ROANOKE, VA — Some call them rolling sculptures, others the shape of speed. Ever since the first Model T rolled off Henry Ford’s production line, Americans have had an undeniable love affair with all things automotive. They are far more than forms of transportation; they are transformative works of art. Few can imagine Steve McQueen without his fast cars and motorcycles, after all.
Beginning this fall, guests can fall in love again with the cars and motorcycles that defined the first half of the 20th century with the opening of DRIVE! Iconic American Cars and Motorcycles, presented by Advance Auto Parts and on view at the Taubman Museum of Art Sept. 8, 2018-Feb. 3, 2019. A special member preview day is scheduled for Sept. 7.
The two-dozen vehicles featured in the exhibition span over a half-century from 1914-1964 and include one-of-a-kind concept cars and celebrity-owned roadsters and motorcycles.
Organized by well-known guest curator Ken Gross, former director of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, Ken said he is no longer surprised when an automobile exhibition in a fine art institution attracts both art aficionados and automobile enthusiasts.
“Visitors are very excited to see these important cars and motorcycles, beautifully displayed and interpreted in galleries, in an artful way that they’ve never before considered.”
Vehicles on view in DRIVE! Iconic American Cars and Motorcycles include the following (note: some vehicles may be subject to change):
1914 Mercer Raceabout Model 35C
A light and nimble model, the Mercer is considered America’s first real sports car. This car was very fast for its day, a regular racing champion, according to Gross. The car was designed by Finley Robinson Porter, and built in Trenton, N.J., by the Roebling family, who made their fortune supplying the steel used to build the Brooklyn Bridge.
Fun Fact: Jay Leno keeps a Mercer Model 35C in his extensive car collection.
1920 Anderson “Made in Dixie”
The 1920 Anderson was built in Rock Hill, S.C, and is considered one of the most successful automobiles ever produced in the southern United States. It was added to the National Historic Vehicle Register, which documents America’s most historically significant automobiles, motorcycles, trucks and commercial vehicles.
Fun Fact: The Anderson slogan was, “A little higher in price, but made in Dixie!”
1921 Stutz Bearcat
First created in Indianapolis, Ind., the Stutz rivaled the Mercer as a performance car. Soon after completion, Harry C. Stutz sent the prototype to compete in the 1911 inaugural Indianapolis 500 race. The untested car did remarkably well, finishing the race and beating many established brands, earning the slogan “The Car That Made Good in a Day”.
Fun Fact: The Stutz displayed in this exhibition is completely original and unrestored!
1925 Duesenberg Indy Car (NOTE: THIS CAR IS TENTATIVE)
The Duesenberg Brothers were very successful racers—and big rivals with designer Harry Miller—before they started building cars. This particular Duesenberg won the 1925 Indianapolis 500 with Pete DePaolo at the wheel. He qualified second behind Leon Duray, one of the most winning Indy racers of all time.
Fun Fact: The 1925 Duesenberg was the first “supercharged” car to win the Indianapolis 500, and it clocked an average speed of more than 100 miles per hour (another Indy first!). The act of racing this car was so arduous that DePaulo had to ask a relief driver to take laps while he had his hands bandaged.
1929 Miller 91 Front-drive
The creator of this vehicle, Harry Miller, pioneered front-wheel-drive, supercharging, dual overhead, camshafts and intercooling. His race cars won the Indianapolis-500 several times in the 1920’s and ’30’s. The car in this exhibition was campaigned by Leon Duray, who insisted on driving black cars to project a more nefarious image. It was sold to Ettore Bugatti, who copied its dual overhead camshaft cylinder head for his Type 50.
Fun Fact: This car is one of two in existence, both of which once belonged to Bugatti. It returned to the United States in 1959; the other currently resides in the Smithsonian Institution.
1934 Ford Model 40 Speedster
Designed by Eugene T. “Bob” Gregory for Edsel B. Ford, president of the Ford Motor Company, this aluminum-bodied speedster was hand-crafted at Ford’s Aircraft Division. Edsel Ford reportedly spent about $100,000 to build this car, and during the Great Depression no less!
Fun Fact: Many of the features on this car were showcased years before they would appear on manufactured Ford motor cars.
1934 Packard Twelve Model 1106 Coupe
Packard, Pierce-Arrow and Cadillac were America’s finest luxury cars in the 1930’s. They all had massive 12-cylinder engines and they offered limited-production special editions for the very wealthy. This stunning Packard, with its prominent “tombstone” grille, impossibly long hood and aerodynamic fastback rear, was the property of a successful Wall Street banker who supplemented his conservative dress with a stylish personal statement on wheels.
Fun Fact: This stunning, art-deco Packard coupe is virtually original (save a repaint long ago) and it’s one of just four examples ever built.
