1938 Autocar tanker. Photos courtesy AACA Museum, unless otherwise noted.
Without commercial vehicles, modern life would grind to a halt rather abruptly. Despite their importance, these workhorses are rarely embraced by collectors, and the likelihood of a 1913 Ford Model T C-cab or 1938 Autocar tanker truck taking Best of Show at Pebble Beach lies directly between “slim” and “none.” The AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, however, is paying tribute to a broad array of commercial vehicles with a new exhibit, entitled Getting the Job Done: Vehicles that Earned Their Keep.
1922 Brockway LaFrance fire engine.
Scheduled to run from November 18, 2017, through April 23, 2018, the exhibit will include everything from delivery trucks through professional cars and even business coupes, once the transportation of choice for traveling salesmen. Police cars and fire engines will be represented, with the display including a 1966 Plymouth Fury II police cruiser finished in a Harrison, New Jersey livery; a 1970 Mercury Monterey sedan carrying the California Highway Patrol star; a 1992 Ford Mustang pursuit vehicle from the Florida Highway Patrol; and a pair of fire engines – the 1922 Brockway LaFrance and the 1938 Mack – from the museum’s permanent collection.
The 1960 Imperial Crown limousine that once belonged to Nelson Rockefeller.
One of the more historically significant vehicles on display will be the 1960 Imperial Crown limousine ordered new by Nelson Rockefeller, then the governor of New York. One of two cars built with parade flashers hidden in the grille – with the other going to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy – Rockefeller’s limo is the only one constructed between 1957 and 1963 with a four-window, extended canopy vinyl roof for added privacy.
Seeking a cost-effective way to remain in the limited-production stretch limousine business, Chrysler began outsourcing limousine construction to Italian coachbuilder Ghia in 1957. Each began life in Detroit as an Imperial hardtop coupe with a 129-inch wheelbase and reinforced X-frame construction. Once in Ghia’s factory, the wheelbase was stretched to 149.5-inches, the overall length to 244.7-inches and the height to 58.5-inches, allowing a formally dressed gentleman sufficient room to wear his hat inside.
Once Ghia’s craftsmen were done with the exterior – a process that included lead soldering all the sheet-metal joins for a seamless appearance and adjusting doors and fenders until no panel gap exceeded 1/6 of an inch – the body was primed and painted before the interior (in one of five configurations) was installed. Chauffeurs were forced to endure leather seating, while rear passengers enjoyed broadcloth, with sheepskin covering both floors and footrests.
From start to finish, the conversion process in Italy took roughly one month. Though the finished limousines were tested by Ghia, additional quality inspections were carried out by Chrysler before the cars were shipped to New York for delivery from the automaker’s Manhattan headquarters. In addition to Governor (and later, Vice President) Rockefeller, Imperial Crown limousine owners included RCA head David Sarnoff, the King of Saudi Arabia, the Emir of Kuwait, and Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck.
1919 Walker LA-10 Stand & Drive truck at the 2017 Hemmings Concours d’Elegance. Photo by author.
Other vehicles scheduled for display in the Getting the Job Done exhibit include a battery-powered 1919 Walker LA-10 Stand & Drive delivery van; a 1924 REO funeral coach; a 1941 Lincoln Zephyr ambulance; a 1947 GMC delivery truck; a 1951 Studebaker business coupe; a 1959 Chevrolet El Camino; a 1964 Chevrolet Corvair ramp side pickup; a 1967 Ford Good Humor ice cream truck; a 1973 Ford F350 tow truck; a 1976 Checker taxi; a 1986 Rolls-Royce limousine; and a 1992 Volkswagen Beetle taxi.
Below are a more few of the vehicles to be featured. For additional details, visit AACAMuseum.org.