Sunday, October 23, 2016

America on Wheels, Allentown, Pennsylvania, October 23, 2016

Leaving Philadelphia and our Corvette Racing Weekend at the Simeone, our next stop was about 70 miles up I-476 to the northwest in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  Surprisingly, Allentown is the third largest city in the state although the population is only around 120,000.  It has an automotive connection as being the birthplace of Lee Iacocca, formerly of Ford and Chrysler fame, as well as the home of Mack Trucks.

Located in the Lehigh Valley, it situated on the banks of the Lehigh River proper.  A booming industrial and finance centre after the Civil War, Allentown's fortunes began to decline in the 1970s but has made an effort to regain its lustre as heavy industry faded by turning to health care, transportation and other services.  Part of its ambitious redevelopment plan includes the on-again, off-again development called Lehigh Landing, near the river and located on the grounds of a former meatpacking plant.  It is here that the America on Wheels Museum, built at a cost of $17 million, opened in 2008.  Its administrative offices are actually located in the old office of the abattoir, which remains standing.  The museum is 43,000 square feet in size, of which 23,000 are devoted to exhibits in three galleries.  There is space for about 75 cars and the majority on display are not owned by the museum itself but are on loan.

We had arrived around 11:00 and were surprised to see only one car in the parking lot.  Of course, I had misread the opening schedule and while it is generally open from 10:00 until 4:00, Sundays have a noon opening.  Peering in through the front door, we were greeted by a nice lady who invited us to come and start our visit, and to pay our $10 admission later once someone had come in to mind the cash register.  So we were made to feel welcome right away (and, yes, we did pay the $20).  An extra hour and an early start in the museum was really helpful given we had a long drive home that day.

First exhibit area, near the entrance

1933 Hupmobile KX-231 Convertible Coupe
This very handsome coupe was the first car to catch our eyes.  The handiwork of noted designer Raymond Loewy, this 1933 Hupmobile is one of only six known to exist.  The Hupp Motor Company built cars in Detroit from 1909 until 1939.  Builder of stylish, mid-priced cars with some advanced technology of the day, the company was in decline due to its inability to take advantage of economies of scale enjoyed by its competitors.  A desperate effort was made, with Graham-Paige, to use the body dies for the iconic Cord, acquired in 1938 for $900,000, to build the Hupp Skylark and the Graham Hollywood, both rear-wheel conventional cars compared to the Cord, but too was doomed to failure.  Parenthetically, an unsuccessful Hupp dealer used his car to transport miners in 1914 and expanded operations to eventually become Greyhound Bus Lines.

1919 Model AB Mack Truck
The first of a number of Mack trucks on display, this Model AB 2 ton flatbed featured chain drive or a worm gear drive and a 30 hp four cylinder engine.  Introduced in 1914, the AB remained in production, with some styling changes, until 1937, with over 55,000 having been built.  In addition to the trucks, the museum houses the Mack Truck company archive.

1965 Ford Thunderbird Landau Coupe

1954 Chevrolet Corvette Roadster
Of course, from our standpoint old Corvettes are always a welcome sight.  This is an example of the rather unsuccessful 1954 car, which ended the model year with 1,200 examples unsold, and only 700 were built in 1955.  But Ford's successful Thunderbird lit the competitive fires and rather than cancel the Corvette, GM engineers installed the new small block Chevrolet engine, transforming the car and Corvette remains the automobile model with the longest production history as it celebrates 65 years in 2018.  This example has the "Blue Flame" 155 hp six cylinder engine, coupled with the two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission, making it a leisurely boulevard cruiser and not the capable high-performance sports car it was to become.

Period Corvette advertising, baldly claiming heritage with the hairy pre-World War I Mercer Raceabout
2009 Bonneville Motorcycle Streamliner
This motorcycle streamliner was designed, built and driven by an engineering professor at Lehigh University, Joachim Grenestedt.  Powered by a two-stroke, water-cooled 125 cc Honda motocross engine, and featuring a steel tube frame and GRP and carbonfibre fuselage, it even boasts elaborate safety equipment including a seven-point harness and fire extinguisher system.  Prof. Grenestedt piloted it to a class record speed of 133.165 mph in September 2009 on the 11 mile Bonneville Salt Flats course, shattering the previous record of 125.594 mph.  

1972 DeTomaso Pantera

1952 Allard J2X

For someone who enjoys building models, here is a 1:8 scale model of the 1967 Ford Mustang Shelby GT-500 (yes, not the typical 1:18 that I collect).  These models are sold on a subscription basis so each month you receive additional parts to go forward.  It looks like the finished product would be impressive.  The display case showed where you would be 2 months into the build projected to go for 25 months.  On a subscription basis, this is ultimately going to cost US$ 1774.50.  The company has a range of models available for serious modelers.

