage between railroad stations and hotels. They featured special wooden bodies installed on standard car chassis. Wood continued to be used in station wagons bodies until after World War II. Plymouth's 1949 Suburban was the first station wagon with an all steel body. It transformed the wagon into a practical family vehicle.
After World War II, hot rodders started using external fuel tanks from fighter planes as car bodies. The teardrop shape was ideal for speed record runs on dry lake beds and Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. Californian Tom Beatty crafted this tank that was once the world's fastest.
Rich from building radios and refrigerators, Powel Crosley thought a small, affordable car might appeal to Americans. His sporty $924 roadster had an overhead cam engine and removable doors. Although it won races against foreign sports cars, it lost the U.S. sales race to big American machines. After losing three million dollars, Crosley finally abandoned his dream in 1952.
By the 1950s, Americans expected to have cars and travel widely. Even people of average income wanted their cars to reflect their personalities. If you wanted to turn heads, then Studebaker was the brand for you. Studebaker competed for customers with Ford, Chevy, and Plymouth, using airplane-inspired styling and radical wraparound rear windows. This model seems to leap forward even when standing still.
When this truck was new, about 120,000 tractor-trailers traveled the roads. By 2000, there were over two million. New interstate highways helped long-haul trucks dominate the freight business. Americans developed a romantic image of truckers as modern cowboys roaming concrete trails, speaking their own language on CB radios. Drivers became heroes of movies and music. But real truck driving is demanding, sometimes dangerous, and often boring work.
Chevrolet turned its image around in 1955. Its new V-8 engine was light modern, powerful and reliable. Combined with a clean, classic new body style it changed customers' impression of Chevrolet from stodgy and conservative to sporty and youthful almost overnight. This car, in fashionable coral and smoke grey colors, epitomizes Chevy's new slogan, "The Hot One."
Corvettes became the iconic American sports car -- but not right away. Sports cars are automobiles reduced to their essence -- a motor, two seats, a simple body, and a powerful emotional appeal. The first Corvettes, with six-cylinder engines and automatic transmissions, promised more than they delivered. But when a 195-horsepower V-8 arrived in 1955, the Corvette's go finally matched its show.
Mercury Marine founder Carl Kiekhaefer formed his NASCAR team with top drivers, first-class equipment, and fast cars like this powerful Chrysler 300-B. Kiekhaefer taught rivals a lesson, dominating the 1955 and 1956 seasons. But he learned something too: success breeds contempt. When fans began to resent Kiekhaefer's dominance, he disbanded the team in 1957.
The Thunderbird recalled the early days of automobiling, when cars were more fun than functional. Thunderbirds and other small two-seaters were sold as "personal cars" -- often second cars -- in which motorists could enjoy driving for its own sake. This Thunderbird's owner, Ford engineer William Burnett, had a uniquely personal relationship with it -- he supervised the development of the first Thunderbird.
The Mark II was elegantly understated. Its appeal depended not on chrome, but rather flawless quality control, extensive road testing, shocks that adjusted to speed, and power steering, brakes, windows, and seats. At $10,000 it was the most expensive American car you could buy. This particular Mark II was owned by Firestone Tire and Rubber Company president, Harvey S. Firestone, Jr.
Drop the top, and cruise like a movie star! It sounds like fun. But movie stars live in sunny California -- most of us don't. Convertibles may draw people into showrooms, but sedans take them home. In 1956, only about 2.6 percent of Chevy customers drove home in ragtops. Despite that fact, the carefree appeal of 1950s convertibles has made them a symbol of that era.
Cornell Aeronautical Labs did some of the first crash testing of automobiles. In 1957 Cornell teamed with Liberty Mutual Insurance to build this unusual looking concept car that incorporated the lessons learned in testing. The car did not actually run, but it featured ideas like seat belts, head rests, and padded interiors that are incorporated into today's cars.
De Soto appealed to drivers who desired the cutting edge of technology. Soaring fins and an airy roof suggested military jet fighters. Pushbuttons replaced old-fashioned transmission levers. And De Sotos were powerful -- perfect for the new high-speed, four-lane turnpikes and the newly-funded interstate highway system.
The public didn't know what to make of the Edsel's styling. Like other fashionable 1950s cars, it was big (over 18 feet long) and colorful (161 paint combinations), with four headlights and lots of chrome. But the grille -- ah, the grille. Edsel stylists said it echoed classic 1930s cars. Wise guys said it looked like a Buick sucking a lemon. After only 27 months, Edsel production ceased.
