Monthly Archives: December 2016

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Records Despite Zero Weather

Lewis Strang at the wheel of a Renault in 1908
Lewis Strang at the wheel of a Renault in 1908

As reported in The Automobile, December 18, 1909 – Considering the weather conditions, the speed trials on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday and today could be termed eminently successful. The events, which were the first on the course since the track has been paved with brick, merely gave an indication of what may be expected when the weather is more favorable.

The speedway management, in fact, is fairly well satisfied with the results. With the thermometer hovering near the zero mark, causing frequent carburetor trouble, and with the drivers suffering from the intense cold, some remarkable time was made. The most notable feat was that of Lewis Strang in his 120-horsepower Fiat covering five-miles in 3:17.70, establishing a new record, the former record for the distance being 4:11.3, held by Barney Oldfield and established on the local course last August.

Inclemency of weather detracted somewhat from the mass of interested spectators, yet the total attendance was quite satisfactory, being of the substantial sort, to whom a little detail like zero weather would have but small influence in the face of the expected performance, nor can it be claimed that they were disappointed. Then, there were opening speeches, congratulatory opportunities, they who stood shoulder to shoulder in the good fight.

Just prior to the first trials yesterday afternoon, the ceremony of placing the last brick in the course was held in front of the judge’s stand, at the finish line. The brick is of coin silver, plated with gold and weights about fifty-two pounds. It was placed in position by Governor Thomas R. Marshall, assisted by his private secretary, Mark Thistlewaite.

Strang’s time for the five-miles was easily the sensation of the meet. The drivers suffered intensely from the cold. Despite the fact that they wore heavy gloves and had their faces protected by woolen bandages they were almost frozen during the trials. When they stopped their cars, they could scarcely move their bodies and frequently had to be lifted out. Once after Strang had completed a trial he found his face almost frozen and washed it in the icy water of the stream that runs nearby.

The Speedway management is to be congratulated for its persistence, having expended a vast sum of money in brick-paving the track, after it was found that no other class of pavement could be regarded as safe, considering the possible speeds of modern racing automobiles. That all records will be broken, under fair conditions of weather, is now assured.

I feel this is an incredible story of the trials on the newly paved Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Can you imagine driving an open car for five-miles during zero-degree weather?

Stay tuned for more stories about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For more information on our automotive heritage, follow this link.

Auto advertising in the 1950’s

In the 1950’s, intense competition from the Big Three pressured independents. Therefore, independents emphasized their points of differentiation like styling from others. Automotive advertising became more opulent and lifestyle oriented.

1950 Studebaker

The October 1949 ad in Holiday for the 1950 “bullet-nose” Studebaker proclaimed, “Presenting the ‘new look’ in cars.” “Success breeds success! The car that led in modern design now moves still more spectacularly out ahead!” Other specifications mention improvements like higher compression power and self-stabilizing coil springs. The color photo showed a couple motoring in their Commander Regal De Luxe Starlight coupe along the riverside with a cityscape in the background.

Raymond Loewy with 1953 Studebaker

Studebaker’s May 1953 ad in Country Gentleman continued the theme of the previous six years-that of styling innovation. The couple in a Commander Starliner hard-top coupe motors through a park-like setting in the color photo. The tagline shouted, “New and different! Exciting 1953 Studebaker!” Supporting copy commands, “See it and try it! America’s most talked about new car! Hard-top convertible shown above is less than five feet high! Only in a Studebaker do you get this long and low new styling — and it’s yours to enjoy at a down to earth price.” The ad stresses points of differentiation with long and low styling and pricing.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe
1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe

Following the lead of independent’s ads, Chevrolet’s 1956 ad in National Geographic touts “Nothing without wings climbs like a ’56 Chevrolet. Aim this new Chevrolet up a steep grade – and you’ll see why it’s the Pikes Peak record holder.” This was the second year for the new Chevrolet V8 engine. The copy further claims “In the merest fraction of a second you sense that big bore V8 lengthening out its stride. And up you go with a silken rush of power that makes a mountain seem as flat as a roadmap. The car that proved its fired-up performance, cat-sure cornering ability and nailed-down stability on the rugged, twisting Pikes Peak road. And all these qualities mean more driving safety and pleasure for you.” The color illustration showed a sporty driver hunkered down in his Bel Air Sport Sedan climbing the road to Pikes Peak.

These postwar advertisements reflect the seller’s market for automobiles. Performance would go on to trump opulence and lifestyle as the Big Three market leaders began to dominate the market.

For more information on our automotive heritage, follow this link.

American Underslung Traveler

Another of the lessor-known autos in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit is the 1913 American Underslung Traveler.

1913 American Underslung Traveler

The American Motor Car Company is most noted for an innovative design referred to as the underslung. While most car frames of the period were mounted on top of the axles, the American built the chassis of its sports roadsters under the axles. This created a vehicle that was lower to the ground.

Fred I. Tone’s first assignment as chief engineer and designer for American was to design a completely “All-American car from American-made materials.” 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.

When the 1907 Roadster was announced, American stated that output would be limited to 150 cars for the year. The Roadsters that garnered numerous headlines in races during the summer of 1907 inspired building a more powerful roadster. Soon, American cars were becoming well-known for attention to detail. The magnificent marquee of an eagle on top of the world adorned the radiator face.

In the summer of 1909, Tone designed a modified four-passenger roadster with a divided rear seat. Under American’s 1910 slogan “A Car for The Discriminating Few,” the company produced 300 units for the year.

This Company set out to reconfigure the American line-up to compete in the medium price market for 1912. These models rode on the underslung chassis, and the company adopted “American Underslung” as the car’s name. Model year 1912 became American’s biggest sales year, with an estimated 1,000 units produced.

