Michigan’s Furniture City also produced automobiles

Michigan’s Furniture City also produced automobiles

Both the past and future are on display at America’s car museums

Herbert Austin wasn’t the only person to put his last name on a line of automobiles. Austin launched what would become a well-known British car company in 1906. But four years earlier, it was the father-son team of James F. and Walter Austin, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who first produced motorcars bearing the Austin name. 

One of their vehicles, a 1909 Austin Model 60, will be the focal point of an exhibit opening May 2 at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. But if you miss seeing it there, the Austin heads back after its visit to West Michigan to its permanent home, Stahl’s Automotive Foundation museum in New Baltimore, northeast of Detroit.

James Austin was one of Grand Rapids’ prosperous lumbermen; the second-largest community in Michigan long has been known as the Furniture City. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile describes Walter as being “mechanically minded,” and notes that James bought the Michigan Iron Works so his son could pursue his interests. 

Father and son built their Austins between 1903 and 1920

After working on a shingle-cutting machine and a chainless bicycle, the Austins figured the new motorcar was the way of the future and changed the iron works name to Austin Automobile Company.  They rolled out their first prototype by the end of 1902.

They sold 11 vehicles in 1903. Austins were luxury vehicles, with annual sales of only around 30 cars a year. Production ended in 1920 with the Austin Highway King, powered by a 6.4-liter V12 engine.

While the company struggled as an automaking enterprise, in 1913 it developed a two-speed rear axle that it supplied to Ford and Chevrolet. James and Walter also prospered in the real estate business.

Also part of the special transportation exhibit is a Lorraine 20-T, the only known surviving example of another Grand Rapids-produced automobile. 

Future is Now at the Simeone

“The Future is Now,” a look at automotive technology once considered to be science fiction, is the theme of an exhibit running from April 28 until May 13 at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia. 

“We’re bringing together some of the most advanced automobiles currently in production or utilizing new concepts that will soon be available on the market,” the museum said in its news release. “All the cars taking part are brimming with some of the latest and greatest innovations including hybrid technology, touch screens, navigation systems, hands-free voice communication systems, object detection systems, radar, heads-up displays, electric, hybrid.”

Among the vehicles on display are a 2010 Tesla roadster, 2014 McLaren P1, and student-built racing cars from Rutgers and Villanova universities.

Special events this weekend

The Lingenfelter Car Collection may not be an official museum, but Ken Lingenfelter, who also owns Lingenfelter Performance Engineering, opens his garages for charity events and car club gatherings. Saturday, his more than 150 vehicles can be seen at the collection’s Spring Open House, being held as a fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society. The event runs from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., and at 3:15, Lingenfelter promises to rev the engine on his Ferrari Enzo. Another feature will be the first display of the GXE, a street-legal, electric-powered, 220-mph Corvette. The collection is located Brighton, Michigan.

This weekend, the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, hosts the annual Michelin NCM Bash. There will be special 2019 Chevrolet Corvette displays and seminars, cooking and art classes, a women’s basic car maintenance session, car show, lapping at NCM Motorsports Park, road tours and more.

In addition to opening its “Future is Now” exhibit, the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia stages one of its Demo Days on Saturday, this one featuring Gran Turismo, The Racing Berlinetta, with the historic 1964 Cobra Daytona Coupe, 1948 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Coupe and Mercedes-Benz 300SL “Gullwing” coupe being exercised in the museum’s parking lot.

The AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, hosts the Hershey Spring Fling Diecast toy show from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Sunday.

Mark your calendar

“The Future of the Automobile” is the subject of a day of talks, demonstrations and panel discussions May 3 at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Staged in cooperation with the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, the day-long program will feature speakers including Tesla designer Franz von Holzhausen, Paramount Pictures futurist Ted Schilowitz, Intel’s automated driving expert Jill Sciarappio, Mory Gharib of Cal Tech and others.

LeMay-America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington, opens its “BMW Heroes of Bavaria: 75 Years of BMW Motorsport” exhibit the weekend of May 15-16, with a grand opening celebration May 12 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Racer Bill Auberlen and BMW motorsports manager Erik Wensberg will be the guest speakers at the grand opening

The AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, opens its “Mustangs; Six Generations of America’s Favorite Pony Car” exhibit on May 18 with a special panel presentation featuring the design director for the original Mustang, the author of two Mustang books and the project engineer for Shelby American’s GT350.

The Saratoga Automobile Museum in upstate New York stages its annual Spring Auto Show weekend May 19-20. The weekend begins with a road trip to tour a private car collection on May 19 with the car show at the Saratoga Spa State Park on May 20, when the show field will include a special display by the Antique Automobile Club of America.

The New England Auto Museum presents Four Hands on the Wheel, a documentary 1969 film about Mark Donohue, Roger Penske and the 1968 Trans-Am racing season, will be shown as part of a 50th anniversary celebration May 23 at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The event includes a panel discussion and the display of Penske’s 1968 Sunoco Camaro and 1966 Daytona- and Sebring-winning Corvette.

The British Motor Museum at Gaydon, Warwickshire, celebrates the 70th anniversary of Land Rover with “Adventure, Animation and Land Rovers,” a family-oriented program May 26-June 3.

On Father’s Day weekend, Beaulieu, the National Motor Museum in England, opens its new summer exhibition, “The Art of Kustom,” featuring automotive creations by Andy Saunders, who will drive one of his customs onto the museum grounds and will unveil his newest project, Metropolis, a transformed 1939 Peugeot 202 pickup, found in a field in France and believed to have been requisitioned by invading forces during World War II. 

The Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia will offer its first Race Car Summer Camp for those aged 10-16, July 9-13. The camp will use motorsports to explore STEM subjects, and each camper will design and race a CO2-powered car. For information and registration, visit the museum website.

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  • DOUGLAS WILLETT
    May 1, 2018, 12:11 PM

    Here is a link to the interactive virtual tour of Stahl’s Auto Museum –> http://inneract3d.com/api/spin-tours/stahls#!

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  • bill and ann oravec
    May 23, 2018, 9:27 PM

    we have a 1916 packard twin six, restored by my dad who has passed, clifford weidenbener. the car has won many prizes over the years. looking for a good home. are you purchasing any cars for the museum?

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