Monthly Archives: August 2015

First auto races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Thursday, August 19, 1909, was opening day of the first auto racing program at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Louis Schwitzer of Indianapolis, driving a Stoddard-Dayton won the first event, a five-mile dash for cars of less-than 230 cubic-inch displacement. Louis Chevrolet, driving a Buick won the first 10-mile event, and Ray Harroun, won another 10-miler, with a four-cylinder Marmon. Bob Burman won the featured 250-mile Prest-O-Lite trophy race with an average speed of 53.77 miles an hour, in his Buick.

Louis Chevrolet in his Buick
Louis Chevrolet in his Buick

Louis Strang won Friday’s 100-mile G and J Trophy Race with a speed of 64.74 miles an hour.

Eddie Hearne, Barney Oldfield, and Ralph DePlama scored victories in Saturday’s preliminary events

The program’s grand finale was Saturday’s 300-mileWheeler Schebler Trophy Race. Seventeen cars in the 450-600 cubic-inch displacement class vied for the huge seven-foot cup created by Tiffany’s of New York. Lee Lynch, driving a Jackson, was awarded first place, with an average speed of 55.61 miles an hour. Trailing in order were DePlama in a Fiat, Stillman in a Marmon, Harroun in another Marmon, Oldfield in a National, and Harry Stutz in an Indianapolis-built Marion.

Visit the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum

I encourage everyone to visit the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. For me this is a return to Mecca. ACDAM is the place that probably ignited my interest in collectible autos. If you are ever in the northeast corner of Indiana, you have to visit ACADM.

1936 Cord convertible coupe
1936 Cord convertible coupe
Copyright © 2011 Dennis E. Horvath

Let me tell you about this automotive gem. 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. Galleries on the first floor showcase Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg automobiles. Some of these are one-of-a-kind automotive icons, while others are original unrestored examples.

The museum dedicates a large portion to Indiana-built automobiles from the 1890s through 1960s. In addition to the namesake cars, the Cars of Indiana Gallery on the second floor shows a cross section of cars like Marmon, Studebaker, and Stutz that brought world wide acclaim to the Hoosier state. One of my favorites here is an Indianapolis-built 1919 Cole Aero-Eight TourSedan.

1919 Cole Aero Eight TourSedan
1919 Cole Aero-Eight TourSedan
Copyright © 2011 Dennis E. Horvath

Second floor galleries feature design examples across a wide spectrum. The Gordon Buehrig Gallery of Design focuses on the process of design at the company. Buehrig is probably most famous for designing the 1936 Cord Model 810 in addition to the 1935 Auburn Boattail Speedster and many Duesenberg Model Js. E. L. Cord’s office and design studios remain with period correct trappings from the company’s heyday. One item I particularly like is the many clay styling models of the Cord Model 810. These give an idea of the attention to detail required in designing this creative auto.

I always enjoy finding new treasures during my visits to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. Everyone I recommend it to agrees with my accolades for this Indiana automotive gem. You should be sure to visit ACDAM on a trip to the Midwest.

To find more about Indiana car culture follow this link.

Studebaker Arboreal Sign planted in the late 1930s

The Studebaker Arboreal Sign in Bendix Woods County Park in New Carlislie, Indiana was planted in the late 1930s. The living tree landmark sign, especially visible from the air, spells out “Studebaker” in red and white pine trees standing over 60 feet tall.

Studebaker Arboreal Sign
Studebaker Arboreal Sign
Photo courtesy of St. Joseph County Parks

The landmark, created with over 8,000 6-inch red and white pine seedlings in 1938, spells out the word “Studebaker” from the air. The sign is about a half-mile long. In those days, the land was the Studebaker automobile company’s vehicle proving grounds. The sign was created as a salute to the growing aviation industry.

Studebaker was the first American car company to establish its own proving grounds in 1926, on a plot of land just west of South Bend. When Studebaker exited the car business in the mid-1960s, it sold the proving grounds to Bendix, which later split off 190 acres of the grounds – including the arboreal sign and the former Studebaker clubhouse – and donated that land to the county to create Bendix Woods County Park. Bendix has since sold the adjoining proving grounds and three-mile test track to Bosch.

