Monthly Archives: June 2015

Car culture in northern Indiana

Occasionally someone asks about my recommendations for auto museums in Indiana. Northern Indiana has some great car culture destinations.

Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum
Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum

Auburn Indiana probably has the best concentration of auto museums of anywhere outside of Michigan. The best known and one of the best car museums in the country is the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. The ACDAM is the only auto museum occupying an original factory showroom and administration building. The art-deco structure was built in 1930 for the Auburn Automobile Company and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum dedicates a large portion to Indiana-built automobiles from the 1890s through 1960s. Other highlights are the Cadillac, Packard, Rolls Royce and race cars among this 100-plus automobile collection.

Immediately behind the ACDAM are the buildings now housing the National Automotive and Truck Museum of the United States. This site once contained the production of the L-29 Cord as well as the service facility for the Auburn Automobile Company. NATMUS features trucks and other vehicles from 1907 to the present.

Just off the I-69 Auburn exit is the Kruse Foundation complex. Two buildings at this site are of interest to auto aficionados. The Kruse Automotive and Carriage Museum and the Early Ford V8 Foundation Museum. The KACM features a collection of classic cars, television and movie cars, hot rods, and antique carriages. The Early Ford V8 Museum focuses on Fords from 1932 to 1953, as well as other vehicles powered by Ford flathead V8 engines.

North of Auburn on I-69 and west on US 20 in Shipshewana is Hostetler’s Hudson Auto Museum. Over 25 years ago, what started with a single vehicle, has grown to include the largest collection of Hudson automobiles and trucks in the world. Today, the collection includes the Hudson, Essex, Terraplane, Railton, and Dover brands.

Studebaker National Museum
Studebaker National Museum

Further west on US 20 in South Bend is the Studebaker National Museum. The SNM covers 114 years of its namesake’s history. “Studebaker is the only company to span the time from settlers’ wagons to high performance automobiles,” according to museum material. The museum has the Studebaker family’s own Conestoga wagon, used to move them to South Bend, and an Avanti, the last car made in South Bend. The carriage that Abraham Lincoln rode to Ford Theater on the night of his assassination is also on display.

Finally, travel west on IN 2 to LaPorte to see the LaPorte County Museum. The museum houses the Dr. Peter C. Kesling Automobile Collection, numbering over 30 vehicles. The collection includes vehicles built by Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg, Baker Electric, Ford, Tucker, and Dodge. In 2003, Dr. and Mrs. Kesling drove the collection’s Winton from California to New York City, retracing the path of the first coast to coast auto journey by Dr. Horatio Jackson in 1903 in a similar Winton touring car.

I believe northern Indiana is your best bet for an auto enthusiast’s total immersion into car culture. Where else in about 120 miles can you see seven auto museums? Do it in one trip or break-up the enjoyment in to multiple adventures. Be sure to call any of these sites before you finalize a visit. Check out my Indiana Museums page @

Hybrid car innovation

Today, a hybrid car is generally viewed as a modern innovation. However, in fact, America’s gasoline-electric hybrid was born over 117 years ago. On April 25, 1898, the Munson Company of La Porte, Indiana, is recognized as the first to produce a workable gasoline-electric car in America.

Munson Buggy photo
Copyright © 1898
The Munson Company of La Porte, IN

In reviewing Munson’s 1898 promotional brochure, the company’s approach to improving gasoline engine and electric car technology is noteworthy.

The Munson had many unique benefits.
• It combined the good points of both the gasoline engine and electric motor.
• 10 gallons of gasoline would furnish power to propel the vehicle 100 miles or more over ordinary, well-traveled roads at the rate of five to fifteen miles per hour, according to the conditions and gradients of the roads.
• No manual starting apparatus was required because starting was automatically controlled from the driver’s seat. This predates self-starters on gasoline engine autos by 14 years.
• The electric machine automatically supplied the extra power required when the engine was taxed beyond its normal speed by driving conditions and acted as a speed limiter when descending hills.
• The required storage battery was 50 percent lighter in weight and, because it was almost constantly charged, would outlast the battery in conventional electric auto.
• All of these features were accomplished mechanically, long before the advent of computerized controls.

Munson Factory
Munson Factory

Interestingly, Munson’s brochure illustrates the problem the company faced by quoting Thomas A. Edison on the benefits of the gasoline engine car over an electric auto. “I believe in ten years a horse will be a rare sight. The automobile carriage is here to stay. It is now practicable, and will soon be cheap enough for general use. Gasoline will be the motive power, for it is more economical and a large supply of it can be carried. Electric storage batteries are too heavy, and besides they are not practicable.”

