The Virgin And The Carburetor

When Henry Adams sought the medieval world in an automobile, this stuffiest of prophets became the first American to sing of the liberating force later celebrated by Jack Kerouac and the Beach Boys

Test-driving automobiles, Henry Adams discovered in June 1904, was “shattering to one’s nerves.” Trying out a Hotchkiss for purchase “scared my hair green. Truly it is a new world that I live in,” he continued, “though its spots are old. … The pace we go is quite vertiginous. Only men under forty are fit for it.” He was sixty-six, born in Boston in 1838, when railroads were replacing canals.Read more »

Westward On The Old Lincoln Highway

I had been driving across Pennsylvania’s hills and valleys for five hours when suddenly my destination for the evening appeared ahead. On a high, level clearing in the state’s mountainous southwest quarter, just beyond the immaculate little town of Bedford, stood the Lincoln Motor Court, a roadside lodging almost exactly the way it looked when travelers passed by in Hudson Hornets and Studebaker Land Cruisers. Read more »

Indy

Every spring thirty million Americans watch the Indianapolis 500. It’s the nation’s premier racing event and the pinnacle of a glamorous, murderous epic that stretches back nearly a century.

May is a month of traditions: of flowers and commencements, of the Kentucky Derby for 117 years and Indianapolis five-hundred-mile races for 81. For an automobile race, Indy is ancient. Back in 1911 it was an all-day affair, as the winner covered five hundred miles in six hours and forty-two minutes. These days winners complete the distance in less than three hours, the same oval unraveling for a driver with the same turns, banks, and exhilarating straights.Read more »

Detroit Iron

A tribute to the brash confections our car makers offered the world during a decade when not one American in a thousand had even heard the name Toyota

America swaggered off the World War II battlefields like a heavyweight champion who had just scored a first-round knockout. Our losses were tragic—292,000 dead—but they were a relative bloody nose compared with the slashings and renderings of millions upon millions of other people caught up in the carnage. Moreover, our civilian population had been spared the terror bombings, occupations, and huge displacements so commonplace elsewhere.Read more »

The Road To The Future

Fifty years ago the builders of the Pennsylvania Turnpike completed America’s first superhighway—and helped determine the shape of travel to come

Most American motorists take for granted the concrete and asphalt web of interstate highways that has penetrated so deeply into the nation’s economy and thinking. The 43,000-mile system of fouror-more-lane divided, limited-access roads reaches from the canyons of California to the beaches of Florida and the urban bustle of the Northeast Corridor. But of course there was a time when the superhighway idea was brand-new.Read more »

Secrets Of The Model T

The Tin Lizzie carried us into the twentieth century, but she gave us a hell of a shaking along the way. Now a veteran driver tells what everybody knew and nobody bothered to write down.

Many, many authors have written about the Model T, but I’m privy to some information that this legion ignored. My experience with Model T’s began in the Middle West in 1923 and continued on out to California. Like so many others, I drove only second- or third-hand models. Here are some of the things I learned.

SHIMMY Read more »

Unfolding The Nation

Wherever you go in search of history, there’s a good chance the first thing you reach for will be a road map. And road maps have a history too.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1895 the Chicago Times-Herald sponsored a fifty-four-mile road race from Jackson Park to Waukegan and on to Lincoln Park. The prize was five thousand dollars. The eventual winner, a man by the name of Frank Duryea, had at least two advantages over his competitors. First, unlike some of them, he was driving a car propelled by gasoline. Second, Duryea had noticed that the paper had published a rough plotting of the course, and he’d had the good sense to rip it out and use it.Read more »

The Dawn Of Speed

The Florida Speed Carnivals at Daytona lasted less than a decade, but they saw American motoring grow from rich man’s sport to national obsession

It has been said that motor sport was the first organized activity in America that drew all social classes together. Certainly William K. Vanderbilt, Jr., and Barney Oldfield would have been unlikely to have exchanged pleasantries otherwise. Vanderbilt, elegant, impeccably groomed, was scion to one of the world’s great fortunes, whose childhood attack of the measles made the society pages, whose wedding occupied eight full news columns in New York papers.Read more »

Citizen Ford

He invented modern mass production. He gave the world the first people’s car, and his countrymen loved him for it. But at the moment of his greatest triumph, he turned on the empire he had built—and on the son who would inherit it.

Part One The Creator Read more »