Wednesday, October 26, 2016

London to Brighton Run, November 6, 2016

Benz Spider, 1902. Before this car found its way into the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection, it witnessed some tough times. For years it was buried under a pile of coal in Ireland, before being dug out and fully restored.

Mercedes-Simplex 40 hp, 1903. This model appeared in March 1902, superseding the legendary Mercedes 35 hp. The suffix “Simplex” was intended to indicate how easy the new model was to operate for its time

The annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run (LBVCR) is set to take place on the first Sunday in November – as it has done since 1927. The rules state that participating vehicles must have been built no later than 1904. The resulting line-up gives participants and spectators an unforgettable glimpse of the early days of the automobile. This year's event will mark the 130th anniversary of the invention of the automobile and will pay tribute to Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz, who both independently completed their first vehicles in 1886. Mercedes-Benz Classic will be taking part, entering a 1902 Benz Spider and a 1903 Mercedes-Simplex 40 hp in the anniversary Run on 6 November 2016. One of the drivers will be Eddie Jordan, former racing driver, motorsport manager and Formula 1 team owner.
Stuttgart. Britain's 1865 "Highway Act" was an idiosyncratic and highly restrictive piece of legislation, stipulating that the top speed for self-propelling vehicles was not to exceed a walking pace of 6.4 km/h (4 miles an hour) – or a paltry 3.2 km/h (2 miles an hour) in built-up areas. It also specified that someone had to walk in front of the vehicle with a red flag to warn other road users, a restriction that remained in place until 1878. This allowed little room for technological progress. In 1896, exactly 120 years ago, the most serious restrictions were lifted: the speed limit was raised to 19.2 km/h (12 miles an hour), and the red flag was no longer insisted upon. On 14 November of the same year, this relaxation of the law was celebrated with a spontaneous "Emancipation Run", the participants driving from the capital, London, to the coastal town of Brighton, around 96 kilometres (60 miles) away. At the start of the run a red flag was symbolically torn in two. The first official commemoration of the "Emancipation Run" took place in 1927. Since then it has been staged every year, with the exception of the period between 1940 and 1947. This makes the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run the world's longest-running automobile event and at the same time the biggest gathering of veteran vehicles from the early days of motoring history. In addition to four-wheel automobiles with a combustion engine, the race also features three-wheelers, steam-powered vehicles and electric cars. Since 1930 it has been controlled by the Royal Automobile Club (RAC).
In 2016, almost 620 vehicles from around 20 countries are set to take part in the Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run supported by Hiscox – as it is now officially known. It will start at 7.04 a.m. (sunrise) on Sunday, 6 November 2016, and is just one element of the Royal Automobile Club's London Motor Week, a seven-day celebration of motor-powered vehicles, which includes an art exhibition, lectures and a motoring books awards evening. One of the highlights will be the Regent Street Motor Show on Saturday, 5 November 2016, a free event which will feature many of the veteran vehicles set to take part in the run to Brighton the following day – as well as a selection of contemporary vehicles.
The invention of the automobile 130 years ago
Mercedes-Benz Classic's participation in the 2016 Run commemorates the invention of the automobile 130 years ago. In 1886 Carl Benz was granted Patent DRP 37435 for his Patent-Motorwagen in Mannheim, and at almost the same time Gottlieb Daimler was completing his motorised carriage in Cannstatt near Stuttgart. This initial spark shaped the future of mobility and gave rise to the success story that continues to this day.
Mercedes-Benz Classic is bringing two vehicles from the company's collection to the starting line in London. The first is a Benz Spider dating from 1902. This sporty model with front-mounted engine marks the transition at Benz from classic motor car to modern automobile. The vehicle that will feature in this year's run was delivered to Ireland in 1902 and was in use there for over 30 years. It was acquired by what was then Daimler-Benz AG in 1969.
Given its history, it is a fitting vehicle for Irishman Eddie Jordan. The former racing driver, motorsport manager and Formula 1 team owner will drive the Benz Spider from London to Brighton. The Jordan Grand Prix team took part in 250 Formula 1 races between 1991 and 2005. Its line-up included well-known drivers such as Michael Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher and Hans-Harald Frentzen, all of whom also have links to Mercedes-Benz.
The second Mercedes-Benz Classic vehicle is a Mercedes-Simplex 40 hp. At the end of March 1902 it superseded the legendary Mercedes 35 hp, which had marked the end of the carriage style that had dominated the industry and is thus considered to be the first modern car.

