When I was 20 or so years old, my best friend’s dad was playing Robert Johnson on the CD player at his house, and I immediately bought myself a copy of Mr. Johnson’s “complete recordings.” One of his famous hits was “Terraplane Blues,” which is certainly a metaphor for infidelity, something for which I have neither the stomach nor the inclination to try. During these morose days of quarantining, therefore, I prefer to take Johnson’s muse more literally by scrolling through my backlog of car show pictures to 2013. At the Ypsilanti Orphan Car Show in Michigan, I took pictures of Terraplanes and more, starting with this 1934 model.
This is not meant to be a marque history lesson, just a simple jaunt in a picturesque park some years ago. Because I have used the Terraplane name as a starting point, however, it is appropriate that I should mention that the nameplate was a sub-nameplate of a sub-nameplate, namely, a sub-model of an Essex, which was a sub-model of a Hudson. Confusing? Well, early on, the Terraplane was called the Essex-Terraplane, and the Terraplane itself only lasted from 1932 to 1938, so you’re excused if you’re confused. The car above is a 1937 model.
This is a rear image of the same car. Although its owner apparently enjoys keeping his/her speed down, the Terraplane was well-known as a budget performance car for its era. Gangsters such as John Dillinger approved of its performance by appropriating one when they got the chance.
The last of the Terraplanes arrived in 1938, although Hudson began to phase them out as the model year elapsed, calling them “Hudson-Terraplanes” before replacing them with the similar Hudson 112.
The 1938 Terraplane interior is what one might expect from an era where telling one make from another was quite difficult, especially from the rear of the car.
See what I mean?
Essex itself was represented at the 2013 show by this 1930 model, a model that illuminates how quickly streamlining came into vogue over the course of a few short years.
As we all know, Hudson itself only outlasted its sub-brands by about 20 years, as the august nameplate (belonging to a Detroit department store owner, by the way) breathed its last on the flanks of a Nash body. American Motors decided to drop both the Nash and Hudson nameplates after 1957, a few years after the two companies had merged. For the next several years, American Motors focused solely on the Rambler line of cars, which would (temporarily, it turns out) bring them great success.
Speaking of which, American Motors cars are never in short supply at the Orphan Car Show. I photographed this Marlin from the same perspective that Rambler’s advertising depicted, probably for the same reason that the most common adjective I have seen when referring to the Marlin is “ungainly.” Regardless, I thought about buying one once, although the same could be said about almost every car ever produced in America.
Perhaps a little easier on the eyes is this 1974 Javelin AMX. With swelling fenders à la Corvette, the second-generation Javelin looked more muscular; indeed, Dick Teague always had a few tricks up his sleeve when he wielded a pen. The two-seater AMX only lasted from 1968 to 1970 before becoming a racier version of the regular Javelin. I’ve always liked the AMX grille, and the overall effect makes one think of Mark Donohue entering Turn 1 at Lime Rock, or something equally romantic.
A distant precursor to the AMX was this jaunty looking Nash Ambassador Suburban, a 1948 model. According to Consumer Guide, Nash produced only 130 Suburbans that year; this must be one of the only ones extant today.
Another beloved orphan in the car world is Studebaker, and almost as uncommon as a wood-sided Nash is this 1963 Lark Daytona Wagonaire: a fun, quirky example of why so many people still like these cars.
The Wagonaire was a little half-baked, as the sliding roof had a reputation as a leaker, but if you wanted a truck without having a truck, this was a fascinating alternative. A turquoise Matchbox version has its place in my long burgeoning toy collection.
The Lark Daytona also offered a sliding sunroof on its hardtop models; Studebaker called it “Skytop.” Hardtop 1962 and ’63 Larks are my favorite of the breed, their almost European styling updated from the original by Brooks Stevens. The Studebaker/Mercedes-Benz dealer connection may have had some influence on Stevens’s pen, or maybe it was just coincidence.
Here is the ’62 Skytop as shown at the 2011 Orphan Car Show.
Here’s a short clip of a Skytop commercial.
The Avanti was, of course, Studebaker’s true glamour queen, a last ditch effort to save the car side of the conglomerate. It didn’t work, but the Avanti, especially with round headlights, was a beautiful car.
This one is owned by a man in one of my neighboring towns; my wife sees it on the road reasonably often.
Almost as exotic as the Avanti was this 1958 Golden Hawk, with a supercharged 289 under its heavily updated hood. Like Dick Teague over at AMC, Studebaker was usually able to get a lot of mileage out of a basic body design. It had to. Its sales and profits precluded new platforms on a regular basis; in fact, the basic 1953 body was the basis of not only the later Hawks, but the Larks as well.
Orphans, however, are not the strict purview of the independents, as this 1941 DeSoto proves.
This one looks like the Custom three-window coupe, as the lower line Deluxe model didn’t wear the generous taillight trim of our example. The proportions on these are…interesting, but I like them.
They only seat three across, but the trunk must be enormous. The Custom Coupe cost a mere $982 when new, the only Custom model to come in under the thousand dollar price point. All DeSotos were six-cylinder propelled in 1941, to the tune of 105 horsepower. Fluid-Drive was still several years off.
The 1942 DeSoto was rendered vaguely more exotic by its concealed headlights, a one-year-only feature, but there were few changes aside from styling updates.
Even Plymouth is now an orphan, making this fancy 1941 Special Deluxe welcome in Ypsilanti. Plymouth produced over 10,000 convertibles in 1941, each starting under $1000. I think I would choose this car over a DeSoto coupe in 1941, even if it did give up 27 cubic inches and 23 horsepower to its intra-corporate competitor.
Even the parking lot was a car show, with this ’51 Plymouth occupying a spot near one of its descendants. This one looks like a short-wheelbase Concord two-door sedan.
This plain but handsome little fastback offers us a good place to stop. The Ypsilanti Orphan Car Show usually takes place around September 15th, so there’s still a chance that it could happen this year. My selection of pictures simply represents my interests on the day I took them, but you’ll find your fill of Kaisers, Mercurys, Corvairs (they’re accepted–they were built nearby), and foreign makes that are no longer offered on our shores.
Until then, go fire up some blues from the delta and dream about your favorite forgotten car.