It has been said that we never stop learning. Most days something new comes along and, if we are looking for it or are aware of it, then it provides us the chance to learn. This is very true in the old car hobby. Every aspect of this past time presents new and interesting items to absorb. Every old car event is ripe with opportunities to expand our knowledge base.

This is never more true than at a large event as is illustrated perfectly by the recent Dayton Concours d’Elegance. Now in its 11th year, the Dayton Concours begins the learning prospects with its very venue, Carillon Historical Park. The park contains a plethora of historically significant artifacts ranging from the Wright Brother’s famous Flyer III, which was the first practical and controllable aircraft, to an 1835 steam locomotive engine, to a display of some of the automobiles built in Dayton prior to World War I.

These permanent displays are worth the drive up I-75 to explore but on a beautiful Sunday in September when more than 200 amazing historical vehicles rolled onto the park’s lawn, each with a story to tell.

With the main featured marque as the first generation Camaro and Firebird (see related article in this issue), there were plenty of F-body cars there to celebrate their 50th anniversary. All had interesting facts but it was a very rare, special-order Pink Mist Firebird (Photo 1) that seemed to draw the most attention. The car was bought almost by accident at an auction a couple of years ago when the current owner was talked into bidding for it by his friends. The car has a detailed provenance and John said he was shocked when no one else bid. In the end the reserve was dropped and the car was his for under market value (Take note of the license plate and try to figure out why the owner’s sister-in-law suggested it).

Another interesting story that many people do not know revolves around how a small Italian-designed car saved one of Germany’s top car manufacturers. Following World War II, BMW was in bad shape. It could not manufacture the war materials it had most recently been producing, nor was the nation’s economy ready to allow people to buy expensive luxury cars. Enter the small Italian firm of Iso. In the mid-1950s they had developed a small three wheel, one cylinder bubble car dubbed the Isetta (Photo 2).

Grasping for straws, management at BMW licensed the right to manufacture the Isetta and began building them under their own banner. The car sold phenomenally well, over 150,000, and pulled the automotive division of BMW away from possible liquidation and allowed them the move forward with the development of new vehicles. The Isetta shown here is very rare in that it is one of about 80 that were made with bubble side windows that did not open and is also one of only a handful of true cabriolets models.

Sometimes even the name of an automotive company can bring about a learning experience. This is often quite visible in Concours events and this year’s Dayton Concours d’Elegance brought a few such cars to light. Many in the hobby have at least a passing knowledge of such firms as Hupmobile (Photo 3) and Marmon (Photo 4), who were both early manufacturers who saw a good deal of success but faltered economically as the industry grew. Some may even know of a Toledo-based manufacturer and its various brands. John Willys bought the Overland Automotive Division of the Standard Wheel Company and used both brand names to early success. Overland (Photo 5) and Willys Knight (Photo 6) both had some early success but like others, the company was soon fighting a losing battle against the larger, more diverse manufacturers. World War II saved Willys as it won a major military contract and though the name is gone, the company lives on under the Jeep brand.

How many people are familiar with another Ohio-based car manufacturer, the Cleveland Motor Car Company (Photo 7)? Founded in 1904 the company resided on the banks of Lake Erie until 1908. That is when the Cleveland factory closed with plans of building a new one in Milwaukee, WI. The management offices were to be moved to New York City. Neither moves apparently happened as the firm seemed to disappear.

There have been many companies like Cleveland, Hupmobile, Marmon, and Willys throughout the history of the automobile industry. They all are not limited to being American firms. In fact, seeing the name of a once storied European car on the grass at the Concours can open new gates to knowledge.

Hispano Suiza was a true multinational operation. Originally founded in Spain with Swiss ties, the company also established facilities in France. Throughout its life Hispano Suiza built both automobiles (Photo 8) and aircraft. Their most successful cars rode firmly in the luxury class. In fact, it is believed that the 1928 Type 49 seen here, found abandoned in a barn in 1955, was originally owned by the president of Argentina. Known for its superb engineering, Hispano Suiza licensed many of its technologies and patents to other luxury firms such as Rolls Royce. After World War II the automotive arm was sold off and eventually the aircraft entity was bought and has traded hands a couple of times.

Much of the talk in today’s auto industry revolves around hybrids and electric cars. On display at the Dayton Concours was one of the more successful early electric vehicles, a 1919 Detroit Electric 75 B (Photo 9). The Anderson Electric Car Company built 13,000 electric cars between 1907 and 1939. They were designed for women to drive around town. They did not require cranking to start the engine but did have limited speed of around 20 MPH and could only travel around 80 miles between each charging. Speed, power, and travel distance helped in those early electric cars.

Sometimes interesting and rare cars can have a fairly famous name. Take for example this 1942 Pontiac Torpedo Sport Coupe (Photo 10). This was one of the last cars built by Pontiac prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States in World War II. It is also the only car of its kind known to exist. An interesting side note is that the factory where Pontiac was making these cars was switched over to manufacture actual torpedoes for the Navy.

Most people probably know that the most popular fiberglass bodied car ever made was the Corvette. But how many know that the second most popular was a three-wheeled car made in England? The Reliant Robin (Photo 11) was manufactured between 1973 and 2002 as a way to skirt some licensing issues in the UK. Since the car only had three wheels it could be driven on a motorcycle license, saving the owner a great deal of money.

The auto industry is famous for its concept cars, those vehicles built to test out a concept. Most never make it to actual production but then most are built by the large manufacturers. The Dayton Concours had a unique 1986 Land’s Precedent concept (Photo 12) on display. It is one of only two ever built and the manufacturing cost was a cool $1 million. The vehicle featured six luxury leather bucket seats, a full wet bar, and even a television.

This is only a small sample of the over 200 stories that were on display at this year’s Dayton Concours d’Elegance. If you learned anything or if these bits of knowledge whetted your palette, check back at the Concours website and make your plans to attend next year’s event. There are sure to be plenty of amazing cars on display next September.

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