Classic Rail-type Dragster, "The Clock Teaser"
A small gallery was devoted to a number of different types of racing cars, including a classic mid-engined dragster, a midget racer, a sprint car and others.

1939 Wendling Midget Racer
The Wendling brothers were employees of the famous Fleetwood BodyWorks in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, and built up this dirt track racing car with excellent craftsmanship and some impressive innovative thinking.  The engine is a 91 cu. in. four cylinder 16 valve overhead cam boat motor, turned around.  The nice bodywork incorporates a Packard grille.  By flipping a Ford Model T rear-end backward and upside down the brothers had front-wheel drive.  Brakes are on the rear wheels only, something to give one pause in a car capable of 110 mph.  The Wendlings went on to operate a noted restoration shop.

1958 Hillegrass V8 Chevrolet Sprint Car
From This 1958 Beletsky Special is an example from that time, and was raced into the late 1960s. It was featured in Speed Age Magazine, May, 1959 and shows period livery as the first Chevy V8 powered sprint car to race against Offy powered cars in Pennsylvania. Several owners and their drivers over the years campaigned this track car largely in the New England area. Similar solid axle, light weight cars running in-out gearboxes were a handful at 400 horsepower, then became hairy-chested beasts with over 500 horsepower. Sprint car racing took on its modern form with cars of those type, those with aluminum sheet metal bodies, chassis and suspension similar in form to cars raced in the 1930s with 1960s era horsepower.

1957 Kurtis Kraft 500G2 Indy Car
This car was built with the intention that Carroll Shelby would drive it but he preferred to remain with sports cars--a smart choice given that he won at LeMans with Aston Martin in 1959.  This car was raced at Indianapolis in 1958 and 1959 under different names, failing to qualify either time, and was converted to right-hand drive in 1960 and raced at other tracks.  It was restored to its 1961 appearance and takes part in vintage racing events.

1984 Racing Lawnmower
Realizing that car racing was a hobby few could afford but that most people could manage to pay for a lawn mower, the English developed the sport of lawnmower racing in 1968 and the Sta-Bil company brought it to the United States, where it has multiple national organizations.  Sadly, the lawnmowers are raced without the blades...

Stealth Tryke
Powered by a 160 hp Suzuki GSXR 1000 engine, this custom aluminum vehicle was built by a shop in the Lehigh Valley and is capable of speeds up to 156 mph.  It weighs 900 pounds and can accommodate drivers of widely varying size.

At the other end of the speed spectrum was a fine display of mint 1930s pedal cars.  They were produced by the Gendron Iron Wheel Co. of Toledo, Ohio, which was founded by Pierre Gendron in 1880.  He claimed to have invented the wire wheel in 1875 in Detroit, although it should be noted that James Starley was already making bicycles with spoked wire wheels in Coventry in 1870.  Gendron manufactured wheels for bikes, trikes, baby carriages and wheelchairs as well as this line of high-quality pedal cars.  Although manufacturing of the kiddie cars ended in 1938, the company still exists, making equipment for the invalid market.  The Gendron pedal cars are serious collector's items and specialist restoration services exist for them.  At a big auction of automobilia in 2015, a large collection of these cars was sold, typically for $15,000-20,000 each.

1983 Veloce Track Bicycle (foreground), with c. 1912 Reading Track Bicycle behind it
There was more pedal action at the museum with a pair of track bicycles.  The 1983 Veloce Time Trial Track Bicycle was built by John Stinsmen of Stinsmen Racing, a framebuilder who appears to have been working from his home in Allentown.  The Reading bicycle was another track two-wheeler, this one built by the Reading Standard Manufacturing Company of Reading, Pennsylvania around 1912.

Further two-wheelers on display were of the motorized variety:

In the foreground is a 1909 Marsh Metz Motorcycle, once owned by actor Steve McQueen

1910 Flying Merkel (foreground), manufactured in Pottstown, Pennsylvania; 1913 Excelsior Model 4C (background), made in Chicago by a company purchased by bicycle entrepreneur Ignaz Schwinn in 1912

1912 Indian Board Track Racer: Indian is America's oldest manufacturer of motorcycles, having started in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1901, and continuing until 1953.  The company has been subsequently revived several times and is currently a division of Polaris Industries, building motorcycles in Minnesota.

