Monthly Archives: February 2016

Indiana Automotive presents an Evening with Donald Davidson

Indiana Automotive, presents an Evening with Donald Davidson on Thursday, April 7. In his engaging and entertaining style, Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson will talk about the historic track in the Indianapolis 500’s 100th running anniversary year.

Known for his radio program The Talk of Gasoline Alley, Davidson will cover the fascinating history of the Speedway a National Historic Landmark. Following his stories about the Speedway, he’ll answer questions from the audience—and his reputation suggests there isn’t a single query about the Speedway he can’t answer.

Donald Davidson
Donald Davidson

The audience will also learn about other events planned by the Indiana Automotive. The group welcomes members interested in the early auto visionaries and the preservation of the cars they made, their factories, showrooms, and homes, and the landscaped parkways and roadside architecture birthed by the auto age.

WHAT: An Evening with Donald Davidson

WHO: Event hosted by Indiana Automotive

WHEN: Thursday, April 7, 5:30 cash bar and snacks; lecture at 6 p.m.

WHERE: Indiana Landmarks Center, 1201 Central Ave., Indianapolis

COST: Indiana Automotive Member-$6.24: Indiana Landmarks Member-$9.39: General Public-$11.49 Register here. Register today. Our previous Davidson lecture in 2014 sold out.

This event is the first of many planned for this year. IA encourages those interested in our automotive heritage to experience these events. We invite you to An Evening with Donald Davidson.

Studebaker Centennial in 1952

Studebaker Corporation, the oldest manufacturer of highway vehicles in the world, starting with horse-drawn carriages, celebrated its centennial year on February 16, 1952. Fifty years prior Studebaker marketed its first motor vehicle, an Electric Runabout. The company announced that it was “simple in construction, safe, easy to operate, free from vibration and noise” and that “friction and resistance had been reduced to a minimum.”

At the centennial dinner, Paul G. Hoffman, former Studebaker president and chairman of the board, remarked “Back in the horse-drawn days, one slogan of the company was ‘The Sun Never Sets on a Studebaker.’ Since it went into the automobile business, the slogan has become a reality.”

The Centennial Commemorative Medallion
Centennial Commemorative Medallion

Studebaker was honored in numerous ways during the year. The most notable of these was a 1952 Studebaker Commander V8 convertible selected as the official pace car for the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race on May 30, 1952. Studebaker Vice-President, P. O. Peterson drove the car to pace the race. The Studebaker Commander V8 and Champion Starliner Coupe were the newest additions to the lineup.

Not only that, but a pageant depicting the 100-year history of the company was presented to spectators on race morning, including everything from covered wagons, an array of historical Studebaker vehicles, and a Studebaker produced turbo-fan jet engine for the B-47 bomber.

P. O. Peterson with the Studebaker pace car
P. O. Peterson with Studebaker pace car
Photo Courtesy of Studebaker National Museum

Floyd Clymer, publisher of Automobile Topics, commented on the centennial: “To be sure, the road across those 100 years has not been entirely carpeted with velvet. Studebaker was hit with the full impact of the national depression in the 30’s, but through the will and enthusiasm of a few hardy men, and the building of quality products, Studebaker weathered the storm and emerged stronger than ever. Today it is in a strong financial position.

These centennial celebrations were during the days of America’s post-war recovery. In late 1963, Studebaker stopped production in South Bend, IN, and moved operations to Hamilton, ON, Canada, which ceased production in March 1966.

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

Comparing the 1923 auto industry with today’s

Receently I read an article from the National Geographic, October 1923, entitled The Automobile Industry: An American Art that has Revolutionized Methods in Manufacturing and Transformed Transportation. Here are some interesting points comparing the 1923 auto industry with today’s.

In 1923, the United States had 13 million registered vehicles, and the national income was around 60 billion dollars. Contrast that with today’s figures of almost 250 million registered vehicles and a national income of almost 13 trillion dollars. That’s over 19 times as many vehicles and over 215 times the national income.

Start of the 1922 Indianapolis 500 with Barney Oldfield driving the National Sextet pace car © Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Start of the 1922 Indianapolis 500 with Barney Oldfield driving the National Sextet pace car © Indianapolis Motor Speedway

That year experts estimated that the gas consumption by the motor cars of the country would exceed six billion gallons. In 2013, the U.S. consumed almost 135 billion gallions of gas. In 1923, the average driver was able to coax 15 miles out each gallon of gas. By 2013, U.S. drivers posted an average of 23.6 miles per gallon.

Additional data about 1923 shows that 11 out of every 13 motor vehicles in the world were operated on American roads, and 12 out of every 13 produced in a given period being American-made in 1923.

Typical auto assembly line ©National Geographic
Typical auto assembly line ©National Geographic

More new cars would be put into commission in 1923 than were built from the birth of the industry up to the end of 1915. Available figures indicated that the total car sales for the year would approximate five million, including two million used vehicles. This meant that one family out of every four in the country annually figured in an automobile transaction.

Seventy percent of cars being sold were bought on the deferred-payment plan. Every fifty dollars’ reduction in selling price opened up a new field of a million prospects. The deferred-payment plan also widened the market tremendously for all cars, and now the much-discussed “five dollars down and five a week” scheme of the Ford Motor Company was enrolling hundreds of thousands of new customers.

Overland Park Campgrounds in Denver Colorado ©National Geographic
Overland Park Campgrounds in Denver Colorado ©National Geographic

The article predicted “measured by Indiana’s ratio of car-owners to population, the ultimate registration of the country would reach 18 million.” Total U. S. vehicle registrations totaled just over 111 million vehicles for 2012, for a growth rate of 616 percent.

