When the Dodge Magnum made its debut, I was quite pleased. When its popularity translated into sales, I had an ear-to-ear grin. The mini van, as versatile and practical as it was, was a poor substitute for the station wagon.
It would seem the station wagon, like the mythical Phoenix, was about to rise from the ashes of obscurity. As an added bonus the station wagon is now well on the way to gaining long overdue attention from the collector car crowd.
I am sure this is for good reason. Vintage wagons are different and, as when new, are quite practical. As another advantage, more than a few were outfitted special packages that provided the necessary power for towing or extreme economy.
Even in the waning years of their popularity, this was the case. In 1994, 1995 and 1996 the Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon was available with a 260 horsepower V8 engine with 335 ft. lbs. of torque!
If you would prefer something a little more economical perhaps a 1956 Rambler hardtop wagon might be the answer. When equipped with the optional overdrive these truly unique vehicles consistently tested at more than 25 miles per gallon.
The Olds Vista Cruiser wagon with the unique raised roof trimmed in glass panels, introduced in 1964, came to epitomize the American station wagon and today leads the explosion of interest in vintage wagons. However, a lesser-known companion model, the Buick Skylark Sport Wagon is relatively obscure.
The ultimate station wagon has to be the Checker built Aerobus. Many associate this “stretch” station wagon with the last years of the company when in actuality the Aerobus story began in 1935 with the introduction of the Lycoming eight cylinder powered Y8 series and special order for the Parmelee Transportation extended wheel base models in six-door configuration. There is evidence an eight door version was also produced.
The next chapter in the history of the Aerobus begins in December of 1954 with the introduction of the A-8 series. On special order, standard model A-8’s were shipped to Armbruster-Stageway of Fort Smith, Arkansas and stretched to accommodate eight doors with comparable seating.
As the mechanical components were not modified from the stock 226 c.i.d., six-cylinder Continental engine coupled to a three speed transmission the additional weight made the vehicles performance worse than anemic. In the United States where highway improvements were resulting in higher speeds this was a detriment but in other countries the almost truck like attributes of these stretched Checker’s was ideal. As a result, the majority of this generation Aerobus was shipped to Middle Eastern countries, most notably Turkey.
The association with Armbruster-Stageway would continue through 1961. With the addition of more powerful engines, the Aerobus steadily increased in popularity so as a result in that year the decision was made to improve profitability of these vehicles by building them entirely in house. The Kalamazoo Gazette for June 21, 1961 noted, “…a completely new line of vehicles – the Checker Aerobus. Produced in both six-door, 9 passenger and eight door, 12 passenger models…”
For 1963, a larger Continental six-cylinder engine rated at 141 horsepower became an option in the basic Checker sedans and station wagons and standard in the Aerobus. For most companies an order for seventy-two units would have been laughable, for Checker an order for that number of Aerobus by the United States government that year was seen as confirmation that targeting niche markets was still the companies’ strong point.
Though the sales of the Aerobus in the United States were increasing, the cars primarily served to spearhead the companies’ penetration into foreign markets. A few importers took a page from the Checker playbook and began modifying these vehicles to local niche markets.
Perhaps one of the most notable entrepreneurs who staked their fortune on such markets was Patrick Seton who opened the first Checker dealership in Sweden during the mid 1950’s. The first endeavor involved the modification of a six door, 152.5 inch wheel base Aerobus into a prisoner transport vehicle for the Swedish prison system. His second was to replace the seats in a similar car with smaller ones and then selling the cars to school systems in Sweden as school busses.
In 1966, de Giorgi, a Swiss coachbuilder began modifying the Aerobus into several different configurations including ambulances. Though the idea was a sound one, only three were built; two were sold in Switzerland and one in France.
For 1968, Checker greatly expanded the list of engine options to include a Chevrolet built 230-c.i.d., 140 horsepower six cylinder, 200 horsepower 307-c.i.d. V8 and a 275 horsepower 327 c.i.d. V8. In the late summer of that year a Perkins diesel, the first diesel engine available in an American passenger car, also became available. In spite of these overdue improvements, overall sales at Checker stumbled with Aerobus leading the decline.
As a result, in 1970 the Aerobus became available by special order only. A redefined version of the Aerobus with standard sedan trunk rear rather than station wagon made its debut to a tepid response in 1976. After the production of only 107 units, the Aerobus was unceremoniously dropped with almost no notice from the press or the motoring public. Six years later, all production ceased and one of the most unique chapters in American automotive history drew to a close.