1911 Yale 4P Motorcycle, manufactured by the Consolidated Manufacturing Company of Toledo, Ohio, which produced Yale motorcycles between 1905 and 1915.  It had purchased the assets of a California company, whose similar motorcycle (or "moto-bicycle") was the first motor vehicle to cross the United States, a feat accomplished in 1903 by George Wyman in 51 days.  Mr. Wyman had to pedal his 80 lb motorcycle the last 150 miles on bike paths to New York City due to engine failure.
More Indian Motorcycles, including a 1929 Scout 101 model with a sidecar/toolshed setup that was actually produced by the company as "the Indian Scout Service Car."

The next gallery contained an excellent selection of pre-World War II vehicles, with a surprising representation of alternative fuel vehicles.

This vehicle may have an excellent claim to be the first gas-powered car built in the United States when German immigrant Henry Nadig constructed it in 1889 but was unable to attract financing in Allentown to go into production.  This would predate the generally accepted Duryea vehicle as the first US car by four years
1880 Studebaker Carriage
Occupying a unique spot in American transportation history, Studebaker began building carriages in South Bend, Indiana, in 1852, acquiring fame for the quality of its construction, and by 1885 the company was producing 75,000 carriages yearly.  The company moved into automobile production in 1902 with electric cars, following with gasoline vehicles in 1904, but these were built in conjunction with other manufacturers.  The first car branded as a Studebaker appeared in 1911.  Production of Studebaker cars ended in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1966, three years after operations ceased in South Bend.

The Electrobat was the first successful electric vehicle and the company began operations in Philadelphia in 1894, with the principals coming from the electric streetcar industry.  The first Electrobat was a monster, with a massive battery pack and steel wheels but a year later this "lightweight" 800 pound Electrobat IV was in production.  It used two 75 lb electric motors powered by a 350 lb battery and was capable of 15-20 mph, with a 25 mile range.  The company built a dozen electric hansom cabs for service in New York City.

Electric Car Recharger, c. 1909, produced by General Electric.  It arc rectifier technology allowed the conversion of alternating current to direct current without power wastage typical of other systems of the day.  This system was sold by both General Electric and Westinghouse.

1910 Brockway Motor Wagon, manufactured in Homer, New York, for farm use.  Powered by a Chase 16 hp, three cylinder two-cycle engine

1903 Ford Model A Runabout, the first car produced by the Ford Motor Company, and this particular one was the first car owned in Allentown, licensed to the owner of Shoemaker's Drug Store.  1,700 Model As were built from 1903-1904.

A magnificent 1909 Stanley Model R Roadster, powered by a 20 hp twin-cylinder steam engine and capable of 50 mph cruising speeds.  Stanleys were built in modest numbers, probably totalling around 12,000 between 1897 and 1924, and this is one of only 8 Model Rs known to survive.
1922 Detroit Electric, with a top speed of 20 mph and range of around 80 miles.  1,000-2,000 were sold each year to people who did not want to deal with the disadvantages of steam or gasoline vehicles and could accept the short range.
1924 Ford Model T Coupe/Pickup: Ford did not offer a pickup version until 1925 but kits were available from third parties to turn the Model T into a pickup truck.  The vehicle was used by a plumber in Reading, Pennsylvania as his work truck and is in original unrestored condition.

1931 Ford Model A Deluxe Roadster.  The Model A was in production for only four years but 4.8 million examples were built.  This Washington Blue roadster cost $385.00 new and had styled cues from the more expensive Lincoln of the day.

1920 Briggs and Stratton Flyer
One of my favourite weird vehicles was on display in the museum.  I have seen several examples of this now-rare cyclecar.  It was conceived as the Smith Flyer and manufactured by the A.O. Smith Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from 1915 until 1919, when manufacturing rights were obtained by the Briggs & Stratton, who marketed it as the Briggs & Stratton Flyer.  The direct drive motor wheel was an English invention meant for bicycles originally.  The company improved the engine, bringing it up to 2 hp, before the rights were sold on in 1925.  However, Briggs & Stratton continued to produce the engine, which formed the basis of all the company's future small engines used in applications such as lawn mowers.  All of the Flyers were red and are also known as Red Bugs.  In addition to being sold as inexpensive novelty items in the US, UK and France  (typically costing $150 in 1922), they were adopted by the wealthy and used on estates and upmarket resorts.  Blueprints are still available!

1914 Ford Model T Depot Hack
The Depot Hack, as its name implies, was meant to ferry passengers from the local train station to their hotels, and were originally horse-drawn wagons.  Ford produced Model T chassis and drivetrains and left the bodywork up to independent coachbuilders to produce variations such as this Depot Hack.  These outside sources included a number of firms in Pennsylvania, including the York Body Corporation.  In 1929 Ford began to sell station wagons but York (now York-Hoover) continued to build bodies for the commercial market.  The company still exists as the York Group--and is the second-largest manufacturer of caskets in the United States, still using those old woodworking skills it seems.

