Saturday, June 10, 2017

AACA Museum, Hershey, PA: June 10, 2017

With our first visit to the AACA Museum having been in April 2015, our return to Hershey gave us the opportunity to rediscover it and to see the latest exhibits as displays change every six months or so.

The collector car market has become very heated up with "barn find" cars, or at least ones that have not been unrestored.  As experts say: "It is only original once."  Well that is true, but to me there is a considerable difference between "original" when you have a car that looks somewhat worn compared to one that has no paint anymore, wrecked upholstery and an engine that doesn't function--in short, not much resemblance anymore to the way it came from the factory.

The special exhibit, which ran from May until October 2017, was "Garage Finds: Unrestored Treasures that Survived Time" and offered quite a range of cars.  from a 1908 Model B Brush Runabout to a 1989 Ford Taurus SHO.  None of them were classifiable as "junk," but some of the earlier cars would have been daunting prospects for restoration, while many of the later cars looked perfectly fine.  The display signs often told stories at least as interesting as the cars themselves.

Taking pride of place in the lobby of the museum was a 1913 Empire Touring 31.  Built in Greenville, Pennsylvania, it was sold by a dealer--a hardware store, actually!--in Meyerstown, about 25 miles east of Hershey.  Astonishingly, it has remained within 10 miles of where it was originally purchased!  The farmer who owned it was concerned about his sons' reckless driving and put it into the family barn, where it sat for 37 years, before the current owner bought it.  A true barn find indeed!
1913 Empire Touring 31
The Empire brand had quite a checkered past.  Started by four noted entrepreneurs in Indianapolis in 1909, three of them quickly lost interest as they were much more focused on the success of their new racetrack in the city.  Harry C. Stutz came around in 1911 as a consulting engineer, switching the Empire from chain to shaft drive, then left to form his own company.  Later that year the Empire Motor Car Company was sold to another group in Indianapolis but as the factory had already been converted to other uses, a new facility had to be found.  The Greenville Metal Parts Products Company in Pennsylvania stepped in and Empire cars were assembled on their premises from 1912 to 1914.  Then the company returned production to Indiana to its own plant in Connorsville but was out of business entirely by 1919.

Next on view was a very ragged 1915 Locomobile Model 38 Sport Roadster.  Produced in Bridgeport, Connecticut, its six cylinder engine produced 44 hp.  It cost the astronomical sum for the day of $4,400.  Putting this into perspective, the wildly popular Model T Ford in runabout form was $390 in 1915.

1915 Locomobile Model 38
Starting as a producer of Stanley Steamer-type vehicles in 1899, Locomobile (the name refers to the "locomotive" of steam trains), by 1904 the company was building gasoline-powered cars exclusively.  The cars were considered to be the finest built in America, and priced accordingly.  The company was also a factor in motor racing and in 1908 a Locomobile, "Old 16," won the Vanderbilt Cup.  That car was the first Locomobile I had ever seen as it is part of the Henry Ford Museum collection.  Following the unexpected death of the company president in 1915, management floundered and once-proud Locomobile was in receivership by 1919.  It continued production in an ill-conceived conglomerate that included Simplex and Mercer but  by 1922 was in the hands of William C. Durant, founder of General Motors.  Billy Durant, following his ouster (for the second time!) from GM was building a new empire with four brands: Flint, Star, Durant, and, at the top, Locomobile.  Durant was diverted from running the company by his stock market speculation and the Crash of 1929 ended the project, although the Durant brand staggered on until 1932.

Locomobiles are much-valued collector's items but restoration of one is an expensive and difficult task as the company built its own parts so there was no other source for them.

1909 White Model O Touring Car
Built in Cleveland, Ohio, this White Model O was an example of the steam-driven cars for which the company was noted.  Gasoline fired the boiler of the unique 20 hp steam engine, and the car would have cost around $2,000 at the time.  Whites were considered well-built and dependable (a White was the first car at the White House) but by 1918 the company, which had started gasoline vehicles ten years earlier, left the passenger car market to concentrate on commercial vehicles.  The company became insolvent in 1980 and its assets were purchased by Volvo AB.

This particular car was in New York State from 1909 until 918, then stored in a barn in New Jersey until 2004.

