Guest Post by David Bloch
I like old cars. Recently, I purchased an old car – a 1950 DeSoto manufactured by Chrysler Corporation. I paid $7,000 for it, and although it’s a “driver” in good condition, it will require some minor repairs. I acquired this old car in order to participate in classic car cruises and shows that happen throughout Michigan during the summer and fall seasons. Previously, I was a spectator, now I will be a participant.
My venture into old car ownership is a learning opportunity. For example, although old cars are often referred to as antique, classic, or vintage, there is no single definition for each of these descriptive words as it relates to old cars. However, The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan recognizes two distinct eras for defining old cars: (1) the 1890’s – 1932 era, and (2) the 1933-1976 era. This designation of eras is very reasonable. Before 1933, cars were designed resembling horse drawn carriages from which they evolved. These cars were boxy and their “bodies” were framed from wood. Generally, they had small (40-60 hp) engines and the top speed was approximately 45 mph. Also, before 1933, innovations to cars came slowly (the most important innovation was the electric starter patented by Charles Kettering in 1915). Henry Ford manufactured his Model T automobile practically unchanged for nearly 19 years, from 1908 until he abruptly stopped production in 1927 due to declining sales caused by competition from other automobile manufacturers. Fifteen million Model T’s were built. Henry’s next vehicle was the Model A. There were 4.8 million Model A’s produced from late 1927 until 1932 with very little change in these cars over five years. Beginning in 1933, however, car manufacturers abandoned the boxy carriage look in favor of more aerodynamic styling; they used steel for the bodies and equipped their cars with more powerful engines which increased the speeds of the vehicles. Also, 1933 marked the beginning of the “yearly model change.” At the beginning of each model year, automobile manufactures began introducing changes to their cars including body style, mechanical improvements, and technological innovations, in order to attract customers to buy their product. So, 1933 was truly a demarcation point between the two eras of old cars.
Old car enthusiasts span the entire spectrum from those who believe an old car should only be changed if absolutely necessary and then only by using original or as close to original parts as possible, to those who strip and “chop” the old car of all its essentials and install new modern equipment and furnishings to suit the owner’s desires (Hot Rod). I am going to maintain my old car as close to its original design as is reasonably possible. The radio does not work so I may replace it with a modern one – but no CD player. If the engine dies, I will try to get it rebuilt but I may have to install a modern engine. I will keep the old cloth seats for now but if I do re-upholster them in the future, it will be with a similar cloth material and not with velour or leather. I will not replace the manual “fluid drive” transmission with an automatic transmission, nor will I replace the manual drum brakes with power assisted disc brakes. I will not add air-conditioning. In summary, I will not add any new technical equipment that was not part of the original design of the car. My 1950 DeSoto is a functioning, hands-on, rolling museum; I want to preserve this tangible piece of automobile history. And, I want to have the same experience driving this automobile as those did who drove it 62 years ago.
There is no better place in the world to experience automotive history than The Henry Ford Museum and Historic Greenfield Village. Every year The Henry Ford has two – weekend long old car events. The “Motor Muster” event on Father’s Day weekend is for cars in the 1933-1976 era. The “Old Car Festival” event takes place the first weekend in September and is for old cars in the 1890’s – 1932 era. Each event draws more than five hundred old cars. Approved participants are allowed to bring their old cars into Historic Greenfield Village and cruise around the streets and park on the grounds. Some old car owners dress in the time period of their automobile. Last year I saw, and listened to, one owner of a 1925 Model T Ford, who was dressed in the fashion of the 1920’s and had a 1920’s era phonograph complete with vinyl records playing music of the 1920’s!
I plan to be a participant next Father’s Day in the 2013 Motor Muster old car event at Henry Ford Greenfield Village along with my daughter and my 1950 DeSoto. In the 1950’s, business suits and Fedora or Panama hats were the fashion for men; poodle skirts and black & white saddle shoes were the fashion for teenage girls. In music, the decade was ushered in by big band crooner Frank Sinatra, and rocked-out by guitar strumming rock ‘n roller Elvis Presley. Let the fun begin!
David E. Bloch is the author of The Elite Idolaters. His book won Honorable Mention in Readers Views 2012 book awards program in the Societal Issues category.