The former clubhouse still stands and is used as a nature center. The arboreal sign and clubhouse are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Studebaker tree sign earned a place in the 1987 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest living advertising sign. In addition to the Great Wall of China, the Studebaker living tree sign can be seen from space.

So, the next time you are flying over northern Indiana, check out the Studebaker arboreal sign just west of South Bend.

To find more about Indiana car culture follow this link.

The great auto treasure hunt

We are now in the season for auto shows and swap meets, and I have been thinking back on some of my finds at these events over the years. I’m also wondering about the great treasures that others have found. What’s your story? For me, two of my best finds have to be Studebaker catalogs that collectively span the company’s time in Indiana automotive manufacturing, 1902 – 1963.

1902 Studebaker catalog
1902 Studebaker catalog

The first is a Studebaker Electric Vehicle catalog from 1902. This catalog’s copy talks about the company’s concern about offering an electric automobile that it could recommend and not discredit its standing in the vehicle market. The Studebaker electric line offered three models: a runabout, a trap, and a Stanhope, which are well illustrated. The last page remarks on the four gold medals and two bronze medals awarded for Studebaker vehicles and tack won at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The company produced 20 electric cars for the year.

1963 Avanti catalog
1963 Avanti catalog

My second great find is an Avanti 1962 advertising brochure at the other end of the Studebaker’s Indiana automotive story. The document is a great example of 1960’s era automotive marketing materials. This brochure’s copy is quite a contrast from that for the electric vehicles. I especially like some of the claims for performance: “More horsepower than you’ll ever need – the Avanti, with its supercharged engine and disc brakes, can accelerate from standstill to 60 mph in true competition time and stop from 100 mph in well under 450 feet – about two thirds the distance required by conventional braking systems.”

These two catalogs tell the Studebaker story at both ends of an automotive saga.

So, what’s your great swap meet find?

To find more about Indiana car culture follow this link.

My links to early Indiana automobiles

While traveling on the Lincoln Highway just west of South Bend, Indiana, I was reminded of my links to early Indiana automobiles. Let tell you the rest of the story.

My father was born in 1909 on a farm along Michigan Road, the predecessor to the Lincoln Highway, just west of South Bend. Every time I go down Lincolnway past the airport I think about the time Dad took us to the edge of the airport sometime in the late 1950s. We found the remains of his Sumption Prairie schoolhouse. He mentioned the family farm was nearby on western end of the airport grounds along the highway. Today, this area has been greatly altered by numerous airport expansions.

I feel a link to the Lincoln Highway since his farm was along the road when it was routed in 1913. I can imagine Dad going to school, working and playing in the area. He was a witness to the early motorists along this famous pike.

After his family moved into town and he graduated from South Bend Central High School, he completed his Tool Maker Apprenticeship at Studebaker Corporation.

V. J. Horvath at Studebaker 1929
V. J. Horvath at Studebaker 1929

He told many stories about running a piston ring grooving machine along the engine manufacturing line. During the Depression, he left Studebaker and later moved to Indianapolis to work at Allison Division of General Motors.

Mormon Meteor II being loaded
Mormon Meteor II being loaded

I found this photograph in his photo collection of the Mormon Meteor II being loaded onto a truck. The Mormon Meteor II was built at Auburn’s Factory in Connersville, Indiana, in 1937. I can only speculate how he might have been involved with this Bonneville racer.

After World War II, he left Allison to work at machine shops around Indianapolis. During some of the work at these shops, he produced components for race car builders around Central Indiana.

My links to early Indiana automobiles started with the Lincoln Highway, Studebaker Corporation, and mid-century race cars. Then, while I was a youngster, Dad took me to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway many times. One of my earliest recollections is of Jack McGrath working a roadster around the first turn. Dad was my long-time racing companion.

My first-hand interest in automobiles started in the early 1950s and continues today. Thanks Dad!

To find more about Indiana car culture follow this link.