1929 Packard 633 Runabout
With its straight eight engine producing 90 hp, this elegant Packard would have cost $2385 in that first year of the Great Depression.  The car was discovered in a shed in the Adirondacks in 2013 and it was necessary to cut down the trees that had completed enfolded the building to extricate the vehicle.  The engine and transmission have been rebuilt and the car has been shown in the Preservation Class at concours events, winning a "Best in Show" at its first outing.

1910 Otto Runabout
This wonderful car was seen as a sporty alternative to the much more expensive Mercer, offering good looks and 30 hp four cylinder power.  Established in 1894, the Otto Gas Engine Works of Philadelphia was already a significant manufacturer of gasoline engines when it started automobile production in 1910.  It arranged for its cars to be sold through a third party marketing agency and the bankruptcy of not one but two of them tainted the Otto's reputation.  It never recovered from this double punch and was out of business by 1912.

The car in the museum was donated in 2010 by the family that had owned it since new.  Only two Ottos are known to exist.  This car was in exceptional condition so I suspect it has been restored but it had been in storage for some time before a museum volunteer who knew the family brought it up to running condition again.

1909 Zimmerman Surrey
The Zimmerman Manufacturing Company built buggies in Auburn, Indiana, but saw the future and entered the automotive field in 1908.  It was a family business and the deaths of the rather aged executives (Elias Zimmerman, President of the firm, died at 85 in 1914) saw operations cease by 1915 as the company became part of the Auburn Automobile Company, which had been building their engines .  Only 14 Zimmerman cars are known to exist, and this touring model is the only one of its kind.  It was sold at auction in 2016 for $26,000 as part of a sale of artifacts from the holdings of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

1917 Haynes Model 36 Touring Car
One of the pioneering car companies of the United States, the Haynes-Apperson Automobile Company was organized in 1898 in Kokomo, Indiana.  After a falling out between the partners (Elwood Haynes and the Apperson Brothers) in 1904, the cars were subsequently known simply under the Haynes name.  The company ceased operations in 1925.  This Light-Six 36 was purchased by the current owner's grandfather and has been in the family since new.  The car was repainted 60 years ago but otherwise is essentially as it was originally built.

1937 Packard Super Eight Formal Sedan
This elegant car has gone through numerous owners and varying degrees of neglect.  Built in Detroit, the five passenger car featured a straight eight engine of 135 hp.  It weighed 4,795 pounds and cost $3,235.

1909 Buick Model F
This Buick is in a remarkable state of preservation, with original paint, upholstery and motor, with only a few added parts to ensure its safe operation. It was purchased by a family Buick dealership in 1931 and was in their ownership for 62 years and has had two owners since.  The car was the subject of a detailed article in Hemmings Motor News in June 2012, which may be found here.

1931 Ford Model A Victoria
Original except for a repainted hood and cowl, along with a new top, this Model A has been driven around 50,000 miles and has received numerous awards in recognition of its state of preservation.

1934 Brewster 5 Passenger Town Sedan
Historic coachbuilder Brewster & Co. of Long Island City, New York, was purchased by Rolls-Royce in 1924 when the British company began building cars for the American market in Springfield, Massachusetts.  When R-R production ended there in 1931, the chairman of Brewster attempted to keep the company going by offering new bodies to customers for their older chassis.  The company went into receivership in 1934 but re-emerged with the idea of producing low-cost custom automobiles.  While some Brewssters were built using Buick Roadmaster underpinnings and customers could choose other makes, most were constructed on the Ford V8 chassis.  It is thought that only 113 were built before the firm ceased in 1936, including town cars, convertibles and, as in this case, Town Sedans.  All the Brewster-Fords sold for the same price: $3,500.  The very distinctive heart-shaped grille was conceived by former Rolls-Royce designer Carl Beck.  This unrestored example was purchased by the current owner (an enthusiast who possesses three Brewster-Fords) in 1963.

1962 Chevrolet Corvette
This pretty roadster in Honduras Maroon was purchased by its second owner after he returned from the Vietnam War.  It was parked in his garage in 1974 and remained there until the current owner found it in June 2014.  The paint, interior, gauges, transmission and factory hardtop are all in excellent original condition, although the engine was replaced many years ago with a type-correct one.  The new owner installed new tires, exhaust, and carpet (mice had eaten the old carpet) and rebuilt the engine, while a very thorough cleaning completed the project.  In 1962, there were 14,531 Corvettes built at the plant in St. Louis, Missouri, and the cost of a base model was just over $4,000.

