Monthly Archives: October 2015

Was Lambert first?

When most historians answer the question who built the America’s first successful gasoline automobile, they usually point to the Duryea brothers’ machine which was demonstrated in Springfield, Massachusetts, on September 22, 1893. This citation overlooks the fact that John W. Lambert demonstrated and attempted to market his vehicle in the summer of 1891.

A 1960 article in Antique Automobile and an entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica credited former Indiana resident John W. Lambert with building America’s first successful automobile in January 1891. At the time, Lambert was a resident of Ohio City, Ohio, which is just across the state line.

1891 Lambert
1891 Lambert

This event predated both Duryea’s and Haynes’ claims of being first. Lambert may not have pressed his claim because he felt that, although extremely successful mechanically, it was a financial failure. He was unable to generate sufficient sales for more.

The 1891 Lambert was a three-wheel vehicle with a one-cylinder gas engine, a carburetor, and a drive system of his own design. By 1892, Lambert improved his one-cylinder engine. He then joined his father and brother in Union City, Ohio, to manufacture stationary gas engines.

1910 Lambert Touring
1910 Lambert Touring

In 1894, Lambert moved to Anderson to oversee their expanded operations of the newly named Buckeye Manufacturing Company. After attending the Chicago Times Herald Race in 1895, he returned home with a renewed desire to manufacture an automobile. By 1898, he fitted the Buckeye engine to a four-wheel buggy and operated it with success. That year also saw another Lambert innovation—the friction-drive transmission.

In 1902, Lambert formed the Union Auto Company in Union City to produce a rear-engine automobile with gearless, friction-drive. In 1905, Lambert closed this firm and formed the Buckeye Manufacturing Company in Anderson.

Lambert Commercial Vehicles
Lambert Commercial Vehicles

By 1910, this company had over 1,000 employees producing 3,000 cars and trucks a year. Lambert manufactured automobiles, trucks, fire engines, and farm tractors until 1917. During World War I, Lambert factories were converted to national defense production.

At the end of World War I, John correctly prophesied that a medium-sized, independent manufacturer would have to expand tremendously or merge with one of the large companies capable of mass production. The Lamberts chose instead to go into associated fields of automobile manufacturing. By the end of his career, John W. Lambert had over 600 patents in the automobile, gasoline engine, and other mechanical fields.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Buick Produces a Sixties Styling Icon

Outside of the Studebaker Avanti launched in April 1962, I believe the 1963-1965 Buick Riviera ranks as a Sixties Styling icon. Car & Driver called it “The car that most impressed us in 1963.” The magazine further states “…it stands alone among American cars in providing a combination of luxury, performance, and general roadworthiness.”

1963 Riviera front
1963 Riviera front view
Copyright General Motors Corporation

What makes the Riviera so appealing? For me it’s the cutting edge styling inspired by GM’s chief stylist Bill Mitchell. Some of his inspiration came from seeing a Rolls-Royce cutting through the foggy night while visiting the 1959 London Motor Show.

1963 Riviera rear
1963 Riviera rear view>
Copyright General Motors Corporation

The Riviera features an expansive egg-crate grille, a flowing fender line, razor-sharp hardtop roof, and a classic inspired rear quarter panels. In side view, the Riviera has two rear scoops ahead of the rear wheels and a trim line that flows from the front edge and over the front wheel opening, then horizontally to and over the rear wheel opening straight to the lower edge of the rear bumper. The original plan of placing the headlights in the fenders behind retraceable grilles was not available until the 1965 model. It is a clean European influenced style that leads the eye to this styling icon.

1965 Riviera retractable headlights
1965 Riviera retractable headlights
Copyright General Motors Corporation

Riviera featured two manufacturing “firsts” for a production automobile: 1. Frameless side glass windows. 2. Flush adhesive-mounted windshield and rear window. Buick’s 401 cubic-inch “Wildcat” V-8 engine provided the motive force for the luxurious Riviera.

In a collectible classic review of the Riviera, Automobile magazine recently stated “One of the most beautifully proportioned American cars of the last sixty years; it was reportedly lauded by contemporary cognoscenti including famous designers such as Sir William Lyons, Sergio Pininfarina, and Raymond Loewy…”

It’s nice to see the magazine seems to agree that the 1963-1965 Buick Riviera is a sixties styling icon. You might want to check one out for a collectible classic in your garage.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

My reflections on Chevrolet Ownership

November 3, 2011 marked Chevrolet’s Centennial. What a great time to reflect on this automotive icon.

My connection to Chevrolet goes back to my childhood because all the cars that my dad owned were Chevys. The first one I remember well was a 1953 Two-Ten 2-door sedan with a Blue Flame Six engine. This car was replaced by a coral pink with white top, 1957 Bel Air 4-door sedan with a 283 V-eight engine. I remember washing this car many times and cleaning the vinyl interior with saddle soap. This probably launched my desire to own a 1957 Chevy of my own.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe
1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe
Copyright © 1957 General Motors

Yes, my first car was a 1957 Bel Air sport coupe. This iconic car would be the first in a line of my Chevrolet ownership. Next, I ordered a 1969 Chevelle 2-door coupe in LeMans blue with black vinyl top with a 307 V-eight engine before I got out of the Navy. I drove this sporty car through college, when I entered corporate America.

