Monthly Archives: March 2015

Touring Indiana’s historic two-lane highways

My thoughts are turning to touring some two-lane highways. I’d like to share some of our past tours for your consideration. Indiana is fortunate to be the crossroads of many of the country’s early federal highways that are a relaxing way to get away from the hassle of interstate driving.

Lincoln Highway
Lincoln Highway original section near Ligonier

The National Road is the first highway built with federal funds and the most important route linking the Midwest with the Atlantic seaboard in the early nineteenth century. In 1811, workers commissioned by the federal government began building this ambitious project. It was the road that led wagons and coaches westward.

The National Old Trails Association was formed in 1912 to mark the auto route and convince local and state officials to improve it. In 1926, the Old National Route became the new U.S. 40. Completion of Interstate 70 in the 1960s changed the importance of U.S. 40. Today the National Road is a byway in the country’s transportation history. You can check out my National-Road-Indiana-Style notes if you are interested in following the Indiana section.

Another historical significant route is the Lincoln Highway. In late 1912, Indianapolis industrialist Carl G. Fisher proposed a plan to finance America’s first transcontinental highway from New York to San Francisco. Fisher received a letter from Henry B. Joy, Packard Motor Company president, suggesting that the road be named for Abraham Lincoln. Contributors were motivated by the idea that if decent roads were available, people would travel more and product demand would increase. Within 30 days, he had $1 million in pledges and publicity nationwide.

On July 1, 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association was created with the route running through or touching 12 states. The federal highway numbering system was enacted in 1925. In Indiana, the highway was replaced with highways U.S. 30, U.S. 33, U.S. 20 and S.R. 2 as it meanders through the state from Fort Wayne to Dyer. Historical markers for the Lincoln Highway and “Ideal Section” are found today along U.S. 30 near Dyer. Remnants of the original highway can be found in eastern Allen County. Check out my Rediscovering-the-Lincoln-Highway description of the Lincoln’s Indiana route.

Fisher was involved in another trailblazing project. His conception of the north-south Dixie Highway from Chicago to Miami was shared with Indiana Governor Samuel Ralston in December 1914. In April 1915, The Dixie Highway Association was formed. The Dixie Highway followed a route through South Bend, Indianapolis, Paoli and then to New Albany. In September 1916, Fisher and Ralston attended a celebration in Martinsville opening the Indiana section of the roadway. Sometime after 1925, the southern route was straightened out from Indianapolis to Jeffersonville and marked U.S. 31. See my Dixie-Highway-Indiana route notes as referenced in a 1916 tour book.

I invite you to peruse these highways or others in your area to experience travel from another era. It is a great way to get away from the hassle.

My Dream Car the Jaguar E-Type

The subject of an earlier posts was “What is your dream car?” In my response, I was considering contemporary dream cars, and chose the Cadillac Sixteen. Recently, I was reminded of one of the dream cars of my youth the Jaguar E-Type, also known as the Jaguar XK-E in North America.

 

1965 Jaguar E-Type
1965-Jaguar E-Type Copyright © 1965 Jaguar

Spring 2011 marked the 50th anniversary of the Jaguar E-Type’s introduction. The British manufacturer produced over 70,000 E-Types from 1961 to 1975. Celebrities Steve McQueen, Brigitte Bardot, and Tony Curtis owned them. Enzo Ferrari called the E-Type “the most beautiful car in the world.” That’s some praise from one of motoring’s influential builders. An E-Type is a permanent exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

So what is the draw of this dream car? In convertible or fast-back coupe form, the XK-E sported flowing and athletic lines. The exhaust note from the 3.8-liter straight six-cylinder engine was a siren for motorsports enthusiasts around the world. The engine increased to 4.2 liter in 1964. XK-E’s were reported to be capable of 150 m.p.h. Series 3 (1971-1975) XK-E’s featured a 5.3-liter V-12 engine. This combination of sensuous looks and high performance mark it as a motoring icon.

As a youth in the early 1960’s, I can remember going to the Jaguar dealer in downtown Indianapolis and salivating at the luxurious lines of the display British Racing Green XK-E coupe. It sported a tan leather interior with bucket seats, wood rim steering wheel and chrome spoke wheels. I can still imagine driving along on a winding two-lane highway and hearing the reverberations of the dual exhausts off the nearby trees. What a day in paradise for any genuine car nut! Perhaps my auto obsession started with an XK-E?

Possibly, you’ll see one at a car show this summer. Ask the exhibiter to start it up, and reminisce about this motoring icon.

My Dream Car the Cadillac Sixteen

A few years ago, I was pleased to talk about automotive history to a class at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, IN. One student asked, “What is your dream car?” Now I hadn’t really thought about any one car as being “my dream car.” I enjoy many for various reasons. But I found that I didn’t hesitate with an answer too long before I decided—the Cadillac Sixteen, which debuted at the 2003 North American International Auto Show.

