We’ve all made that list of which books (or CDs or movie stars) we’d want to have if stuck on a desert island. But if you thought that choice was tough, here’s the real challenge: which two cars would you put on display to represent the American automotive industry?
That’s the question curators at the Smithsonian Institution were asking themselves when they began preparing a new exhibit for the National Museum of American History. They’re ducking the issue by turning the question over to the public, asking them to vote as part of what they’ve dubbed the “Race to the Museum.”
The folks at the Smithsonian have narrowed the choices down to eight models that cover most of the first century of the American auto industry – indeed, offering up an 1880 steam-powered trike, built in Massachusetts, that significantly predates the 1896 Duryea that most experts cite as the start of U.S. automotive manufacturing.
Another early offering is the 1894 Balzer, a primitive 4-wheeler that was the first automobile to navigate the streets of New York. It was built by a Tiffany-trained watchmaker.
Motor sports are represented in the form of a 1929 Miller supercharged Indy car – the one that set a then jaw-dropping speed record of 143 mph.
One of the lesser-known prospects is the 1953 Glasspar, California boat builder Bill Tritt’s fiberglass sports car — which hit market about the same time as the better-known Chevrolet Corvette, the other pioneer of fiberglass technology.
General Motors, in fact, has three models in the running, though the 1903 Oldsmobile Curved Dash Runabout was built well before Ransom E. Olds sold his company to the newly-formed GM. The Detroit automaker’s other two models, curiously, both feature alternative propulsion systems. There’s the EV1 electric vehicle and the maker’s solar-powered concept vehicle, the Sunraycer.
But in preliminary voting, the favorite has been the long-controversial 1948 Tucker, of which barely 50 were built. The Tucker, with its distinctive, turning third headlight, was the dream of Preston Tucker, who some labeled a visionary, others a con man. He was eventually cleared in a trial for alleged financial irregularities – a verdict that capped a 1988 film starring Jeff Bridges – but the company had by then gone bust. Nonetheless, the Tucker was hailed for its distinctive design and a variety of advanced safety innovations.
The Tucker now has 34% of the vote, the Miller 33%. The number three entry, the Olds, barely comes close, at 11%.
The voting, which began on December 21, continues through January 11, 2011, so there’s still time to cast your own ballot, by Clicking Here.