How do you win the Pikes Peak Hill Climb nine times in 13 years? (1) Drive well. (2) Continually improve your car. Bobby Unser had already won the event twice when he wheeled this car to victory in 1959. Over the following years, he made the car lighter by modifying the frame and suspension and switching to an aluminum radiator, transmission case, and fuel tank. Unser drove it to six more wins.
This car symbolizes 1950s America: a time of exuberance, self-confidence, excess, and self-indulgence. Cadillac designers drew on jet aircraft for ideas, from the sharp, swept-back tailfins to the front parking lights that resemble B-52 bomber air intakes. Under that jet-inspired skin is a 345 horsepower engine, air suspension, and a host of luxury options, including an automatic headlight dimmer. We are unlikely to ever see such cars again.
Volkswagen introduced its "box on wheels," the VW Type 2 Bus, in 1949. A few years later, VW contracted with Westfalia and introduced converted campers. First exported to the US in 1956, Westfalia campers provided home-like camping comfort and created a post-war recreational vehicle lifestyle. This soon-to-be cultural icon transported Americans down highways and byways and into the great outdoors.
Sam Buck and Bob Thompson built this car in 1960. They bought the chassis as a kit, and the 1948 Ford engine was highly modified with special cylinder heads, crank, pistons, magneto, camshaft, and fuel injectors. In this style of dragster, popular from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, the driver sat behind the rear wheels "like a rock in a slingshot."
With its rear-mounted, air-cooled engine, the Corvair was conceived as an American answer to the rear-engined, air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle. Corvairs sold well, although not as well as the more conventional Ford Falcon. But sales slipped after Ralph Nader's book, Unsafe at Any Speed, raised questions about the Corvair's handling. Production ceased in 1969.
Between 1960 and 1963, A.J. Foyt won 13 of the 26 races he drove in this car. Under its hood is a version of the famous Offenhauser engine designed by Harry Miller and refined by Fred Offenhauser. "Offy" engines powered their first Indianapolis 500 winner in 1935 and their last in 1976. The final turbocharged versions pumped out 1,000 horsepower.
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in this car on November 22, 1963. The midnight blue, un-armored convertible was rebuilt with a permanent roof, titanium armor plating, and more somber black paint. The limousine returned to the White House and remained in service until 1977. The modified car shows the fundamental ways in which presidential security changed after Kennedy's death.
This sharp looking little two-seater created a great "buzz" when racing driver Dan Gurney introduced it at the United States Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, New York, in 1962. Featuring a rear-mounted V-4 engine, it was unlike any Ford ever seen before. The Mustang name later appeared on a sporty four-seater that created its own buzz in 1964.
Buick created the Riviera to compete in the "personal luxury" market with the Ford Thunderbird. General Motors' design vice president Bill Mitchell wanted a car that combined the aggressiveness of a Ferrari with the elegance of a Rolls-Royce. The result was this razor-edged classic.
Many companies experimented with gas turbine cars after World War II. But only Chrysler actually put them into the public's hands. In 1963, Chrysler lent 50 of these head turners to potential customers to get real world feedback. Users loved the low maintenance and lack of vibration but complained about sluggish acceleration and poor fuel economy. Rising gasoline prices ultimately killed the turbine dream.
It's an old auto industry cliche -- "you can't sell a young man an old man's car, but you can sell an old man a young man's car." It's also true. The sporty Mustang was a young man's -- and woman's -- car. The under-30 crowd loved it. But older people also bought them, often as a second car. The Mustang hit a sweet spot in the market, appealing to a wide range of buyers.
On November 12, 1965, Goldenrod streaked across Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats at 409.277 miles per hour, setting a new land speed record for wheel-driven cars. Builders Bob and Bill Summers powered Goldenrod with four massive Chrysler V-8 engines. Although other car builders copied its sleek design, Goldenrod held the record until 1991.
Scotsman Jim Clark won the Indianapolis 500 with this rear-engine car in 1965. After his victory, a traditional front-engine car never won that race again. The Lotus-Ford combined a European Formula One-inspired lightweight chassis with a big Ford V-8 engine. The Lotus-Ford's success effectively killed the traditional Indy roadster and established a new design for American race cars.
Breathtaking acceleration, a race car name, and a relatively low price -- what's not to like? Pontiac's GTO was a hit, especially among baby boomers with first jobs or generous parents. Other automakers followed with their own big, brawny "muscle cars." But young drivers plus powerful engines produced more accidents and higher insurance rates. That -- along with rising gas prices in the 1970s -- ended the muscle-car era.
Do you remember when "Made in Japan" referred to tin toys and cheap trinkets? Neither do most people, and this car is one of the reasons. Roomy, well built, economical, and dead reliable, Toyota Coronas were initially popular on the West Coast, where trends often begin in America. The Corona and Nissan's Datsun 510 were the cars that established Japanese auto makers in the United States market.
