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Who was Ralph Teetor and why is he in the Automotive Hall of Fame?

Our weekly roundup of car museum news and notes


Fascinating story in the Automotive Hall of Fame museum newsletter from Dearborn, Michigan, regarding Ralph Teetor. “Who?” you might ask. 

Turns out that in 1945, engineer Ralph Teetor created the technology we know as cruise control, though he called it “Speedostat” in his patent application.

Making Teetor’s creation all the more impressive was the fact that he was blind.

museum, Who was Ralph Teetor and why is he in the Automotive Hall of Fame?, ClassicCars.com Journal
Ralph Teetor

Born in Hagerstown, Indiana, in 1890, Teetor lost his sight as a youngster, but his father and uncles trained him to be a machinist and at age 13, Teetor built his own car. 

He earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, helped the U.S. Navy balance steam-turbine rotors on its ships during World War I, and went to work for the family company, Perfect Circle Corporation, as lead engineer for the automotive supplier. 

Teetor’s sense of touch was remarkable and there are stories about him inspecting castings and identifying variances as small as .002 inch.

His Speedostat was inspired by Teetor’s driver. Teetor didn’t like the way his driver varied his car’s speed as they traveled so he created a device that would enable a consistent rate of travel. Chrysler became the first to install what it called “Auto-Pilot” into its vehicles in 1958. Cadillac followed suit a year later with the now-generically recognized “Cruise Control.”

In 1945, Teetor addressed a group of blind World War II veterans, telling them, “you are not handicapped so long as you can think logically.”

Semi-Autonomous Corvette on display

museum, Who was Ralph Teetor and why is he in the Automotive Hall of Fame?, ClassicCars.com Journal
The SAM Corvette | Museum photo

After his body but not his spirit was shattered in a crash during an Indycar race, Sam Schmidt vowed to drive again around the famed Brickyard. That was made possible with the help of Arrow Electronics, which worked with Schmidt to produce SAM, the Semi-Autonomous Motorcar that Schmidt drove at more than 100 mph around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

Schmidt also has driven SAMs up Pikes Peak and reached 192 mph in a demonstration run. He also has been granted a one-off Nevada license to drive Arrow Corvettes on public roads. 

And now, the original SAM Corvette has gone on display at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Petersen offers online preview

Although the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles has yet to re-open because of coronavirus pandemic restrictions, its staff has been busy preparing three new exhibits, and you can preview them online. 

The exhibits are:

  • Supercars: A Century of Spectacle and Speed, featuring such vehicles as the 1991 Ferrari F40 and 1998 McLaren F1 LM.
  • Extreme Conditions, featuring such vehicles as the 1989 Porshce 964 “Desert Flyer” that raced in Mexico; “Goldirocks,” a rock-crawler Jeep raced by the late Jessi Combs; a 2020 Land Rover Defender Trek; and a pair of Zero South Hummer H1s that traveled across Antarctica.
  • Redefining Performance, featuring such Porsches as a 1951 356SL Gmund Coupe, 1979 935 Kremer K3 and 2016 911 RSR.

Costume party car show

Although the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California, remains closed due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions, it is staging an online costume party car show starting November 8 and running until winners are announced on the 12th. For details, visit the museum website.

Gilmore offers ‘Haunted Hunt’

Speaking of Halloween tricks and treats, the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, will stage a “Haunted Hunt” on October 29, 30 and 31. 

“Spooky clues will lead you through the campus and when completed, the kids will receive a small bag of candy,” the museum said. “It’s sure to be a fun and safe alternative to traditional trick or treating.”

Beaulieu opens its workshop

Britain’s National Motor Museum at Beaulieu is opening its vehicle workshop to non-museum vehicles. 

“For nearly half a century, the workshop engineers have kept the National Motor Museum’s prestigious vehicle collection in tip-top order, tackling Land Speed Record breakers, legendary racing cars, unique luxury limousines, film star cars and more,” the museum said in its announcement. 

