Historians preserve text of designer Rother’s speech for Automotive Hall of Fame

Our weekly roundup of car museum news and notes

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Rother trophy
Helene Rother, the first woman to work in the GM Design studio as a designer, inspired to trophies awarded at the Las Vegas Concours d'Elegance | Larry Edsall photo

Hopefully, you remember that Helene Rother has become something of the patron saint of the Las Vegas Concours d’Elegance. She also was one of four people included in the Class of 2020-2021 for induction into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan.

“In preparation for Rother’s induction, historians at the Hall have been intensively researching her highly successful career in automotive design,” the museum said of the first woman hired in the design department of General Motors.

During the research process, the museum encountered Francesca Steele, who with her daughter Roxanne Pelton transcribed a nearly illegible copy of Rother’s typed and hand-annotated speech she delivered as the first woman to address the Society of Automotive Engineers International in 1948.

Roxanne Pelton (left) works with her mother, Francesca Steele, to preserve and translate a hand-annoyed copy of Helene Rother’s speech to the SAE in 1948 | Automotive Hall of Fame photo

“Steele has a degree in Art History, Criticism, and Conservation from the University of California, Berkeley,” the Hall said in its news release. “She grew up watching her father restore cars and build café racing motorcycles for her brothers to race, and she has restored several vintage American automobiles herself. 

Steele recruited her daughter, a law student, to help make out what was left of Rother’s words.

They ran groups of letters through computer bots, but with little success. They tried crossword puzzle programs, which unscrambled some of the words.

“Once the pair had transcribed the majority of the document, they were able to understand what Rother had communicated to the SAE,” the Hall reported. 

“It seemed that the theme of it was color,” Steele said. “She was interested in relaying to the engineers and to the people that were there that the colors of the automobiles… that they were outdated, that they had an opportunity there. 

“She had done all this independent research, and so she was presenting this idea that there could be change, there could be something dynamic… as an independent designer, she could bring something unique to an exploding market that was just right on the horizon after the war.” 

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There were words Rother used that are not common today, such as “vaguefully” and “emissive,” the latter describing automotive switchgear.

“I’m still not really sure about them, but I’ll just keep digging into it a little bit,” Steele is quoted in the Hall’s news release. “So, there’s still a little bit more work to do to the document.” 

But while that work continues, you can read the transcribed speed at the Hall of Fame website.

Deaccessioning at Petersen, Indy museums

Nissan FCV display vehicle among those being offered by the Petersen to other venues | Museum photo

The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum are in the process what might be termed spring cleaning.

The Petersen is offering several vehicles to qualified 501(c)3 organizations free of charge. The list includes a 1965 Arfons Green Monster, the 1968 Buick “Long Time, No Sea” and a 2000 Nissan X-Terra fuel cell show-car display with a body that lifts off the chassis.

Interested organizations should contact the Petersen’s chief historian.

Meanwhile, the Indy museum, which re-opens July 7, is conducting a deaccessioning.  of selected cars and motorcycles as part of an asset-management program initiated in 2015 that included an auction in 2017. The museum will use the funds produced to focus on its mission of celebrating Speedway and Indiana automotive history, it said.

For more information, visit the museum website.

The Petersen also announced that the display of the Tesla Cybertruck has been extended until July 5.

Indy museum releases ‘two worlds’ broadcasts

On June 29, 1957, the stars of Formula One and the Indianapolis 500 raced against each other in the 500 Miglia di Monza, which became much better known as the Race of the Two Worlds. A second such competition was held a year later.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum has digitally restored the broadcast tapes of those races and will offer them in digital download for $9.99 each through the museum website. 

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“For many years, it was believed these rare broadcasts were lost to history, but 1/4-inch audio recordings of the races were discovered in the IMS Museum vault,” the museum announced. “As part of the Museum’s ongoing audio preservation project, the recordings were sent to Memnon Archiving Services in Bloomington, Indiana for preservation and digitization.
New collector car museum opens in Florida.

New collector car museum opens in Florida

New car museum opens in St. Augustine, Florida | Museum photo

Now open in northeast Florida is the Classic Car Museum of St. Augustine, a 30,000-square-foot facility in which Sidney and Brenda Hobbs house some 80 vehicles, including an 1895 Rochet-Schneider roadster, one of only 200 produced.

The museum, which hosts a monthly cars & coffee cruise-in and also plans a series of marque-themed shows on its 2-acre lawn, is open Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.

For more information, visit the museum website.

Revs won’t re-open as scheduled

The Revs Institute (Collier Collection) in Naples, Florida, had planned to re-open on July 7. However, “due to the recent increase of Covid-19 cases in our area and throughout the state of Florida, we have made the difficult, but necessary, decision to delay,” the museum announced.

No new date for re-opening has been announced.

Several museums have re-opened

The National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio, has re-opened after being closed by the coronavirus pandemic. In accordance with Ohio’s Responsible RestartOhio plan, the museum is limiting capacity, require personal spacing and following other such guidelines.

Also re-opened in recent days is the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California, where the exhibits include an array of 1953-1954 Dodge Firearrow concept cars designed by Chrysler’s Virgil Exner and built in Italy by Ghia Coachbuilders.

Another car museum that has re-opened in recent days is the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing, Michigan.

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Also open again is the California Ag Museum in Woodland, California, again with social-distancing and face covering required.

Midget racers featured at museum in Loudon, New Hampshire | Museum photo

The North East Motor Sports Museum in Loudon, New Hampshire, has re-opened with a special exhibit of Frank Manafort’s midget racing cars. 

The AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, re-opens June 27. Two new exhibits will be featured — “Highlights of Our Collection,” including the Big Bad Orange AMX, a 1932 Studebaker named Helen, Betty White’s “Parakeet” and a 1968 Chrysler Imperial; and “A Salute to First Responders and Frontline Workers,” featuring vintage emergency vehicles.

Meanwhile, as it prepares for its re-opening, the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento will offer an outdoor display of museum vehicles on June 27.

Burbank book store welcomes authors again

Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank, California, resumes its author autograph sessions June 27 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., featuring Diego Rosenberg and Rob Kinnan and their book, Cobra Jet: The History of Ford’s Greatest High-Performance Muscle Cars.

Mark your calendar

The Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, will host a “community comeback” July 10-11. On July 10, the Delton-Kellogg High School Class of 2020 will stage its graduation ceremony in an outdoor drive-in format on the Gilmore campus. On the 11th, the Grammy Award-winning group, The English Rain, a Beatles cover band, will perform in an outdoor concert on the Gilmore stage. For details, visit the museum website.

The RV/MH Hall of Fame (that’s RV/MH as in Recreation Vehicle/Motor Home) in Elkhart, Indiana, holds its Hall of Fame induction ceremony on August 3.

The AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, opens two new exhibits on September 12 — “Yeah, It’s Got a Hemi!” and “Minibike Mania.”

Does your local car museum have special events or exhibitions planned? Let us know. Email larrye@classiccars.com

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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