Monthly Archives: September 2015

The federal highway system is a great idea

Recently, we returned from a fall vacation road trip, and I marveled at how the federal highway system is a great idea. Federal funding and planning for our cross country highways is almost 85 years old making our leisure and business transportation is much better because of it.

1906 Maxwell on road
1906 Maxwell on contemporary road

In 1909, there were 2.2 million miles of road in the United States. Only about 190,000 miles were surfaced. Most travel was in urban areas, with travel into the country mostly being attempted in fair weather. Rain quickly turned country roads into thigh-deep mud ruts, making travel extremely difficult. If they got stuck in the mud, many travelers had to enlist the aid of a nearby horse team to extract them from the quagmire.

Road building and maintenance were entirely the province of local government. There were no federal funds for roads in those years. The tiny state and county appropriations were sometimes wasted on projects that had little effect on the conditions of roads.

In the fall of 1912, Hoosier auto entrepreneur, Carl G. Fisher announced his idea for a coast-to-coast rock highway from New York to San Francisco to alleviate the problem of bad roads. With the enthusiasm of Indiana auto manufacturers, Fisher began a letter writing and personal visit campaign to representatives of the automotive trades across the country. Fisher believed that the success of the infant auto industry revolved around the use of better roads.

Within 30 days of his announcement, Fisher raised over a million dollars in pledges and considerable ink in the nation’s press. In early December, Fisher received a letter from Henry B. Joy, president of Packard Motor Car Company, pledging $150,000 and recommending that the road be built in the name of Abraham Lincoln. In the summer of 1913, Joy became president of the Lincoln Highway Association. The Lincoln Highway ran through 13 states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California.

The optimism of non-governmental funding development for the road soon led to reverting to the earlier practice of states, counties, and communities providing the major funding. Joy proposed that the association fund and oversee the construction of “seedling miles” in places where improvement was most needed. This was the way most highway development preceded across the country until the Federal-Aid Road Act of 1916. The act established provisions for the construction of rural Post Roads and construction and maintenance of National Forest roads in cooperation with the state and local authorities.

In fall of 1925, the federal highway plan introduced national numbered highways with a uniform style of regulatory and warning signs to replace the named routes across the country. With the completion of last section of U.S. Route 30 in Nebraska in 1935, the original Lincoln Highway became the first paved transcontinental highway in the country.

At mid-century, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act of 1956. The act authorized construction of a highway network that promised to hurry the nation’s commerce and military and greatly reduce driving time by eliminating stoplights, sharp curves, intersections, and no-passing zones.

The Interstate Highway System that we know today revolutionized highway travel and interstate commerce. Now, on a good day, one can drive from central Indiana to central Florida in 16 hours. A large amount of the commercial products we use daily are transported via interstate highways. These benefits are made possible by a 90 percent federal – 10 percent state funding formula and Federal Highway Administration certification.

Federal highway programs still benefit us on other U.S. highways across the country. On our recent trip, for instance, in Kentucky we used U.S. routes 25, 50, 150, 127, and 421 to travel along lesser traveled roads from Mt. Vernon to Madison, Indiana. I especially enjoy these back roads to get a taste of how life used-to-be during a simpler time in America.

I want to say thank you to all of my friends and relatives across the country for making our federal highway system possible through their tax dollars. What a great idea!

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

California or bust

During the infancy of automotive history, consumers were skeptical of the reliability of automobiles. So to prove their products’ capabilities on the road, many automakers sponsored coast-to-coast trips.

1911 Premier Ocean to Ocean Tour
1911 Premier Ocean to Ocean Tour

Premier Motor Manufacturing Company was one that followed this policy. In fact, 12 Premiers in 1911 became the first caravan of autos ever to cross the United States. They used a network of roads to travel from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Venice Park, California.

The journey started with an idea formed by several wealthy Premier owners, mostly from Pennsylvania and New York. They wanted to show that previous sponsors of transcontinental races had overplayed their victories by describing the roads as more treacherous than they were.

Premier Prairie Schooner
Premier Prairie Schooner

So, 40 travelers out of the group set out from the Atlantic Ocean on June 26, 1911 and headed west to report their findings. Premier supported the effort by supplying the caravan’s 12th vehicle, a mechanic, and factory test driver to accompany the travelers. Nicknamed the “millionaire auto party,” the caravan made headlines across the route.

