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HAVING MENTIONED MY Cleveland heritage yesterday, Cubs’ fans may rightfully clamor for equal time. (Indeed, Daughter Beth and her family live in Chicago.) With them in mind, today let’s celebrate that city’s World’s Fair of 1933.
While perhaps not as splashy as the New York World’s Fairs of 1939 or 1964, Chicago’s Century of Progress certainly had a lot to entertain the automotive enthusiast. In Automobile Quarterly -First Quarter 1987. Volume 25, Number 1, Julie Fenster gives details of the fair; of four memorable cars shown there, the Golden Packard, Duesenberg Twenty Grand, Silver Pierce-Arrow and Cadillac Aerodynamic; and also of another remarkable car, the Dymaxion, that tragically didn’t make the show.
Here are tidbits gleaned from Julie’s article, plus a bit of trivia for Microsoft Flight Simulator enthusiasts.
Chevrolet, for instance, installed a functioning production line at the fair and raffled off its first car to one of 400,000 Chicago school kids. Eight-year-old Dorothy Maciejewska won; the Chevy was the family’s first automobile.
Chrysler, Ford and GM each had its own building, but none was so grand as the fair’s Travel and Transport Building. At the time, it contained the largest unobstructed area enclosed under one roof. Its dome, noted the Official Fair Guide, was larger than that of the U.S. Capitol or Rome’s St. Peter’s.
People waited in line for two hours to see the Golden Packard with coachwork by Dietrich, the most talked-about car of the fair. No doubt its gold-plated interior fittings helped, together with its opulent burled Carpathian elm, English broadcloth and beaver rug.
The Golden Packard’s popularity may seem incongruous during the Great Depression. On the other hand, fair-goers enjoyed its opulence with the same enthusiasm that filled 1930s’ movie houses for viewing high-glamor flicks.
The Duesenberg Twenty Grand came by its name honestly. Lesser Duesenbergs of the era were $13,000 to $17,950, but this Rollston-bodied example on a supercharged J chassis topped them all. To put its $20,000 in perspective, Julie notes that in 1933 “a loaf of bread cost a nickel and a physician earned an annual salary of about $3300.” The CPI Inflation Calculator puts the Duesenberg’s price equivalent to more than $370,000 in today’s dollar.
What’s more, the 320-hp Duesie was to be driven, contrasted with riding in the sumptuous rear compartment of the Golden Packard.
Any styling award would have gone to the Silver Arrow by Pierce-Arrow. In fact, but for losing his job in a Depression staff cut, designer Phil Wright could have been defining this car’s lines for his previous employer, GM.
Julie identifies several notable features: “The roofline on the Silver Arrow swooped down at the rear into a pointed tail, interrupted only by a narrow, divided rear window…. The jut of the rear window was an echo of the windshield, which was V-shaped as well. And again, the pattern was augmented by the grille, also a V shape, cutting into the wind.”
Of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair exotics, the Cadillac Aerodynamic had the best legs: Cadillac actually produced perhaps 20 examples differing only in minor points, the Chicago car’s chrome trim around the windows, for instance. Its integration of hood and body, along with that chrome strip uniting the two, was retained.
Starling Burgess designed the 1933 Dymaxion under the direction of avant-garde thinker Buckminster Fuller. This aero-pod-shaped three-wheeler had its Ford V-8 engine–and steering!–in the rear.
The Dymaxion was scheduled to appear at the 1934 continuation of the Chicago World’s Fair. Easily the most radical car scheduled for exhibition, it was a no-show: The Dymaxion got into an impromptu drag race on a Chicago street not far from the fair. It crashed, its driver killed and passenger seriously injured.
A map of A Century of Progress might look familiar to enthusiasts of Microsoft Flight Simulator. Earlier versions of the sim based its virtual flight training at Chicago’s Merrill C. Meigs Field Airport.
Meigs was constructed on the site of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Its 2002 destruction, in the dead of night, was dictated by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Golly, will I ever run out of tales to share? ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016