Today’s gasoline-electric hybrids are engineered for efficiency. Thanks to the continuing development of electric vehicle batteries, the size, weight, and cost of the battery pack have been greatly reduced. In a hybrid car, a computer calculates when to let the gasoline engine do all the work and how much of an assist is required from the electric motor.

It is interesting to think that it has taken over 100 years for this technology to be efficiently packaged into a hybrid at an attractive price. We’re left to ponder if Munson would have survived to the present, if it could have designed an efficient valued vehicle?

Elwood Haynes’ automotive innovation began over 100 years ago

Ideas for one of America’s first automobiles formulated in Elwood Haynes’ mind as early as 1888, while he traveled Jay County’s rutted sandy roads in a horse and buggy. He was concerned about the horse’s lack of performance and endurance.

1894 Haynes Pioneer
Elwood Haynes in the 1894 Pioneer
Copyright Elwood Haynes Museum

Haynes’s thoughts stemmed from his formal training at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. He was one of the first automotive pioneers with formal training in engineering and technology. His technical training would serve him well in the automotive and metallurgical industries.

He demonstrated his first automobile, later known as the Pioneer, on July 4, 1894, in Kokomo. Haynes and the Apperson brothers formed an informal partnership to build a new car for America’s first automobile race, the Chicago Times-Herald race in 1895. This auto drew on Haynes’s metallurgical experiments and used an aluminum alloy in the two-cylinder engine. This alloy is the first recorded use of aluminum in an automotive engine. He was also the first to introduce a nickel-steel alloy in automotive use in 1896.

The Haynes-Apperson Company was incorporated in 1898 to manufacture motor carriages, gasoline motors, and gearing for motor vehicles. The 1903 Haynes-Apperson models featured a tilting steering column to allow easy access for the driver or passenger upon entering or leaving the vehicle. In addition to being president of the automotive firm, Haynes continued his metallurgical and mechanical experiments. In 1905, he relinquished direct control of the automobile company and devoted his attention to metallurgy.

In 1907, while he was researching a suitable material for use in the distributor, he discovered the alloy that he patented under the name of Stellite. This alloy proved to be harder than steel and resistant to wear and corrosion even at high temperatures. In 1912, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved Stellite as a tool metal alloy. Stellite had a strategic importance during World War I in machining aircraft cylinder forgings and turning metal shell casings. Stellite is still in use today in space exploration and other highly corrosive environments.

Haynes improved his iron and steel alloys by adding chromium, thus developing one of the first types of stainless steel also in 1912. Stainless steel became popular for cutting utensils and other corrosive applications.

In 1913, he supported road improvements across the country and participated in the Indiana Automobile Manufacturers Association continental tour from Indianapolis to San Francisco, California.

Elwood Haynes’ contributions to industry definitely place him among the high achievers in automotive history. Next time you’re driving your car or working in the kitchen, thank Elwood Haynes for his metallurgical innovations.

Indianapolis auto heritage

Indianapolis was a commercial producer of automobiles and taxicabs from 1897 to 1937. The Circle City, with 65 different vehicles manufactured here, ranked second to Cleveland, with 82, as Detroit’s chief rival for the title of the nation’s auto capital.

David L. Lewis notes in The Automobile in American Culture that until 1905 Indianapolis contained more auto plants than did any city in Michigan. Indianapolis makes, like Duesenberg, Marmon, and Stutz, are highly sought after by collectors today and have achieved the “Classic” designation from the Classic Car Club of America. Plus, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway brought acclaim for the city as the birthplace for many engineering improvements and played an important part in the development process for Indianapolis makers as well as other autos.

Stutz Motor Car Company
Stutz Motor Car Company

As with the majority of manufacturers around the state, the companies in Indianapolis were primarily assemblers. They concentrated on providing uniqueness to their products, which proved to be their undoing. They were not able to compete with the mass producers who could control all components of the process and, therefore, offer a product at a much lower price.

Many of the buildings that housed the movers and shakers of Indianapolis automotive industry still stand. Capitol Avenue has the nucleus of what might be regarded as an Indianapolis automotive heritage district.

HCS Motor Car Co., 1402 N. Capitol Ave., 1920-1927
Harry V. Hyatt, Graham-Paige Showroom, 1327 N. Capitol Ave., 1929
Stutz Motor Car Co., 1008 N. Capitol Ave., 1916-1935
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., 640 N. Capitol Ave., 1913
Frank Hatfield Ford Showroom, 627 N. Capitol Ave. 1920
Williams Building Showroom, 611-617 N. Capitol Ave. 1916-1917
William Small Co., (Monroe Factory), 602 N. Capitol Ave., 1918-1923
Cadillac Co. of Indiana Showroom, 500-514 N. Capitol Ave., 1910-1911
Gibson Co. Building (Willys-Overland affiliation), 433-447 N. Capitol Ave. 1916-1917

Duesenberg Final Assembly
Duesenberg Final Assembly

The Duesenberg Motor Car Company (1920-1937) final assembly building is situated at 1511 W. Washington Street. At 1225 W. Harding Street is the Marmon complex (1919-1932).

