Monthly Archives: February 2016

Indiana’s Top 10 Most Significant Automobiles

A group of historians from the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) named 10 of the most significant automobiles. The historians’ selections were based on the automobiles’ social, technical, and market contributions.

Twenty Grand Duesenberg
Twenty Grand Duesenberg

I would like to offer my selections for Indiana’s Top 10 Most Significant Automobiles in chronological order.

  • 1902 Marmon, the first auto engine with a pressure lubrication.
  • 1906 American Underslung, the first low-slung American sports car.
  • 1911 Haynes, made by Haynes Automobile Company, the first company to equip an open car with a top, a windshield, headlamps, and a speedometer as standard equipment.
  • 1922 Duesenberg, the first auto with hydraulic brakes and a straight-eight engine with overhead camshafts.
  • 1926 Stutz, the first to introduce safety-glass windshields.
  • 1929 The Cord L-29, the first series produced American front-wheel-drive car.
  • 1929 Marmon, the first factory-installed radio.
  • 1932 The Duesenberg SJ, the first auto engine with a centrifugal supercharger.
  • 1936 The Cord 810, the first to introduce disappearing headlights, concealed door hinges, rheostat-controlled instrument lights, variable-speed windshield wipers, electric gear pre-selection units, and unit-body construction.
  • 1937 Studebaker, the first to introduce windshield washers.
E. L. Cords 1937 Cord Beverley Sedan
E. L. Cords 1937 Cord Beverley Sedan

My selections are based on the criteria used by the AACA panel. Indiana’s contributions to automotive history have been numerous. Yet, we take these innovations increasingly for granted as part of today’s automobiles.

So, the next time you drive your car, you might wonder where you’d be without Indiana’s continuing automotive innovations and contributions.

For more about the history of automobile in Indiana check out our book Indiana Cars.

The Chrysler Turbine Car in Indianapolis

I remember seeing the Chrysler Turbine Car that Butler University’s assistant athletics director Henry A. Johnson drove around Indianapolis during the turbine car user program in early 1964.

I stood at the campus bus stop waiting for the bus to high school and heard a whooshing sound as the mysterious turbine car passed by. To me it was a bronze rocket car of tomorrow. For a budding car nut like myself, these moments ignited (no pun intended) my automotive obsession.

Chrysler Turbine Car - Front
Chrysler Turbine Car – Front
Copyright © Chrysler Corporation

The turbine engines and chassis were built at Chrysler’s Greenfield Avenue turbine research center in Detroit. Chrysler executive Elwood P. Engle designed the bodies and interiors were mostly hand-crafted by Ghia in Italy and shipped to Detroit for final assembly. One of the most interesting styling features of the car was the console that ran the length of the cabin, from the firewall to between the rear seats, with its straked and gentle rib detailing. The car’s futuristic styling has been called smooth and sleek. That’s what drew me to the car.

The Chrysler Turbine Car was introduced to the public on May 14, 1963, at the Essex House in New York City. A week earlier, Chrysler announced that it would lend each of the 50 Turbine Cars to select members of the public for three-month drives during the two-year user program. The immediate public response was overwhelming – 30,000 sent in requests asking to be involved in the program within six weeks of the announcement. About 202 participated in the program.

Chrysler Turbine Car - Rear
Chrysler Turbine Car – Rear
Copyright © Chrysler Corporation

B. W. Bogan, Chrysler vice president and director of engineering, presented the keys to the turbine car to the Johnson family in front of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Motel in mid-December 1963. Each of the program’s families were thoroughly familiarized with these unique autos before commencing the three-month program. At the end of the drivers’ stint, Chrysler officials queried them about their experience. Most were very enthusiastic with their evaluation. Some wanted to purchase their test car.

The user program was a positive experience for the Chrysler Corporation, but the difficulties of economically producing the exotic turbine engines and government clean-air regulations hampered mass turbine production.

The Chrysler Turbine Car still lives on in my memory.

Presentation – Women in Auto Advertising

A couple of months ago, Steve Tarr with the Indiana Region Classic Car Club of America asked me If I would like to develop a presentation about women’s role in early auto advertising for their club’s Valentine’s day party.

Dennis E. Horvath
Dennis E. Horvath
Presenting Women in Auto Advertising

I accepted the challenge since I had earlier developed a presentation on the evolution of early auto advertising. I enjoyed the task of researching the development of auto advertising to include women. Starting in the 1903 a number of manufacturers highlighted women and cars.

Dennis E. Horvath
Dennis E. Horvath
Presenting Women in Auto Advertising

It was entertaining sharing my discoveries with the Indiana Region CCCA. I could tell some of the women in the audience liked the ad copy presenting women enjoying automobiles. We all got a laugh out of some of the advertisements. A number of the ladies complemented me on my presentation.

I look forward to sharing my “Women in Auto Advertising” presentation with your auto group.

For more information on my Presentations follow this link.

Overland’s Indiana origins

Claude E. Cox demonstrated the first Overland automobile at the Standard Wheel Works at 13th and Plum streets in Terre Haute on February 12, 1903. The Wheel Works was the largest manufacturer of wheels in the world at the time with three plants in Ohio, and one in Michigan, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis. General offices were in Terre Haute along with a facility that specialized in heavy wheels for wagons and trucks.