For those who march to a different drummer the Checker, more than twenty years after the cessation of production, still presents an irresistible draw. Though the Aerobus has yet to show similar popularity, with the resurgence of interest in station wagons how long can it be before they too are resurrected for the ultimate bring the crowd along vintage cruiser?


Mention the term “antique car” and the vehicle that most often pops into mind is the Model T Ford, one of the most influential automobiles of all time. With a degree of certainty, it could be said that the cornerstone for our automotive obsessed culture and supportive infrastructure is the lowly Model T, the most loved, most cursed, most maligned, most misunderstood automobile in history.
As far as being an antique, oddly enough this is pretty much what the car was even when it was knew, especially those built between 1915 and the cessation of production in 1927. However, this was not always the case. Nor was the Model T the first Ford.
There were a number of models – the A, B, C, F, K, N, R, and S – produced before the introduction of the Model T in October of 1908. However, the T best represented Henry Ford’s vision of what the automobile should be – a vehicle that was inexpensive, but not “cheap,” a car for the multitudes.
The Model T made its debut in an era of great optimism, a time when it seemed the wonders of technology were about to solve all of the problems that had plagued man since the dawn of time. By 1920, the Model T was an icon recognized throughout the world that had spawned a massive cottage industry of after market parts. Two years later sales surpassed one million annually, and as a result, Ford dominated the American auto industry.
When initially introduced in the fall of 1908 a plethora of technological advancements and state of the art components, even though its price tag of $850 placed it at the bottom of the low price field, put the Model T at the forefront of automobile development. The introductory Model T also represented revolutionary construction and production methods that would soon become industry standards. Perhaps the most notable of these would be the casting of the engine block in one piece and a removable head, a tremendous advancement over the then current practice of casting the cylinders in pairs and bolting them to the crankcase.
Initially the evolution of the Model T came with such rapidity that few of the first 2500 produced were exactly alike. In fact, after April of 1909 when a great deal of the overall design was finalized and standardization of most components enabled stable production for several years these earlier models required a separate parts and repair manual.
The engine for these first generation models featured an integral water pump driven from the timing gear and a fan that was mounted on an extension of the water pump shaft. An ingenious system of internal splash oiling utilizing the flywheel as well as the one-piece engine pan that extended to include the transmission was a vast improvement over the external oilers with separate reservoirs that had been the norm. Incorporating a magneto into the engine design eliminated the need for external batteries.
After car number 2500, the engine block was redesigned with a water jacket at the front and elimination of the water pump. So that a pulley for the fan belt could be utilized the crankshaft was extended.
On most of the first one thousand or so models, the planetary type transmission and brakes were operated with two pedals and two hand operated levers. The left pedal controlled high and low gear; pushed to the floor was low, release it and you were in high. The right pedal applied the transmission brake that acted on the drive shaft for stopping under normal operating conditions.
The two levers were located to the drivers left. The outer lever operated the brakes on the rear wheel and served as a parking brake. The inner lever when pulled back released the high-speed clutch putting the forward gears into neutral via a roller and cam arrangement and engaged the reverse band.
Somewhere around unit 850, some models were produced with a third pedal between the first two for reverse thus replacing the lever system. This became standard at about unit 1000. In addition, the brake lever was modified to serve as a release for the high-speed clutch as it was pulled back slightly. Pulling it back further kept the car in neutral and applied the brakes on the rear wheels.
Beginning with the 1909 models, a three pedal conversion kit ($15) for the early cars was made available through authorized dealers. Low production numbers and the passing of almost a full century have made the two pedal version of the Model T quite rare. Today these first series Model T’s are an almost entirely forgotten chapter in automotive history.
Almost as obscure today is the wide array of aftermarket parts available to buyers who wanted to personalize their T, to make it more modern or to adapt it to a wide array of applications.
With the Forma Tractor kit offered by the Knickerbocker Motors Company of New York City, for $178, in 1919 a Ford Runabout could be converted into a tractor in just fifteen minutes, according to advertisement. Promotion for this intriguing adaptation also noted, “…it will not only permit the farmer to handle his cultivation problems with great economy and dispatch, but is so adapted to his Ford that it can be attached or detached within less than thirty minutes, and therefore will not deprive him of the use of his car as a pleasure vehicle…”
In the same year, the Tractor-Train Company of Los Angeles offered the Moore Auxiliary Transmission for all “Ford Cars or Trucks.” “Don’t accept substitutes insist upon a Moore Auxiliary Transmission.” “All Moore Equipped Fords Have 4 Forward/2 Reverse Speeds” to “Double Your Original Power.” In addition, this company also offered “The Moore Service Brake for Ford Cars.”