The American tribute to the automotive engineer’s genius had made this industry the third largest in the United States. The automotive vehicle manufacturer had become the largest producer of finished goods in the world.

“The great triumvirate – the passenger car, the freight truck, and the farm tractor – are destined to write a record of service to America that will stamp the automobile engineer as one of the foremost contributors to human welfare in all the history of mankind.”

Over the years, the automobile has become part of the fabric of American life. People like myself owe our lives and/or livelihood to the American auto industry. That’s one of the reasons I am a “Genuine Car Nut.”

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

Celebrating Indiana’s Automotive Pioneers

Many people have contributed to making Indiana’s mark on automotive history. Some of Indiana’s Automotive Pioneers are listed are inductees in the Automotive Hall of Fame located in Dearborn, Michigan.

I would like to offer my selection of Indiana’s Automotive Pioneers. These pioneers contributions to automotive history have been numerous. Yet we take these innovations increasingly for granted as part of today’s automobiles.

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

The following provides short biographical sketches for each of these individuals.

Gordon M. Buehrig-Extraordinary automotive designer
Louis Chevrolet-Racer-designer-builder
Errett Loban Cord-One of Indiana’s premier automotive executives
Clessie L. Cummins-Father of the American truck diesel
Frederick S. Duesenberg – Father of one the finest American production cars ever made
Carl Fisher–The Hoosier Barnum
Elwood Haynes – Builder of one America’s first automobiles
Raymond Loewy – One of the founders of industrial design
Howard C. Marmon – Early Indiana automotive innovator
Louis Schwitzer–Winner of the first race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909
Harry Stutz–Builder of The Car That Made Good in a Day
Ralph Teetor–Inventor of Cruise Control

Loewy with 53 Studebaker
Raymond Lowey with 1953 Studebaker
Copyright © Studebaker National Museum

So, the next time your motoring along in your car, you might wonder where you’d be without Indiana’s Automotive Pioneers.

Cole “The Standardized Car”

October 9, 2015, marked the 107th anniversary of the introduction of the first Cole Solid Tire Automobile. Joseph J. Cole’s motto was to build the finest, incorporating most of the best. By the end of the company’s drive through history, it contributed several innovations to the automotive industry.

Cole’s story starts with founder Joseph Jarrett Cole, who started working in the carriage business in about 1888. He served as a salesman and corporate executive for the Parry Manufacturing Company of Indianapolis, one of the world’s largest makers of buggies, surreys, and wagons. Later, he rose to secretary and principal stockholder at the Joseph W. Moon Company of St. Louis, Missouri, before branching out on his own.

1912 Cole
1912 Cole

In November 1904, Cole purchased a one-half interest in the Gates-Osborne Carriage Company of Indianapolis. He became president and changed the name to The Cole Carriage Company on December 4, 1905. The company was known for its full line of vehicles.

Cole had enough foresight to know that the automobile would replace horse-drawn vehicles and began to think seriously about building an automobile in early 1908. The first Cole Solid Tire Automobile was ready for inspection on October 9, 1908. The high wheeled car was designed for the road conditions of the day with solid rubber tires.

J. J. Cole adopted the phrase “The Standardized Car” for his product, thus indicating that Cole used components that were “the standard by which all cars would be judged in the future.” He ran a six page ad in the July 26, 1913, issue of the Saturday Evening Post, which was the largest automobile ad ever purchased to that date.

On July 12, 1913, chief engineer Charles W. Crawford and three Cole officials drove a Cole 30 cross-country from Indianapolis to Chicago, then to San Francisco and Los Angeles. They drove back to San Francisco, Vancouver, British Columbia, returned to Portland, Oregon, and then back to Indianapolis. The trip was accomplished without incident, except stopping to repair tires.

1918 Cole with Willoughby body
1918 Cole with Willoughby body

Cole Motor Company introduced the new Cole V-8 to the line-up, introducing it at the Chicago Automobile Show in January 1915. The new V-8 was designed by Charles Crawford and manufactured for Cole by the Northway Manufacturing Company of Detroit. The Cole V-8 consisted of two banks of four cylinders each, cast en-bloc with the upper half of the crankcase. Most engines of the period had removable cylinder blocks bolted to the crankcase. Each cylinder head was attached to the block by 18 bolts, with a copper asbestos head gasket.

During World War I, Cole facilities were not adequate for war production, the government permitted Cole to continue building passenger cars. After enjoying many years of prosperity, Cole began losing money in the wake of the post World War I recession. The recession brought a decline in all business activity as well as a serious curtailment of automobile sales.

In 1923, Cole Motor Car Company inaugurated a new method for creating new model mock-ups. A sculptor’s clay-processing plant operated on Indianapolis’ west side. Cole instructed his design engineers to use clay over wooden forms because the semi-hardened clay was more easily sculpted than solid wood. The shaped and hardened clay was painted and allowed management to envision what the new models would look like. Competitors soon adopted this styling method that Cole innovated.

The success of other manufacturers’ low-priced, mass-produced cars cut the volume of Cole cars. Production ceased completely in October 1924. In January 1925, while his company was still solvent, J. J. Cole chose to liquidate rather than jeopardize the remaining assets of the corporation.

Cole made a total of over 40,700 automobiles. Each model was a quality product, with the best material, craftsmanship and design available for the time. For a brief period, Cole was second only to Cadillac in volume of sales in its price range. This little-known manufacturer contributed several innovations to the automotive industry.