The 1913 Scout was priced at $1,475 and sported a new 105-inch wheelbase. Prices on the Tourist rose to $2,350. The Scout three-passenger coupe sold for $2,000. The Tourist Limousine, priced at $3,500, was finished in black leather on a 124-inch chassis. All models included electric starting and lighting systems.

The company announced the 1914 American Underslung Six on April 12, 1913, in the Saturday Evening Post. Yet, this proved to be an inopportune time for new automobiles because the country was trying to shake off the effects of the disastrous floods in late March and early April. This natural phenomenon virtually wiped out the anticipated spring business boom. In November, however, the Federal Court adjudged American bankrupt and appointed Frank E. Smith as receiver. By the spring of 1914, Smith deemed it advisable to suspend operations.

Supplier Ralph R. Teetor of the Teetor-Hartley Motor Company, purchased the last American Underslung built in 1914. The car was a magnificent, 75 h.p., six-cylinder, seven-passenger touring car painted a brilliant lavender. Perhaps Teetor has provided the best epitaph for this Indiana-built car: “I do believe that the American Underslung cars had the most dramatic appeal of any cars that were ever built, and ever since that company failed, have wished that it could have survived.”

The American Underslung is an interesting story for one of America’s first sports cars. Thanks to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for showing it. For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

Hassler Shock Absorbers a popular Ford Model T accessory

Hassler Shocks

Hassler Shock Absorbers, made in Indianapolis, were a popular Ford Model T accessory in the late 1910’s and 1920’s.

Hassler Shocks were made from lightweight springs and were sold through Ford dealers. The dealer paid $14 for a set of four for a touring car, roaster, commercial car, or sedan, and $23 for the one-ton truck rear axle. There was an additional charge of $23 for the truck front shocks, which included a special front nine-leaf spring set and radius rod supports.

For sales, direct to the customer’s auto, the cost of Hassler shocks was $27.50 for a set of four plus a $2.50 installation charge. A customer’s one-ton truck could be completely equipped front and rear for $45 including installation.

By 1920, Robert H. Hassler, Inc., claimed that more than one million sets of its shock absorbers had already been sold. It periodically published testimonials to the value of its shocks in the company publication, Hassler Hits. Here are two examples.

“I have used Hasslers for six years. If I had my choice of a Ford without Hasslers, or Hasslers without a Ford, I’d take the latter,” said A. D. Carpenter of Indianapolis.

“When my driver came in from his first trip with Hassler Shock Absorbers attached to the truck, he was all smiles, and exclaimed, ‘That Ford surely does ride like a Packard.’ The protection of the truck, the savings alone of breakable merchandise will more than offset their cost. Regretting that I did not have Hassler Shock Absorbers put on sooner, I am Respectfully yours, R. M. Mueller, Grocer, Indianapolis.”

The story of Hassler Shock Absorbers, made at 1375 Naomi Street, in Indianapolis, adds another detail to Indiana’s reputation as a leader in the early automotive industry.

For more information on our Indiana automotive heritage, follow this link.

More interesting Indiana Auto Facts

Check out these interesting Indiana Auto Facts from the 1920’s and 1930’s.

In October 1926, the new Auburn line was equipped with the Lycoming Eight-in-Line, a very advanced engine. It was a 260 c.i.d., L-head straight-eight generating over 60 h.p. at 2600 r.p.m. The car was fully equipped with items that were still aftermarket options on less expensive cars, including bumpers, a rearview mirror, shock absorbers, a windshield wiper, and a stop light.

1928 Auburn Speedster
1928 Auburn Speedster
Copyright © 2015 Dennis E. Horvath

In August 1928, H.H. Brooks, general sales director of the Marmon Motor Car Company, pointed out that the automobile could hardly be considered a luxury when it only cost $1 per day to own one! He was using statistics released by the American Motorist’s Association, which cited the average cost of a passenger car as $953, the average annual upkeep as $229, and the average life of the vehicle as seven years.

In 1929, both Cord and Ruxton introduced front-wheel drive. Previously, Harry Miller teamed up with Preston Tucker to produce the first front-wheel drive and four-wheel independent suspension Indianapolis racer.

In 1931, Studebaker introduced helical-cut transmission gears that almost completely eliminating gear whine. They also introduced the hill-holder clutch, a device that kept the brakes applied if the clutch pedal was held down.

1933 Duesenberg La Grande
1933 Duesenberg La Grande
Copyright © 2008 Dennis E. Horvath

In 1935, during the depths of the Great Depression, luxury car-makers were competing to sell cars with the biggest, most powerful, smoothest running engines. Auburn all had V-12’s, Duesenberg and Stutz chose sophistication over cylinder count, making straight-eights with dual overhead cams, 32 valves and careful design of intake and exhaust manifolds. The Duesenberg could be ordered with a supercharger, good for 320 h.p! Probably the most powerful natually-asperated engine was the all-aluminum Marmon V-16, with 490 c.i.d., making 200 h.p. These cars were huge with a wheelbase somewhere between 130 and 145 inches. Mass-market cars made do with straight 6- and 8-cylinder engines.

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

Eighty years ago, the first Cord 810 rolled off the assembly line in Connersville on February 15, 1936. Innovations on the Cord 810 included disappearing headlights, concealed door hinges, rheostat-controlled instrument lights, variable speed windshield wipers, Bendix Electric Hand (steering column mounted-electric gear pre-selection unit), and factory installed radio. The model was the first automobile in the United States to adopt unit body construction in its full sense. In their day, these Cords stirred the imagination of the motoring public. Their clean simplicity of line, exciting innovations, and luxurious appointments won much admiration and many awards.

Isn’t interesting how some Indiana auto manufacturers were so innovative in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and how they faded from the automotive scene?

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