HERSHEY, PA -The Antique Auto Museum in Hershey is hosting a spectacular 28-car exhibition this summer covering a 60 history of sports cars in America.
The “Sports Car in America” opens on Friday, May 22 and runs through Sunday, October 11.
Though arriving relatively late in the game, American manufacturers have had tremendous success with sports cars. The Chevrolet Corvette, which debuted in 1953, is traditionally viewed as America’s only true sports car; it is certainly the nation’s most successful, with volume sales, racing success and a cult following that cannot be matched by its competitors. The Museum’s collection boasts a beautiful 1954 Corvette, one of only about five finished in black paint that year. This car is supplemented in the Exhibition by a 1963 Split Window Coupe and a 1967 race-prepped model.
While Corvette is the longest running American sports car, it shared its early limelight with a host of other American vehicles, including the two-seat Ford Thunderbird of 1955-1957 and other sporty offerings from companies such as Nash and Kaiser, both represented in the Exhibition.
The sports car as we have come to know it, took shape in America after World War II. American servicemen stationed in England and throughout Europe came into contact with the small, nimble, sporting two-seaters long embraced by the European motorist. Many fell in love with the vehicles. These cars, particularly the MG (illustrated by the Museum’s excellent 1948 MG TC in British Racing Green) were brought back to America by the returning soldiers. It wasn’t long before the cars were officially imported and dealership networks established across the nation. Other foreign manufacturers followed MG, such as Mercedes-Benz, Triumph, Jaguar, BMW and Austin-Healey. By the 1960s several Japanese companies had also entered the market.
Ask someone what constitutes a “sports car” and you are bound to receive a wide variety of answers. Some will identify with performance oriented cars like Chevrolet’s Corvette or anything built by the likes of Lamborghini, Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari and a host of other companies that reside chiefly in Europe and offer seating for two. Some will include muscular cars like the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger in this group, arguing that their back seat is more of a luggage compartment than actual seating for additional passengers. Ask a car enthusiast, particularly one who is into racing, and they will tell you that a true sports car is a purpose-built two-seater with a history of success in motor racing.
In the earliest days of the automobile, manufactures proved their reliability, durability and performance through competition. This took many forms, including dirt track races, timed events, hill climbs and long-distance runs. Some of the first “competition” cars were actually production models driven by personal owners who doubled as amateur racers. Single-seat cars termed “Runabout” or “Raceabout” offered sports car-like performance and were often driven on America’s emerging highways by daredevil drivers, both male and female. The earliest American sports cars are represented in the exhibition by a 1920 Mercer Raceabout once owned by the actor, Buster Keaton.
As the automobile developed in the United States, race cars became a breed of their own and performance vehicles became status symbols. Power and size grew side by side. Wealthy owners who wanted powerful cars purchased large cars with big, powerful engines. By the late 1920s, American manufacturers were placing V8, V12 and V16 engines into a wide variety of body styles – none of which were small, two-door, two-seat vehicles.
In choosing the vehicles for this display, the Museum defined the “Sports Car in America” has being a purpose-built two-seater that was either manufactured in America or imported by the manufacturer for domestic sale. The Antique Automobile Club of America’s definition of an “antique” being 25 years old or older was used to limit the selection to pre-1984 models. That turned out to be a good decision because it allowed for the inclusion of very popular cars such as the Mazda RX7 and the Delran DMC-12, best known for its supporting role in the “Back to the Future” movie series.
All in all, “The Sports Car in America” offers vehicles to please a wide range of tastes. In addition to those already mentioned, there will be a Ford GT40, the car that took the coveted Lemans racing title from Ferrari in the mid-1960s; a P-1800 Volvo once owned by Roger Moore, of the Sainte and James Bond fame; and a “big-block” Cobra formerly owned by the legendary Carroll Shelby.
The Antique Auto Museum at Hershey, a member of the Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program, displays beautifully restored automobiles, buses and motorcycles in unique scenes and settings. Visitors are transported through eight decades in time from New York to San Francisco, making each visit a visual adventure for all ages. Admission to the Museum is $10 for adults, $9 for Seniors and $7 for children 4-12 years of age.
The Museum is located just off Route 39, one mile west of Hersheypark Drive in Hershey, Pennsylvania. For further information, please call 717-566-7100 or visit www.aacamuseum.org.
List of vehicles in the new exhibition: 1920 Mercer Raceabout (once owned by Buster Keaton); 1948 MG TC; 1949 Jaguar XK-120 Alloy Roadster; 1950 Allard J2; 1951 Nash Nash Healey; 1954 Chevrolet Corvette; 1954 Kaiser Darren; 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing”; 1957 AC Bristol; 1957 Ford Thunderbird; 1958 Austin Healey Bug Eyed Sprite; 1962 Jaguar E-Type; 1963 Corvette Coupe; 1965 Lotus Super 7; 1965 Ford GT40 MK V Coupe; 1966 Honda S-600.
1967 Ferrari 365 GT Spyder; 1967 Shelby AC Cobra SC (big block, former C. Shelby owned); 1967 Bizzarini 5300 GT Coupe (big block only one made); 1967 Chevrolet Corvette (race prepped vehicle); 1967 Volvo P1800 (former Roger Moore – Sainte Car); 1971 Datsun 240-Z; 1972 Triumph TR6; 1974 BMW 2002ii; 1974 Fiat 124 Sport Spider; 1980 Mazda RX-7; 1982 DeLorean DMC-12; 1989 Lamborghini Countach.
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