Monday, December 2, 2013

What's a Spindizzy?

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

A few weeks ago I was with the National Association of Automobile Museums board in Dearborn, Michigan, and got a behind-the-scenes look at the Henry Ford Museum's conservation lab. Clara Deck, the Senior Conservator, and her staff were busy working on some interesting artifacts--a collection of spindizzies.

I was surprised I had never heard of a spindizzy. Also known as model racers or tether cars, these one-sixth scale, gas-powered race cars trace their roots to California in the late 1930s. Inspired by motorized model airplanes, hobbiests built miniature cars patterned after midget racers, Indy cars and hot rods. The cars were very finely crafted and had many of the same parts as a real car, just on a smaller scale.

The cars raced against each other in metal grooves on banked wooden tracks, or individually, tethered to a central pole. The tether wire was 35 to 40' long, and winners were determined based on average speed over several laps. The method of stabilizing the cars at lower speeds (seen in this modern video), as well as watching them race at high speeds, was dizzying; hence the name.

By the time spindizzies were exhibited at the World's Fair in New York, the cars were being produced by more than 50 manufacturers. In the 1950s they were capable of traveling faster than midget racers and Indy 500 cars, reaching speeds of more than 150 mph.

The spindizzy hobby died out in the 1950s, but today the cars are very popular among collectors. A handful of people also race modern tether cars, which look more like model rockets and can reach speeds of over 200 mph!

Original tether cars are quite valuable, so be sure to watch for them at yard sales or when poking around in Grandpa's attic.  I'm thinking we need to find a few 1930s models for our museum.

Many thanks to Clara, Matt and The Henry Ford for the interesting tour!

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!

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