The Mercedes-Benz Classic vehicles in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run 2016
Mercedes-Simplex 40 hp, 1903
The Mercedes-Simplex 40 hp was launched in March 1902, superseding the legendary Mercedes 35 hp. The suffix "Simplex" was intended to indicate how easy the new model was to operate for its time.
Its direct predecessor, which was also the first vehicle to bear the Mercedes brand name, had become an icon as soon as it appeared: for the first time, in December 1900, it defined a distinct shape for the automobile and to this day is still regarded as a masterpiece of technical sophistication and beauty.
Characteristic features include the long wheelbase, the light and powerful engine fitted low down and the honeycomb radiator integrated organically into the front end, which was to become distinctive for the brand. The Mercedes 35 hp marked the end of the carriage style that had dominated the industry and is thus considered to be the first modern car.
At the Paris Motor Show in December 1902, all of the other automotive manufacturers presented vehicles which followed the concept of the first Mercedes and bore a striking resemblance to it in terms of design too. In the trade press this show was therefore dubbed the "Mercedes Show".
The new Mercedes-Simplex became a success in the world of motorsport from the very moment of its launch. The Englishman E. T. Stead won the Nice – La Turbie hillclimb race ahead of Georges Lemaitre and Wilhelm Werner, both also driving 40 hp models, and was even able to improve on Werner's record from the previous year. The 40 hp models were also highly successful in the Mile Race, achieving speeds of more than 100 km/h.
Delivered in March 1903, the white example from the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection is one of the oldest-preserved Mercedes-branded vehicles. In the past it has taken part in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run on several occasions, completing its first outing there in November 1985.
Technical data - Mercedes-Simplex 40 hpCylinders: 4/in-line
Displacement: 6785 cc
Output: 29 kW (40 hp) at 1100 rpm
Top speed: 100 km/h
Benz Spider, 1902
The Benz Spider, like the other vehicles from Mannheim built between 1901 and 1902, marked a change of course at Benz: the transition from classic motor car to modern automobile.
The Benz automobiles produced up until the start of 1901 followed the classic concept developed by Carl Benz which featured rear-mounted engine and belt drive. Due to the tremendous success of the first Mercedes from the then rival Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, which defined the modern automobile in 1901, the solid and reliable Benz motor cars were suddenly no longer deemed sufficiently contemporary and sales declined.
The company Benz & Cie. subsequently decided to develop a completely new model range which was introduced from the autumn of 1902 under the name Benz Parsifal and which in many respects corresponded to the basic design of the first Mercedes.
In the transitional period from 1901 to 1902, alongside classic models such as the Comfortable and the Ideal, Benz also built new vehicle models such as the Elegant, Phaeton and Tonneau with front-mounted single-cylinder or two-cylinder engine, integral radiator and gear-only transmission. The Benz Spider was a sporty variant from this model series with front-mounted engine.
The vehicle from the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection was delivered to Ireland in 1902 and was used there for more than 30 years. During the Second World War it was hidden beneath a pile of coal, and after the end of the war was restored and took part in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run in 1960. In 1969 it was acquired for the vehicle collection by what was Daimler-Benz AG at that time and was subsequently used numerous times to take part in the legendary London to Brighton event.
In 2014 the Benz Spider was carefully restored and was also given its original dark red paint finish which it had retained in one or two hard-to-reach areas.
Technical data - Benz SpiderCylinders: 2/horizontally opposed
Displacement: 2945 cc
Output: 11 kW (15 hp) at 1100 rpm
Top speed: 60 km/h

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The 1936 Mercedes-Benz M 25 DAB V-12 and Driver Rudolf Caracciola