Gray & Davis of Boston offered a “Starter that spins the Ford engine in zero weather.” The Laurel Motors Corporation of Anderson, Indiana, manufactured a conversion kit to transform the lowly Ford into a masterpiece of mechanical prowess with overhead valves and dual overhead cams.
The A.H. Fox Gun Company, “Makers of the Finest Gun in the World,” also manufactured a Fox Proof Lock designed exclusively for Fords, a “Rigid-Noiseless-Thief Proof” carrier for 2 tires and a reserve gasoline tank that “Warns You Before Running out of Gasoline”. Supplying after market parts for Fords became such a big business for this company an entire division was established to manufacture “Fox-Proof Ford necessities.”
The Spartan simplicity of the Model T presented the owner with almost unlimited possibilities in regards to modification. To meet this need hundreds of companies produced a dizzying variety of products from four-wheel drive conversion kits to odometers, from oil gauges to starters.
The first generation Model T and the wide diversity of products devised to take full advantage of this amazing little cars adaptability are now an almost forgotten chapter. However, with the recent resurgence of interest in antique automobiles, this obscurity may be short lived and soon we may again see four wheel drive Model T Fords at the tractor pull.


For more than three quarters of a century the American automobile industry has been dominated by giants; namely Ford, GM and Chrysler. However, even in a land of giants there are those bold enough to challenge them for the throne, or at least a portion of the kingdom. In the automotive realm, these are known generally as the independents.
A few of these companies such as Hudson, Packard and Studebaker are rather well known, especially in the over fifty crowd. Others, however, such as Auburn, Stutz, or Pierce-Arrow are to a large degree forgotten except among automotive enthusiasts.
As a result, few are aware of the many contributions made by these companies. Even fewer are aware that the demise of the independent also marked the end for the dominance of the American industry for there was no longer any contribution to the big three except from foreign shores.
From its inception in 1900, the Auburn was a solid but average automobile with little to make it stand out from the hundreds of others produced during the same period. In1924 when E.L. Cord assumed the position of general manager this chapter closed and another began.
At the time of his appointment to this position, the company was producing six vehicles a day and exceeding demand by at least three. His first managerial decision was to take several hundred unsold cars, add flashy nickel trim as well as the addition of two-tone paint and the cars began to sell. The following year he contracted with Lycoming for some eight-cylinder engines that were shoe horned into the old chassis and listed as new 8-63 and 8-88 models.
Promoting these cars through racing attracted attention, which in turn translated, into sales. For 1926, 7,138 vehicles were produced and in the year that followed this number almost doubled.
The influx of capital allowed Cord to transform the Auburn into a stylish performer. In 1927 alone, a stock Auburn was driven to new records in every class from five to five thousand miles. The following year hydraulic brakes became standard and the introduction of a stylish Auburn speedster captured the attention of automotive enthusiasts everywhere.
Another aspect of Auburn’s success was the transformation of the dealer network. Prior to Cord’s arrival the majority of Auburn dealers were simply garage owners who peddled a car or two on the side to enhance profits. Now there was an extensive network of dealers with well-stocked parts rooms and mechanics trained to repair Auburns.
With Auburn firmly established as a major automobile manufacturer Cord turned his talents and resources to expanding the company’s base as well as expanding the market share by introducing companion lines under the name Cord Corporation. By 1929, the Cord empire with Auburn as the foundation included Limousine Body, Anstead Engine, Lycoming Engine, Lexington Motor Car Company, and Duesenberg Motors. At the New York Auto Show that year the highlight was a trio of automobiles; the dynamically streamlined Auburn Cabin Speedster, the all-new front wheel drive Cord L-29 and the now legendary Duesenberg Model J.
Cord’s diversification worked well in the early days of the Great Depression. Even though sales initially dropped by 1931 Auburn they had doubled over that of 1929. The fact that more than a thousand new dealers, many of whom abandoned the franchise of other marques, during this period speaks volumes on what Cord had accomplished with a near moribund company in less than a decade.
As the economic conditions worsened many manufacturers, including the Cord enterprises began to falter. Cord never flinched, instead he chose to reinvent Auburn as a mid price ranged vehicle that could not be ignored as value for the dollar, and the result was the 1932 Model 12.
Fortune magazine evaluated the vehicle and noted it was, “the biggest package in the world for the price.” Business Week similarly noted the new Auburn was, “more car for the money than the public has ever seen.” With a base price for a coupe at $975, this series was a true bargain.
