Monday, July 31, 2017

The Gilmore Car Museum, Hickory Corners, Michigan, July 31, 2017--Part 3: Interesting Americana

The next section of the Gilmore Museum brought us to a section that had a diverse selection of interesting American cars primarily from the 1950s and 1960s.  Lots of pastel colours and a great deal of chrome was on display.

The Tucker 48, which the museum acquired in 1983, was the 47th one built of the 50 cars, including a prototype, built at the Tucker factory.  At least one additional car has been built from spare parts.  The story behind the Tucker, which got the full Hollywood treatment in 1988 in "Tucker" The Man and His Dream," is well-known but in spite of everything it is hard to see how a severely under-capitalized manufacturer with technology issues would have succeeded in the US car business.  Tuckers are highly prized collector items today in spite of their lacklustre performance but because of the story of Preston Tucker and how he wanted to go against the Big Three.

1948 Tucker 48

1954 Kaiser Darrin
Unveiled to the public in 1952 (two months before the Chevrolet Corvette concept car), the Kaiser Darrin was intended to be a "halo" car to attract people to Kaiser showrooms.  Designed by the colourful and accomplished Howard "Dutch" Darrin, the Kaiser Darrin was the first two-seat fiberglass body sports car from an American manufacturer but was not a huge success for several reasons.  Performance with its 90hp engine was not sprightly, although it had excellent brakes, and the novelty sliding pocket doors made entry and exit awkward due to the limited door opening, besides tending to jam if dirt got on the runners.  The car did not have roll-up side windows but did have an unusual three position landau top.  The car was quite expensive and in the end only 435 were built. That does not sound like many but is actually representative of the limited market for two seat sports cars at the time.  However by the car's introduction in 1954 the Kaiser company was facing financial difficulties and as one commentator wrote: "Kaiser didn't need a traffic builder.  It needed a miracle."  Darrin took a number of unsold cars and re-engined them with more powerful Cadillac motors, improving performance dramatically.

1957 Ford Thunderbird

1963 Studebaker Avanti Sport Coupe
One of Studebaker's last-ditch efforts to stay in auto production, the Avanti was styled by noted designer Raymond Loewy's office and was marketed as "America's only four-passenger high-performance personal car." Powered by a 240 hp V8 (with an optional Paxton supercharger), the Avanti was the first American car to have front disc brakes.  It was introduced in 1962 and interest in the fibreglass bodied car was high but production delays and quality issues marred its launch.  Instead of the intended 20,000, only 1,200 Avantis were sold in 1962, with less than 4,600 the next year after which Studebaker production of the cars ceased.  Amazingly, the Avanti went on to a second life with five different companies, remaining on and off in production until 2006 in various versions, including a convertible and sedan.

1967 Shelby Cobra 427 S/C
Powered by a 427 cu. in. (7 litre) Ford V8 of 425 hp, this stock street Cobra, the 6th last produced, was capable of 163 mph.  It weighed only 2,523 lbs and could go from 0-60 mph in 4.2.  In spite of its fame, only 343 examples of the Cobra 427 model were built.

1963 Chrysler Turbine Car
Chrysler began experimenting with gas turbine engines in the 1930s.  Turbines are light, powerful, fairly simple mechanically, highly durable and can use a variety of fuels.  In 1963 Chrysler built a series of five prototypes and 50 production Turbine Cars and these were offered to 250 different drivers as public use test vehicles in some 133 cities from 1963 until 1966.  At that time Chrysler called back the cars (which were all identical in "Turbine Bronze" paint) and all were scrapped except for nine, of which Chrysler owns two, five are in museums and two are in private collections (including comedian Jay Leno's).  The turbine, in spite of its advantages, was not to be the future, suffering from complex starting requirements, considerable noise, and excessively high fuel consumption.  The Turbine Car suffered also from slow acceleration and would not have been able to meet emission standards coming into force.  The body, built by Ghia in Italy, bears a strong resemblance to the contemporary Ford Thunderbird, unsurprisingly as Elwood Engel was the designer of both the Turbine Car and the proposed 1958 T-Bird, which morphed into the 1961 Lincoln Continental.

Continue to Part 4 of the Gilmore Auto Museum visit here.

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