Record-breaking runs by Mercedes-Benz in autumn 1936. Driving the Mercedes-Benz 12-cylinder streamlined record-breaking car W 25, Rudolf Caracciola set a total of five international class records and one world record. The runs took place on two days, 26 October and 11 November 1936.
A new record-breaking vehicle with a streamlined body and fully faired wheels as well as a likewise new V12 supercharged engine rated at 453 kW (616 hp): thus equipped, Rudolf Caracciola, the 1935 European Grand Prix champion, set out in autumn 1936 to break records for Mercedes-Benz. His mission was a successful one. On 26 October 1936, the racing driver recorded a record speed of 372.102 km/h. And on 11 November 1936, he set a new world record of 333.489 km/h over 10 miles with a flying start. In total, Caracciola bettered five existing international Class B records for vehicles with between 5 and 8 litres displacement and set one new world record.
 Record runs over various distances with both standing and flying starts had been a fixed part of the annual racing calendar since 1934 and the then-introduced 750-kilogram racing formula. They served as proof of technological expertise and were attentively followed by the public. In 1936, the year of the Olympic Games in Berlin, Daimler-Benz, the inventor of the automobile, celebrated its 50th anniversary. Traditionally committed to the concept of competition, the company additionally brought out a sensational record-breaking car in the autumn. Its strongest competitor, Auto Union, was just five years old.
The runs on 26 October 1936 – described as "tyre tests" in the press invitation at the time – took place on the Frankfurt–Heidelberg autobahn, which is today the A5. Whereas the record-breaking vehicles of previous years had been racing cars with fairing and modified bodies, Rudolf Caracciola in 1936 found himself at the wheel of an entirely new vehicle that the Mercedes-Benz engineers had designed exclusively with record-breaking runs in mind. It was based on the chassis of the first "Silver Arrow" racing car W 25. However, the streamlined body was sleeker than before, and the wheels were extensively integrated into the body. The idea came from the young designer Josef Müller. After a meeting in the wind tunnel at the airship builder Zeppelin in Friedrichshafen, in January 1935 he wrote a memorandum with a clear conclusion: in future, it would be indispensable for the wheels of high-speed vehicles to be integrated into the body. For his test runs, Caracciola had a choice of two different windscreens. Due to the better visibility, he opted for the flat one rather than the curved one.
Another innovation was the 12-cylinder supercharged engine with a displacement of 5.58 litres and an output of initially  453 kW (616 hp). The new V12 powerplant offered a level of performance previously unattained, despite continuous further development, by the 8-cylinder in-line engine in the Grand Prix Silver Arrow on account of the restrictions imposed by the 750 kilogram formula. In 1936, the output from the Grand Prix engine, which now had a displacement of 4.74 litres, was still 363 kW (494 hp). By contrast, the 12-cylinder engine with the slightly awkward in-house designation M 25 DAB offered an extra 90 kW (122 hp) of output, which put it in the range required for breaking records. By early 1938, the Mercedes-Benz engineers had managed to raise the output to 562 kW (765 hp).
October 26 1936 was a day of great success. A new class record of 364.38 km/h, as an average from both directions, was measured for one kilometer with a flying start. This was despite the fact that the headwind on the first run had put a dent in the thin-walled body at the cooling-air inlet, thereby hindering the aerodynamics. On the next run over one mile with a flying start, the average speed was 366.9 km/h, the absolute record of 372.102 km/h being measured on the return run. For this test, there was also fairing on the rear wheels, a feature that was afterwards retained. On the previous runs, there had still been a small piece projecting from the body. On the next run over 5 kilometres with a flying start, Caracciola improved the existing class record to 340.554 km/h (previously: 312.419 km/h). Wind then forced the record-making drives to be terminated.
They were resumed on 11 November 1936, by which time the vehicle had been given various improvements to transmission and body. After a first run, Caracciola decided against the closed cockpit that had been planned. From the second run onwards, Caracciola once again drove with an open top. For the third run, the track was extended from 22 to 38 kilometres to accommodate the record attempts over 10 kilometers and 10 miles. Caracciola significantly improved on the existing records. The outcome for Mercedes-Benz at the end of this second record-breaking day in autumn 1936: class record over 5 miles with flying start 336.838 km/h (previously: 291.035 km/h), class record over 10 kilometers with flying start 331.899 km/h (previously: 288.612 km/h), class record and also world record over 10 miles with flying start 333.489 km/h (previously: 285.451 km/h). Yet another superlative: the record-breaking runs were filmed from an aeroplane flying above the autobahn – a sensation at the time.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Historic Vehicle Association Conference, "Driving History," October 20-22, 2016, Allentown, PA

