CONCORD, N.C. (March 29,1999) – From the rickety Ford Model T with its top speed of 55 mph to the ground-pounding big-block Cobra 427 roadster with a zero-100-zero time of 14 seconds, a century of America’s most significant automobiles will be exhibited during the Food Lion AutoFair at Lowe’s Motor Speedway at Charlotte, April 8-11.
The 20th Century will no doubt be remembered by U.S. historians as the age of the automobile, an invention that transformed the landscape of America into a bustling, productive and constantly moving place. While other countries have produced and been affected by the car, no other nation has fallen so thoroughly in love with it.
More than 2,000 American manufacturers have come and gone since the Duryea Motor Wagon Company turned out its first batch of 13 belt-driven automobiles in 1896. Cars at that point were nothing more than three- or four-wheeled buggies motivated by the new internal combustion engine, steam-driven turbine or electrical motor. There were innovations and technological advances in those early years, to be sure, but a driveable car could be produced in almost any blacksmith shop or hobbyist’s garage.
During its first two decades, the fledgling U.S. auto industry was made up of a few large companies with production geared for a national marketplace and a lot of entrepreneurs turning out vehicles of their own designs as sidelines to their main businesses. As consumers came to expect more comfort, reliability, speed and luxury from their transportation, the cost of automobile design and manufacture became prohibitive for the average dreamer with a welder. The bulk of those early independently-built models – Iroquois, Nation, New York, Selma and Victor, to name a few – were short-lived and remembered today only by historians.
Other companies, such as Packard, Pierce-Arrow, Auburn, DeSoto and Jordan, thrived before the vagaries of economics brought them down. Some were killed off in the ‘30s by the lingering effects of the Great Depression; others became history footnotes when passenger car production was suspended from 1942 to ‘45 because of World War II’s demand on America’s industrial base for tank, plane and big gun production. Today these cars are sought after and restored by collectors for their historical value.
Only a tiny fraction of the original roster survived to modern times and, with few exceptions, can be found under the Big Three titles—Chrysler (founded in 1924, now merged with German manufacturer Daimler), General Motors (1908) and Ford (1903).
AutoFair’s tribute to the American auto comes in the form of a broad cross-section of the century’s most important models. This display features:
· ’21 Ford Model T – Built from 1909 to ’27, the millions of examples put America on the move. The “T” was probably the largest motivating factor behind highway and road construction in the ‘teens and ‘20s.
· ’30 Ford Model A – Although most non-enthusiasts today cannot tell the difference between a “T” and an “A” at a glance, in ‘28 the new Ford was a quantum leap in car evolution.
· ’35 Duesenberg Model J – Perhaps the most elegant and impressive automobiles in American history were produced in the heartland of the country. The “J” was the Auburn, Ind.-based company’s longest running model line.
· ’37 Chrysler Airflow – The new science of aerodynamics was being applied to trains, planes and automobiles in the ‘30s, with Chrysler’s Airflow perhaps the most sincere attempt to bring something new to market with technology gleaned from aviation.
· ’39 Packard Twelve – Just a decade after the Great Depression, luxury car builder Packard was one of the most successful marques, having sold a record 1,300 of its V-12 coupes, sedans and limousines in ‘37.
· ’40 Lincoln Continental V-12 – Edsel Ford had the first Continental built for himself from a Lincoln V-12 Zephyr in ’38. Popular demand led to the production of 1,990 Continentals.
· ’43 Willys Jeep – Was it the P-51 Mustang fighter or the Willys Jeep that won WWII for the Allies? Millions of foot troops would probably argue for the rock-solid, go-anywhere Jeep.
· ’48 Tucker Torpedo – America’s most ambitious and innovative postwar failure, Preston Tucker’s Torpedo is the subject of more conspiracy theories than the Roswell UFO incident.
· ’48 Studebaker Champion – Like all manufacturers Studebaker’s early postwar offerings were dressed-up versions of the interrupted 1940 line. In itself, this was not a bad thing as the company’s innovations (such as the “hill holder” clutch) and styling by Raymond Loewy and Virgil Exner made the Studebaker models real standouts.
· ’50 Ford V-8 – The second year of Ford’s first all-new postwar design boasted “50 improvements for ’50.”
· ’63 Sting Ray Corvette – For its 10th birthday, the Corvette was given a redesign that was sure to capture the hearts of young performance enthusiasts everywhere and a range of 327-cid V-8 power to back up any claims made by the shark-shaped body.
· ’66 427 Cobra – Racer Carroll Shelby’s answer to Chevy’s Corvette was a Ford 289-cid V-8 stuffed into a small British-built aluminum-bodied roadster. His Cobra beat Ferraris as well as Chevy’s sports car on the track. The 427-cid version is considered one of the fastest cars ever made.
· ’67 Ford Mustang – When introduced in April 1964, the Mustang became a textbook for automotive marketing, with a different model and option package for every taste. It gave birth to a legend that celebrates its 35th anniversary in ’99.
· ’98 Dodge Viper – The Viper is Dodge’s very enthusiastic answer to the question: “Can we build a modern Cobra?” Its V-10 engine generates enough accelerative force to put a grin on anybody’s face, whether in the open roadster or GTS coupe.
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $8 for adults; children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For more information, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.lowesmotorspeedway.com.