Monthly Archives: December 2015

Weather challenges for the Indianapolis Auto Shows

Do think we have weather challenges today? Let me tell you about the 1913 Indianapolis Auto Show and weather challenges 102 years ago.

Meet me at the auto show
Meet me at the auto show

Indianapolis auto shows were open air affairs beginning in 1907, because of the lack of any building of sufficient size to accommodate a large show. Soon, over 60 dealers and garages throughout the district hosted thousands of visitors at these shows.

The successes of these early shows led the Indianapolis Auto Trade Association (IATA) to plan the March 24, 1912, tent show on three streets around University Park. However, a blizzard blitzed this show. The Indianapolis News reported: “A gang of workmen was busy nearly all day removing the snow from the top of the tent and succeeded in preventing it from breaking through anywhere.”

The next year’s event was inside, at the Coliseum and Coliseum Annex at the State Fair Grounds, March 24-29. No snow, but a torrential downpour started on Easter Sunday, March 23. By mid-week many parts of Indianapolis were stranded by the swollen White River and its tributaries. With the crippling of street car and other transportation systems, Indianapolis auto manufacturers came to the rescue.

Every factory and garage and many private owners placed their cars at the disposal of the police and other departments. New cars, test cars, factory trucks, and anything that would run was pressed into service in the flooded districts where it was sometimes too swift for boats. These vehicles carried the imperiled families to places of refuge.

R. P. Henderson’s touring car
R. P. Henderson’s touring car

For instance, the personal touring car of Henderson Motor Car Co. Vice President R. P. Henderson was placed at the disposal of authorities on the north side making trips carrying flood victims to high ground. One of the first trucks placed in service was “Old Bolivar,” the first Henderson touring car built, that was serving as the factory pickup truck. The truck transported a boat and officers to the flood area across the Fall Creek Bridge.

By Tuesday, March 25, the continuing rains caused the White River and other streams to rise cutting off access to the fair grounds, making it necessary to discontinue the show until Friday, March 28. On Friday the show was further discontinued until Sunday at 1 pm. The directors of the IATA decided that the Sunday receipts of the show would be donated to the flood sufferers relief fund. Freewill offerings to the fund were also accepted at the doors, and the IATA also scheduled two benefit theatrical performances at the reopening. The total amount taken in for the fund during the Sunday show approached $1000.

1913 Henderson auto show Ad
1913 Henderson auto show Ad

On Sunday, IATA estimated that at least 4,000 people inspected the cars on display. Indiana manufacturers, including Auburn, Cole, Empire, Haynes, Cole, Henderson, Marion, Marmon, McFarlan, Motor Car Manufacturing Co., National, Studebaker, Premier, and Waverley Electric, were part of the 36 firms exhibiting a total of 200 cars.

The show continued through the end of the week. The Coliseum ground floor featured pleasure car exhibits, and the promenade around the structure had more cars and motorcycles. The Coliseum Annex housed accessories and trucks. Warmer weather, bigger crowds, and better transportation facilities combined to make the later days of the show successful. A joyful carnival crowd greeted closing night on Saturday, April 5.

Hopefully, we won’t have any more weather challenges for this year’s iteration of the Indianapolis Auto Show.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies follow this link.

Studebaker’s innovation continued

With the addition of the Wagonaire station wagon for 1963, Studebaker’s innovation continued.

The company brochures promoted the versatile Wagonaire as “A smart family wagon, open-top sedan, and a handy hauler for mile-high loads! Great for work or family wanderlust. Lark models with 6 or 259 V-8 – Daytona has Power Thrust 259 V-8. A non-sliding roof also available.”

1964 Wagonaire ad
1964 Wagonaire ad

For 1962-63, Studebaker instituted a crash-program to invigorate its product line with updates of the Lark and Hawk models and the new Avanti. Industrial designer Brooks Stevens revisions for the Wagonaire were one of the biggest surprises. He redesigned the existing station wagon aft of the A-pillars for a taller roofline.