The cars reached Indianapolis on Sunday, July 2, 1911, after the longest one-day leg of the journey-236 miles from Zanesville, Ohio, to Indianapolis. The next day, Harold O. Smith Premier’s president, treated the motorists to “a clam bake and picnic, lasting all day, at beautiful Broad Ripple, where boating and swimming are chief diversions.” The travelers also visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Several impromptu races have been arranged among the amateur drivers,” The Indianapolis Star said.

They stopped each night in the best hotels available in the location and traveled in relative luxury for the time. Each vehicle traveled about 4,617 miles with mechanical troubles amounting to only four broken springs. After 45 days, the group concluded their journey by dipping their wheels in the Pacific Ocean.

“There is a general feeling that the Pacific and Atlantic coasts have been brought closer together,” according to Motor Age, “and transcontinental touring by pleasure parties is now expected to become common since the first tour of this kind has been such an unqualified success.”

How’s that for a transcontinental twist on the phrase “California or Bust.”

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

The innovator of rolling sculpture

With all of the excitement that surrounds the annual Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival, my thoughts immediately go to the designs of Gordon M. Buehrig, called the innovator of rolling sculpture. His automotive designs spanned many decades and are still recognized by auto aficionados.

Gordon M. Buehrig
Gordon M. Buehrig
Copyright © Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum

Buehrig’s interest with automobiles started like many of the rest of us. He doodled. In fact, an instructor expelled him from class on one occasion because the student’s notebook was full of automobile drawings. This early interest in auto design shaped the rest of his life.

Many regard Buehrig as one of the most important automotive designers. His career spanned nearly four decades while working at Dietrich Inc., Packard, General Motors, Stutz, Duesenberg, Auburn Automobile Company, the Budd Company, Raymond Loewy’s Studebaker studio, and Ford Motor Company. His famous designs include the 1932 Duesenberg Model J Beverly, the 1934 Auburn 851 Boattail Speedster, and the 1936 Cord Model 810.

E. L. Cords 1937 Cord Beverley Sedan
E. L. Cords 1937 Cord Beverley Sedan

The Cord Model 810 is probably one of his best known designs. In late 1933, during his second stint with General Motors Art and Color Section, Buehrig designed an aerodynamic car with air intakes on each side of a wrap-around hood. Back in E.L. Cord’s employment, this design study became the genesis for a “baby Duesenberg” in 1933. By December 1934, the design of the new front-wheel-drive Cord Model 810 model was essentially complete and then shelved.

When the project was revived in July 1935, there was less than four months in which to build and test a prototype, tool up, and get the cars into production for the New York Auto Show on November 2, 1935. The company made the deadline, but without the transmissions in place. Plus, the phaetons were without any tops. The missing parts didn’t matter. The Cord 810 stopped the show. People had to stand on surrounding cars just to get a glimpse of Cord’s exciting new design. Cord received over 7,600 requests for more information on the 810. Unfortunately, due to unanticipated production start-up problems, almost six months would pass before any deliveries were made.

The Cord Model 810 was available in four models: the five-passenger Westchester Sedan, four-passenger Beverly Sedan, five-passenger Convertible Phaeton Sedan, and the Convertible Coupe with rumble seat. In 1951, the New York Museum of Modern Art special exhibit titled “Hollow Rolling Sculpture,” recognized the Cord 810 as “the outstanding American contribution to automobile design.”

While you are walking among the gems at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival, think back to Gordon M. Buehrig, the innovator of rolling sculpture.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Indiana-built car overlooked in 1950’s sports car history

I recently became aware of an Indiana-built car that is overlooked in 1950’s sports car history. That car is the Arnolt-Bristol built in Warsaw, Indiana.

In the late 1930s through the early 1950s, Stanley H. Arnolt II had various manufacturing operations around Warsaw. By 1953, he was an importer and distributor of BMC and was also the exclusive Bristol dealer for the entire country, based in Chicago, IL. About the same time, he established a retail sales and service center for sports cars in Warsaw. After marketing the Arnolt-MG for a couple of years, he conceived the idea for the Arnolt-Bristol.

