Now replaced by a computer-culture characterized by a blitzkrieg of rapidly advancing digital technology with no end in sight, the car-culture, once woven into the very fabric of our nation's heart and soul, is solidly a thing of the past. _To those who grew up in it, this only enhances its nostalgia. _Back in the day, cars were rolling status symbols, the manifestation of an individual's success and a family's social station, and everybody drove the best car they could afford. _From the very beginning, automobiles surpassed the utilitarian need for a machine that would simply get the job done and became, with that, works of rolling art reflecting the optimism of a nation in the midst of industrial revolution. _And never were automobiles so stylish as during the post-Victorian, here-and-gone spark of inspiration to become known as "The Brass-Era."
In spite of the relative brevity of this first automotive epoch, development and significant change within its bounds came fast and furious, and that's a big part of what made it so interesting. _Up to around 1906, most automobiles were little more than glorified golf carts, with one or two-cylinder engines hidden beneath their very nicely upholstered seats. _Overnight, there were giant seven-passenger touring cars with four and six-cylinder powerplants of locomotive displacement—and those magnificent engines were up front where they belonged!
As claimed by some of the more ardent purists who see Packard's electric lamps and Cadillac's self-starter as technological disqualification from the fundamental category of "horseless carriage," by 1912, the brass era was in steep decline, if not already ended. _I would disagree with that. _In fact, 1911 and '12 were the years when hang-the-expense, diamond-tufted, robber-baron luxury was still constrained—however close to the bursting point—by the archaic technology of primer-petcocks, hand-oiled valve trains and "Armstrong" starters. _The most lavish of behemoths still had flat wooden dashboards, kerosene lanterns, hickory-spoke wheels and throttles in the oddest of places. _Purists notwithstanding, the Horseless Carriage Club of America decided that 1915 was a nice round number and closed the brass chapter there, but I think their reckoning also missed the mark—by a year. _By deciding to retain the brass radiator on the most influential and important automobile in history through the 1916 model-year, Henry Ford, who seemed to pride himself on being the first to be last, single-handedly (and in spite of what the HCCA has to say) nudged the expiry of the Brass-Era back 365 days, bless his retrograde little heart. _Had it been any other car, I wouldn't be making this observation, but it was the Tin Lizzie that was inexpensive enough to become "every man's car;" it was Ford's fabulous Flivver that was manufactured in greater numbers than any American automobile—ever. _And it was the Model T Ford that put the world on wheels. _The influence of this single automobile was just too great for it to be disqualified from recognition as the last of the Brass-Era automobiles merely for the sake of a round number. _The cut-off point should have been the last day of 1916. _Just my humble opinion.
As hobbies go, the acquisition, care and feeding of one or more collector-cars will always be significantly more expensive than, say, calligraphy or arts & crafts. _In the world of Brass-Era automobiles, a Pierce-Arrow or Locomobile can cost as much as a new house and the majority of lesser horseless carriages like Maxwell or Buick can still easily run thirty-grand—and more. _Fortunately there is a lowest-common-denominator admission ticket: the beloved and relatively inexpensive 1914-15 Ford Model T. _Yup, there it is again. _God bless Ford's diminutive Tin Lizzie, for without her, there'd have been no way for yours truly and many others to gain admission to the world of wooden spokes, tire-irons and 2-man tops.
Today, there exists a paradox among collector-car enthusiasts: Though unpopular in the sense that you won't see too many brass horseless carriages at the neighborhood cruise-in or even at most car-shows, they are nevertheless a favorite among the general public. _Heck, I can be parked next to an ultra-rare, multi-million dollar Ferrari, but when spectators walk over, they're coming to see my cheap-as-dirt, Brass Ford.
Now, we Horseless Carriage types do suffer a unique problem within the old-car hobby; that of our cars simply not being able to keep up with their Swing-Era brethren. _See, almost any automobile built from the mid-thirties on up can be driven on highways, but the majority of Brass blue-smoke makers just don't have the juice to do that. _For us, it's either a trailer, with its accompanying inconveniences and storage space requirements, or we simply can't range very far from home. _I find, though, that the incomparable uniqueness of the Brass Beasts is more than sufficient compensation for their driving limitations.