1965 Chevrolet Impala
Powered by a 283 cu. in. V8, this Impala hardtop coupe was sitting covered in sheets in a garage when a friend of the current owner saw it and encouraged him to acquire it.  The car has only been driven 22,000 miles.  The full-sized Chevrolets of the period were big successes, with more than 1 million cars sold each year.  Our family car for many years was a 1966 Impala hardtop coupe, also white, but with the insufficient 250 cu. in. inline six that produced 155 hp, so that the good looks of the car were not really matched by performance on the road.

1932 Studebaker Model 55
This Studebaker featured the St. Regis body style, with extra long doors,  It was donated to the museum by the son of the late owner, who spent five years restoring the car.

1935 White 703 Custom Sedan
This unique vehicle was constructed by a special customer, Dr. Louisa Tingley, a Boston ophthalmologist, who was a member of the Board of Directors of White.  Although the company had left the passenger car market in 1918, it built a custom car for her and when it was time to replace that car, she requested (demanded?) a new White.  The result was this one-of-a-kind vehicle, based on a 3/4 ton White truck chassis with a cut-down Yellowstone Park bus body.  It is powered by a six cylinder 77 hp engine and Dr. Tingley used the car until she died in 1952.  It boasts its original paint, interior and drivetrain.  White never built another passenger car.

In addition to the special display, the AACA Museum always has a varied selection of cars, both on loan and in its permanent collection, to admire.

1914 Stearns-Knight 7 Passenger Touring Car

Another expensive brand, Stearns (later Stearns-Knight) cars were built in Cleveland, Ohio, from 1901 to 1929.  This large touring car was available in three colours--maroon, green, or blue--and was powered by a six cylinder 43 hp engine.  There were detachable side curtains for inclement weather.  Considered one of America's premier marques and owned by the wealthy, including John D. Rockefeller, Stearns-Knights were priced at the top of the market.  The base price of this car would have been $5,000.

 As we discovered on our first visit to the museum, it is a repository for the best collection of material related to Preston Tucker and his Tucker 48 automobile, including cars, engines and automobilia. Donated by Tucker historian and collector David Cammack, it is housed in a dedicated 5,200 square foot wing of the museum.

1938 Autocar UD 1200 Gallon Tanker
Autocar is the oldest surviving nameplate in the US auto industry, having begun operations in 1897 and manufacturing the first purpose-built truck in 1899.  With different owners, including White and Volvo, it continues today as an independent brand produced in Hagerstown, Indiana.  The U line introduced in 1933 was a forerunner of the "cab over engine" design to be utilized throughout the industry.

1912 White 
The basement of the museum houses several commercial vehicles, including this 1912 White with a 21-passenger bus body, the oldest functioning motorcoach in the world.  Certainly no frills here: it has a crank starter, solid rubber tires and flame headlights.  It was the first vehicle purchased by the Martz company which ran bus services between Pennsylvania mining towns.  The Martz Group today operates intercity bus routes, charter bus services, and tours, and ownership remains within the Martz family.

1927 Fageol Bus
This bus was operated in service around Spokane, Washington.  It was built by Fageol Motors in Oakland, California.  The company, founded in 1916, produced the first ground-up bus in 1921.  The company also produced trucks and farm tractors, all considered to be of first-rate quality.  Of 2,500 buses built before the company went into receivership in the early 1930s, 5 are known to exist.  The plant and its equipment were purchased by T.A. Peterman in 1939 and in 1939 the first Peterbilt truck came out of the factory.

1924 Fageol Bus--note the semaphore turn signals!

1939 American Bantam Model 60 Roadster
The museum lets you get behind the wheel of a vintage car for photos.  The car selected is a classy American Bantam, a stylish little machine built on English Austin underpinnings.  Originally the company was called American Austin but shut down after four years in 1934, but revived as the American Bantam Car Company.  Located in Butler, Pennsylvania, it continued to build cars until 1940 but today is better remembered as the developer of the first Jeep.

In addition to all the cars and trucks, the AACA Museum has a lovely "Roads to Rails" model train layout in "O" gauge, meant to conjure up small town America in the 1950s, including an operating drive-in theatre!  The display is 36 feet in length and has over 350 feet of track.

Another great visit to the AACA Museum concluded, we left, passing once again the Hershey Kissmobile and the world's happiest snowplow!

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