This car was built to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driven by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt, it accomplished that goal in 1967, beating the second-place Ferrari by 32 miles at a record-breaking average speed of 135.48 miles per hour. The Mark IV combined a sophisticated chassis with a big engine based on Ford's V-8 for stock car racing.
Ford Motor Company's Mustang, introduced in 1964, was such a success that other car makers soon copied it, including Ford itself. Mercury's Cougar was based on the Mustang, but with more upscale styling and interior appointments that made it something of a "poor man's Jaguar." This Cougar has the rare XR7-G package with a hood scoop, sun roof, and other special trim features.
This FMC motorhome carried a three-man TV crew on America's back roads, where they took time "to meet people, listen to yarns, and feel the seasons change." The CBS-produced show, On the Road, featured Charles Kuralt's superbly crafted stories about ordinary people who were often quite extraordinary. It was a novel idea that lasted 27 years from 1967 to 1994.
President Ronald Reagan was getting into this car when he was shot by John Hinckley on March 30, 1981. The car carried Reagan to the hospital. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and George H.W. Bush also used this car. In 1982 the front sheet metal was updated, but since a 1982 grille no longer fit properly on the 1972 body, a 1979 grille was used.
Americans have long shown a preference for buying the biggest cars they can afford, and by the 1970s American cars were truly huge. This Chrysler is 19'-2" long, with a trunk 6'-6" wide. The 400 cubic-inch engine is also large, but government-mandated exhaust emission controls resulted in an output of only 185 horsepower. The vinyl-covered roof was a popular option on many cars.
Roadway Express, Inc. operated this Ford C-series truck in Lexington, Kentucky. The truck's functionality proved useful to the company's local pickup and delivery service. Designated unit 23704, it was a workhorse for the company for sixteen years, before being retired to The Henry Ford.
This little car was a reaction to the high gasoline prices brought on by the 1973 Arab oil embargo and the new fuel economy standards passed by Congress in 1975. It, and its twin the Plymouth Horizon, were the first American cars to adopt a front-wheel drive, hatchback configuration that was common in Europe. Motor Trend magazine named them "Car of the Year."
The Comuta-Car, and its predecessor the CitiCar, were electric cars designed for limited use in cities. Sharp increases in gasoline prices in the 1970s persuaded some 4,000 people to buy the tiny vehicles. But every time the price of fuel spiked, it always fell again, and demand for specialized urban electrics always fell along with it. Will the time for such cars ever come?
Most people think of Checker as an operator of taxicabs, but from 1922 through 1982 they also manufactured cabs. Checkers featured big back seats and trunks and rugged, durable construction. This Checker's basic design dates to 1956 and was substantially unchanged until production ceased in 1982.
Most Americans weren't very interested in small cars -- until 1973, when Middle Eastern oil-producing countries cut back on oil exports. Gas prices skyrocketed in the U.S., and shortages led to long lines at service stations. Many people still wanted big American-style cars, but more and more actually bought small four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive, European-inspired cars like this Ford Escort. "The new world car" evoked the Model T's slogan:...
For decades, most Americans thought small cars were cheap and should be cheap. In the 1980s, the Honda Accord challenged that attitude. It was similar in price to the Chevrolet Impala, which was three feet longer with twice the horsepower. But the Honda was well built and reliable and included extras like air conditioning, cruise control, a cassette tape player, and a rear window defroster. Sales steadily increased.
Tom Sneva set the fastest qualifying lap at the 1984 Indianapolis 500 with this car, but a broken rear suspension forced him out early during the actual race. The car's front and rear wings and underbody ground effects represent the aerodynamic advances that increasingly shaped race cars in the 1970s -- and continue to do so today.
Plymouth Voyager advertising called this the "all-new space-age American family wagon," and it really was a new kind of vehicle. Shorter than typical sedans, station wagons, or large vans, the new "mini-vans" were easy to drive but could carry seven people, plus lots of luggage, camping gear, or sports equipment. They were instantly popular with buyers and were immediately copied by other manufacturers, foreign and domestic.
When the Taurus appeared in 1986 some people said its aerodynamic styling reminded them of a bar of soap or a potato. But the car was roomy, handled well, and had a thoughtfully designed interior. It was a big hit with the public, and other companies adopted similar styling. Eventually people complained that every car looked like a Taurus.
Bill Elliott set NASCAR's all-time speed record with this car when he qualified for the 1987 Winston 500 at Talladega at 212.809 miles per hour. By the 1980s, "stock cars" only looked stock. Underneath this Thunderbird sheet metal is a purpose-built steel tube frame, racing suspension and brakes, and a racing engine that no Ford dealer ever sold.