Nicola Bulgari and  few of his cars

What a conference!  Thanks to all at the HVA for a terrific experience. It started on Thursday with drives around the 21 acre HVA Laboratory Track in vintage American automobiles, for the most part from the 1930s and 1940s -- a Buick, Nash, Chrysler Woody, Hudson, and more.  Excellent sessions on Friday, along with food and fellowship. The central theme for the Driving History Conference was "When does a car matter?" This theme was thoroughly discussed among members of an interdisciplinary group of historians, museum curators, preservationists, automobile enthusiasts, and other interested parties. Perhaps we need to rethink institutional structures in order to ensure that future generations continue to value the automobile as essential to the understanding of material and human culture.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Bricklin, Documentary

Currently in HST 344 were are reading the Jason Vuic Yugo book. I found this video at Youtube and found it an excellent lead-up to the Yugo story. Bricklin is an interesting figure in automobile history.  How can a man be so careless in terms of business details and continue to come back from failure time after time? What does this say about entry into the auto industry in more recent times?  Should we now appreciate Elon Musk more for his apparent success at Tesla? I noticed there were today two SV-1 Bricklins for sale at Ebay -- one starting at 15K, the other at 27. Have we found ways to repair the cracks in the acrylic bodywork? The power train is Ford 351 Windsor based, and is relatively bulletproof. With only 2000+ made, they are scarce to say the least.

Trumpsters at the Local Cruise-In, October 14, 2016

One thing was evident last week at the big Hershey, PA, AACA car show and swap meet.  That was the overwhelming presence of Trump supporters, s there were posters pasted to cars, posters sold and given away, Hilary for Prison posters, etc. It was actually stunning. So going to the local cruise-in in Beavercreek, Ohio tonight brought no new revelations.  Now there were not that many posers and bumper stickers, but pro-Trump talk was to be heard more than just occasionally. Here are a couple of cars that I found with Trump bumper stickers.  As you might imagine,  Hilary promotional stuff was no where to be seen.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Too many cars!

So here are some honest thoughts for the day.  You all know how much I like automobiles and their history.  And I do like to take a balanced approach to the topic.

Lately I have been going to my local library, the Washington Township-Centerville facility that is located on Far Hills.  I have a great desk and wonderful wide open glass window that overlooks the street, and provides me with a distraction when I tire of grading papers, or working on my computer. The last few days I have been watching the phenomenal amount of traffic that goes by no matter what time of day!  30 years ago this was a much more quiet spot -- now it is a beehive, with swarms of cars going in both directions almost constantly.  Too many damn cars, too many damn people.

Years ago I used Jane Holtz Kay's Asphalt Nation in one of my classes and in part agreed with a number of her conclusions. The congestion is killing our city and there seems to be no way out of it. We have thousands of abandoned home in the city of Dayton but we keep building further and further out.  And look at the Dille property on Whip/Feedwire and Wilmington!  All for a Costco and Bagger Dave's. Green space is now gone forever.  An abandoned Cub Foods is only a mile or so away.

Some day soon the economic bubble will bust and businesses will close. Traffic will slow down for a time.  But our trees and open spaces cannot be easily restored.

Economics and materialism, Blah!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Tony Adamowicz, 1941-2016

Just passing along some important news.