1935 Stout Scarab
Considered a forerunner to the Chrysler minivan, the Egyptian-themed Scarab had a reconfigurable interior with movable passenger seats, a divan and a fold-down table. William B. Stout, the former aerodynamicist for Henry Ford, invested his own money to build a custom, streamlined, rear-engine automobile. Less than 10 were ever produced.
Fun Fact: Every Scarab was handbuilt, meaning no two are alike!
1937 Cord 812 S/C Phaeton
Designed by Gordon M. Buehrig, the streamlined front-drive Cord 810/812 was the hit of the 1935 New York Auto Show, but mechanical and production troubles hindered the sales and distribution of the car. Still it remains an iconic figure in the history of American automobiles, dubbed “The Single Most Beautiful American Car” in 1996 by the American Heritage magazine.
Fun Fact: This Cord convertible coupe was heavily accessorized and originally owned by the famous cowboy movie star, Tom Mix.
1938 Crocker “Small Tank”
The rarest, most desirable American motorcycle is the Crocker, built in Los Angeles from the 1930’s until 1942. They were very fast and some had engines as large as 1500-cc. Only about 100 examples were ever made before the company failed in WWII. Albert “Al” Crocker was the chief designer and engineer.
1939 Ford “Slick Patterson” Custom
A sheet metal worker for Reynolds Metals, Clarence “Slick” Patterson customized this 1939 Ford convertible coupe in Richmond, Va., practically from the ground-up. It took two years and eight months to complete, with Slick working on the car during his free time between work and trade school. It would go on to win many awards at hot rod and custom car shows. Lost for decades, it has now been completely restored.
Fun Fact : The build included parts from 18 different cars, including models from the years 1926 to 1951, and was powered by a 1948 Mercury engine. The car’s radically low silouhette is accentuated by its chopped and padded top.
1941 Willys MB Jeep
At the cusp of World War II, the U.S. Army called upon car manufacturers to design a lightweight, four- wheel-drive combat vehicle. This is an early prototype designed by Karl Probst and the American Bantam Car Company in Butler, Pa. Although they won the design competition, the company was too small to One-of-a-kind Cars and Celebrity-owned Motorcycles: DRIVE! Iconic American Cars and Motorcycles Celebrates America’s Automotive Love Affair manufacture the cars in volume, and the cars were ultimately produced by Willys-Overland, Ford and Chrysler.
Fun Fact: The Willys MB is nicknamed the “little car that won the war.”
1946 Harley-Davidson 74 “Knucklehead”
Motorcycle enthusiasts can instantly recognize a Harley-Davidson “Knucklehead” based on the shiny rocker box covers that resemble clinched fists with knuckles exposed. Harley-Davidson only produced Knuckleheads from 1936-1947, making this particular bike one of the last produced since the company introduced the new Panhead model in 1948. Because of its rarity, the Knucklehead is arguably one of Harley-Davidson’s most coveted bikes.
Fun Fact: Less than 4,000 Knuckleheads were produced for civilian use in 1946.
1947 Indian Chief Motorcycle with Sidecar
Built in Springfield, Mass., Indian motorcycles rivaled Harley-Davidson for years in a rivalry as intense as Ford versus Chevy. The Indian Chief was the company’s top-of-the-line touring bike. Its streamlined fenders were shaped like an Indian chief’s warbonnet. Favored by police departments and enthusiasts, a properly tuned “Big Chief” could top 100-mph. It’s a little slower with this snappy sidecar.
Fun Fact: This motorcycle once belonged to the famed actor, stuntman and racer Steve McQueen, and it’s still owned by his son, Chad.
1948 Tucker Model 48
This car took the auto world by storm in 1948 with its radical, flat-six cylinder engine: a wave of orders poured into Preston Tucker’s fledgling car company as a result. This prototype was nicknamed the “Tin Goose.”
Fun Fact: Due to legal problems, Tucker’s company lost all of its finances and reputation, and although he was acquitted, only 51 Tuckers were ever completed before the company went out of business. Francis Ford Coppola chronicled the rise and fall of this special car in the film, “Tucker: The Man and His Dream.”
1954 Ford Tudor
When people envision Moonshine Runners, the Ford Tudor is the car that immediately comes to mind. Discrete in style and color, it’s only upon closer inspection that this car reveals its secrets—a big Lincoln V- 8 engine to outrun Revenuers and a missing back seat for transporting Mason jars of illicit liquor.
Fun Fact: A staple of Appalachian and Southern culture, Moonshine Runners led to the birth of Nascar— many of the first Nascar race drivers got their start with cars like this one.
