The mission of the Northeast Classic Car Museum consists of educating the public on different aspects of the automobile and its history throughout the years. This is the 2nd in a series of 5, originally published in the Norwich Evening Sun in 2006.
In 1919, Sinclair Lewis wrote whimsically of his adventures in a Model T. One of the most famous books, which is now a standard text in high school and university courses on American literature in countries around the world, was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, ‘The Great Gatsby,” which portrayed the cynicism of post-World War I by the use of Gatsby’s cream-colored Rolls-Royce. In 1962, William Faulkner wrote about human frailties against the backdrop of an early Winton Flyer automobile in his classic, “The Reivers.” Other books such as “Christine,” by Stephen King, were also centered on automobiles.
Even more than writers, composers of popular music were attracted to cars. Between 1905 and 1908, more than 120 songs were written in which the automobile was the subject. The automotive themes of these songs reflected the general culture of the automotive industry: sexual adventure, liberation from social control, and masculine power. Titles include “In My Merry Oldsmobile,” “Tumble in a Rumble Seat,” “On the Back Seat of A Henry Ford,” up to the contemporary songs such as “Mustang Sally,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Little Red Corvette,” and “Pink Cadillac.” Trucking songs, such as “King of the Road,” “On the Road Again,” and others too numerous to name are immensely popular. In 1929, American Paul Galvin, the head of Galvin Manufacturing Corporation, invented the first car radio. The first car radios were not available from car makers. Consumers had to purchase the radios separately. Galvin coined the name “Motorola” for the company’s new products, combining the idea of motion and radio.
The Los Angeles Music Center and Museum of Contemporary Art commissioned several playwrights to create original ten-minute scripts to be acted out in automobiles and the film industry has relied heavily on the automobile, ranging from “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” the “Dukes of Hazzard,” “Starsky and Hutch” and hundreds of other movies with chase scenes. Television made the automobile the star of the show in “My Mother the Car,” and “Knight Rider,” in which KITT was smarter than any of the rest of the cast. The Northeast Classic Car Museum has a 1981 DeLorean that visitors remember as “the Back to the Future Car.”
Artists followed Toulouse-Lautrec’s lead from his 1896 lithograph, “The Motorist,” to take up brushes and portray the essence of the automobile. Some used their brushes in cartoon fashion to show it as a toy for the idle rich. Andy Warhol saw art in a Campbell soup can and also painted a series devoted to gruesome car wrecks. Other artists see the automobile as a graceful, flowing form of man-made beauty, an art in itself.
Cars have been named after animals, stars, heroes and mythology and ownership came to be associated with independence, freedom, and increased status. The culture in the 1950s and 1960s often catered to the automobile with motels and drive-in restaurants. Americans tend to view obtaining a driver’s license as a rite of passage and most Americans of all ages and genders expect to own and drive cars.
Article written by Audrey Robinson and Richard Ellinwood of the NECCM Education Committee. Reprinted courtesy of The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY.