Monday, April 14, 2014

Our Nemesis Car: Duesenberg Model J

1931 Duesenberg Model J Murphy Convertible Coupe at
the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automotive Museum
by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

I'm biased, but our TripAdvisor reviews back me up: we have a very, very nice assemblage of automobiles in our museum. There is one hole in the collection, however, and our attempts to fill it have been repeatedly thwarted. That spot is reserved for a Duesenberg Model J.

1929 Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton
at the Gilmore Museum
Introduced in December of 1928, the Duesenberg Model J was a luxury car designed to compete with European royalty like Hispano-Suiza, Rolls Royce, and Isotta-Fraschini. A technical marvel, it had the most powerful engine of its day and often carried the most elegant coachwork available. Its combination of visual beauty and mechanical superiority make the Model J a perfect fit for our museum's mission; that is, to showcase some of the most important and interesting technological and design advances in American automobile development prior to World War II.

Despite years of searching, we haven't yet found the right Duesenberg Model J for our museum. If you know of someone who is ready to part with theirs and would like to see it displayed in a museum (and driven!), please put them in touch with us.

In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy the Duesenbergs on display in other museums around the country.

Duesenberg Model J in the Bruce Meyer Collection
1931 Model J Convertible Victoria
at the Henry Ford

1931 Model J Murphy Convertible
Sedan at the Auburn Cord
Duesenberg Automotive Museum
Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

In the Shop: Building a Replica Race Car

Photo courtesy of Frances Erickson

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Our latest project in the museum shop is to build a replica of the car that Bobby Sheldon drove in the first organized car race in Fairbanks, held on July 5, 1917. The rules required that the cars be stripped down and carry both a driver and mechanic. Sheldon won that race and the $500 prize in a Model T Ford. That was a lot of money at the time--more than the factory price of a new Model T.

Our replica of Sheldon's race car will use parts collected in Alaska from 1916-1925 Model Ts. It will be a nice example of an early race car--and it will run! We've gathered parts from all over for this project, and owe special thanks to Bruce Campbell of Anchorage for helping gather several, including the frame.

The frame we're using is from a 1925 Model T. The major difference between it and the frame from a late-teens model is that it has a wider rear cross member. We aren't going to restore the parts for the replica, but rather, put them into safe operating condition. In fact, they'll probably be in better condition than the parts were in Sheldon's car when he raced!

This project is being performed by our "pit crew" volunteers that come in every Tuesday for a day of fun and work in the museum. I can't say enough great things about these guys. Their enthusiasm and dedication is greatly appreciated.

Here are the front and rear axles we're using for the replica. We'll rebuild them to make them operable and safe for speeds under 50 mph (although we probably won't exceed 20 mph). We haven't decided what wheels to use yet, but will probably go with 30-inch wood.

We are building the engine from several we gathered for usable hard parts. By the time we finish the project the pit crew will have a full understanding of how a Model T operates. Then, we'll move on to a full round of driving lessons so they will all be able to drive a "pedal car" (Model Ts have several pedals to master). When you come to the Midnight Sun Cruise-In in June you should see the Sheldon racer being driven by one of the volunteers and a "mechanic" riding in the passenger seat. If you visit the museum on Sunday, be sure to look through the shop windows to follow our progress.

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Monday, March 31, 2014

On the Road: Los Angeles Museums

Hanging out with the Hannibal from "The
Great Race," at the Petersen Museum
by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Last week I traveled to Los Angeles to attend the 2014 National Association for Automobile Museums annual conference. This year’s meeting took place at the Petersen Automotive Museum and was held in conjunction with the World Forum for Motor Museums. It was a great opportunity to meet with museum professionals from the U.K., Greece, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and around North America. 

Liberace's 1962 Rolls-Royce Phantom V Landau
Limousine at the Petersen Museum. He had it
custom built to match one of his pianos.
The Petersen Museum was a fabulous host and allowed us to tour their Vault and numerous exhibits. It was nice to see their museum and displays before they begin their ambitious renovation later this year. It was hard to choose a favorite car among their displays, but those related to the movies and celebrities ranked high on my list. Their town car display was also fantastic.

1936 Toyota Classic Model AA
(replica) at the Toyota Museum

In addition to a series of presentations (including an excellent one by the National Corvette Museum about their recent sinkhole incident), we were able to tour several other museums and collections. First up was the Toyota Museum, which hosted our Tuesday reception.

 So-Cal Speed Shop belly tank lakester and motorcycles
in the Bruce Meyer Collection.

On Wednesday our first stop was at the Bruce Meyer Collection, located behind a nondescript door in an alley by Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Mr. Meyer has a fascinating collection, including Le Mans racers, hot rods, a wall of motorcycles, and lofty marques like Bentley, Porsche, Jaguar, Duesenberg and Ferrari.

From there we traveled to Pasadena to visit the Transportation Department at the Art Center College of Design. A significant percent of the world's automotive designers graduate from this program, and it was interesting to see the students in action.
Student work at the Art Center College of Design

Next up was the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, where we started our tour in their Lower and Grand Salons. Founder J.B. Nethercutt, who made his fortune with Merle Norman Cosmetics, and his son Jack Nethercutt have amassed a superb collection, housed in the salons and across the street in the Nethercutt Museum. This was my third visit to the Nethercutt, and every trip there I discover something new. I especially enjoyed perusing their collection of Cadillacs this time.

1930 Ruxton at the Nethercutt Collection
On Friday, we cruised up the Pacific Coast Highway to Oxnard, where we toured the Mullin Automotive Museum. I have been here once before and was really looking forward to seeing it again. Our visit was marred, however, by an employee who did a great job at making us feel very unwelcome. She even gave Edsel Ford II a hard time about his tour reservation. It was a reminder about how your museum's front-line employees set the tone for each visitor’s experience, which turned out to be quite negative for me and many others at this stop.

Despite the sour tone, the cars (and Rembrandt Bugatti’s sculptures) were stunning and we had an excellent docent guide. Unfortunately, most of the cars lacked signs, so I don't remember what they were besides Bugattis.

1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic at the Mullin Museum, 
reportedly purchased for over $30 million.

Our final destination was Mike and Barbara Malamut’s private collection, which included a delightful mix of vintage Porches, Volkswagons, Messerschmitts, BMW Isettas, many other cars, and a lot of memorabilia. Alas, they asked that we not post photos on line. Although this collection is not open to the public, hopefully some day you will get to see it as part of a group tour, especially since the Malamuts are very delightful hosts.

Round Door Rolls-Royce in the Petersen
Museum Vault. More info here.
I will post more photos from my trip on our Facebook page later this week. Kudos to Leslie Kendall and the Petersen Museum for putting on such a great conference!

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Pedigreed Rambler

by Nancy DeWitt
Our 1904 Stevens-Duryea, when it was
at the Museum of Science and Industry
 (its 2nd owner) in Chicago.
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

One of my jobs as the museum's historian is to document the history of the automobiles in the collection. For a handful, such as our 1928 Oakland, we have very little information beyond the name of the prior owner. For others, like our 1904 Stevens-Duryea and 1918 Biddle, we can trace their provenance (history of ownership) back to the person who bought it new.

In addition to a car's provenance, we are interested in its restoration history (if any), if it has won any awards, and whether or not the car completed any tours of note. Although to our knowledge it never won more than a 3rd place concours award, our 1904 Rambler Model L is a great example of a car that carries some interesting history.

So far we have traced this Rambler's ownership back to B. Paul Moser of Santa Barbara, CA, in the late 1950s. Its next owner was William Schamberger of Cedar Rapids, OH, who performed some restoration work on it in the early 1960s. He sold the car to the Rothman's Pall Mall/Craven Foundation of Toronto in 1972. They had Walter Heater of Detroit restore it; while touring with the car in Great Britain in 1987 they sold it to Coys of London. The Rambler then passed through three other owners in Great Britain over the course of 13 years. It required a full mechanical renovation, which was performed by Cliff Long. Peter Inston drove the Rambler in the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain's Diamond Jubilee Rally in 1990.

Ben Cawthra/London News Pictures/Zuma Press
More notably, our Rambler participated in the London-to-Brighton Veteran Car Run (LTBVCR) several times. The LTBVCR is the world's longest-running motoring event and the world's largest gathering of veteran cars (those built before 1905). The first run was held in 1896, and it has some fascinating history. It is not a race, but a 60-mile test of endurance for these old cars, a test of stamina for the driver and passengers (it is usually quite cold and often rainy), and a social gathering for veteran-car aficionados. A lot of the cars break down, and many do not finish.
A 1904 Rambler (not ours) in the
1910 London-to-Brighton Run.

Our Rambler completed its first LTBVCR in 1974 (although the run was "somewhat traumatic" due to engine problems), but failed to complete the 1987 run after throwing a connecting rod. That's why the Craven Foundation sold it Coys. It later completed runs in 1988 and 1989.

John William Middendorf

In 2000, the Rambler passed back to an American owner--Ambassador William Middendorf II of Rhode Island. Middendorf had served as treasurer for Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign, as Secretary of Defense Secretary of the Navy (1974-77), and as a U.S. Ambassador (1969-1973, 1981-1987). He also owned our 1898 Hay Motor VehicleDon Meyer drove the entire 2000 LTBVCR in the Rambler in before shipping it back to North America. 

Peter Pitcher did some mechanical work on the Rambler after it was brought back to the U.S., and I believe Middendorf toured with the car before selling it to our museum in 2007. It is one of only four 1904 Rambler Model Ls known to survive. Some day we'd love to take it or one of our other Veteran cars across the pond and participate in the historic London-to-Brighton run. I can just see Willy and Tim looking like these two chaps at right!

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!