Sunday, August 30, 2015

The 1934 “Jinx Day Auto Derby”

Part One- The wonders of the 1933 World’s Fair

The 1934 ‘Jinx Day Auto Derby’ held on Friday, July 13, 1934 which matched 13 famous cars and drivers holds a unique place in automotive racing history, but before we get into the details of the race, we first need to examine the setting for this unique race.

The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair officially known as the “Century of Progress Exhibition” opened May 27 1933 and ran through November 12 1933. Its purpose was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the city's incorporation and, more importantly to provide jobs and recreation for a nation mired in a deepening depression. The fair site covered 424 acres on the shore of Lake Michigan between 12th and 39th streets, south of the Chicago Navy Pier in Chicago, within walking distance of Chicago's downtown.

The 1933 World’s Fair proved to be such a success for the local economy that as the original scheduled closing date drew near, the organizers announced that the Fair would be opened again to run from May 26 to October 31, 1934. But let us not get ahead of ourselves just yet…..

With more than 300 companies involved, to see the all the exhibits at the ‘Century of Progress’ would have required visitors to walk more than 84 miles.  New consumer products shown to the world included items as simple as the Metflex stainless steel  ice tray which enabled consumers to easily go from “from tray to glass,” to the new air-cooled Electrolux, the gas refrigerator advertised as “totally silent and trouble-free” as it had no moving parts. The fair was also the site of the debut of streamlined passenger trains, irradiated milk, automatic signal control elevators, and Westinghouse’s high-pressure mercury lights.

A postcard of the Havoline Thermometer

Visitors could ride the Sky-Ride, designed by Robinson & Steinman which took passengers on an 1850-foot ride in zeppelin-shaped cars suspended 219 feet above the fair, then look over the world's tallest thermometer, which was twenty-one stories (218 ft.) high and displayed the temperature with neon light tubes, sponsored by the Indian Refining Company, Lawrenceville, Ill., makers of Waxfree Havoline Motor Oils which was sold at all Texaco stations. The Sinclair Refining Company presented an outdoor exhibit of animated dinosaurs that included recreations of a stegosaurus, protoceratops and a seventy foot long brontosaurus. 

Two postcards of the Houses of Tomorrow 

The ‘Houses of Tomorrow’ exhibit  contained ten complete finished houses in a neighborhood setting which featured the  two-story Armco-Ferro Porcelain Enameled Frameless Steel  House Built By Ferro Enamel Corporation (builder and supplier of enamel service stations). 

The Masonite Corporation bragged that “millions of feet of Masonite was used in thousands of places” at the Fair built a house out of  insulated Masonite.  Century Homes’   presented “America’s first glass home” a three-story octagon home, while the Brick Manufacturers' Association of America presented “the supersafe home of the future.”

The Southern Cypress Manufacturers' Association exhibit a house built entirely of Pecky Cypress, while the Rostone Company of Lafayette Indiana , makers of Rosite fiber-reinforced unsaturated polyester resins used in electrical gear, introduced the Rostone synthetic stone fireproof steel framed home with a cellwood interior, and  Stran Steel built two steel framed homes,  the “town house” and “garden home”  which they claimed were “fire safe, lightning proof, shrink proof, termite proof and salvageable.”

A postcard of the Firestone World's Fair factory
Firestone Tire and Rubber Company had a small tire factory built on site and a display of the 1911 ‘500’ winning Marmon Wasp in a glass-enclosed case alongside “one of the winning cars from the 1933 Indianapolis 500-mile race” (actually Tony Gulotta’s 1933 fifth place finisher, a Studebaker). The display not so subtly reminded visitors that for 14 consecutive years, Firestone Gum-dipped tires have been on the winning car “in the most grueling test of tire dependability the world has ever known.”

A postcard of the Firestone singing fountain

The Firestone exhibit also featured two one of a kind display, a “singing color fountain,” six dome-shaped fountains which shot water 20 feet in the air synchronized to music, and the “first in the world” 80-foot long multi-color shadow sign. Goodyear countered by offering rides in its new blimps, the Reliance and the Puritan, which became familiar sites cruising over the Fair from Goodyear’s landing field south of the Chrysler exhibition building.

While there were many wonders to be experienced in this Depression-era World’s Fair, the most stunning had to be the automobiles, as all the manufacturers were represented, and many of the luxury brands introduced one-a-kind customs built just for the Fair. 

The restored Packard Car of the Dome
Packard showed its “Car of the Dome,” a Packard 1107 147-inch wheelbase V-12 powered chassis fitted with a four door sedan body built by Dietrich, Inc. designed by Raymond Deitrich that featured a V-windshield style. All the body hardware was gold-plated, as were the steering column and all the instruments. 

A view of the interior of the Packard Car of the Dome

The Packard's  interior was outfitted with highly polished Carpathian elm with a cabinet behind the front seat stretching the width of the car. One wonders how well the 160 horsepower engine worked to move a vehicle with a curb weight of over 5000 pounds. This restored car was later purchased by Bob Bahre, owner of new Hampshire Motor Speedway. 

