It is difficult, and a bit foolhardy, to identify any one car as being the most significant in the history of the American automobile industry. That said, the 1896 Duryea Runabout has a better claim to that title than most. It is the first series-produced automobile made in the United States. While just 13 copies were built, they were just that—identical copies as opposed to singular prototypes or custom orders. Only one of these pioneering vehicles survives today—and it is part of The Henry Ford’s collections.
Brothers Charles E. and J. Frank Duryea typified the mechanically-minded experimenters who built the first American automobiles. Charles entered the bicycle business in 1888, initially in St. Louis before moving to Peoria, Illinois, and then Washington, DC. The younger Frank joined his brother not long after graduating high school in 1888. The brothers were bitten by the auto bug after reading an 1889 article inScientific American on the pioneering work done in Germany by Karl Benz. After relocating to Springfield, Massachusetts, the Duryea brothers set out to build their own automobile.
At this year's Old Car Festival (our 63rd offering), we'll continue to celebrate Henry Ford's 150th birthday by bringing together examples of all of the pre-Model T Fords, known as the letter cars. From the Model A to the Model T, these cars helped revolutionize the car industry. Which cars can you expect to see in Greenfield Village this weekend?
The rarest of these cars is the Model B. It was Ford’s first front-engine car and first four-cylinder model. It was also quite expensive ($2000) and sold poorly. Consequently, only seven complete examples are known to survive today. The Model B at Old Car Festival will be the museum’s own, coming off of the floor to make this special gathering complete.
Also of note is the Ford Model K. It has its place in the Ford story as the expensive ($2500) six-cylinder car that Henry Ford didn’t like. He was thinking seriously of his “car for the masses” when the K was introduced, and the Model K led directly to a split with his original backer Alexander Malcomson. Malcomson wanted to build big, expensive cars which generated big profits per unit sold, while Ford wanted to build inexpensive cars and make the profit up in volume. Interestingly, Ford Motor Company would not produce another six-cylinder car until 1941.
Finally, the Model N deserves some attention. Many people don’t realize that Ford Motor Company was a great success even before the Model T. The N, introduced in 1906, was the best-selling car in the United States with more than 7000 produced. Reliable and inexpensive ($500), it was very much a proto-Model T.
In addition to showcasing the letter cars this year, we'll also be running four additional historically significant vehicles, with replicas of two (the Quadricycle and Sweepstakes) built by Henry himself.
We'll be open late Saturday night for car enthusiasts to enjoy exploring Greenfield Village looking for some of their favorite classic cars in the gaslight parade as they enjoy the sounds of The Hotel Savarine Society Orchestra. Which car will you be looking for? Share your favorites online us by tagging your content with #GVOldCarFest.
The Henry Ford just returned from the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, on California’s Monterey Peninsula, where our 1950 Lincoln Presidential Limousine took part in this year’s spotlight on Lincoln custom coachwork. As a curator, I was gratified by the strong reaction the crowd had to the limo, used by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy. Pebble Beach regularly features some of the most beautiful cars in the world, so the Lincoln’s popularity speaks highly about the power in that car’s story. (My single favorite reaction was from a man who turned to his friend and, with genuine awe, stated, “The Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force sat in that very seat!” Clearly, he likes Ike.)
While the concours is the centerpiece, Pebble Beach is in fact a week-long celebration of all things automotive. In the days leading up to the show, car makers and insurers host receptions and displays; nearby Mazda Raceway Leguna Seca stages competitions for vintage race cars; and auction houses sell exceptional vehicles at equally impressive prices. (This year a rare 1967 Ferrari sold for a cool $27.5 million – an all-time record for a car at a U.S. auction.)
For me, the highlight of the pre-concours events was a visit to The Quail. This motorsports gathering, which marked its 11th year, brings together the rarest and most exclusive automobiles in the world. While the Pebble Beach concours glitters with Lincolns and Packards, along with Porsches and Ferraris, The Quail adds names like Bugatti, Maserati and Lamborghini to the mix. It’s truly the best of the best.
It is a great treat for any automobile fan to visit the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and even more so to participate with a car. I’m so pleased that we were able to share a part of The Henry Ford’s matchless collection at what may be motoring’s foremost event.
For the 2013 Motor Muster, weve got a lot of firsts to offer our members and visitors June 15-16. Were pleased to announce that this year we have the largest collection of manufacturer modified muscle cars EVER gathered in Greenfield Village for Motor Muster. How many, exactly? More than 900 classic cars, vintage trucks, motorcycles and bicycles, thats how many. Representing the 1930s through the 1970s, the classic era of the automobile has never been better represented in Greenfield Village.
