COAL: My Father Through The Cars Of His Lifetime

If you can learn a great deal about people from the automobiles they purchase and drive, then I’d like to introduce you to my father, Carl E. Mueller (1906-1970). Dad was a dentist, a loving husband and father, and a respected member of his community and church. And as you will see, he didn’t hang on to his cars very long before he decided to buy a new one. Using family photos, period advertisements and car invoices, I’ll give you a look at his many purchases over four decades.

1. 1931 Oldsmobile Sedan

My father opened his dental office in 1930, so it is safe to assume that this ’31 Olds was the first car he purchased. However, I have no photos or documentation of this car, other than it being listed as a trade-in for his next automobile purchase. This picture taken from an ad for Oldsmobiles suggests what the car might have looked like.


2. 1933 Oldsmobile F-33 Sedan

This is the first of my father’s cars for which I could find an invoice. I have no photos of this car either, but you can see from the picture taken from an advertisement that the ’33 model had become a little more “modern” looking, with a sleek new front end, streamlined fenders and a little more shape to the body.

Other than the purchase date, cost of the new Olds, and what he got in trade for the ’31 sedan, the invoice doesn’t tell us much about the transaction. Note, however, that the dealer carried both Oldsmobiles and their more expensive companion car, the Viking. Vikings were produced only a couple of years while General Motors was trying to expand their line of automobiles; Buick dealers also sold the Marquette and Cadillac had the more popular LaSalle. By ’33, when Dad bought his second Olds, Vikings were no longer being assembled, so I’m not sure why the dealership continued to include them on their invoice.

The invoice also indicates that Dad was still living at home on Delamont Avenue with his mother and sisters. He moved out the following year when he married my mother, so it is likely that the happy couple were driving around in his ’33 Olds both before and after the wedding.


3. 1935 DeSoto Airflow Sedan

Five months after his marriage, my father purchased a new and radically different car. Walter Chrysler’s Airflow designs were never as popular as he had hoped, and DeSoto’s version on the shorter wheelbase was even less popular than the Chrysler Airflow. Dad switched from Oldsmobile to DeSoto, moved from his mother’s home to a rented house on Wallace Street, and motored into married life in a streamlined sedan painted “French Beige.” These were several bold moves, but one was to meet with disaster almost immediately.

Within a couple of months, and with my mother behind the wheel, the ’35 DeSoto was involved in a serious crash; while my mother was uninjured, thanks perhaps to the more rigid unibody construction of the Airflow, but the car itself took some heavy hits.


4. 1936 DeSoto Airflow Sedan

My father bought his second Airflow DeSoto just months after his first one. His second Airflow was remarkably similar to his first; he even ordered the same paint color. Notice too that he received a trade-in allowance for the repaired ’35.

There were minimal decorative changes from the ’35 to ’36 models such as grill and hood louver designs. That year’s advertisements made much of the Airflow III, but in reality this was the final year of production for this model DeSoto.

My father seemed happy, however. His wife was safe and his car had been replaced. This is the first photo I have of him with one of the automobiles he had purchased.


5. 1939 Chrysler Royal Sedan

Three years later, when my father returned to buy his next car at his local dealership, he found they no longer sold DeSotos, and he ended up with his first Chrysler. The cost of this entry-level sedan was actually lower than his DeSoto and the color was green rather than beige, but it was still aerodynamic if not as radically as the earlier Airflows. Note Dad’s change in address; in 1938 he had built a new house on the outskirts of the village which was to be his home for the rest of his life.

I have no family photos of this Chrysler, but the following advertisement shows a Royal in its all green splendor. In 1939 this certainly looked “modern.”


6. 1941 Chrysler Club Coupe Model C28

In 1941, my father bought the car that he would have to keep throughout the Second World War. It was his first coupe, and it seems stylish both in this contemporary advertisement and in the family photo of Dad smiling in front of his newest car.

What made this car special was the transmission. For 1941, Chrysler introduced the Vacamatic transmission with Fluid Drive, a fairly basic semi-automatic transmission developed to compete with the Hydramatic automatic introduced in 1940 on Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs. While cars equipped with Vacamatic still had a clutch, it was not required for normal driving. On the invoice for the Club Coupe, Fluid Drive and Vacamatic were listed as “extra equipment,” costing Dad an additional $93.50.


