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.
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.
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.