The Wagonaire was special because of the sliding sunroof in the back over the cargo area. With the help of a one-piece tailgate with roll-down glass, the cargo area could be opened up to turn the Wagonaire into a convertible pick-up truck for carrying over-sized loads. One advertisement showed a refrigerator upright in the cargo area. Interiors boasted new instrument panels with a slide-out vanity that included built-in drink holders and a pop-up makeup mirror.

1964 Wagonaire dash
1964 Wagonaire dash

This innovation preceded the 2004 GMC Envoy XUV’s announcement of a sliding roof section and the 2008 Ford Super Duty’s offering a tailgate step.

Unfortunately, the Wagonaire sliding roof design presented some potential problem areas. Four drain tubes were designed into the channels along the roof opening, but they sometimes clogged sending debris and water into the passenger area. Later on, the weather stripping around the top occasionally developed leaks.

For those interested in a factory muscle car, the purchaser could opt for one of two high-performance engines originally designed for the Avanti sport coupe. The R1 had a high compression 289 V-8, producing 240 hp with the R2 supercharged version yielding between 280 and 300 hp.

From 1963-66, Studebaker produced 19,585 Wagonaires. Nearly 12,000 rolled off the line in South Bend before the December 20, 1963 shut-down. Canadian Wagonaire production continued until March 1966 when some 418 were produced.

Studebaker’s automotive innovation continued for over sixty years with the Wagonaire serving as the capstone to this Indiana automotive pioneer. Occasionally, I used to see a Wagonaire tooling around Indy’s north side. I wonder where it is today.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies follow this link.

Give her an Indiana-built car

When looking at the advertising of the broad range of Indiana-made automobiles during the first half of the 20th century, you see the evolution of automotive advertising during this time frame. One of the changes in print advertising was the enticement of women buyers.

1905 Pope-Waverley ad
1905 Pope-Waverley ad

Early automotive advertising focused on the product by touting features and reliability. Wedding gifts were the theme of a 1905 Pope-Waverley ad in Life Magazine. It suggested, “From the Groom to the Bride. It’s quite the thing nowadays to present the bride with a Pope-Waverley Electric. No gift imaginable can make as lasting an impression or give the recipient more genuine pleasure and convenience. These superb carriages are ‘always ready,’ clean, noiseless, and simple to operate.”

1929 Studebaker ad
1929 Studebaker ad

Studebaker’s December 7, 1929, Literary Digest ad is probably one of the high marks for the decade. Three-color illustrations told the story. “This Christmas – Give her the keys to happiness.” The main illustration is of a father and daughter looking fondly at their gift of keys to a Studebaker Eight to the mother. “Each year this gracious Christmas custom grows in favor…the presentation of the Keys to Happiness to one well beloved. An attractive gift case holds the shining keys for one of Studebaker’s smart new motor cars — an Eight by the Builder of Champions! One should remember that this ad was conceived before the October 1929 stock market crash, which had cataclysmic effects for advertising.

1934 Duesenberg ad
1934 Duesenberg ad

Duesenberg introduced its lifestyle advertisements during the mid-1930’s. One ad emphasized an almost full-page illustration of a women in a stylish riding habit and her hunting dogs with the tagline, “She drives a Duesenberg.” Another showed a women talking to her master gardener with five other gardeners working in the background on a palatial garden with the same tagline. The Duesenberg in question is inferred, it is not shown anywhere. These are probably the epitome of early automotive lifestyle advertising.

These materials are part of the sales process in creating attention, interest, and desire in the prospective customer’s mind. Early on, Indiana manufacturers sought to interest women in their products. Why not give the woman of the house an Indiana-built car for Christmas?

For more information on Indiana cars & companies follow this link.

Who built Indiana’s first automobile-Charles H. Black?

Working as an Indianapolis carriage builder, Charles H. Black helped to herald the entry of the self-propelled motor wagon into Indiana. It has even been speculated that he may have built Indiana’s first automobile in 1891. Unfortunately, no contemporary newspaper accounts of the time exist to corroborate this claim, therefore it is not widely recognized. Elwood Haynes of Kokomo, Indiana, is generally accepted as one of the first to demonstrate a gasoline-powered automobile in America on July 4, 1894.