Under the hood was an all-new, highly advanced Lycoming V12 engine. Ensuring performance as well as comparative economy of operation was two-speed Columbia rear axle. Interior appointments were equal to those found on those produced by companies such as Cadillac and Lincoln. Styling was also of equal par.
Even though these vehicles offered unequaled value for the dollar, the economic conditions were also unequaled. As an example, Hudson sales dropped from 290,000 in 1929 to a truly dismal 19,000 in 1932.
The diversification that had served Cord so well now became his downfall and the first casualty was Auburn. However, there was to be a final, glorious chapter – the 851 speedster.
Rakish, attention-grabbing styling was matched with performance in a nearly flawless package. A speed of one hundred miles per hour was guaranteed and with Abe Jenkins at the wheel, a new American stock car record of one hundred miles per hour for twelve hours was established.
In October of 1937 leading business publications were reporting production of Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg vehicles were about to be suspended. The reports were accurate, the final curtain was drawn, and Auburn began its slide into obscurity adding another paving stone in the eventual domination of the “Big Three” in the American auto industry.



This venerable institution has been given a face lift sure to please anyone with an interest in vintage cars. Award winning author Brad Bowling has taken the helm. Bob Stevens with decades of experience covers the events. A staff of award winning authors including Jon Robinson, Jim Hinckley and Dave Duricy ensure factual and informative articles.


From the perspective of the twenty-first century it is hard to imagine an America without the automobile, let alone a time when it was such a wonder that it received top billing over the fat lady and the albino at the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Likewise, with a highway system that allows motorists to traverse the continent in a cocoon of climate controlled comfort it is difficult to imagine an era when a coast-to-coast drive was worthy of headlines throughout the world.
Initially even astute businessmen saw little future for the horseless carriage. Montgomery Ward is credited with saying the automobile was “something you should take the children to see before the fad passes.” But this view would be short lived—less than a decade later automotive pioneers were setting speed records approaching 150 miles per hour as well as establishing auto manufacturing and related industries at a meteoric rate.
In 1909, United States manufacturers produced 828,000 horse-drawn vehicles compared to fewer than 125,000 automobiles. By 1929 the horse drawn vehicle and its supportive infrastructure had been almost entirely swept from the stage as evidenced by the fact that in that year less than 4,000 horse-drawn vehicles were produced.
No fabric of our national identity was left unscathed. By 1920 more families had an automobile than had indoor plumbing. Farmers were set free from the constraints of rural isolation and prospered from expanded markets. Factory workers enjoying a new phenomenon, the family vacation, embarked on weeklong safaris into the countryside and sparked an explosion in tourism-related industries. Sunday drives became a national obsession. In less than a generation the nation’s entire culture was turned upside down.
The American landscape, in many places largely unchanged for a century, was transformed in the blink of an eye. In 1919 the world’s first tricolor traffic signals appeared on the streets of Detroit. In 1929, at Woodbridge, New Jersey the first cloverleaf interchange opened. By the end of the following year the federal government was averaging 10,000 miles of paved highway construction annually.
Billboards began to crowd the skyline and vacant lots blossomed with filling stations and car lots. From coast to coast and border to border a wonderful cornucopia of diners and roadside attractions vied for the attention of the increasing number of motorists. Some resembled wigwams and pagodas while others were advertisements in themselves built to resemble giant milk bottles or teapots. Even our lexicon was rewritten with words such as motel, Duesey, and road trip.
The words to jingles and slogans (“See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet,” “Ask The Man Who Owns One,” etc.) became better known than the national anthem. The automobile soon became a quintessential symbol of America and reflected the pulse of the nation.
The 1950s were a time of optimism and wild visions of the future that lay just over the horizon. The automobiles produced during this period, with their garish chrome trim and rakish fins, mirrored the mood. The 1960s can be encapsulated within the confines of a few select vehicles: the Volkswagen camper, the Pontiac GTO, the Olds Vista Cruiser wagon, and the Corvair. Likewise, the quirky little Gremlin, the pudgy Pacer, and powerful Trans Am, sum up the 1970’s as does the Plymouth Voyager and the decade of the 1980’s.
The automobile was the driving force behind one of the largest societal changes in history. Within one generation the United States became a nation on wheels, a nation on the move. Within two generations we became a car culture nation and have never looked back.
This book is in essence a scrapbook, a series of time capsules that chronicle the evolution of our national obsession with all things automotive. As such, it is also a trip down memory lane for a few and a peek into the past for those who are too young to remember.
*This is the introduction from the bronze medal award winniner at the 2006 International Automotive Media Awards. It, and other award winning titles, is available in the Guess What Shop at the bottom of this blog or through this link to Amazon.com