“Now the workshop engineers are offering the same quality of service to private owners of historic vehicles, from veteran and vintage cars all the way up to pre-1970s classics.”

For more information, vehicle owners can email [email protected].

Indy shares ZoomCast

If you missed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum’s recent ZoomCast featuring historian Donald Davidson and broadcaster Bob Jenkins, or if you simply want to watch it again, it is now available for viewing on the museum’s YouTube channel.

Special events this weekend

museum, Who was Ralph Teetor and why is he in the Automotive Hall of Fame?, ClassicCars.com Journal
1935 Voisin C-25 Aerodyne | Museum photo by Michael Furman

The Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California, continues the Under the Hood video series on its YouTube channel on October 16 with a detailed look at the 1935 Voisin Type C25 Aerodyne.

The Newport Car Museum in Rhode Island stages a “hoods-up” weekend October 17-18 with the engines exposed on more than 75 vehicles.

On October 17, the Mustang Owners Museum in Concord, North Carolina, stages “Mustang Hold’em and National Bullitt Day” with a “poker run” rally with Ford or Mustang-related stops along the route.

The Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, hosts a cars & coffee event from 7 a.m. until 9 a.m. on October 17. Because of a 50-car limit, vehicle owners must pre-register through the museum’s website.

museum, Who was Ralph Teetor and why is he in the Automotive Hall of Fame?, ClassicCars.com Journal

The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana, hosts co-authors Jim Allen and John Glancy and their book, “The International Scout Encyclopedia” for a presentation and question-and-answer session at 2 p.m. on October 17. 

Muscle Car City in Punta Gorda, Florida, hosts its monthly car show October 17 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.

The Murphy Auto Museum in Oxnard, California, re-opens October 17. Plans call for the museum to be open to visitors from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays for the time being.

Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank, California, hosts author Matt Stone and his latest book, Bullitt: The Cars and The People Behind Steve McQueen, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on October 17.

Mark your calendar

With rain earlier this month forcing a change in plans, the Fall Ford Garage Sale at the Mustang Owner’s Museum in Concord, North Carolina, has been moved to October 24 and will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California, re-opens to visitors on October 24, though with limitations on the number of visitors at any given time. 

Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank, California, hosts author Pete Evanow and his book Nissan: 50 Years of Exhilarating Performance from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on October 24.

The AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, plans special “Spooky Halloween” events for children on October 24, 25 and 31. For details, visit the museum website.

The British Motor Museum at Gaydon plans a “Rocket-Fueled Half-Term” packed with activities for young visitors from October 24 through November 1. Visit the museum website for details.

The British National Motor Museum at Beaulieu offers a special exhibition, “Motoring in Miniature — the Toys of Your Childhood,” during England’s “Half-Term” school recess period October 24 to November 1. 

The Murphy Auto Museum in Oxnard, California, hosts its first Sunday cars and coffee car show — Muscles & Mojo — on November 1. The event runs from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, hosts its annual “Vets ’n Vettes” event November 12-14. On the 14th, the museum’s Motorsports Park offers a 1-day high-performance driver introduction designed for those new to “recreational performance driving.” For details, visit the track website.

The Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee opens a new exhibit, “Off-Road Harley-Davidson” on November 21.

“In the decades before America paved its highways, early riders had to be prepared for all sorts of terrain: sand, clay or dirt – and wandering those makeshift byways were Harley-Davidson motorcycles,” the museum notes. “Today, it’s called off-road or adventure touring; back then it was just called riding. 

“Since 1903, Harley-Davidson motorcycles proved their toughness by riding over wooded hills, through stone-choked creek beds and up mountain sides. ‘Off-road Harley-Davidson’ tells the history of motorcycles designed for rough roads, the people who rode them and the adventures they shared.”

Does your local car museum have special events or exhibitions planned? Let us know. Email [email protected]

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
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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