The Chevrolet brand served me well as company cars. The first of these was a silver with black vinyl top 1975 Malibu 2-door Colonade Coupe, followed by a two-tone blue 1980 Citation 2-door hatchback coupe and a 1985 Citation 4-door hatchback sedan.

As you can see, I owned some of the brand’s best over some 30 years. The 1957 Chevrolet is still popular in today’s collectible marketplace. The mid-1970’s Chevelles and Malibus were respected in their market. The 1980’s Citations were somewhat popular as economic models.

It was great owning one of Chevrolet’s most popular models. I salute the Chevrolet Centennial and wish the company much success in its next 100 years.

For more on our automotive heritage follow this link.

Things to do for the Indiana Auto Enthusiast

A month ago I wrote a review of 100 Things for Every Gearhead to do Before They Die .

Author Jason Fogelson lists: Rides and Drives, Auctions, Car Museums, New Car Shows, Classic Car Shows, Concours d’Elegance, Factory Tours, Land Speed Records, Motorcycle Museums, Off-Roading, Racing, Rallies, Test-Drives and Experiences, Driving Schools, Track Days, and Seasonal Itineraries.

His list got me thinking about things to do for the Indiana auto enthusiast. At my new listing includes 33 items: Museums with cars, Backroads and Drives, Exhibits and Events, Experiences,and Factory Tours.

Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum
Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum

I believe one of the best ways to experience Indiana’s automotive heritage is by visiting these offerings. My first exposure to collectible cars was the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival over Labor Day weekend many years ago. After visiting the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, seeing the Parade of Classics, perusing the cars around the Courthouse square, and going to the auction, I was hooked for life. In fact, if you want to experience it all in one full day, do it just as I did. Visit all four places on Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Now, I take it at a slower pace, and spread it out over two or three days.

I feel that Indiana’s car culture offerings are first rate. Most are within a two-hour drive for most anyone. I encourage you to grab your map and planner, and visit my recommendations to see what Indiana’s car culture is all about. Who knows? Maybe I’ll see you there.

For more information on these resources follow this link.

Celebrating style on the road

Today we enjoy automobiles for their styling, but that was not always the case. In the early part of the twentieth century, automobiles were mostly designed by engineers and machinists. All of that changed in 1927 when General Motors created the Art & Colour Section to use styling to differentiate their offerings in the marketplace.

In the early 1920’s, General Motors President Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., saw the need to create a tier of automobiles ranging from Cadillac down to Chevrolet. In the quest to develop a companion Cadillac in the $2,000 range, he enlisted the Fisher brothers from the Fisher Body Corporation to bring a bit of stylishness to the new offering.

1927 LaSalle
1927 LaSalle
Copyright General Motors Corporation

Fred Fisher had met Harley J. Earl, a west coast coachbuilder whose imaginative designs were well known from Los Angeles to New York. Earl designed the complete automobile as a unified whole rather than a collection of unrelated parts. The Fisher brothers summoned Earl to design the new LaSalle.

Earl prepared the LaSalle sketches and clay models in about three months. Then, Sloan brought in department heads to critique Earl’s proposal. After some fabrication tests, the new car was approved for production.

The LaSalle was introduced at the Boston Automobile Show in the Copley-Plaza Hotel on March 5, 1927. It was the first American production car completely designed from headlight to rear bumper by a stylist. On June 23, 1927, Sloan selected Earl to head the Art & Colour Section, the first corporate auto design studio to use stylists.

One of the items Earl introduced at Art & Colour was the use of clay styling models to demonstrate creative forms in three dimensions, which was not previously possible with drawings in two dimensions. Over the course of a couple of decades, these small models grew to full scale representations of proposed designs for evaluation and production planning.

1938 Buick Y-Job
1938 Buick Y-Job
Copyright General Motors Corporation

The department’s name changed to the Styling Section on April 1, 1934. The sections 1930’s ultimate expression came to fruition with the 1938 Buick Y-Job, which is generally accepted as the auto industry’s first concept car. This streamlined concept was Earl’s attempt to focus all the department’s long-range ideas into one vehicle that could be tested in day-to-day exposure on the street and highway. The car’s features included hydraulic window lifts, electric-operated concealed headlights, and a power-operated convertible roof. GM allowed Earl to use Y-Job as his personal car for several years as he impressed his country club friends and others on the road.

When World War II ended, GM stylists found that they had many imitators among their competitors. They conceived of a one-company auto road show to showcase new designs. The General Motors Motorama debuted at the Waldorf-Astoria, in New York City on January 19, 1950. The company’s concept cars were the exhibits that captured public interest. The last motorama took place in 1961. More than 10 million people attended motoramas during the 12-year run.

Developments at the Styling Section led to creation of the General Motors Technical Center, a single campus for research, engineering, and development activities that opened in 1956. This facility is still producing styling innovations today. That’s over 88 years of style on the road.

For more on automotive styling follow this link.