Thursday, June 30, 2011
Of Hillmans, Ramblers and auto history
Ah, summertime and the open road -- A time to pile the kids into the car and head out for big adventures. Americans still travel by automobile today but not like we did in the 1950s, when gasoline was 30 cents a gallon or less.
America’s love affair with the automobile stretches farther back than the ‘50s, though. We’ve been wheeling it around town and across the country for generations. And so, in this season of the Great Summer Vacation, we present a tribute to that ubiquitous mode of transportation with an eclectic assembly of automobile ephemera in the collection of rare and unusual items at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.
This is clearly a transportation enthusiast’s dream. Here are sales pieces, brochures and other ephemera from the 1950s and earlier. There is a decided Anglophile bent to the collection. Along with the Chryslers and Plymouths and Fords and Nash Ramblers is the Hillman, a British car that was manufactured from 1907. Chrysler took over the company in 1967 and continued the Hillman brand for nine years. You can still find Hillmans among car collections, even in the United States.
In this collection, too, are early Rolls-Royces, Maxwells, and Duesenbergs. The Duesenberg was a luxury car manufactured in the Teens, Twenties and Thirties. It was the fastest car available in America and it was also the most expensive, qualities which led to the development of the slang phrase,"It's a Duesy!"
There’s more automobile history here, too. The collection is a veritable automobile museum in paper. Take the 1936 LaFayette, for example. Once a luxury marquee, LaFayette by ’36 was a low-priced sedan made by the Nash Motors, which had acquired the company in 1924 and converted its plant to produce Ajax cars (Ajax – now there’s another name you don’t hear often associated with cars).
Perhaps the most unusual item in the collection is material about the Crosley FarmOroad, a vehicle that was designed for multiple purposes. It could be used on the farm like a tractor for plowing, mowing, and cultivation. It could be used like a truck for towing and hauling. And when the day's work was done, it could be used on the road to take the family to town. “Twice the work of a work horse,” says the sales brochure, “Twice the speed of a race horse.” Hmmm. For some reason the idea never caught on.
And finally, there’s even a July 1934 edition of the Automobile Trade Journal with a humorous illustration by Charles Hargens, who painted covers for Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post, Farm Journal, Country Gentleman, Boy’s Life and a magazine called The Open Road for Boys.