Honda introduced its Accord in 1976 as a compact car. It was economical, well-built, and fun to drive. Over the years Accords got bigger, and by 1989 they could accommodate families. In 1989 Accord became the first Japanese nameplate to become the best-selling car in the United States. Ironically, many Accords, including this one, were built at Honda's plant in Marysville, Ohio.
Sport utility vehicles--boxy light trucks with high ground clearance, substantial cargo capacity, and often featuring four wheel drive--were long used by people living in rural areas. In the late 1980s urban families adopted them as replacements for minivans. The 1991 Explorer was Ford's entry into this new market and soon became the best-selling vehicle in the class.
This 1996 concept car exhibits some of the "retro" design ideas popular in the late 1990s. The Lincoln Continental of 1961 inspired its clean, sharp-edged, chrome-outlined profile. The center-opening doors come from the same car. The front end is a re-interpretation of elements from the 1940 Continental, while the exhausts exiting from the rear bumpers recall the 1955 Continental.
This was the most serious attempt to build an all-purpose electric car since the 1920s. General Motors built 1117 cars between 1996 and 1999, leasing them to a loyal group that willingly adjusted to battery power's limitations. But GM concluded there were too few electric enthusiasts to support large-scale production and recalled all the cars by the end of 2003. EV1 users objected loudly, but to no avail.
In the 1970s pickup trucks became the best-selling vehicles in the United States. By the 1990s extended cabs with small but usable rear seats were very popular. The 1998 Dodge Ram Quad Cab added two doors to give better access to the rear seat. Four doors, a full rear seat, and a high quality car-like interior turned the pickup into a replacement for the family sedan.
Hybrid automobiles improve fuel efficiency and reduce tailpipe emissions compared to standard internal combustion-powered cars. Hybrids use small internal combustion engines and battery-powered electric motors. Powerful computers and sophisticated software coordinate the smooth, seamless transfer of power between the two units. This Prius is one of Toyota's first-generation hybrids, introduced in the United States in 2000.
Ford Motor Company built two of these vehicles to promote electric cars. Starting with a European Ford Focus, engineers replaced the stock drive train with an electric motor and batteries. The cars were driven by various celebrities appearing on comedian Jay Leno's television talk show. One car was donated to The Henry Ford, the other to the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
The Progressive Automotive X Prize was a competition to build a high efficiency automobile. The Edison2 was designed to win that prize--and it did. The car's designers used sleek wind-cheating lines and extremely light weight to produce a car that seated four people but got 102.5 miles per gallon.
Angelica Bratt Campbell purchased this sporty, two-passenger carriage from coachmaker William Ross of New York City. She used it in and around Schenectady, New York, where her husband had made a fortune as a merchant. In the 1790s carriages were much rarer than cars today -- especially for city dwellers. Only the wealthy could afford closed carriages like this one.
Campers who wanted to get close to nature -- but not too close -- loved fold-out tent trailers. These two-wheelers folded down for easy towing by day and then mushroomed into miniature homes at night. Story has it that Warren and Ray Gilkison designed and built their first tent trailer in their father's machine shop for a family camping trip.
The horse-drawn streetcar was an important means of public transportation in 19th century American cities. New York's Brooklyn City Railroad ran this car on its line between Hunters Point in Long Island City, and Erie Basin in South Brooklyn. But horses were expensive to stable and feed -- and messy too. Operators embraced electric streetcars starting in the late 1880s.
Factory-built buggies made the pleasures of carriage ownership affordable for a new group of people. Whether in town or on the farm, people loved these inexpensive, lightweight vehicles. The piano box buggy -- named for its resemblance to 19th-century square pianos -- was the most popular of all. Buggy owners quickly became accustomed to the freedom and control offered by personal vehicles.
Henry Ford gave this trailer to his friend Charles Lindbergh in 1942. Charles and his wife Anne used it as a home on the road and as a spare room and a study at home. Anne wrote The Steep Ascent here, and Charles wrote portions of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Spirit of St. Louis.
Formed in 1950, Wood Brothers Racing is the oldest active team in NASCAR. That legacy continued when Trevor Bayne drove #21 to victory at the 2011 Daytona 500. Wood Brothers is noted for quick, rehearsed pit stops and exclusive use of Ford Motor Company cars. Bayne, who turned 20 the day before the race, became the Daytona 500's youngest winner.
This elegant vehicle was used by President Theodore Roosevelt on official occasions. Though automobiles began to replace horse-drawn vehicles during the Taft administration, the White House housekeeping department continued using the brougham to haul groceries and run other errands. In 1928 a Model A Ford was acquired for that purpose and this carriage was retired.