The former home of the Cole Motor Car Company (1913-1925) is at 730 E. Washington Street, and at 1307-1323 E. Washington is the Ford Motor Company (1914-1932) branch. This plant produced over 581,000 vehicles for the Indiana Region.

These buildings serve as an overview of the over 40 existing sites of Indianapolis automotive heritage. Occasionally one of the existing structures is demolished. There needs to be a way to better recognize these heritage sites for posterity. Let us know your thoughts.

For a personal tour of various Indianapolis automotive sites, follow this link.

Long distance auto racing debuted in the Midwest in June 1909

With all of the hoopla regarding the opening auto races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August 1909, sometimes it is easy to forget that long distance auto racing debuted in the Midwest at Crown Point and Lowell, Indiana in June 1909.

Under the direction of Ira M. Cobe, the Chicago Automobile Club planned and organized a two-day speed festival, including the Indiana Trophy Race and the Cobe Cup Race. The two events, scheduled for June 18 and 19, constituted the Western Stock Chassis Championship sanctioned by the American Automobile Association Contest Board.

Howard Wheeler of Crown Point was among those who planned the 23.37-mile race course from Crown Point to Cedar Lake, on to Lowell, and then returning to Crown Point. The route featured only three towns, no railroad crossings, and was paved with tar macadam roads, which were high-tech for the day.

Cobe Cup Poster
Cobe Cup Poster

Grandstands were built at Crown Point, Cedar Lake, Creston, and two sites in Lowell. One location on North Clark St. was advertised “to be safe from the cars and the racers could be seen for two miles on the fastest part of the course.” The other stand was across the street from the Civil War Monument on Commercial Ave.

Despite being advertised as a stock chassis race, rather liberal modifications were permitted for the contests. Gas and oil capacity could be increased; lighter rear springs were permitted; any size wheel and tire could be used; auxiliary oil pumps were allowed; and steering columns were lowered.

The first event was the 10-lap Indiana Trophy Race for cars limited to 300-cubic-inch displacement, on Friday, June 18, with cars made by Buick, Chalmers-Detroit, Corbin, Fal-Car, Locomobile, Marion, Moon, and Stoddard-Dayton.

At 7 am, National Guardsmen took control of the course to prepare for the start. Box seat holders included Carl G. Fisher, founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ira Cobe, the Studebaker brothers, and W. E. Metzger from Detroit.

Joe Matson Winning Indiana Trophy Race
Joe Matson Winning Indiana Trophy Race

Joe Matson took the checkered flag in four hours, 31 minutes, and 21 seconds in his Chalmers-Detroit with an average speed of 52.2 miles per hour. The remaining finishers were George Robertson – Locomoblie, second; Adolph Monsen -Marion, third; Jim Florida – Locomobile, fourth; and Fred Wiseman Stoddard-Dayton, fifth.

Saturday’s 17-lap, 395.65-mile Cobe Cup Race was for cars limited to 525-cubic-inch displacement with entries from Apperson, Buick, Fiat, Knox, Locomobile, and Stoddard-Dayton.

Louis Chevrolet in his Buick
Louis Chevrolet in his Buick

Louis Chevrolet won in eight hours, one minute, and 39 seconds with a 65 second margin driving a Buick with an average speed of 49.26 miles per hour. What makes Chevrolet’s finish so incredible is that on the 11th lap his engine broke a valve in the cylinder head and he was forced to drive the rest of the race running on three cylinders. By the 14th lap, he captured the lead, which he held to the end. The remaining finishers were W. Bourque – Knox, second; George Robertson – Locomoblie, third; E. A. Hearne – Fiat, fourth; C. A. Englebeck – Stoddard-Dayton, fifth; and Louis Strang – Buick, sixth.

Ira Cobe left his box seat with the big trophy and motored to Crown Point’s public square. On the courthouse steps he presented the trophy to Chevrolet and worshipping fans carried the winner and trophy, on their shoulders to his car.

In 1910, the Cobe Cup Race shifted to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Lake County race course returned to the somnolent quiet of a sleepy Indiana countryside.

For more information about Louis Chevrolet follow this link.