One journalist nicknamed Connersville “Little Detroit of Indiana.” He based his opinion on the fact that, during the 1905-1941 timeframe, 13 cars were made in Connersville. The community was very much alive as an automotive center in the United States during that era.
Reflecting that history is an interesting collection of cars and automobilia at the Fayette County Historical Museum. On display are a 1870’s McFarlan carriage, three Lexington automobiles, a 1913 Empire, a 1930 Ford Model A, and a 1924 McFarlan Town Car.
The museum is open Sundays and Thursdays from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., from April to early December. The address in 103 South Vine Street, Connersville, IN, 47331, and the phone number is 765.825.0946. If your car club is interested in visiting the museum on a different day, give them a call.
I believe every Indiana auto enthusiast should visit the Fayette County Historical Museum to become acquainted with Indiana automotive history.
Do think we have weather challenges today? Let me tell you about the 1913 Indianapolis Auto Show and weather challenges 102 years ago.
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.
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.
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.
If you’re like me, you’re continually looking for interesting auto related books. Here are some picks from my bookshelf for fall 2015.
As some of you know, I have a keen interest in Indiana-built automobiles. One book in this genre about a lesser-known make is Custom Built by McFarlan: A History of the Carriage and Automobile Manufacturer, 1856-1928, by Richard A. Stanley. The author documents McFarlan’s early specialization in high-grade, light-duty carriages, spring wagons and buggies and then branching into “carriage trade” automobiles, providing a quality product at a reasonable price.
Celebrities of the day such as Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Dorothy Farley, Wallace “Wally” Reid, Alma Simpson, Jack Dempsey, and Paul Whiteman drove McFarlans. Stanley’s extensive research and writing thoroughly document the McFarlan carriage and automobile manufacturing saga. He shares the story of this automotive gem from Connersville, Indiana.
One book that I eagerly anticipated this summer was Carroll Shelby: The Authorized Biography by Rinsey Mills. He documents Carroll Shelby’s early exploits as an Army aviator, his 1950’s racing activities, and the quest to develop his own sports car. This book reflects Mills’ fascination with motorsports history and covers Shelby American operations with an in-depth perspective.
I especially enjoyed Mills’ coverage of the development of the first Shelby Cobra roadster. This took place at the beginning of my auto enthusiasm. It was great to read about the development of this automotive icon.
In 1962, Shelby conceived of an aluminum bodied AC sports car with leather interior fitted with the new 260-cubic-inch Ford V8-engine. “Cobras Rout Sting Rays,” reported Motoracing newspaper about the spring 1963 Riverside SCCA races. “In their outing the beefed-up Ford-Powered AC Cobras finished 1-2 today, decimating the Corvette Sting Rays.”
His research and writing thoroughly document Shelby’s auto racing and manufacturing saga.
A new book celebrating American car culture is Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars by Paul Ingrassia. He documents American vehicular history through 15 automobiles that were at the forefront of their particular eras. The book reflects his fascination with cars and car culture starting in the 1950’s and in covering the auto industry for the Wall Street Journal in later years.
One car symbolizes the start of the mid-1960’s muscle car era – the Pontiac GTO. In early 1963, Pontiac’s engineers debuted a compact Pontiac Tempest coupe fitted with a 389 cubic-inch engine, producing 325 horsepower from a full-sized Bonneville. The GTO was born. This was their concept of a car to enhance the division’s high-performance image. GTO production for 1964 of over 32,000 far surpassed initial projections to sell 5,000 cars. GTO sales for 1966 hit a high of nearly 100,000 cars. The Pontiac GTO still resides at the top of the muscle car collector universe.
Ingrassia also provides insights about the individual creators of these mechanical icons from his time covering the industry.