While it's true that there's something for everyone in the collector-car hobby and the working-class, post-war lead-sledders and fin-fans are having just as much fun as the affluent go-fast crowd, with their computer designed, carbon-fiber-bodied supercars, there's also something to be said for the experience of wrestling an engine to life with a hand-crank, strapping on a pair of goggles and enjoying life in the brass lane.
What he said.
I think if the HCCA ever decides to change their "1915" date, it should be for one year-or one-half year, as that's when Ford finally left the brass era, just because of the huge quantity of brass cars Ford built. Granted, by the middle of '16, he did switch to black radiator shells, so maybe it should be 1916 year-model cars.
Folks probably thought that would be too confusing, so just settled on end of year '15, which does include a lot of '16 year-models, such as mine (Dec 10, 1915).
I take great pride in that every show I go to when I have a crowd around my T and a "30's" vehicle with the Chebby eng and ford rear people just glance at them as they walk by. The last show I went to I even had someone ask me why my T didn't win a trophy because it was definitely drawing a crowd. I just smiled and said the people know what they like... the judges like Billet! Made me feel good!
A local parish has an annual car show (usually 3-400 cars) as one of their fund-raisers. When I'd sold my Cabriolet and didn't have an entry, our Postmaster (also the 'lead' organizer of the event), asked me if I'd be willing to silently & objectively serve to identify the 'Best of Show'? "Father X ALWAYS picks Thunderbirds!" Glad to help out!
Many beautiful and unique vehicles and exhibits, but I was considering who actually presented the 'labor of love', while not screaming "Look at Me!".... Recognized a Gent who was in his 80's, who had done numerous restorations by himself. Inspection time. What I saw was his perfect & spotless 1914 Runabout rising to the top of my list. My mental notes had been transcribed, and I provided my facts and reasoning.
'Awards Time' came. When he hadn't won any 'Class' awards, he was preparing to leave. I had to encourage friends to devise devious ways of keeping him 'there' to the finish, a task in itself! We were successful... The appropriate respect, and recognition, by the crowd came with that final award!
Sometimes, maybe recognition requires more than a 'fat wallet' to acquire a 'factory hot rod', and just to be in a car show??
Excellent piece Bob C! I thoroughly enjoyed it.
And Marv K, You probably made that gentleman's decade! Good for you.
The HCCA has been arguing that cut-off since before the club was founded in 1937. It began as a sort of loosely defined "pre-'15". Got out of control with cars of the '20s and '30s dominating tours. Then reigned in to a hard and fast simple "pre 1915", but how do you define that? That argument seems to flare up about every ten to fifteen years, always with an unhappy compromise tighter definition. Usually followed by quiet gripes about being unfair or unenforceable for someone.
There are a lot of HCCA people that believe the mark was missed, and 1912 model year would have been a better choice. One of my longest time best friends has stated his firm belief in that. I think he is right.
That, however, is probably a genie that cannot be put back into the bottle. About half of all HCCA members tour primarily with a 1914 or '15 built car, even if they have something earlier. If a real effort was made to cut it back to 1912, many, probably thousands, of 1913 to '16 cars would lose value and desirability. It would not go over very well at all.
I am also of firm belief that the HCCA should not expand farther into the nickel era. My reasoning is simple. The brass era cars ARE unique in history. They are crude, difficult, often slow, and require special care and understanding. As valuable pieces of history, they NEED a club that caters to their era of cars, and the HCCA should be that club.
That is MY opinion.
Maybe more some other time.
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
Whoa! Bob is the E. B. White of our time. Very well done.
I am pretty much in agreement with Wayne's posting, except when it comes to the '16 year model of Model Ts. My '16 touring qualifies, since it was made in 1915, Dec 10 to be exact. An identical car doesn't qualify because it was made Jan 3, 1916. I can't speak for other makes, but this just doesn't seem fair--if the car were different in some significant way (the Jan car might have clipped springs instead of tapered) I could understand it. BUT, I also realize you have to have some sort of easily followed rule.
And I agree, that expanding into the Nickel era is not wise for the HCCA, those cars are a different animal-and I say that even though I own a May '16 Dodge Brothers; it is a Nickel-era car with nickel plating on many trim pieces.