From my residential perch looking out on state route 9 a half-mile away I enjoy an unbroken view of traffic en route to and from Zion National Park and points east, (and Zion expects close to 4 million visitors this year!) It is easy to differentiate between compacts, crossovers, sedans, vans, SUVs and pick-ups, and certain stand-out “hybrids”: and then of course there are those that are white and a few which are not. I can’t help but note that but for a few slight variations in profile or roof line, they could almost all have been cut from the same sheet of “dough” by the same cookie cutter.
The mental exercise reminds me of an earlier day standing at a hometown intersection with another “route 9” and watching the passage of cars by the hour. I was a young kid, in love with all things “automotive” and intent on memorizing every one of the hundred or so automobile brands on the roadways of those pre-world war II days. The busy piece of highway I chose was New Jersey’s route 9W, carrying traffic to and from the George Washington Bridge and New York City. If I was lucky and the timing was right, I might catch Charles Lindbergh in his yellow Stutz heading home to the Morrow estate of his wife’s family in Englewood Cliffs, or one of the neighbors in an open Duesenberg.
While the Great Depression forced many American car manufacturers either into the arms of a stronger neighbor or out of business completely, owners of the 1930s era kept their cars going for many years, and one would still see Model “T”s and certainly “A”s on the road. Larger companies, like the Dodge Brothers and General Motors absorbed other brands to add to their stables, as did even the “loner” Henry Ford with the Lincoln Zephyr and Chrysler with Desoto. Even the princely Cadillac had a slightly grander stable-mate built on the same frame – the superb Lasalle, which often came with a chauffeur.
I always enjoyed riding in a neighbor’s Hudson, or one of several friends with Studebakers produced by the former builder of Conestoga wagons. The Terraplane – a real eye-catcher – moved from Hudson to Dodge, while new Maxwells, Marmons and Franklins disappeared making older survivors stand out even more.
The occasional appearance of an Auburn or an even more rare Cord, with its shiny supercharger exhaust stacks and front-wheel drive brought me to awed attention; and made the whole world take notice of American engineering genius. (In1951 I came close to investing in two Cord carcasses from which a friend and I had momentary hopes of rebuilding one.)
The incomparable Cord – circa 1937
The stately Packard was more than just an expensive mark of wealth in its day; it brought an appreciation of classic design and innovative engineering to the top tier of motorcars. In that imaginary “bucket list” of what we would like to own if finances were no obstacle most older guys dream about I would place: a 1941 Packard convertible two-door coupe in dark green paint with a soft tan cover and matching mounted spare tires on each side and a V-12 under the hood. Of course that would leave just enough room in my “bucket” for a Stagger-wing Beech bi-plane in fire-engine red with yellow highlights!
My family owned just four cars in all those early years: A model T Ford with side curtains, a 1934 Oldsmobile traded 3 years later for a 1937 Olds which lasted long enough to get all four sons married. Just before war broke out, we also had a l929 Essex Super Coup with rumble seat for my older brother.
A 1929 Essex Super-six coupe similar to Cooper family $25. purchase in 1940.
Courtesy Hemming Motor News
The thing I remember most about those first cars I watched go by so long ago was the romance and excitement of it all. No two alike, individual personalities on unrestrained display. And a sense of wonder that I was a part of all that.