The restored Duesenberg "Twenty Grand"

Duesenberg presented the "Twenty Grand,” so called because it reported cost $20,000 to build (nearly $6 million today). The Arlington Torpedo Duesenberg SJ chassis number 2539 was fitted with the body built by Rollston of New York designed by Gordon Buerhig. This beautiful machine was later restored and fitted engine 513 and is one of the gems of the Nethercutt Museum Collection in Sylmar, California. 

A restored Silver Arrow 

Pierce-Arrow presented the third of five modernistic ‘Silver Arrow’ concept cars designed by Phillip O. Wright and originally introduced at the January 1933 New York auto show. Each car was hand-built reportedly a cost of $10,000 each on a Pierce Arrow model 1236 chassis, the Silver Arrow featured sleek fastback styling recessed door handles, no running boards and carried its spare tires in compartments behind each front wheel. 

Each of the five Silver Arrow cars was powered by a L-head V-12 engine, rated at 175hp with a claimed top speed of 115 MPH. An eight-cylinder Silver Arrow 2-door production version followed in 1935 and 1935 but these cars were weak imitations of the originals.  

A postcard view of the Studebaker display

Studebaker went in a different direction and built a mammoth wooden model of their President Land Cruiser automobile. The giant Land Cruiser, displayed in the great hall of the “Travel and Transport Building,” was 80 feet long, 28 feet high, and 30 feet wide. The running boards were 21 feet in length, the windshield wiper three feet long, and the tires 12-1/2 feet in diameter.

A photo of one of the Studebaker miniatures 

For maximum appeal, the giant Studebaker was painted ‘Canary Yellow,’ a color later made available on production cars for an extra $80. Below the running board was a door that led visitors into an auditorium inside the massive wooden creation that held 80 guests. Films were shown that extolled the virtues of the new Studebakers and that Studebaker had set more than 140 records for speed and endurance. A 5 3/4-inch long pot-metal miniature, molded on site by National Products with “Replica of Giant World’s Fair Studebaker” cast into the trunk, was sold as a souvenir.

A postcard of the Nash display

The Nash display featured the Whiting Corporation’s (an overhead crane manufacturer) Auto-Parking Tower an eighty foot tall glass-enclosed tower stocked with sixteen Nash six and eight cylinder automobiles on “an endless chain”

The Dymaxion 

The Gulf Oil exhibit featured Buckminster Fuller's “Dymaxion Car” a 20-foot long aluminum bodied car shaped like a blimp that rode on a steel frame with a canvas top. The front-wheel drive car had three wheels, two up front, one in the back and a periscope instead of a rear window. “Dymaxion” was the combination of the words “.dynamic, maximum, and tension,” to summarize Fuller’s goal to do more with less.

Chicago Daily News columnist Howard Vincent O’Brien described the Dymaxion on August 15, 1934 as “well worth a look if you are interested in knowing what sort of vehicle may soon be taking you about. It’s a three-wheeled affair, driven from the front wheels, and with the engine in the rear. It turns on its own base, and, using a standard Ford engine as a power plant, it will go – says Mr. Fuller – 125 miles an hour, doing 30 miles to the gallon of gasoline. I haven’t ridden in it yet, but those who have say it floats like an airplane.”

Fuller formed the Dymaxion Corporation on March 4, 1933 and set up his workshop in a former building of the defunct Locomobile Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut  In three months Fuller and his 27 employees finished the first of three prototypes which was sold to Gulf Oil to promote its aviation gasoline.
On October 28, 1933, the Gulf Dymaxion was hit and rolled over four times in a traffic accident near the entrance of the World’s Fair. At the time of the accident the Dymaxion to transporting two male passengers to the airport to board a plane to Akron Ohio so the men could board the Graf Zeppelin to return home. 
The 36 year old driver, Francis T. Turner, described at the time in news reports as an a race car driver from Birmingham Alabama but actually an aviation mechanic, died of his injuries, and his two passengers were injured. William Francis Forbes-Sempill of Scotland suffered a fractured skull and Charles Dollfuss of France suffered cuts and bruises and internal injuries.

Press reports following the accident only stated that Fuller’s “weird car” had rolled in the accident, which led to the public perception that the Dymaxion was unsafe.  The subsequent coroner’s inquest found the actual cause of the impact was a collision with a car driven by a Chicago parks commissioner who wanted a closer look at the Dymaxion.  

According to witnesses' testimony, the two vehicles were traveling down the road in the same direction at and estimated 70 mph, and Turner tried to evade colliding with the politician's wandering car to no avail. The inquest found the design of the Dymaxion was not a factor in the accident, but by the time that decision was announced the negative publicity had already done its damage; financing collapsed and Dymaxion cars never entered production.

Part two of the Jinx Day Auto Derby history, coming soon, will provide more background for our story that includes an examination of the amazing exhibits of the Detroit “Big Three” automobile manufacturers at the 1933 World’s Fair. 

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