1954 Arnolt Bristol
David and Kathryn Hans’
1954 Arnolt-Bristol
Copyright © 2012 Dennis E. Horvath

The Arnolt-Bristol sports car was assembled on a Bristol 404 chassis with a 130-horsepower, six cylinder-engine, in Filton, UK, and then sent to Turin, Italy, for its custom Carrozzeria Bertone body. Final assembly, fitting of options, prep work and occasional paint and upholstery changes were done in Warsaw.

Arnolt-Bristol bodies were designed by Bertone’s designer/aerodynamicist, Franco Scaglione. They received a hood scoop to lower the surrounding sheet metal, and then incorporated sharply creased fender lines over the wheels to draw the eye’s attention away from the unusually tall hood.

The cars were available in three body styles: Bolide – a true racing bred sports car with few amenities; Deluxe option with side windows, convertible top, and adjustable seats; and a Coupe. The majority of Arnolt-Bristols were built between 1954 and 1959.

In 1955, an Arnolt-Bristol finished first in stock class and two others finished second and fourth in the Sports 2000 class at the Sebring 12-hour race. Arnolt-Bristol sports cars enjoyed additional success at Sebring in 1956 and 1960.

1954 Arnolt Bristol
David and Kathryn Hans’
1954 Arnolt-Bristol interior
Copyright © 2012 Dennis E. Horvath

I saw David and Kathryn Hans’ 1954 Arnolt-Bristol Bolide Roadster at the 2012 Concours of Southwest Michigan in St. Joseph, Michigan. Their British racing green roadster with tan leather interior was an outstanding example of the marque. Their car won the Shore Magazine “Automobile Lifestyle Award.”

An early issue of Sports Illustrated reviewed the Arnold-Bristol on December 20, 1954. I am constantly amazed at what turns up in automotive history. I feel honored to recognize Stanley H. Arnolt II for building the Arnolt-Bristol sports car in Warsaw, Indiana.

For more information on Indiana-built cars and companies follow this link.

Carl G. Fisher’s thoughts on electric automobiles

Recently, while perusing my automobilia collection, I found a letter reflecting Carl G. Fisher’s thoughts on electric automobiles. This letter, dated June 18, 1909, on Fisher Automobile Company letterhead, presents his thoroughness in recommending new cars.

Fisher Letterhead
Fisher Automobile Company Letterhead
Copyright ©1909 Carl G. Fisher

In the first paragraph Fisher states: “Heretofore, I have refrained from handling the Electric Automobile for the reason that I considered the manufacture of this type of car had not made sufficient advance in construction.” He goes on to state the reasons that he finds that the Baker Motor Vehicle Co. has adopted the best obtainable material regardless of cost. He further states: “Their ten years of experience in the manufacture of these electric carriages, together with constant development has produced a more perfect harmony of construction than can be found elsewhere.”

Fisher’s highlights in recommending the Baker electric included:

  • The Baker motor used bearings that eliminate friction giving results over other makes.
  • Baker construction and adjustment saved power thus yielding more mileage between recharge and a greater speed.
  • The battery plates lasted longer, therefore lowering maintenance costs.

In concluding his evaluation he states: “I have proven beyond a question of doubt the superiority of the Baker Electric and do not hesitate to recommend it.”

Fisher’s enticement to electric car prospects reads: “To a purchaser of the Baker Electric the Fisher Automobile Co. will garage the car for $25 per month; this includes a thorough inspection, charging, washing, cleaning, polishing, calling for and delivering once per day. To those who prefer keeping their car at home, we will for one year give you two thorough inspections per month free.”

I originally purchased this letter to have Carl G. Fisher’s autograph. Today, I enjoy it for the interesting look into Indiana automotive history. This letter provides an example of retailing by one of America’s early auto dealers. Fisher prided himself in representing leading American automobiles. Over the years, in addition to Baker Electric, Fisher represented National, Overland, Packard, REO, and Stoddard-Dayton.

In addition to sales, his 400 North Capital Avenue location on the edge of Indianapolis’ business district provided service and storage of customer’s autos. The location became the keystone of Indianapolis Automobile Row in following decades. Today, automotive retail has moved to the suburbs.

So, there you have some early thoughts on electric automobiles.

For more information on Indiana’s auto pioneers follow this link.