WAAM has a superb collection of historic vehicles interspersed among equally historic pre-war and classic period planes. As a member, I have a particular interest in a particular kind of high performance vehicles; those that go extraordinary distances on a gallon of gas. Four of my high efficiency cyclecars and mini cars are on permanent loan to WAAAM, and two more will arrive this spring.
The red 1915 Trumbull roadster is representative of the best of the USA and European cyclecar era, 1913-1915.
Some 147 makes appeared in the USA alone.
The Trumbull averaged over 30 mpg in an era when the Model T, a small car in its own right, averaged in the low 20s. Big Packards, Pierce Arrows and Locomobiles (all on display) might average around 12 mpg. Priced just a hair higher ($15) than the Trumbull, it was the
Model T that put cyclecars out of business.
The blue 1930 American Austin coupe was an attempt to market a high mpg car during the Great Depression. Al Jolson, Buster Keaton and Ernest Hemingway were owners. Though the company guaranteed 40 mpg, gas was cheap and the little car cost $5 more than a Model A. The company lasted until 1934, and then was revived in 1938 as the American Bantam. By 1941 it was gone, but not before the company had designed and produced the very first Jeeps for the US Army. Circus goers will recall a dozen or so clowns popping out of an American Austin like this one.
The sea foam green 1950 Crosley was the last major effort by an American car company to make a high mpg car (the larger but still small Nash/Hudson Metropolitan was made in England). The brainchild of Powell Crosley of radio and "Shelvadoor" refridgerator fame, Crosleys were produced between 1939 and 1952 and enjoyed their heyday just after WWII, scoring several US firsts: 1946 first mass market SOHC engine; 1948 most station wagons; 1949 first sports car (Hotshot), first disc brakes; 1950 Hotshot winner of the first Sebring Race (using a formula system widely used throughout Europe).
Following the demise of the Crosley, true mini and micro cars virtually disapeared from USA production, while American "small" cars grew into 6-cylinder Ramblers, Ford Falcons, Corvairs and Valiants. Mini and micro cars became the domain of foreign automakers and opened the door first to the European imports, and then to the Japanese "invasion." WAAAM is developing a good collection of post 1950 US, European and Japanese mini cars: look for more about these in the April WAAAM newsletter.
Richard "Skip" Dunn
Skip and Hedy Dunn live in New Mexico and visit often in Hood River at the home of his daughter's family.
He will be giving a Show and Tell on the Second Saturday in April on the fascinating history of all the minicars in the WAAAM collection.