Joining us this year is the Daytona-Superbird Auto Club. Visiting Michigan for their annual national meet-up, these dealer showroom show-stoppers will join us both Saturday and Sunday. These classic aero-cars, like the Plymouth Road Runner Superbird, Dodge Charger Daytona, and the Ford Torino Talladega, are a welcomed addition to our muster.
Its not just muscle cars and classic cruisers on display this weekend. Military vehicles from World War II to Vietnam will be on display near Cotswold Cottage throughout the weekend. You can also learn why Detroit was known as the Arsenal of Democracy, during a presentation from John Lind, director of the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum, on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
On top of all this, Motor Muster will be the place to get your first look at our latest book, Driving America: The Henry Ford Automotive Collection, the first major book to be published on the cars of The Henry Ford's collection. We'll be talking more about the book here on the blog this summer, but this weekend is your first chance for a peek at what we've been up to.
With more than 300 never-before-published images of historically significant vehicles, the book sheds light on the uniquely shared American dreams that drive us all. The book includes a forward from Jay Leno, an introduction by Edsel Ford II, and four insightful essays from Patricia Mooradian, our president, the book's photographer Mark Harmer, Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford and Bob Casey, automotive historian and retired curator of transportation at The Henry Ford.
Both Bob and Matt will be signing copies of the book at 2 p.m. on Saturday inside the Greenfield Village store.
Later that evening you can catch Matt once again during a special racing presentation at 6 p.m. Matt will talk about the world of drag, midget and stock car racing of the 1930s-1950s as we continue to work on bringing Racing in America to Henry Ford Museum.
Do you have a favorite aero-car memory? What was your favorite car of the weekend? Whatever it is, we want to know! Make sure to share your Motor Muster experiences by tagging your Tweets with #GVMotorMuster.
Motor Muster takes over Greenfield Village June 15-16. Motor Muster is free with Greenfield Village admission. Join us Saturday for a special late night (9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.). Check out our Motor Muster event page for detailed program information.
This year brings a couple of notable – and not particularly pleasant – anniversaries for Studebaker fans. Fifty years ago, in December 1963, the company closed its operations in South Bend, Ind. – where brothers J.M., Clement, Henry, Peter and Jacob founded the venerable firm more than 100 years before. While Studebaker built cars in Canada for a few more years, many say that the company really ended when it left its longtime home.
We also mark the anniversary of an earlier corporate struggle. Eighty years ago this month, Studebaker filed for bankruptcy. While many car companies went under during the Great Depression – and few recovered – Studebaker’s bankruptcy is a particularly sad story of poor management and human tragedy.
Albert Erskine joined Studebaker as treasurer in 1911 and assumed its presidency in 1915. He cut prices and boosted sales, leading to generally good years for Studebaker marked by stylish vehicles and progressive labor relations.
Radiator emblem from a Rockne automobile, circa 1930 (86.129.113)
When the Depression hit and sales crashed, Erskine turned to South Bend’s closest thing to a superhero: Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne. The football legend died in a 1931 plane crash, and Erskine named Studebaker’s new line of small, affordable automobiles “Rockne” is his honor. The Rockne was well-equipped for an inexpensive car and early sales were promising. But rather than concentrate all production in South Bend, Erskine built most of the Rocknes in Detroit. The two factories strained Studebaker’s shaky finances.
More troubling was Erskine’s insistence on paying high dividends to stockholders even in the Depression’s worst years. While other car companies hoarded cash to ride out the storm, Studebaker burned through it. Erskine simply refused to believe that the Great Depression was anything more than an economic hiccup.
Inevitably, Studebaker ran out of cash and, on March 18, 1933, entered receivership. Erskine was pushed out of the presidency in favor of more cost-conscious managers. His successors engineered a brilliant turnaround and led Studebaker out of receivership in two years. Sadly, Erskine’s ending was quite different. With his job gone, his Studebaker stock worthless, his personal debts mounting and his health failing, Erskine took his own life on July 1, 1933. While he may not have been wholly responsible – clearly the Board of Directors failed in its oversight – Albert Erskine paid the ultimate price for Studebaker’s ordeal.
