Classic car exhibit showcases the art in advertising as well as in the cars
Auto shows are all about selling new cars, but the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto has a long history of honouring automobile history as well. This year it did so with its second annual Art and the Automobile feature, presented by the Cobble Beach Concours d'Elegance, which is held each September near Owen Sound, Ontario.
The 17 concours-quality cars presented in an art gallery-like setting were works of art themselves. And so were the corresponding ads that formed the backdrops for most of those cars.
The exhibit traced the evolution of both art forms from the early days of the industry up to the 1960s. Shown here is a 1930 Cord L-29 Cabriolet – America's first front-wheel drive production car.
Wherever one looked within the gallery there were Grand Classic cars. It was an oasis of calm and elegance within the carnival atmosphere of the auto show.
Not all the cars in the exhibit were Grand Classics but all were significant in their own right. This 1925 Chrysler, from the Walter P. Chrysler Museum, was the first model produced by the Chrysler Corporation. Chrysler founded the company bearing his name from the remnants of Maxwell-Chalmers, which he took over in 1921. Priced and equipped well above the standard fare of the day, it was far from mundane in any respect, but...
The down-to-earth practical luxury of the Chrysler paled in comparison to this magnificent 1930 Duesenberg Model SJ, which was the mightiest American motorcar of its day. It is indeed a Grand Classic and its advertising left no doubt as to its social stature.
The oldest car in the exhibit was this Canadian-built 1904 Oldsmobile Model T with a 'French Front', which was an artful illusion. It suggests that there is an engine up front but in fact the single-cylinder powerplant is located beneath the floorboards as on the original 'Curved Dash' model that preceded it. As the best-selling car of its day, the Oldsmobile warranted what were then highly artistic ads.
Although now more than 50 years old, the newest model in the exhibit (along with a Studebaker Avanti of the same vintage) was this 1963 Buick Riviera from the GM Heritage Center. Buick applied its venerable Riviera nameplate to this all-new model as competition for the Ford Thunderbird. The sporty elegance of itss styling was a departure from the GM norm and a forerunner of things to come from the corporation. Its advertising reflected both those qualities.
The superstars of the exhibit, along with the Duesenberg and Cord, were these three rare beauties on dais at the centre of the gallery – a 1928 Isotta Fraschini (left), a 1935 Auburn Boattail Speedster (right), and a 1938 Steyr 220 (back). In the far background is a 1931 Cadillac Roadster. Even those not familiar with the significance of the models could appreciate their sheer beauty.
Rarest of them all, this Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A SS boattail convertible coupe is one of just two such models to have been built. Isotta Fraschini was an Italian automaker created by Cesare Isotta and Vincenzo Fraschini in 1902. Huge, even by the standards of the day, the 8A SS competed in the same class as the Duesenberg and Rolls-Royce. This car won Best of Show honours at the 2013 Cobble Beach Concours d'Elegance.
Designed by the legendary Gordon Buehrig, who was also responsible for such iconic designs as he Cord 810/812, the 1935 Auburn 851 S/C Boattail Speedster was the American sports car of its day. Powered by a supercharged straight-eight engine, it had a top speed of more than 100 mph (160 km/h) and it styling made it look even faster.
This Steyr 220 Roadster, built in Austria by Steyr-Daimler-Puch, features custom body-work by Gläser in Dresden, Germany. Its styling is strongly influenced by the Art Deco Streamline Moderne movement of the period. One of only three such cars known to exist, and the only one in North America, it is a Best of Show Concours winner.
Only about 500 of these Speedsters were built by Auburn from 1935 to 1937 when the company went out of business. This pristine example now hails from Newfoundland.
The spectacular boattail styling of the Speedster makes it a crowd favourite wherever it goes and it was as fast as looks. Racing driver, Ab Jenkins, set a speed record by driving an 851 at an average of than 100 mph (160 km/h) hour for a 12 hour period.
Ads for the Speedster exaggerated its long, low flowing lines even further, as well as touting its certified 100-mph capability. A dash plaque in each car also attested to that capability.
The external pipes on the Speedster, as well as the 'Supercharged' label on the hood, attest to the presence of a 280 cubic-inch (4.6-litre) straight- eight Lycoming engine, with a Schwitzer-Cummings supercharger, that produced 150 horsepower to enable its top speed.
The Dresden-based coachbuilder Gläser was renowned for building convertibles, with a client list that included most of the great European marques of the pre-WWII period. The company got its start in 1864 and became the 'official coachbuilder' to the royal court
The third member of the superstar troika in the display, prominently placed on the highest platform, was this Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A SS. Introduced at the New York Auto Show in 1928, it was purchased initially by Harry Williams, an aviation pioneer, and his wife Marguerite Clark, a silent movie star. Other early film stars to drive Isottas included Clara Bow and Rudolph Valentino.
There's nothing subtle about the Isotta's distinctive radiator stone guard, which features an artistic representation of the sun’s rays as electric lightning bolts with arrow tips on the ends of the rays.
No this is not a 1930 Duesenberg. The sign is for a car in the background. This is the LeBaron boattail bodywork on the 1928 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A SS.
The tapered body-work of the boattail leaves room in the rumble-seat for just one passenger but there is room out back for two spare tires.