Cadillac Sixteen
Cadillac Sixteen
Copyright © 2003 General Motors

I have to admit that this car did not fit with the theme of my presentation Mileposts in Indiana Automotive History. However, this model does make me think of the coachbuilt era of the 1930’s, when many of America’s great cars were designed. Cadillac introduced its first V-16 automobile in 1930, followed by Marmon shipping its first Sixteen in 1931. Both of these cars were top of the mark in their era. I believe the current Cadillac Sixteen pays tribute to these cars and extends the design to the new millennium. For me, the Cadillac is the epitome of current American car design.

So, let us take a look at the Cadillac Sixteen. This luxury-sedan concept, measuring 20 feet long and weighting 2.5 tons, is powered by a 13.6 liter V-16 engine producing over 1,000 horsepower and 1,000 lb-ft of torque. The engine debuts fuel-saving “Displacement on Demand” technology for a 20 m.p.g. rating.

The Sixteen features an ultra luxurious cabin with hand-stitched, Tuscany leather upholstered seatsand an all-glass roof. Walnut burl veneer inlays trim the dash, door panels, and front and rear consoles. A Bulgari clock is mounted in the dash center.

The exterior styling has a long hood and a low sedan passenger compartment much like its predecessors from the 1930’s. I like how the design line flows from the LED headlights to the LED taillights. The wheel arches show-off the 24-inch polished aluminum wheels with custom Michelin tires. A Sixteen nameplate resides over the vent behind the front wheels.

So, I can dream about the Cadillac Sixteen, can’t I?

My First ride in an old car

Keeping up with a theme of “My First,” I would like to share the story of my first ride in an old car. In the late 1950’s, old car is what it was called before other terms of auto endearment became popular. Car clubs and antique car shows were just in their infancy.

 

Indiana Automotive’s Model T Mascot
Indiana Automotive’s Model T Mascot

In that era, my family always visited our relatives during a two-week summer vacation in late August. While visiting my maternal grandparents in Lansing, Michigan, I discovered my Uncle Dick working on an early 1920’s Ford Model T coupe. This was a new experience for me because my father always drove contemporary cars. I had never seen anyone working on an old car.

The high stance of his Model T coupe was a stark contrast to our 1957 Chevrolet sedan. The small four-cylinder engine was another difference compared with our 283 V-8 engine. I was thoroughly intrigued about learning more.

My uncle allowed me to sit behind the steering wheel, if I promised not to touch any controls. When he finished up working on the engine, he asked if I would like to go for a ride. I was eager for a new experience, so I moved over to the passenger seat. He adjusted the throttle and spark advance, and then went around front to hand crank the engine.

The engine caught with the characteristic clackita-clackita-clackita roar of the Model T engine. He then climbed into the driver seat and engaged the planetary transmission. Sitting up high in the passenger compartment gave me quite a different sensation of speed. The primitive cross-leaf suspension definitely rode harder than newer cars. The breeze flowing through the split windshield was an interesting twist on summer ventilation.

Needless to say, I was soon captivated on my first ride in an old car about the streets of Lansing. Ford Model T coupes originally retailed for around $520 in the mid 1920’s. Today, number 2 condition examples go for about $12,500.

I have to say, that I owe it to my Uncle Dick for getting me interested in old cars in the late 1950’s.  This magnificent obsession progressed to an interest in rods and customs in the early 1960’s, with a return to antique automobiles in the 1970’s. With an over 50 year interest in old cars, many have said that I am a “Genuine Car Nut.”

So, that’s the story of my first ride in an old car. I would like to hear about your first ride in an old car.

My First Car

An Internet search on the term “my first car” yields over a million results. I would like to share the story of my first car and hopefully start a discussion on the topic.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe
1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe

During my school break in the summer of 1965, I worked at an engineering company and one of my fellow employees announced that he had a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air sport coupe hardtop for sale. This was an opportune event for a genuine car nut in the making. Ever since their introduction eight years earlier, I was drawn to the styling of these cars. So, I quickly arranged a meeting to inspect this automotive icon.

 

Upon arriving at the meeting, I saw “My First Car” in the flesh. It was a two-tone hardtop with an India Ivory top, Canyon Coral body, and black interior with silver accents. This was one of the most popular combinations for the sport coupe. It was powered by a 283 V-8 and a Turboglide transmission. The car passed the test drive, and I purchased my jewel for only $300.

 

I was proud of my purchase and couldn’t wait to get home and show this gem to my buddies. That night, we cruised to the Teepee and Pole drive-in restaurants to show my cool car. We also used my car to go to drive-in movies and the weekend drag races at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Those weeks with “my first car” were ideal.

 

In the fall, I noticed the engine had high oil consumption. After some checking around, I found out the engine needed some major work that I couldn’t afford on my college student earnings. Sadly, I decided to sell the ’57 Chevy and look for another car.

 

If only I knew then what I know now. I wish I would have kept this automotive icon. Today, 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air sport coupe hardtops in number 1 condition go for $77,500. If “my first car” was still in this condition, I’d be in one happy auto enthusiast.

 

There are thousands of stories like mine. So, now it’s your turn. Tell us about your first car.