Here at The Henry Ford, we participate in a lot of car shows. From the events we host here, like Motor Muster and Old Car Festival, to those organized by members of the car enthusiast community, we love to show off the cars in our collection. While our presenters dress the part for events held in Greenfield Village, it’s not everyday that our team dresses the part of a 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans pit crew just to be able to gain access to a car show.
This week our Executive Vice President Christian Overland, Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson, and Conservation Specialist Robert Coyle took a step back to the 1960s and left Dearborn for West Sussex, England, to take part in the Goodwood Revival, a car festival celebrating post-World War II (1948 to 1966) road racing automobiles and motorcycles.
The Revival started in 1995 as a throwback to the original days of racing on the Goodwood Motor Racing Circuit. Races stopped at the track in 1966. Today vintage clothing is a must and you won’t see a modern day car anywhere on site.
Our THF team accompanied our 1967 Ford Mark IV in tribute to racing legend Dan Gurney, who’s being honored at this year’s revival. Dan and his co-driver A.J. Foyt wheeled the Mark IV to victory in the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans. While the Revival allows cars only from 1948 to 1966, our 1967 Ford was considered very important in the celebration of Dan’s achievements and was allowed to be displayed.
A big part of the preparation for the Revival was making sure our team had period-correct clothing to wear on site. Robert and Matt are dressed as 1967 Mark IV pit crew members. Our research team, led by Jeanine Miller, Curator of Domestic Life, used photos from the race to make sure every piece of the outfits was correct. In addition to the photos, our Senior Curator of Transportation Bob Casey spent time talking with Charles Agapiou, a Ford mechanic at LeMans in 1967 to insure the accuracy of the clothing.
What exactly do their outfits look like?
Burgundy short-sleeve shirt with orange buttons: Matt and Robert’s shirts were purchased from Lands End. But our period clothing department expertly tailored the shirts to recreate the more fitted look of the mid-1960s.
Blue on a white background Ford oval patch: We had these custom made locally for the work shirts to match the special patches worn at LeMans in 1967.
White pants: Lands End jeans were tailored to be shorter for a decade-appropriate look.
Chukka boots: The mechanics often wore these to provide some ankle support.
Christian is dressed as an American businessman traveling with the racing team. Jeanine outfitted Christian in a vintage 60s-era sport coat; new, but decade-appropriate slacks; and a fedora from our period clothing shop. His ensemble is topped off by the classic 60s skinny tie.
For the visitors to the Goodwood Revival, the three-day event is a celebration of an era gone by. We’re proud to be a part of it – hopefully we’ve played the part as authentically as possible!
To see what this weekend's action was like, take a look at their streaming feed.
If you’ve ever been to the Old Car Festival at Greenfield Village, you might be familiar with the 1920s Auto Touring exhibit. Since 2002, the exhibit has been a staple for the country’s longest-running antique car show, reminding guests what an event a “road trip” was in the early days of automobiles. To celebrate the exhibit’s 10th anniversary, roadside historian Daniel Hershberger has given the event a new twist, this time focusing on the evolution of auto touring in the early years of the 20th century, from 1914 to 1930.
I had a chance to talk to Dan last week about next weekend’s activities and there are some great features in store. Overall, the exhibit has expanded in its offerings. For some of the regular guests Dan sees year after year, he thinks they’ll really like what this year has to offer. An exhibit like this provides a different angle to Old Car Festival, because just as automobiles evolved, so did the motor camping industry.
For 2012, the exhibit is broken into four vignettes:
The Early Years
Take a look at a circa 1915 Model T five-passenger touring car outfitted with a lean-to tent.
Advent of the Trailer Era
A fully restored model of the Clare Trailer Company’s earliest offerings will not only be set up but guests can actually enter the trailer and take a look inside.
The Matured Fold-Out Tent Trailer
Historians and experts believe the golden age of motor camping to be the 1920s, with the peak being reached in 1927. Guests will be able to take a look at a restored 1927 Auto-Kamp fold-out tent trailer, made in Saginaw, Mich.
The End of an Era and the Birth of an Industry
A special addition this year to the exhibit, a Covered Wagon Company travel trailer prototype will be on loan from the Detroit Historical Society. The trailer, which hasn’t been on display in decades, is an important part in the evolution of auto touring as it essentially launched the modern trailer industry that we know today. Guests will learn about Arthur Sherman, the creator of the trailer, and his desire to create a camper that was easier to use for motorists.
If you’re curious to learn more about the evolution of auto touring, join us at Old Car Festival Sept. 8-9. The event is free with village admission.
Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.