Good Afternoon – I just received news of the passing of racing champion Tony Adamowicz from Bob Storck. Below is the piece Bob shared. Thanks to Bob for letting us all know.  – Take care, Maureen & Mike Matune

Ironically, just as we have been talking about early Trans-Am, I just heard from Ron Grable via Rick Mandelson that Tony passed. He and Bob Tullius won the first Trans-Am in the Group 44 Dodge Dart, and Tony A-Z had a remarkable career. The Can-Am, Trans-Am, F5000, and IMSA racer from New York had been suffering from Grade 4 Glioblastoma – brain cancer – that was diagnosed last year.
Among Adamowicz's many motorsports accomplishments, he earned the 1968 Trans-Am Under 2-liter championship, the 1969 F5000 championship, and placed third at the 1971 24 Hours of Le Mans. As one of the most versatile road racers of his day, his services were secured by Ferrari’s North American Race Team (N.A.R.T.), by Nissan for its factory GTO and GTP programs, and he shared cars with fellow legends Sam Posey, John Morton, Bob Tullius, and Chuck Parsons in a professional career that spanned 1966-'89.

Let's remember him in his youth and keep him alive.

Bob Storck

Thanks to RACER for the details and image

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Why this Car Matters -- Perspectives from the Classroom

Hi folks -- a draft of a presentation for a conference October 20-22 at the NHVA Laboratory in Allentown, PA.

John Heitmann – NHVA, October 2016.

“When a Car Matters: Historical Context, the Technological Sublime, and an Undergraduate History Course.”


It has been said that the automobile is the perfect technological symbol of American culture, a tangible expression of our quest to level space, time and class, and a reflection of our restless mobility, social and otherwise. In my undergraduate course we explore together the place of the automobile in American life, and how it transformed business, life on the farm and in the city, the nature and organization of work, leisure time, and the arts. This is a most complex transition, as the automobile transformed everyday life and the environment in which we operate.  It influenced the foods we eat; music we listen to; risks we take; places we visit; errands we run; emotions we feel; movies we watch; stress we endure; and, the air we breathe.

In doing both scholarship and teaching about the automobile, the process of selection is central to the historians ‘craft.  Why are certain automobiles and stories included in pedagogical discourse, and others are not?  How does nostalgia on one hand and political, economic, social and technological factors on the other lead to decisions concerning what to include in my accompanying text, The Automobile and American Life and undergraduate course?  How do those decisions influence the parables that are told? What supplemental readings, photographs, and films are also brought to bear? Finally, what is the overall objective of the offering – humanistic understanding, artifact analysis, or a powerful synergistic combination that highlights scientific, engineering, and artistic creativity along with everyday life.


I. Introduction

What specific cars were and are matter when putting together an undergraduate history course on automobile history directed to students with a wide array of majors? Using my The Automobile and American Life as a primary text, I have taught auto history as a lecture, a seminar, and a summer abroad course since 1998.  Yet until I was confronted with the writing of this presentation, I never thought much beyond the intuitive in terms of what to include and what not to include in the course content, particularly the cars themselves.  Yet they are the central artifacts in this endeavor, contextualized with textual, photographic and film sources. Given the current emphasis in higher education on student learning outcomes (SLOs), academic Pharisees might consider this neglect egregious.

Let’s begin with a discussion of the last photograph included in my The Automobile and American Life, an image taken in 1953 of my mother, my aunt, and myself as I sat on the hood of a 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. The photograph was taken in my aunt’s driveway, with Kenmore (NY) Motors, a Ford dealership, across the street and in the background. Why include the photograph and the car?

As I see it, you write what you know about, and that car opened my mind and senses to the exhilaration of speed. And freedom. My much older cousin, who incidentally the book was dedicated to, owned the car. The Rocket 88 represents more than nostalgia, however. The Rocket 88 was a technologically path-breaking car, one powered with the Kettering overhead value V-8 engine and hydramatic transmission. Thus the car reflects the technological sublime in addition to my nostalgic memories. But there is even more to its significance. Jackie Brenson’s 1951 song, “Rocket 88” is arguably the first example of Rock and Roll, at least if we are to believe Sam Phillips, the owner of Chess Records who was there at the beginning of the era.  Thus, that highly affordable car made in large numbers has made a powerful impression on the human mind broadly construed. It resulted in a cultural as well as technological and personal legacy.