Cox designed the Overland as part of his thesis while he was a student at Rose Polytechnic Institute. He also worked at the Wheel Works as a salesman while he was studying at the nearby college. The runabout used a five-h.p., single-cylinder engine and planetary transmission. His design had several innovations and received an unusual amount of attention. Cox placed the engine of his car in the front, remarking that it was the “logical” place for it. Cox also improved the seating arrangement by making the entrance to the rear seat compartment through the sides rather than through the rear of the auto as in earlier models.

1903 Overland
1903 Overland
Copyright © 1903 Standard Wheel Company

The Wheel Works devoted the second story of one of the new buildings to manufacturing Overlands. Demand for the autos increased to the point that it was difficult to produce the necessary quantity at the Terre Haute facility. In January 1905, Overland operations moved to Indianapolis facilities at 900-1300 West Henry Street. Cox went to Indianapolis as manager of the Overland Automobile Department of the Standard Wheel Works. He improved the 1905 models with the addition of a shaft drive and a steering wheel.

More financial backing was required when Standard sold the car and manufacturing rights to David M. Parry who formed The Overland Automobile Company in March 31, 1906. Parry previously had made a personal fortune manufacturing buggies and carriages.

Shortly before the national panic of 1907, John North Willys contracted with Overland to manufacture 500 cars in 1908 and paid $10,000 to bind the agreement. This gave the factory the financial ability to increase its facilities. During the panic, Overland noted that it could not fill its contract nor meet its current payroll. Over a weekend, Willys raised the $350 and deposited it to the credit of the Overland Company.

Bankruptcy was stalled for the moment on the pledge that the company would be reorganized with Willys as president, treasurer, general manager, sales manager, and purchasing agent. Overland resumed production. In 1908, Willys built 465 four-cylinder Model 24 automobiles, paid the most pressing debts, and showed a profit of $58,000.

By September 1909, with the inevitable improvement in credit and the available cash, Willys took over the plant of the Pope auto manufacturing facilities in Toledo, Ohio. This became the home of his Willys auto empire and production started on a new automobile that he named the Willys-Overland.

Willys assembled Willys-Overlands in Indianapolis through the 1911 model year. Then the plant produced component parts for Willys-Overland until 1923.

Claude Cox continued to be affiliated with the automobile industry all of his life. In 1909, he left Indianapolis and joined the Inter-State Automobile Company in Muncie. In two years he left Muncie for the Wilcox Motor Car Co. in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Then, in 1912, he became the director of research for General Motors Company in Detroit, Michigan. At the time of his death in 1964, Cox was president of Bartlett Research, Inc., an automotive research firm in Detroit.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

Fisher Automobile Company

With the recent construction on the block bounded by Vermont Street, Capitol Avenue, Michigan Street, and Senate Avenue, I thought it would be a great time to take a look at how this block was the genesis of Indianapolis Auto Row 108 years ago.

In 1908, when Carl G. Fisher wanted to expand operations around his 330 North Illinois Street location, the area was already developed with commercial structures. Consequently, land and construction costs would have been higher for new development elsewhere on Illinois Street than in undeveloped locations. He decided on one block west in the then Capitol Avenue residential neighborhood. The absence of zoning regulations here also allowed development of commercial uses within a residential area.

One incentive for Fisher considering relocation of his automotive dealership may be noted in the January 24, 1903, edition of Automotive Industries, which stated: “Capitol Avenue is to be resurfaced and otherwise improved next spring, and then the heavy traffic will be excluded. The Hoosier capitol has long felt the need of a speedway and pleasure drive, such as Mayor Bookwalter proposes to make of this. The proposed “speedway” extended from North Street to just north of Fall Creek Boulevard.”

Fisher Auto Postcard
Fisher Auto Postcard

Thus, the beginnings of Indianapolis Auto Row began with Fisher relocating his Fisher Automobile Co. showroom to 400-424 North Capitol Avenue in 1908. Other auto related businesses were soon to follow.

The three buildings Fisher built at this location are the second known to have been built specifically as automobile showrooms in Indianapolis. The 400 N. Capitol building was three stories in height and contained an elevator large enough to accommodate automobiles. The structural skeleton and floor slabs were of reinforced concrete with eight-inch thick brick curtain walls. There were large display windows along the street frontages on all three levels. The parapet was sparsely decorated with geometric forms fashioned from brick.

Some of the meetings held in the Fisher Automobile Co. building included close friends, James A. Allison, Cecil Gibson, and Arthur C. Newby, who were connected to business enterprises regarding Prest-O-Lite operations, the development of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and other ventures.

Fisher Letterhead 1909
Fisher Letterhead 1909

Gibson merged his automotive accessory business with that of Carl Fisher to form the Fisher-Gibson Co. in 1911, and located at 422-426. Later in 1917, the Fisher Automobile Co. expanded operations to 434-442, north of his original three buildings. Over the years, Fisher sold National, Overland, Packard, REO, Stoddard-Dayton, and Baker Electric vehicles from these locations.

Between 1910 and 1930, approximately 25 buildings were constructed for automobile dealerships, tire companies, automotive parts, and manufacturing concerns, along Capitol Avenue, thus establishing Indianapolis Auto Row.

I would like to enlist Indiana Automotive and central Indiana auto enthusiasts to band together to obtain historic recognition for the 400 North Capitol Avenue site as the genesis of Indianapolis Auto Row. This site was the beginning of our automotive heritage.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.