The museum has made an effort to give character to its displays.  Here we see a family "auto-camping" with their Ford Model A Fordor Sedan and tent trailer.

Nearby is a vintage service station, reminding us of Pennsylvania's history of oil production.  And with that we move into the commercial gallery and some impressive trucks.

With the nearby headquarters of Mack Trucks, it is no surprise that the marque is well-represented in the museum.  In addition to the early truck in near the entrance, this section of the museum has a range that shows the development of Mack.

1918 Mack AC Fire Truck
This fabulous  centrepiece of the museum began life as a dump truck intended for shipment to Europe but the Armistice made it surplus and it joined the sale of surplus chassis.  In 1921 the City of Baltimore bought 12 chassis and two years later the Baltimore Fire Department installed the body and pump.  It was used by the city from 1923 until 1947, at which point it went on reserve duty until 1958.  The Mack Museum purchased it in 1959.  It has a 471 cu. in. four cylinder engine, developing 75 hp, wooden spoke wheels, a hand crank start and mechanical brakes for the rear wheels only.  The tires are solid rubber and its vehicle weight rating is 5 1/2 tons.  It is capable of pumping 600 gallons of water per minute.

1923 Mack AC Dump Truck

1927 Mack AB High Lift Coal Truck
The Mack AB series saw many changes in its 22 year model run, from 1914 to 1927, including pneumatic tires, electric start, and electric lighting.  This particular truck has a body for residential coal delivery, allowing the dump body to be raised to the vertical and then tilted to a gravity-feed coal chute.  Still chain drive though!

1958 Mack B753LS: the B70 series was in production from 1955 until 1966 and used for heavy applications.  This example is equipped with a 15 cubic yard dump body.

1957 Mack B61: the most popular conventional diesel-powered truck on American highways in the 1950s and 1960s,   Over 123,000 B-series trucks were built between 1953 and 1966.

Maxidyne ENDT-675 Diesel Engine: introduced in 1966, the Maxidyne was rated at 237 hp but with over 900 lb-ft of torque.  It made power over such a wide range it could use a five speed transmission, compared to the 11-13 gears needed by competitors, reducing shift workload enormously.
Now it was time to climb the stairs to the upper floor of the museum to look at some more modern cars.  The hallway was decorated with a range of automotive art.

The first area we came to was the restoration shop, which is used for educational purposes and featured a pair of 1960 Armstrong-Siddely Sapphires, a very conservative British sedan built from 1953 to 1960, with the complete car here being the very last one built, while the other is an example showing what restorers have to deal with when starting a project found in a barn.

1934 Graham Model 68 Sedan
The main gallery on the second floor housed a variety of American cars from the 1950s, as well as several hot rods, in a temporary exhibition called "Fender Skirts and Poodle Skirts."

1958 Edsel Pacer

1934 Chevrolet Master Hot Rod, loaned by the original builder who has owned it for more than 60 years.

1941 Mercury Convertible, mildly customized with a chopped top and smoothed body panels

1955 Buick Century Convertible

1956 Ford Thunderbird, in Peacock Blue

1959/60 Buick Electra 225 Convertible, built as a styling exercise and driven by Harlow Curtice, President of General Motors at the time.

1958 Corvette and 1941 Mercury Convertible
And, of course, as is usual with this blog I close with another fine Corvette.  This is a 1958 model, in the very rare Panama Yellow colour, which was applied to only 190 cars that year.  The 1958 car saw the addition of fake hood vents and chrome trunk spears, which were seen as being a bit too much and not carried on later years.  This over-decoration today actually makes the cars highly desirable.  The 1958 model was the first with dual headlights and the first Corvette to have seatbelts installed as standard equipment.

The American on Wheels Museum was a great place to visit and its future has been assured through support from Nicola Bulgari, Vice Chairman of the Bulgari luxury brand, who is a collector of American cars from the 1940s and 1950s.  He owns around 150 of them and keeps them in seven warehouses in the Allentown area.

Lastly, I was fascinated by a little showcase featuring the most amazing vehicle and one I had never heard of.  The Pickwick Nite Coach was a two story Pullman-style sleeper bus introduced for transcontinental trips in 1928.  It offered berths for 26, plus the two drivers, who alternated, and a porter/cook.  It is believed four were built; an improved version was built in 1932 and in larger numbers but none are known to survive today.  34 feet long, it weighed 14,000 lbs and cost $30,000.  The Nite Coach transcontinental route ran from Los Angeles to Philadelphia via Phoenix, El Paso, St. Louis and Indianapolis.

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