My cousin’s blue 1950 Olds 88 had a vacuum-assisted plastic bird mounted on the dash. It popped up like magic every time the vehicle accelerated.  It is that car, now probably crushed and long gone, that sets the tone for this essay. I will comment on the role of nostalgia, the technological sublime, economic, and social factors as well as culture in exploring the question of pedagogically “why this car matters?” For purposes of time, I have brought copies of my current course syllabus for your review; feel free to contact me if you want to follow up. My course began in 1998 as primarily a history of technology and business history offering.  However since then I have shifted increasingly towards cultural history, examining music, literature -- including poetry -- and film.  I work chronologically forward, and recently have updated this material with a dedicated chapter on the 1970s and new material covering the period 1980 to 2015.


Certainly for many classic car hobbyists a personal relationship with a specific car or a model is the primary motivating force for why they spend money and time on an old car.  It could be one’s father’s car while growing up, or a son’s car before he tragically died, or a memories of a romance or road trip. Just read any issue of Hemming’s Sports and Exotic and the warm and fuzzy stories flow. Nostalgia has proven to be such a powerful force precisely because it takes the ostensible reason for the obsession away from a piece of metal or a system of technology to love and the human experience, often lost in the present.  It can be rooted deep into the subconscious mind. Is nostalgia a good reason to designate a motor vehicle as historically significant in the broadest sense of the term? Pedagogically nostalgia prove to be important in my course because I have students write their “Auto-Biography.” And like some of my students, to those who are motivated to own and collect cars for this reason it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about their car. One gets behind the wheel of a car that a loved one once drove, and images of a romantic past that probably never existed flood the mind with a reassurance that life has meaning, and the past is recoverable with things one can touch and hold. Nostalgia contributes to good anecdotal history.  After all, people are the key historical actors that drive the past, not cars.

The Technological Sublime, or perhaps better said, the Technological Demonstrator has a place in history

At first glance, this category might be the easiest handle to get at “Why this Car Matters?”  A highly innovative car that has no direct influence on future models might be easy to throw out of a select list, but even then one must be cautious. For example, how do you assess the historical legacy of the 1924 Oakland and Charles Franklin Kettering’s Copper-Cooled” engine?

In 1919, Kettering had become convinced that there was a great future for an air-cooled, as opposed to a water-cooled, engine. Light and maintenance-free in terms of freezing and adding coolant, the air-cooled engine had been developed in Europe and America, the most notable successes being the early Franklin engine and the designs of British automobile engineer Frederick W. Lanchester. Kettering and his research staff, including mechanical engineer Thomas Midgley, focused on the use of copper fins to dissipate heat emanating from cylinders. By 1920 a team of engineers and scientists had developed a technique to fix the copper fins to the exterior of cylinder walls. Pierre DuPont, at that time in charge of GM and trained as an engineer, saw the possibilities of this design, and encouraged Kettering to move forward on the project. What DuPont and other GM executives recognized was that this light and economical engine could be inexpensively manufactured in both 4- and 6- cylinder versions, and be used in the low- priced Oakland and Chevrolet models. Especially with regard to the Chevrolet, it was thought that the copper cooled engine would provide the edge for Chevrolet to compete with the Ford Model T.
            Despite the enormous resources that GM dedicated to this project, however, the copper–cooled-engine failed in the end. Kettering and his group could design and make small quantities of engines that worked in Dayton, where GM research laboratories were located. But in Detroit, manufacturing engineers could not or would not make engines that consumers were satisfied with. These engines often lacked power; pumped oil, threw fan belts, overheated, or just ran poorly. In sum, the research engineers and manufacturing engineers were at odds, and until GM in 1925 formed  a technical committee to bring the two groups together, ventures like the copper cooled engine were doomed to failure. And while the motor never was adopted at General Motors, the failure of the Copper-Cooled engine resulted in the restructuring of GM that brought research and engineering bureaucratically together, research facilities moved to Michigan, and the firm poised for remarkable growth as it linked its business strategy to planned obsolescence.

