Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Visit to the Stahls Automotive Foundation, Chesterfield, Michigan, August 1, 2017--Part 3--Some Oddities

1951 Mechanimal Elephant: Wendell
Originally named Jumbo, this elephant was bought by Detroit’s Cunningham Drug Stores in 1951 to promote its jumbo photo prints and jumbo milk shakes. It carried about 10,000 children on rides during its first four weeks, according to newspaper clippings. The thrill ended on Week 8 when a mechanical leg failed, spilling six to 10 children to the curb, according to differing news accounts. Three or four were slightly injured. Two years later, in July 1953, the pretend elephant was up for sale.

Ownership changed several times. Wendell was repurchased by Cunningham Drug Stores in 1961 for a static display. He was sold and used as an attention grabber at a riding stable. In 1978 he was bought and restored, and for the first time since 1962 it provided rides to neighborhood children.  Over the years the elephant was used in Dwight Eisenhower’s and Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaigns and other Republican events.

1904 Winton Flyer Movie Car
Looking like an early brass era car, this vehicle was constructed from scratch by legendary custom car craftsman Von Dutch. Born Kenneth Howard, Von Dutch found his calling in the burgeoning car culture of postwar California. Best known for his artistic pin striping, he was a skilled mechanic as well. This car was constructed for the 1969 movie “The Reivers,” a William Faulkner tale starring Steve McQueen and Sharon Farrell.

Meant to typify cars of the brass era, it is on a slightly smaller scale than a real Winton. It is powered by a BMC A-series engine, probably from an Austin-Healey Sprite. Painted yellow with black canvas top, it very much looks the part, with brass headlamps and sidelamps. McQueen liked the car so much he took possession at the end of filming and kept it for the rest of his life.

When Sotheby's sold the vehicle in 2013 for $68,750, it included the following specifications:
1,275-cc, 65-hp inline OHV four-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, solid front axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, live rear axle with full-elliptic leaf springs and two-wheel hydraulic disc brakes. Wheelbase: 99-inches

1965 not only saw the success of "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" in movie theatres but also a more ground-bound comedy/adventure with "The Great Race."  Modeled very loosely on the famous (and unbelievably grueling) New York to Paris Race of 1908, "The Great Race" starred Tony Curtis as the hero, Leslie Gallant III ("The Great Leslie") and Jack Lemmon as the villain, Professor Fate.  Lemmon had an additional role as Prince Friedrich Hapnick.  The movie, with music by Henry Mancini and costumes by Edith Head, was directed by slapstick specialist Blake Edwards.  Although the film made back its costs, it was negatively compared to "The Magnificent Men" and was seen as Edwards' first big failure.  It is noted as the film featuring the biggest pie fight in movie history, with 4,000 pies destroyed.

The Stahls Museum has two of the cars used in the movie as Ted Stahl was a big fan of the film.

Hannibal Twin-8
 At least three examples of Professor Fate's "Hannibal Twin-8" were constructed (possibly as many as five) for the film at a reported cost of around $150,000 each.  The car was James Bondian in gadgetry, including a cannon and a functional smoke screen generator.  The car is powered with a flat six cylinder engine from a Chevrolet Corvair.

The Leslie Special
Four examples of the hero's "Leslie Special" were constructed for the film.  Designed to look like the Thomas Flyer that won the New York to Paris Race, the car has a PVC body mounted on a Ford truck chassis and uses a Ford 260 cu.in. V8 and an automatic transmission.

In 1969 Tony Curtis returned to the car racing movie genre in 1969 with "Monte Carlo or Bust" (known in the United States as "Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies"), a sequel of sorts to "Those Magnificent Men."

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