99 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 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.
New "safety" bicycles, like this Pope Columbia, touched off a bicycle craze in the 1880s and 1890s. More stable with two same-sized wheels and less expensive than the high-wheeled "ordinaries," safety bicycles allowed many Americans to discover the sheer joy of riding.
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.
Auto pioneer A.L. Riker built this electric tricycle in Brooklyn, New York, 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 in 1900 and became chief engineer of Locomobile, a builder of high-quality...
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.
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 its 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 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 Ford Model A was acquired for that purpose and this carriage was retired.
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.
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.
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 some 4,000 people bought Oldsmobiles, but more than 900,000 bought buggies and carriages.
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 especially popular with farmers until better, cheaper automobiles became available.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 1,767 Phantom II Rolls-Royces.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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 the president of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, Harvey S. Firestone, Jr.
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.
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.
For decades, most race cars -- even at the top levels of racing -- were transported on open trailers pulled by pickup trucks or station wagons. Drivers and mechanics sometimes slept in their vehicles, or in inexpensive motels. It's a far cry from today, when race cars ride in huge trailers equipped as shops, and drivers travel by plane or in luxurious motorhomes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Honda introduced the CB750 in 1969. This motorcycle was fast, smooth, and reliable. Honda packaged a powerful four-cylinder engine, five-speed gearbox, electric starter, and front disc brake -- something new to the motorcycle world -- into a lightweight and reasonably priced vehicle. The CB750 is sometimes called the first modern motorcycle.
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.
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.
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.
When McKinley Thompson, Jr., joined Ford Motor Company in 1956, he was one of the automotive industry's first African American designers. In 1974 he completed a rugged, easy-to-build vehicle designed for developing countries: the Warrior. Thompson's prototype, built on a Renault 10 chassis, featured a buoyant plastic body and a removable top. Thompson couldn't interest automakers or investors in his bold idea.
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.
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.
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.
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 was the most serious attempt to build an all-purpose electric car since the 1920s. General Motors built 1,117 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.
This bike was built by a youth participant in the Back Alley Bikes earn-a-bike program at The Hub of Detroit, a nonprofit, collectively run community bike shop. Made of miscellaneous parts mounted onto a trusty Schwinn town bike frame, this bike demonstrates the increased attention to making things in the 2000s -- both as an outlet for creativity and as a tool for community empowerment.
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.
The Segway Personal Transporter is the brainchild of Dean Kamen. Introduced in 2001, this personal mobility device was touted as the next great transportation revolution. This 2002 model "i" weighs 83 pounds, has a speed of 12.5 mph, and a range of 8-12 miles. The Segway uses sophisticated electronic gyroscopic sensors and microprocessors to maintain balance and respond to operator's commands.
The New York City cyclist who owned this bike appreciated its versatility -- he could fold it up to take on the subway, or to store under his desk after riding to work. Folding bicycles had been produced for niche markets throughout the twentieth century, but new materials and manufacturing processes have made contemporary folding bikes lighter and more comfortable.
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.
General Motors tested a series of autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, California, and Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2016. These cars, developed with GM subsidiary Cruise Automation and based on the Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle, used a combination of cameras, radar and lidar sensors, cellular and GPS antennas, and powerful computers to drive themselves on public streets in both cities.