7. 1947 Chrysler Sedan C38

I know very little about my father’s first post-war sedan, other than that he traded it in for a new car in 1950. Chrysler began producing cars again late in 1945 as ’46 models, and these were almost identical to the ’47 model that Dad purchased. While I do not have either an invoice or a family photo of this car, ironically I remember it; as a small child, I was about eye-level to the Chrysler’s grill, a feature prominent in this ad from the period as well as my first memory of any of our family cars.


8. 1950 Buick Super Riviera Sedan – Model 52

By the time my father purchased his first Buick in January of 1951, his family had increased by a second son. After nearly two decades of Chrysler products, this switch back to General Motors cars must have seemed fairly momentous, and this relationship would continue through Buicks and Chevrolets for almost another two decades. Note also that this ’50 Buick Super was equipped with a Dynaflow transmission; Dad would never again purchase a manual transmission for the rest of his life.

While I have no family photos of this car, a period ad conveys the excitement of owning a 1950 Buick.


9. 1954 Buick Super Sedan – Model 52

I remember this car very well from my childhood. It was a Two Tone with a light blue body and a white top, and we took many trips in it. Large sections of the New York State Thruway were opened in 1954-55, and I recall Dad testing the 60 mph speed limit when the section nearest home was opened.

We also drove distances on state highways to visit relatives. I took this photo of Mom and Dad in front of their Buick after a 90 mile trip to the middle of the state to see Aunt Emmy and Uncle George. Dad looks a little worse for wear after that journey.


10. 1957 Buick Super Riviera Sedan – Model 53

Another Buick Super, but some good stories to go with the car. Note this invoice is from a dealership from a different town over 30 miles from our home. Dad was driving through Cobleskill in our ’54 Super when he passed the local Buick dealership. With the windows down, Dad heard a salesman yell to him that it was time to trade up to a new Buick. After little more than a block, Dad turned around, entered the dealership and left some time later having ordered a new car! I don’t know my mother’s reaction to all this, but I remember being in awe. Plus, this was Dad’s first hardtop, a popular style in the 1950s.

This was a big car and a big price, over a thousand dollars more expensive than our last Buick. It was, however, one of the most comfortable cars Dad ever drove, and that was important because the following year this was the car we drove across the United States. We travelled west on Route 66, visited Disneyland, saw the Grand Canyon, the works! It was a wonderful car that gave us wonderful memories. In the photo, you can see Dad sitting in the front passenger seat and your author with his arm extended out the back window.


11. 1960 Chevrolet Impala Sport Sedan

I’m not sure whose decision it was to spend less on our next car, but our ’60 Impala was less expensive by far. It still had automatic transmission (now referred to as Turboglide), two-tone paint, power steering and brakes, and a push-button radio, and it was a sharp-looking hardtop, but it wasn’t a Buick.

Still, my parents seemed happy with the car; I took this photo of them smiling broadly in their driveway.


12. The Last Three Cars

I have fond memories but neither invoices nor photos of my father’s last three cars:

* 1963 Chevrolet Impala Sedan – This was another big Chevy, comfortable and green. I drove it on a couple of dates, but by this time I was in college and didn’t see much of it.

* 1965 Chevrolet Impala Super Sport Coupe – With this car, Dad returned to coupe ownership, and he did it with style. This classic was white with a black vinyl top and black interior, complete with bucket seats. The first time my mother drove up to my college dorm in this car, I could not believe my eyes.

* 1969 Chrysler Newport Coupe – This was my father’s last car. If some of his previous cars handled like boats, this Newport was an aircraft carrier (and the hood looked long enough to land a plane on). After Dad died my mother drove it, and I drove it for a while after she passed away.

I think my father enjoyed his cars, but they weren’t central to his life. He liked his cars big, comfortable and fairly new, and I think he saw them primarily as family transportation. All of this makes more sense when you look at this final photograph.


Bonus Car: 1916 Studebaker Touring Car

Look at the people posing in front of this Studebaker. Seated in the front row in knickers, between his father and his brother Arthur, is my father, Carl Mueller. It was my grandfather’s Studebaker, but my father is smiling just as broadly as if he were the owner, and everyone else seems just as happy as he is. Family and friends, gathering around a car and smiling; that’s where Dad learned about what automobiles were all about when he was growing up, that is what I learned riding in my father’s cars. I hope that is an idea that everyone can pass on (along with smiles and happy memories) to future generations.