Sunday, September 13, 2015

The 1934 “Jinx Day Auto Derby”

Part two - The “Big Three” of the 1933/4 World’s Fair

Among the largest displays and most visited of the displays from more than 300 companies involved in the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago were those built and operated by the “Big Three” Detroit automakers.

A postcard of the Ford exhibit

General Motors was celebrating its 25th anniversary, and the General Motors “Hall of Progress” building designed by famed industrial designer, Albert Kahn, stretched 1/8 mile in length and was over 300 feet wide, capped by a 177-foot tall neon illuminated tower, which was the tallest of any at the World’s Fair. Throughout the building were forty original murals which recounted the contributions of all the 48 states in the United States to the growth of the automotive industry. 

The General Motors building contained a working Chevrolet assembly line, where visitors watched the final 24 steps of assembling an automobile and customers could take delivery of their new Chevrolet at the Fair. The entire General Motors building was powered by generators turned by a pair of GM-Winton diesel engines. General Motors had purchased Winton, the one-time automobile manufacturer, in 1930. The GM-Winton # 201 eight-cylinder 600-horsepower two-stroke diesel engines featured welded steel plate construction throughout.  

The GM-Winton engine display

The Winton Engine Company and Charles “Boss” Kettering’s General Motors Research Department had jointly developed a revolutionary two-stroke diesel engine that was smaller, lighter, more powerful and more efficient than the traditional diesel engine. General Motors accurately predicted these new diesel engines would be supplied for railroad locomotives and heavy commercial trucks within a few years.

In practice at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, however, the relatively untested Winton diesel engines were a headache and frequently required teams of General Motors technicians to work all night to repair the engines so as to have at least one engine serviceable during each day.  Eugene Kettering, chief General Motors engineer on the project and the Boss’s son, later stated in report “to mention the parts with which we had trouble in Chicago would take far too much time. Let it suffice to say that I do not remember any trouble with the dip stick.”

The Pontiac exhibit inside the General Motors building featured Chief Pontiac, “the mysterious mechanical Indian who moves sees, breathes, hears, and talks.“ Chief Pontiac however spoke in response only to visitor’s questions regarding features and advantages of the 1934 Pontiac Economy Straight eight sedan.

The Cadilac Fleetwood V-16 Aero-dynamic Coupe

In yet another part of the General Motors building the Cadillac Motor Car Division introduced the Harley Earl-designed 1933 Cadillac Fleetwood V-16 Aero-Dynamic Coupe, of which six were eventually built. Among its features that later went into production were an all-steel roof, elegant flowing fenders, chrome beltline molding that emphasized the car’s flowing lines and a trunk that contained a built-in spare tire compartment.

The Cadillac Aero-Dynamic Coupe was powered by an all-new 452 cubic inch V-16 overhead valve engine developed by Owen Nacker, formerly the Chief Engineer for the Marmon Motor Car Company in Indianapolis. The Cadillac’s 16-cylinder engine, built with 45 degrees between the two eight-cylinder banks, weighed 1300 pounds and due to its relatively low compression ratio and the poor quality gasoline available in that era, only produced about 175 horsepower, but developed an astounding 320 foot pounds of torque at just 1200 RPM. The magnificent Cadillac V-16 engine was finished with enamel paint, porcelain, polished aluminum, and chrome.

A postcard of the Ford exhibit

As visitors entered the Ford Motor Company’s 900-foot long 12-story Rotunda, they glimpsed a chandelier made of three full-size Ford cars suspended from a welded Ford steel wheel at the glass ceiling which hung above a gigantic globe which marked Ford’s far-flung worldwide operations.  Inside the Ford pavilion were more than 30 exhibits that included the “Roads of the world,” a recreation of twenty-one famous roads reproduced in an oval track which visitors traveled around in just four minutes.

Initially Henry Ford vehemently initially opposed the company’s participation in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair but he relented after he learned of General Motors’ grand plans. This turned out to be a smart decision by Ford, as the company’s exhibit turned out to be the most popular corporate display at the Fair.     