1957 George Salih Indy Roadster
An engineer for the Meyer-Drake engine producer (also known as Offenhauser Engines), George Salih built this revolutionary car in his home garage in Whittier, Calif. It was the first “laydown” roadster, with the motor cranked at 18 degrees from horizontal in an attempt to improve aerodynamics and handling. Fun Fact: Famed race car driver Sam Hanks promised his wife, Alice, that he would quit racing if he won the 1957 Indianapolis Classic. He won the race in this very car, where he then announced his retirement right there in the Victory Circle.
1959 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Prototype
The Stingray was developed in secrecy by General Motors’ Bill Mitchell, Pete Brock, and Larry Shinoda. It was based on the Corvette SS design, a shortlived racing project by Chevrolet. The Stingray is incredibly light at only 2,200 lbs, with a smallblock V-8 engine capable of 315 horsepower at 6,200 rpm.
Fun Fact: The car in this exhibition is the first prototype ever created for the Stingray.
1959 Cadillac Cyclone XP-74
The Cyclone was the last General Motors concept car created for the famed Motoramas, the design heavily inspired by the aviation and rocket designs of the 1950’s. This is its second iteration with chopped fins and a retractable bubble-top, which folds under the decklid for a sleek and open silhouette.
Fun Fact: The black “nose cones” at the front of the car are sensors for a radar-operated collision avoidance system.
1960 Plymouth XNR
This asymmetric roadster – with its towering fin, sculpted bodylines, a modified ‘slant 6’ power plant, and more – was developed as a prototype to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette. Named after Virgil Exner, Chrysler’s head of design and one of the finest American mid-century auto designers, the XNR was built by Ghia in Italy, a practice that Chrysler did with most of its shows cars. While it never went into production, it was on the covers of several period magazines because its dramatic design captivated many people at the time.
Fun Fact: The Shah of Iran once owned this car, the only one of its kind ever made. It was eventually sold to Lebanese car collector Karem Eddy, who during the Lebanese Civil War managed to save it from destruction by constantly moving it to safe spots. It was eventually restored by RM Restoration in New York and sold at auction for $935,000.
1963 Shelby Cobra 427 S/C
In 1961, American automotive designer Carroll Shelby wrote to Britain’s AC asking if they would modify one of their cars to accept a V8 engine. First, Shelby went to Chevrolet, which declined, not wanting to
supply competition for the Corvette. However, Ford was eager to create a car that could compete with the Chevy Corvette and offered to provide Shelby with engines. The result merged the nimble British AC chassis with a powerful American V8 engine, creating an iconic race car. The 427 was the most powerful Cobra.
Fun Fact: The 427 Cobra will go from 0 to 100 mph and back to 0 in less than 15 seconds!
1963 Studebaker Avanti R2
Raymond Loewy’s asymmetrical design for the Studebaker Avanti sports coupe made it one of the best- looking cars of its age. Just 3,834 examples were built in 1963 and 809 in 1964, before financial troubles brought a premature death to the company.
Fun Fact: Supercharged versions like this R2 set many records at the Bonneville Salt Flats and averaged 158.15 mph through the measured mile.
1964 Pontiac Tempest GTO
By dropping a big-block engine in a mid-body coupe, John DeLorean and Jim Wangers jump-started the Muscle Car-era with the Pontiac Tempest, often considered the first real Detroit muscle car.
Fun Fact: This car even has its own song, “Little GTO,” by the American rock group, Ronny and the Daytonas.
About Ken Gross:
Ken Gross is a curator, journalist and former director of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angles, Calif. His 11 previous automotive exhibitions have appeared at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Ga., the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, and the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, N.C., to name just a few.
He is a 28-year Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance chief class judge and contributes to AutoWeek, thedrive.com, American Car Collector and Old Cars Weekly. Gross has received the Automotive Hall of Fame Distinguished Service Citation, the Pebble Beach Lorin Tryon Trophy, the International Motor Press Association’s Ken Purdy award, the Motor Press Guild’s Dean Bachelor Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Lee Iacocca Award.
DRIVE! Iconic American Cars and Motorcycles is presented by Advance Auto Parts, with additional generous support provided by Grand Home Furnishings, EC Pace Construction Company, Blue Ridge Beverage, Lanford Brothers Co., George and Harmon Logan, Maury L. Strauss, Nicholas and Jenny Taubman, Tom and Mary Tielking, and Barry and Libba Wolfe.
About the Taubman Museum of Art
The Taubman Museum of Art is an American art museum located in the heart of downtown Roanoke, VA. Designed by noted architect Randall Stout and accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Taubman Museum of Art is home to a respected permanent collection and offers 15-20 annual exhibitions showcasing work by global, national and regional artists. Museum hours are Wednesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 12-5 p.m. Additional hours include every First Friday when the Museum is open until 9 p.m. Free general daily admission is sponsored in part by Appalachian Power and Haley Toyota. For additional event, exhibition and programming information, visit TaubmanMuseum.org or call 540.342.5760.