Indianapolis News December 27, 1913
Indianapolis News December 27, 1913

Black asserted in an article in the December 27, 1913, issue of the Indianapolis News that “In 1891, after making most of my parts in my blacksmith shop and having others made for me, I was ready with my first machine. I tried it out on the streets of Indianapolis, using the Circle and Delaware Street mostly as they were paved.” The article listed 12 prominent Indianapolis businessmen who recalled seeing Black operating his auto in the spring of 1891. If only there were contemporary sources to back-up this claim he might have received wider recognition for accomplishments.

Black Business Wagon
Black Business Wagon

As a skilled blacksmith and carriage maker, Black had the expertise to make most anything he needed. He built his own spark coil after rejecting one made in Germany. He commissioned a local storage battery company to build a battery specifically for his purpose.

Black is also known for a few other notable firsts. For example, in June 1892, Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison issued Black a license (possibly the first in the country) to drive on the city streets. Black probably also paid the first damage claim for an automobile accident in 1892 when he gave $1 to an ash hauler for a broken harness when the horse was frightened by the noise of his auto. Plus in 1893, President Benjamin Harrison rode in Black’s car in Indianapolis just after leaving the presidency. Black also claimed taking Thomas Taggart home from the Grand Hotel one day.

Black 10-passenger Wagonette
Black 10-passenger Wagonette

The fact remains that Charles H. Black conducted automotive experiments in the early 1890’s. Plus, the C. H. Black Manufacturing Co., at 44 South Pennsylvania Street (where the Century Building now stands), is documented as commercially producing autos from 1896 to 1900. The 1896 date establishes the firm as one of the first auto manufacturers in the state. The company’s printed catalog described five models from a lightweight two-passenger Business Wagon for $600 up to a 10-passenger Wagonette priced at $1,800. Black sold his designs and manufacturing rights in late 1899.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

America sees first sport cars in Indiana?

Could it be that America’s first sport cars were built in Indianapolis? Looking back over 106 years of American automobile styling, that seems to be the case. The 1907 American Underslung Roadster debuted American sports car styling.

The American Motor Car Company of Indianapolis began offering conventional automobiles in 1906. Fred I. Tone’s first assignment as the new chief engineer and designer was to design a completely “All-American car from American-made materials.”

1907 American Underslung
1907 American Underslung

Interestingly, the inspiration for this low sports roadster design came serendipitously. One day in 1906, when the frames were delivered to American, they were unloaded upside down. Tone seized upon the idea to mount the frame under the axles. The “underslung” was born. From that day on, American built all roadsters underslung while continuing to make touring cars and sedans on conventionally overslung chassis.

On the underslung, the engine and transmission were also drastically lowered between the frame rails. The roadster also used 40” wheels with the fenders about even with the top of the hood and body to enhance the styling.

Tone and the entire staff worked non-stop to bring the American Roadster to market.
When the 1907 Roadster and the conventional Tourist–both selling for $3,250 were announced in November 1906, American stated that output would be limited to 150 cars for the year. The American Roadsters that garnered numerous headlines in races during the summer of 1907 inspired building a more powerful roadster. American suspended operations in 1914.

1914 Stutz Bearcat
1914 Stutz Bearcat

At American’s cross-town rival Stutz Motor Car Company, the famous Bearcat sports car appeared in 1912 for a run of 10 years. It followed the usual Stutz recipe of a low-slung chassis, a large engine, and other bare necessities–hood, fenders, a right-hand raked steering column, two bucket seats, a fuel tank behind the seats, and wooden spoke wheels. The Stutz Bearcat was a popular car in the $2,000 price range. Its ap¬peal was boosted by Stutz’s success at the race track. Bearcats finished fourth and sixth at the Indianapolis 500 in 1912 and won numerous other races that same year. The next year a Bearcat finished third at the Indianapolis 500, and by late fall Stutz driver Earl Cooper was crowned the National Champion after winning six consecutive races.

So, that’s the story of America’s first sport cars being built in Indianapolis over 100 years ago. The next time you spy an American sports car think back to the American Underslung and the Stutz Bearcat beginning this sports car evolution.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies follow this link.