Visitors to the Ford exhibit toured the industrialized barn of the “Farm of the Future,” while the Ford Theatre showed an original motion picture entitled “An Artistic Triumph”  about the building of a Ford V-8 engine from start to finish. Another Ford exhibit known as the “Century Room” featured a display of Henry Ford’s first workshop, complete with his first engine and first car, along with a collection of early horseless carriages and early Ford cars.

The Briggs Dream Car

Lincoln Motor Company (the marque had been part of the Ford Motor family since 1922) presented its aerodynamic rear-engine “Briggs Dream Car” concept car. The four-door “small Lincoln” prototype authorized by Edsel Ford and designed by Briggs designer and Dutch immigrant John Tjaarda, featured a unitized body. The rear mounted engine permitted the hood to dramatically slope downward, which Lincoln stated would afford the driver of the car to have an excellent view of the road.

The design of the ‘Briggs Dream Car’, so named as it was built by Briggs Manufacturing, Ford’s largest body supplier) was issued United States patent #D94396 on January 22 1935. Although it never reach production, many elements of the ‘Briggs Dream Car’ design were used for the design of the ground-breaking production “small Lincoln,” the1936 Lincoln-Zephyr, albeit with a front-mounted V-12 engine.

After the Chicago World’s Fair closed at the end of October 1934, the Ford Rotunda building itself was dismantled and permanently rebuilt (with some improvements) in Dearborn Michigan and  served as the visitor center for Ford Motor Company’s World Headquarters before the building burned down in November 1962.

The largest private exhibitor at the 1933 World’s Fair was Chrysler Motors - the Chrysler building covered over 68,000 square feet divided among two floors. In the building were scores of exhibits ranging including a huge drop forge where workmen made parts for new cars right before the fair goers' watchful eyes. The steel furnace, 60-ton drop forge hammer, and trimmer produced one steering knuckle for a Plymouth automobile each minute.

Visitors to the Chrysler Motors building also viewed the manufacture of Pittsburgh Plate Glass (PPG) ‘Duplate’ laminated safety glass, an operating automatic loom, a "Belgian Roll" road testing device, and an actual operating wind tunnel. A 145-foot long, seven-foot wide table, advertised by Chrysler as “the world’s largest display table” contained every single part of a dissembled 1934 Plymouth Six four-door sedan.

A handout showed the Chrysler expo and test track 

Outdoors, the Chrysler Motors pavilion covered over seven acres of land on the Chicago World’s Fair site and included sunken gardens with a 325-foot long reflecting pool, a 105-foot diameter revolving Cyclorama that depicted an airplane trip from coast to coast, new car display areas, and a test track.

Plymouth ads used Barney Oldfield as spokeman

The quarter-mile long oval track presided over by Barney Oldfield, described as “the most famous and colorful figure in racing history” was 18 feet wide at its narrowest point, with 40-foot wide banked turns and the western straightaway featured a bypass that led to a 25-foot high 100-foot long ramp (a 25% grade) that demonstrated the hill-climbing ability of new Chrysler automobiles.

Six times each day, Barney Oldfield and his crew of "Hell Drivers" performed thrill shows to demonstrate Chrysler products on the track.  The show’s climax came when Oldfield or one of his drivers, deliberately rolled over a new Plymouth in the sand pit located in the center of the track pit to demonstrate the strength of the all-steel body built by Chrysler.   Between shows, fairgoers stood in line to take demonstration rides around the track in new Chryslers or Plymouths driven by the “Hell Drivers.”

Poster of the 1934 Fair

The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair proved to be very successful despite the Depression with fair admission of 50 cents for adults (equivalent to $9.00 today) and 25 cents for each of their children. Advertising literature distributed across the country heralded the low cost for visitors to the World’s Fair and stated that the average fair goer in 1933 spent just $1.17 after admission for transportation, entertainment and food. With over 22 million visitors during 1933, the Century of Progress Exposition board members voted for the fair’s run to be extended into 1934 to run from May 26 to October 31.

Our next installment will share all the details of the event that highlighted the 1934 Century of Progress, the unique “Jinx Day Auto Derby.”

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