Pierce Arrow. Studebaker. Packard. Hudson. Tucker. AMC. Pontiac. DeSoto.
These and other automakers of the past no longer in business are showcased in wonderful new exhibit at the Hershey Auto Museum in Pennsylvania.
100 years ago, even 50 years ago, there were dozens of small companies making cars in the USA. Some survived, like Ford. Others, such as Chevrolet and Dodge, became part of larger companies.
Some, like Saturn and Edsel, were launched by large car companies but did not survive for long. And others still disappeared except for history books, auto museums and vintage car shows.
But even the brands which did not survive left behind a legacy of engineering breakthroughs and drool-worthy design, and that’s what this exhibit is about.
Orphan Cars: Vehicles from Discontinued Marques & Brands
Orphans are defined as any vehicle produced by a company marque or brand that has discontinued business entirely. According to Old Cars Weekly, there may have been 2,000 or more makes of cars and trucks which “flashed onto the scene, only to eclipse and fade into memory.”
These are my favorites out of the 100 or so historic vehicles in this exhibit of Orphan Cars: Vehicles from Discontinued Marques & Brands
Marlene Dietrich’s cream-colored 1928 Pierce Arrow is a stand-out, for its opulent 18 karat gold handles, sterling silver radiator and headlight covers, and little touches like a crystal bud vase just above a vanity kit with a mirror.
Pierce Arrow pioneered multi-valve engines, and also was known for its integrated headlights, which distinguished it from other models of the time while other brands offered “bug” style headlights. Studebaker was still using them in the two-tone red and white 1932 model on display next to the Pierce Arrow.
Preston Tucker produced only 51 vehicles, in Chicago, in the late 1940s, and Hershey Auto Museum has three of them. Tucker’s revolutionary design included a third headlight, front and center, which became known as the “cyclops” headlight, and for the first dashboard radios. The headlights were directional, a revolutionary concept decades before another automaker claimed to have invented them. You can try them out in an interactive display.
Tucker was essentially driven into bankruptcy by lawsuits by the larger and established automakers in nearby Detroit apparently threatened by Tucker’s forward-thinking design and engineering. It’s the story behind the 1988 movie “Tucker: The Man and His Dream”, starring Jeff Bridges as the inventor and entrepeneur, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
The story is relevent today as new automakers such as Tesla, Lucid, Fisker and VinFast have breakthrough engineering and design successes but financial struggles. The exhibit includes one of the fiberglass Tucker reproduction cars used in the movie.
Just so you know – Tuckers are rare enough that they are worth $1-$2 Million each, depending on model.
The exhibit includes the last Hudson Hornet produced, a 1957 model in traffic-stopping orange. I’m pretty sure this is the vehicle which inspired the Paul Newman character car, Doc Hudson, in the animated film “Cars”.
I also loved the custom made design for the wife of a wealthy man, with a steering wheel she could fold up in the late stages of pregnancy to get in and out of the car more easily. I wondered if that flat-bottom steering wheel design inspired other automakers using it today, including Audi and Acura, mostly for sport performance vehicles.
Even though I’m a fan of vintage cars, there were some brands here I’d never heard of, especially the earliest vehicles, like the 1914 Stearns-Knight Touring car, with huge yellow wheels under a black canopy, and a steering stick before that became a steering wheel.
And a 1912 Delauney-Belleville, with a six-cylinder engine, one of the largest on the market at the time, and one of the fastest. It could reach speeds of 70mph on paved roads.
And the 1906 Waltham Orient, with a wooden buckboard-style cabin straight out of our favorite Western movies.
There are three floors of vehicles – the main floor is a timeline from the 1890s to the 1990s, with each decade grouped together, so you can watch how designs change, becoming more streamlined and aerodynamic over the years.
The exhibit includes a small 1950s diner with a working jukebox loaded with songs of the period. I chose “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and sang along with the familiar “wimowa, wimowa” chorus.
And an exhibit of vintage road maps. You remember – the ones that folded out into the size of your kitchen table.
The basement is more like a garage, with vehicles parked next to one another in an eye-popping jumble. That’s where I found Marlene Dietrich’s car, alongside an equally striking 1926 Studebaker, plus vintage buses and motorcycles.
There’s also a display of kid-size vehicles shaped like fire trucks and airplanes.
My son, who tolerates my love of old cars, enjoyed the showcases of miniature vehicles, like the Hot Wheels he had as a kid, but was fascinated by the displays of hood ornaments from around the world, including British and French manufacturers.
Me, too – although I prefer them on the vehicles themselves, such as the winged creatures on the hoods of 1920s Studebakers and Packards. They’ve been replaced these days by aerodynamic logos somewhere on a vehicle’s front end.
My docent guide was Ken Egan, a retired Army officer who says he was on his way to give blood when he saw a sign that the museum was looking for volunteer guides. That was 15 years ago, and he says he has as much fun introducing kids to the old cars as reminiscing with older visitors about the cars they remember – and might have owned – in the good old days, like the Pontiac GTO with a license plate that says GR-RRR!
Hershey Auto Museum has an operational Model T, which you can actually drive yourself.
The Model T Driving Experience is several hours of challenging fun, including a how-to classroom session before actually getting on the road. The driving course is within the museum’s sprawling campus.
The course is $150, and $50 for a non-driving passenger. There are various dates between June and October.
See Also –
My article on free & cheap things to do in Hershey,
Hershey Auto Museum Visiting Information
Orphan Cars: Vehicles from Discontinued Marques & Brands is on dispay through Oct. 2022
Open daily, 9am to 5pm.
Admission is $14 for adults, $11.50 for seniors 61+ and $9.50 for children aged 4-12; younger children are admitted free.