In sum, we must be not so quick to judge failure. But what about the many,  path-breaking cars with a clear link to sustained technological change? And how does one create some sort of hierarchy among them? Will we write technological genealogies? And has anyone thoroughly examined patent records related to the automobile? Since inventive simultaneity often occurs, complexity and priority disputes often cloud work in the history of technology.

Let’s take a more common sense route to selecting key technological demonstrators. If we go through my textbook, I have mentioned a number of examples that you may or may not agree with:
The Benz Tricycle – highlighting the idea that the automobile was “European by Birth, American by Adoption.”
            In 1881, Karl Benz (1844-1929) designed a two-stroke engine in his small shop located in Mannheim, Germany and began selling them in 1883. Because Deutz Co. patents had been invalidated in the courts in 1884 and 1886, Benz could design his own 4-cycle engine, and in placed that engine on a tricycle between 1885 and 1886. This 2/3 horse power vehicle with its unreliable ignition took wife Bertha Benz on the road trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back in 1886, and was the basis a model placed on sale in 1888. Benz exhibited a design at the 1889 Paris Exhibition. By 1893 he had constructed an improved four-wheel car with a three-horsepower engine that sold well and was fairly reliable. More than 100 Benz vehicles were sold by 1898. An early leader, Benz was soon passed technologically, especially by French manufacturers.

Panhard et Levassor – the Rise of the Historically Important French Automobile Industry

According to James Laux,  Emile Constant Levassor was the key French inventor-engineer of the late nineteenth century European automobile industry. Levassor took Gottleib Daimler’s engine and placed it in the front of the vehicle where for the most part it has stayed to this day. Its crude slider transmission became the standard on vehicles until Cadillac introduced synchromesh in 1928. Before Levassor’s untimely death, he proved the merits of his design as practical in the 1895 Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race. At first, and for only a relatively short time, Paris was the center of the nascent global automobile industry. Perhaps this was due to excellent French roads or social, economic, or political factors that remain to be explicated and are currently discounted.

Steam and Electric – Powered Vehicles – perhaps seen as technological dead ends by WWI, but in the long sweep of history that includes the 21st century, perhaps a reappraisal is needed.

The 1901 Curved Dash Olds and the 1908 Ford Model T – cars for the American masses.
The curved dash Olds was significant not only for design and production techniques, but cultural influence, as evidence by the wildly popular song “In my Merry Oldsmobile.” Built in Michigan, the Olds was an industry leader, with a production volume of 5,000 units in 1904 after making 1,400 vehicles in 1900, 2,100 in 1901, 2,500 in 1902, and about 4,000 in 1903. A dispute unfortunately followed – disputes were all too common among pioneer inventors, investors, and manufacturers of the era – and while Olds would later set up another company called REO, his influence on the industry diminished. Former employees of Olds who got their start there and then proved to be influential later in the automobile industry included Jonathan D. Maxwell, Robert C. Hupp, Roy D. Chapin and Howard E. Coffin.

The Model T was in a league of its own. Despite all of the critiques leveled at Ford, his company, and mass production, his machine was simply remarkable. Its dashboard had a gasoline gauge, speedometer, oil gauge (there was no dipstick) temperature indicator, and odometer. To start the car one put on the hand brake, got out of the car, reached below the radiator and turned the crank, and hopefully the engine would come to life after a cough and sputter. The car had two gears, high and low, and instead of a gear shift one had a foot pedal, which the driver pushed down for low and released for high. To go to neutral, one pushed the pedal halfway. To stop the car, one pushed the gear pedal halfway while at the same time pushing down on the brake. There was no accelerator pedal; rather, there was a lever on the steering column that when pushed, gave more gas. There was also a spark lever that often did little unless in the wrong position, which then caused a loud and embarrassing backfire. To engage reverse there was a third foot pedal. Depressed with either foot, you backed up. Steering was stiff, and the wheel itself abruptly snapped back to its original position when one released tension on it. One final note on the Model T: the four-door version actually had only three doors, with the driver’s side door not a door at all – it did not open. The contours of the door were merely stamped on the body at the factory. Entering the car from the left side required climbing over the fake door. In sum, with the Model T rural Americans no longer saw the car as a devil wagon, but rather as transportation technology that could meet and be modified for their varied needs.

