09 August 2009

Here in my car I feel safest of all...

The second half of our foray into Iowa was a stop at the Antique Car Museum of Iowa, in Coralville, which is adjacent to Iowa City. Although ACMOI might not be worth a special trip to the Midwest, if you like antique autos and are in the area, it's worth a stop.

Here's a 1903 Cadillac. Although it's 106 years old, it looks ready to go. I think the top speed was probably about 15 mph (25 kph), but in those days that was a good clip for a horseless carriage. Considering that most country roads (and a lot of city streets) were literally wagon ruts, 15 mph was probably fast enough.

A 1909 Reo, the same folks that brought you the Reo Speed Wagon light truck (as opposed to REO Speedwagon, the band). 'REO' were the initials of the company president, Ransom E. Olds. His company was later merged with several other small automakers to become General Motors, and his legacy was the Oldsmobile Division of GM, which lasted into the late 1990s.

A 1915 Ford Model T, the vehicle which made auto transport available to the masses. There were Model T cars, pickup trucks, and some were equipped with a PTO for running farm equipment. Over 15 million T's were built over 15 or so years. They were cheap, simply constructed, and robust enough to handle most roads of the time-a formula for a winning design.

A late-era Model T, I believe. Even Ford was forced to enhance the design to take advantage of the rapidly-evolving automotive technologies of the day.

A representation of a service station from the 1920-1950 era. You could find a station like this in most every town in the nation, and along most highways. One can almost see the station attendant sitting in a chair in the front of the station, drinking a bottle of soda pop and shooting the breeze with a couple of kids on their bikes or with some older guy just killing time.
Anyone remember when you could go to a gas station and the attendant would come out and pump the gas, wash the windows, check the tire pressure, and check the oil? And the station had a couple of garage bays where the mechanic would do oil changes, lubes, tire changes, and tune-ups.
No, really. Such places existed.

I think this was a late 1930s Auburn, built, strangely enough, in Auburn, Indiana. Auburn was one of the multitude of auto manufacturers that struggled through the Great Depression and were pretty much done by the end of it. What small automakers survived the Depression didn't make it through World War II, though many companies did receive military contracts to utilize their machinery and skilled workers.
The car caught my eye because I suspect that blue was a rare auto color for that era.

Fast forward to 1958, and the Ford Skyliner with retractable hardtop. Ah, the era of chrome and tailfins and 7000 lb cars! Hey, gas was 15 cents a gallon and there was plenty of it.
In the 1950s, the unveiling of the new model year autos was something of an event-just like the opening day of a major sport season. People gathered around auto dealers waiting to see what the new cars would look like. The cars may have been fuel hogs, and there were very few safety features in them, but there was a style to them we definitely don't see today.

A 1956 Cadillac 4 door. The Caddy grew some in the 50+ years since the 1903 version. The '56 model has the beginnings of tailfins, that peculiar fad of 1950s auto design which would culminate in the truly massive fins of the 1959 Cadillacs, which could have been used as auxilary fuel tanks or flotation devices or auxiliary spy equipment (smoke screen, machine guns, oil slick) pods. Cool cars!

A 1957 Ford Thunderbird, Ford's answer to the Chevrolet Corvette. Anyone who's seen the movie American Graffiti likely remembers the scenes of a young Suzanne Somers driving around Modesto, California in a white '57 T-Bird, teasing Richard Dreyfuss's character throughout the film.
I personally like this color better than that white. The 1973 Suzanne Somers would've looked OK in this, too.

Finally, a 1941 Buick Special. One can see the 'toning down' of the chrome and extras on American autos in the 1940 and 1941 model years as the country geared up for war production. The few cars produced for the 1942 model year were quite austere, with flat basic colors, wooden bumpers, and blackout lights. Only a handful of automobiles would be produced from 1942 to 1945, and most of those went to government/military use-everyone else 'made do' with what was available. Only in the 1947 and 1948 model years would Detroit come up with new designs to replace the late 1930s/early 1940s models.
There were a number of other kinda interesting cars at ACMOI, which I'll toss up on here another time. Hope you enjoyed the pics and accounts. If you didn't, well, tough.
yankeedog out.


  1. Fascinating YDog, George (my neighbour) has just returned from the Gold Coast after taking the Caddy for a run. Don't know the year though.

  2. MATE..more than meets the eye. Thats a ripper. I think i might go the caddy, square shouldered suit and gun in hand.

  3. That 7000lb Ford is what you want to be in,in case of a motor vehicle accident..think about it..Prius vs American iron.
    Sure you would probably dent the chrome bumper,but thats about it.
    Good pics YD. :)

  4. Nice pics. I should post some of the photos from the US muscle car day earlier in the year here in Dunedin. Mostly 60s/70s onwards stuff but all very cool. Monster v1 managed to smear his grotty fingers over the camera lens so some of the pics are Less Than Optimal but was a great day with some awesome metal.

  5. Bangar-I'd bet Australia has some great roads to open up a car on. Any coastal drive is worth a go sometime-I'd like to do a drive up California's Pacific Coast Highway.

    Havock-I can also recommend the blue Auburn, a pinstripe suit, fedora, and Thompson gun to complete the ensemble!

    AK-Yeah, you'd have to go some to seriously damage those big brutes they built in the 1950s. You could make three cars today with the steel they put in one car back then.

    Doc-Please do. I'd like to see the Kiwi slant on American vehicles!

  6. YDog and we used to have no speed limit on the open road. Here is a well known pic of a Ford GTHO on the Hume (main highway between Melbourne and Sydney).

    From memory they airbrushed the speedo to lower speed for publication.

  7. We had the same deal in some states-the speed limit was 'reasonable and prudent'-which on the high plains of Montana, could be pretty fast.

    Some of those Oz Fords look like our American Motors cars (Javelins and Ambassadors come to mind). Interesting iron there!

  8. Well we still have a servo that has a young guy (or sometimes a gal) who pumps the 'petrol' and cleans the windows. Oh! and they have a mechanic too. Maybe i should rustle up some photo's

    Nice pics by the way

  9. And now we know where the service station in Oz is located!

  10. Bangarrr - I thought there was a time there when car mags were making editorial decisions to try and set and re-set the national cross-country speed record (eg Sydney to Perth in X hours) up until the open road limit came in.

    Mick - forecourt service is still the norm rather than the exception in NZ, though more because of OH&S reasons than anything else.

    YD - a lot of the Aussie iron of the late 60s (particularly Ford and Chrysler stuff - GM Holden went their own way) was reworked American stuff, usually toughened up for the often appalling outback 'roads' which predominated then.