Outside the entrance to the gallery area was a significant car from a different era. This 1908 McLaughlin Buick Model F was the first model built by the McLaughlin Motor Car Company, which would become General Motors of Canada ten years later. The sign references the fact that Art and the Automobile was presented by the Cobble Beach Concours d'Elegance.
In 1908, the McLaughlin Carriage Company entered the car business when R.S. "Colonel Sam" McLaughlin concluded a deal with General Motors founder William "Billy" Durant to provide Sam with Buick chassis and engines. General Motors of Canada now owns this Model F and had it comprehensively restored in 1999.
Michelin was already well established in the tire business in those early days, before all tires were coloured black. The model F even came with a Michelin tool kit.
From the same era was this 1904 Oldsmobile Model T 'French Front. Behind it is a 1915 Cadillac.
It was called the brass era for good reason!
Everything that would be chromed on cars later on was brass back then!
A decade later, brass was still prevalent on this 1915 Cadillac.
The Type 51 was the first Cadillac, as well as the first American car, to be powered by a V-8 engine. It was also the first Cadillac with the steering wheel on the left side and it offered electric starting, which the brand introduced to the industry three years earlier. Typical of the era, its advertising was heavy on both text and hyperbole.
Anyone who thinks today's adjustable steering wheels are a recent invention might be surprised at the wheel in this 1915 Cadillac. It collapses to enable the driver's entry and exit through relatively small doors.
The rear seat of the Cadillac offered legroom unheard of today even in stretch limousines.
No this is not an impala. It's a gazelle, the mascot on the radiator of a 1931 Chrysler Imperial.
At the top of but set apart from the Chrysler lineup, the 1931 Imperial was intended to compete at the Cadillac, Lincoln and Packard level. It was designed by Cord L-29 designer Al Leamy – hence the super-long hood – and executed by LeBaron making it a style leader of its day. It also featured an all-new straight-eight engine that was a focal point of the car's advertising.
Period correct gas pumps interspersed among the cars served as jewelry for the display. Like this Supertest pump, they all represented Canadian brands.
Like the cars of the same periods, gas pump globes have become valuable collectors' items, some worth tens of thousands of dollars. The pumps in the exhibit were provided by the Ontario-based restoration specialist Bob's Gas Pumps.
Introduced in 1929 as part of the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg family, the Cord L-29 was the first front-wheel-drive production car built in the U.S.A. Its long-hood profile and front drive configuration were key components of the car's advertising.
The L-29's stylish long-hood profile, designed by Alan Leamy, resulted in part from the configuration of its straight-eight Auburn engine with forward-mounted transmission. This L-29 rumble-seat Cabriolet was on loan from the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Museum in Hershey, PA.
While most of Cadillac's V-12 models featured custom bodies, mostly by Fisher, this 1931 model 370A Roadster was built by Fleetwood. It's decked out with a full list of options that include six wire wheels, trunk rack, Goddess mascot and wind wings. Ads for the cars were intended to evoke the sophisticated lifestyle associated with the brand.
Cadillac added a V-12 engine to its existing V-8 and V-16 lineup in 1931. The V-12 models are the rarest of the three as they were built only from 1931 to 1937. This car is one of just 91 V-12 Roadsters built in 1931. A similar roadster was used as the pace car for the 1931 Indianapolis 500.
Arguably the grandest of the Grand Classics, this Duesenberg was originally owned by band leader Paul Whiteman. It was updated to its present Convertible Victoria form by the coachbuilder Rollston in 1933.
In 1933, the car went back to the factory for an upgrade to Model SJ engine specs with a supercharger – a feature that was not available when it was built – as evidenced by the iconic side pipes.
The fact the Duesenberg ad doesn't even feature a car attests to the elite status the brand represented.
American automobile design changed forever in 1934 when Chrysler shocked the staid automotive world with its futuristic aero-designed Airflow – one of the first cars ever designed with the aid of a wind tunnel.
So different were the Airflow's looks that it didn't sell well and the styling was dialed back slightly for '35 and more in later years. By 1937, the Airflow was little more than a footnote in Chrysler's ads.
Almost as revolutionary as the Airflow in the '30s were the Studebakers of the late '40s and early '50s. Studebaker was at the forefront of American automobile styling and this V-8 powered Commander 'Starliner' Coupe was its crowning glory.
The '53 Starliner, designed by industrial designer Raymond Loewy's studio, is arguably one of the most critically acclaimed designs of the 20th century. Not surprisingly, ads for the car highlighted its styling, maximizing the image and minimizing the text.
More representative of the styling in that period was this 1956 Lincoln Premiere. As part of a totally redesigned Lincoln lineup for that year, it typified American luxury in the mid-1950s. Advertising artwork for the period still typically distorted cars' dimensions to make them look longer, lower and roomier.
Pontiac introduced the Parisienne nameplate in 1958 on this Canadian counterpart to the U.S. Bonneville model. While they shared the same styling, under the skin the Canadian models used Chevrolet chassis and engines. The options and accessories on this car were typical of the day, as was the hand-drawn artwork in the ad.
Studebaker again upset the styling status quo with the 1963 Avanti, the brand's entry point into the lucrative personal luxury market. Its rakish coke-bottle styling by the Raymond Loewy studio, which was also responsible for the '53 Starliner, was unlike that of not just any other Studebaker but any other car. Words aside, its image-rich advertising, among the first to use photographs rather than illustrations, kept the focus on that unique appearance.
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