The topic of many jokes, there was also a true admiration for this remarkable machine. In 1915 the first of two volumes about the Model T, entitled Funny Stories About the Ford, was published. The following are a few excerpts:

The Formula in Poetry
A little spark, a little coil,
A little gas, a little oil,
A piece of tin, a two-inch board –
Put them together and you have a Ford.

I could go on with this discourse on the technological demonstrator category that might include descriptions of the Duesenberg, Cord, Jeep, 1948 Tucker, MG TC, and Mercedes 300 SL. My point here is that there is a wide array of candidates all reflecting the technological sublime.  Where do we draw the line?  How do we select from the evidence?  I would argue those are primary functions of the knowledgeable historian. My concern is that the scarcity of a vehicle, and its monetary value, will trump historical significance as determined by broad context. It is all too easy to vote for a 1935 Bugatti Royale and express distain for a Renault Dauphine.  

Social and Economic Impact

Perhaps single no car had more impact in terms of social and economic history than the Model T. The Model T ended rural isolation, made possible the Sunday drive,  took courtship out the of parlor, convinced authorities to improve roads, created a generation of shade tree mechanics, and enabled Americans to vacation in the new National Parks. Economically the car, led by the model T became a primary consumer of glass, rubber, steel and textiles. In 1920 it was first in value of product and third in exports.      Was there any other car rivaling the Model T in shaping the first three decades of the 20th century?  Can you think of any other motor vehicle that later in the 20th century – in any national history – compare with the Model T in terms of shaping the century?


Finally we have the last of my categories, cultural and social significance and how they may come into play in determining whether a car matters in terms of inclusion in an historical registry. What cars have made a lasting impression on the human mind as a result of their inclusion in song, literature, or film?  Contextual complexities surface immediately. For example, would you include the 1924 Jordan Playboy, not because of the technological virtues of a car largely assembled from common parts, or because of its image central to the “Somewhere West of Laramie” advertisement, an ad that set the tone for beauty, aped sexuality and spirituality in modern advertising.

A truly enduring classic is one that that makes an impression on the human mind. It is when our culture realizes that it cannot do without that vehicle that status has been realized. It might be the shape of the Volkswagen, or the design, performance, and accessibility of a 1960s Mustang.  In addition to direct contact with an artifact, culture— music, literature, and film -- were central to the mass idolization of the automobile that took place between the 1920s and the 1960s. “Rebel without a Cause” did more to ensure the legacy of the somewhat bland 1950 Mercury than any advertisement. It could be a car as commonplace as the BMC Mini, featured in two versions of “Italian Job” and the “Bourne Identity.” Or, for example, consider the film “Cars,” spawning interest in a number of vehicles amongst Millennials. Additionally, songs by the hundreds were written early on during the 20th century concerning the Ford, and then a bit later on the Cadillac. Undoubtedly,  Chuck Berry’s , Dizzy Gillespie’s , and Prince’s lyrics have done more to shape desire for the automobile than Dynaflow, Hydramatic, and Powerglide transmissions or fuel injection.


The NHVA has very real future challenges. The love affair of the automobile is no longer what it once was.  Driving may be displaced with autonomous Uber vehicles. It may be that in 2050 few Americans will care about automobiles, classic or otherwise. The car collector maybe as hard to find as a stamp collector.

Education is clearly one strategy to follow through on. What are the motor vehicles that truly matter, and what are the criteria to make those decisions? One path of least resistance primarily focuses on scarce and expensive cars, thus satisfying the high-end collector car market and speculators.  Of course, luscious vehicles, derived from a designers’ imagination and drawing are to be celebrated. As a historian, however, I am mostly concerned with being true to the past, broadly construed. It is a mistake to fall into traps from well-worn interpretations that distort American’s love affair with the automobile. Specific automobiles not often thought of as iconic have at times had a powerful influence on mass culture, the economic and military power of nations, and the working classes and women. These artifacts also need to be recognized and certified for having both broad and deep significance. And may I not overlook those outliers when teaching automobile history.