Monday, January 28, 2013

Amphibious Vehicles in Alaska

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

In August of 2012, two amphibious crafts were demonstrated to the U.S. Coast Guard in Barrow, Alaska for potential use on arctic missions. These included the tank-like Arktos made in British Columbia and the Amphib Alaska made in Ketchikan. These high-tech machines are only the latest in a string of amphibious vehicles that have cruised Alaska's land and waters over the past several decades.

Photo courtesy of Candy Waugaman
Many of our readers are no doubt familiar with the German-made Amphicar, but you may be surprised to learn that several were sold in Alaska back in the mid 1960s. Nick Rauch was the Anchorage dealer, while Jim Thompson sold Amphicars in Fairbanks. One of the Fairbanks Amphicars is still owned by an Alaskan but kept in Oregon. It's possible that it is the same one in the photo at right, which was taken in downtown Fairbanks on August 17, 1967 when a devastating flood inundated our city. The caption reads: "Everyone thought this guy was crazy to buy an Amphicar when he lived so far from the water, but the thing sure comes in handy during a flood."

Nick Rauch had his own Amphicar, as did Ivan and Oro Stewart, the original owners of the iconic Stewart's Photo Shop in Anchorage. In June of 1968, Nick, his 11 year-old son Phillip, Ivan and Oro drove their Amphicars down the the Yukon River from Eagle to Circle City. Their adventure is chronicled here.

Several military amphibious craft have passed through Alaska, including a Studebaker M29 Weasel (seen here in the 1947 Fairbanks Winter Carnival Parade) and an Army alligator used in the Aleutians during WWII. A Ford GPA Seagoing Jeep ("Seep") driven by Frank and Helen Schreider traveled from Alaska to the tip of South America from 1954-56. Australian Ben Carlin drove a  Seep from Tokyo to Anchorage in 1957 during his around-the-world trip.

I'm not sure if Paul Satko's Buick-powered "Ark of Juneau" qualifies as a true amphibious vehicle, but this tale of the Satko family's 1938-1940 adventure in it across the U.S. and then north to Juneau is well worth a read. Apparently the Buick engine still rests on a beach near Juneau.

from Popular Science Monthly October 1928
To the best of my knowledge, the craft pictured at right was the first amphibious vehicle in Alaska. The "Honukai" (Sea Turtle) was designed by Dr. Thomas A. Jaggar, founder of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and a world-acclaimed geophysicist, author and inventor. He built his steel-bodied "beach boat" on an elongated 1926 Ford chassis mounted on oak timbers with a Smith Formatruck rear axle attached. On land, the Honukai could travel 25 mph. Twin screw propellers drove it in the water, while the front disc wheels served as rudders. The radiator set on top of the cabin, while a cooling pipe for the circulating water encircled the boat below the water line.

Library of Congress
LC-USZ62-105318
The Honukai was used successfully on a 1928 National Geographic expedition from Shumigan Island to King Cove. Its exceptionally low gears allowed the crew to drive right up the sides of volcanoes. Jagger later provided his vehicle data to the War and Navy Departments. A November 1945 article in Popular Mechanics describes how the famous Army duck (DUKW) and Weasel amphibious truck were descended from Jaggar's Honukai. An interesting connection to Alaska automotive history!

Anyone know of other amphibious vehicles that reached Alaska?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mullin Automotive Museum

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

It's vacation time for many Alaskans so I thought I'd share some trip photos. A few years ago I had the pleasure of visiting the new Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California. Besides having my mind blown away by all the beautiful French classics, I was amazed that there were no ropes around these priceless cars. Everyone I saw that day was very respectful, although it made me nervous to see cameras dangling from the necks of people peering into cars. Go visit if you can!

1927 Renault 40CV Tourer
1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe
The most expensive car ever sold
(between $30 and $40 million)


1934 Avions Voisin C27 Aerosport


1937 Hispano Suiza K6
Shooting Brake (a cross between
 a 2-door sports coupe
and an estate car)
1939 Bugatti Type 57C Aravis Roadster

1927 Bugatti T40 Shooting Brake
Part of the Schlumpf Reserve
Collection of unrestored cars
1939 Panhard et Levassor X81 Sedan





1938 Tatra Type 87 4-door Salon
1939 Delahaye Type 165 Cabriolet
Racing cars on the second floor
1925 Bugatti Type 22 Brescia Torpedo
Rescued from Lake Maggiore in 2009.
1938 Delahaye Type 145 V12 Coupe
1922 Hispano-Suiza H6B Labourdette Skiff

1938 Talbot Lago T15OCS 

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Exquisite Chrysler Imperial CL

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

One of the most elegant cars in our collection is this 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Series CL convertible sedan (#CL7803489). The CL model is regarded by many collectors as the best-styled of all Chryslers, and it’s hard to argue that once you take a good look at this luxurious car.

The CL’s stylish design, set off by the vee radiator, long hood and low, sweeping fenders, was no doubt inspired by the Cord L-29. The hood stretches in an unbroken line all the way to the windshield, covering the traditional cowl and intimating the impressive power beneath. The CL’s 385-cubic-inch straight-eight engine developed 135 hp at 3,200 rpm with the optional, high-compression “Red Head” over the cylinders. This was enough to launch the big car from 0 to 60 mph in 20 seconds, and to a top speed of over 90 mph.

The 1932 Chrysler Imperials also introduced “Floating Power”—an innovative system that balanced the engine on just two rubber mountings, permitting the power plant to rock on its axis without transmitting the torque to the passenger compartment. Not surprisingly, the ride is exceptionally smooth and quiet.
 .
Each Chrysler Imperial CL was carefully crafted to the buyer’s specifications. The LeBaron coachwork on this award-winning car includes hand-buffed leather seats, a leather dashboard with a machine-tooled instrument cluster and twin glove boxes, a “ribbon” type radiator shell, dual side-mounted spare tires, a curvy luggage trunk and a winged radiator cap graced with a bounding gazelle. The two exterior sides of the car are mirror images of each other--there is even a dummy fuel filler on the rear to balance the real one!

Only 49 CL convertible sedans were produced in 1932, and approximately 12 are known to survive. We acquired this one from Doug and Gail Shinstine; other owners include publishing magnate and collector Otis Chandler, Phil Renick, Ed Perkins, Frank Klepz and Robert Burchill. After Renick had the car restored by Tony Anton, it earned its Senior and 100-point Premier Crown ratings with the Classic Car Club of America.

Automotive art and high performance rolled into one amazing car. Come see it!


Monday, January 7, 2013

That's a Wrap: Coats from the 1920s

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Photo courtesy of Candy Waugaman
It's hard to not think about coats during winter in Alaska. For those who like to play outside even when the temperature plunges to -20 F and below, looking fashionable is something most of us don't attempt (although an insulated Skhoop skirt helps). I am consistently amazed at how determined Fairbanks women were to look stylish 100 years ago, as illustrated in the photo at right. I have a hard time believing that their heads stayed warm under the trendy hats of the day, especially when you consider that they were about to embark on an 8-day, open sleigh ride to Valdez!

Not surprisingly, many old Alaskan photos show people clad in fur coats. By the 1920s, full-length raccoon coats (like our example at left) had become quite popular in the States, especially among male college students and automobilists of both sexes. Of course, Alaskan pioneers had already been wearing coats made from raccoon, beaver, bear and wolf out of necessity for years (and Alaska Natives for centuries before that).

Many fashionable coats of the 1920s had large shawl collars and enormous cuffs trimmed with fur from fox, sable, ermine, mink, chinchilla, Persian lamb or even monkey. As the decade progressed, women's coat styles became less fitted, with belts dropping from the natural waist to the hips, and then disappearing altogether. A common style was the cocoon coat, which fit loosely on top and narrowed at or near the knees.

Elegant wraps, especially the oriental-style evening coats popularized by designer Paul Poiret, were a favorite among flappers. Few had snaps, hooks or buttons, as they were meant to be worn open. Common fabrics included silk, velvet, satin, lamé, and gold and silver brocades. Many had large, kimono sleeves and were decorated with embroidery, tassels, metallic braids, fur or even jewel beetles, like this coat we have on display. The sleeves and hem on the reversible lamé coat at left are trimmed with what looks like monkey fur, but is actually tufted silk. Does anyone else think this coat could be a Poiret creation?

Another common cover for evening wear was a lightweight wrap, cape or shawl made of silk, chiffon, rayon or tulle. Many featured beautiful embroidery or beading in floral, Art Deco or Egyptian motifs--the latter attributed to the public's fascination with the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922. Fringe or macramé  was common on the lower edge of shawls.

We hope you'll visit and check out the lovely historic outerwear we have on display. Our fashion curator frequently puts new pieces out on display, so you never know what treasures you might encounter!