The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History announced the winners of its “Race to the Museum” initiative: the 1929 Miller race car with 43 percent of the vote and the 1948 Tucker sedan with 23 percent of the vote. The Miller and the Tucker will be on display at the museum Jan. 22 to Feb. 21 near the “America on the Move” exhibition, first-floor East Wing.
The museum presented eight cars sampling the breadth of its vehicle collection for a public vote to determine the two top vote getters that would go on view. This is the first time that the Smithsonian has asked the public to help choose objects for display, a decision usually made by the curators, and the initiative has been a great success with almost 24,000 people voting over 22 days.
“These two vehicles are powerful cars from our past that blew everyone away with their looks and performance,” said curator Roger White. “They are not mainstream vehicles, but they represent the diversity of the museum’s automotive collection, which spans many technological and aesthetic highlights.”
The Miller, one of Harry Miller’s eight-cylinder, supercharged, front-wheel-drive race cars, hit the tracks in the late 1920s. These cars were unlike anything else that the competition could offer because they were light and fast. The aluminum-body Miller Car in the museum’s collection weighs 1,400 pounds and develops 230 horsepower. It was driven by Ralph Hepburn in the 1929 Indianapolis 500 although he did not win; the same car later set speed records of 143 miles per hour in Europe. The car took advantage of loopholes in American racing rules to make its mark; however, Detroit carmakers threatened to pull out of the Indy 500 because they could not compete with the “high-tech” handcrafted Miller cars. The track owner and Indy organizers altered the rules to outlaw supercharged cars and restrict the size of engines permitted. The car was given to the museum by Robert Rubin, who also gave a fund to care for the Miller car and the racing collection. It was last on display at the museum in 2002.
The Tucker automobile also has an interesting story. Preston Tucker billed his assault on Detroit car manufacturing in the late 1940s as “The First Completely New Car in Fifty Years.” He promised that his car would be fresh, advanced and different with its futuristic styling, rear engine and a rubber suspension. However, Tucker’s most important innovation was his obsession with safety. He insisted on a padded dashboard, an obstacle-free zone for the front passenger, a pop-out windshield and a turning center headlight. He stopped short of installing seat belts, thinking that they would harm sales. Fifty-one vehicles were made before financial problems halted production. Today 46 Tucker sedans exist and well preserve the legacy of the man who tried to change America’s driving habits. The museum’s Tucker is the 39th produced, and it was forfeited in a drug arrest and transferred to the museum by the U.S. Marshals Service.
The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To learn more about the museum, check http://americanhistory.si.edu
. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).
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