Jul 23 2014

Petersen Museum Exhibit: Town Cars Arriving in Style- The 1897 Benz &  the 1915 Pierce-Arrow

The Petersen Automotive Museum of Los Angeles currently has a wonderful town car exhibit of 11 cars ranging from a 1897 Benz to a one-of-a kind postwar design. The exhibit will continue through February 2015.

Today's post features the two oldest town cars in the exhibit.


Howard Kroplick

Petersen Automotive Museum- Town Cars: Arriving in Style

Today the name Town Car is closely associated with Lincoln, but that was not always the case. From the early 1900s to the mid-1960s, the term “town car” referred to a body style distinguished by an open chauffeur’s compartment and an enclosed passenger area. Elegant and dignified, they were originally intended for city use on formal occasions and were almost always the most expensive body style offered by a manufacturer. The Petersen Automotive Museum’s newest exhibit Town Cars: Arriving in Style will feature only the finest examples of these ultra-formal vehicles including Fred Astaire’s classically styled 1927 Rolls-Royce and the one-of-a-kind 1959 Scimitar by Brooks Stevens. More than mere ostentatious relics of a bygone era, they provide us with a counterpoint to today’s best luxury cars and perfectly define an era when arriving in style was the ultimate personal statement.

1897 Benz Myloard Coupe. (Collection of Gerhard Schnuerer)

Like many correctly formal horse-drawn carriages of the late 1880s, the Benz Mylord was designed so that passengers sat in an enclosed compartment while the driver sat up front and in the open, a seating pattern that predicted the configuration of all town cars.

Karl Benz built the first Mylord Landaulet in 1897, shortly after obtaining a patent on his innovative "contra engine", a  horizontally opposed two-cylinder, water-cooled engine. The Benz was equipped with a three-speed, belt-driven planetary transmission and could reach a top speed of approximately 19 miles per hour.

After Beign discovered in a barne in England and restored in the U.S., this Benz has been shown at many Concours d'Elegance and has also participated in the prestigious London to Brighton Veteran Car Run in 2008.

1915 Pierce-Arrow Model 38-C Town Car by Kimball (Collection of Patrick and Kathryn Craig)

This Pierce-Arrow was fitted with one-of-a-kind custom coachwork by Kimball of Chicago for the Vanderbilt family, one of the wealthiest in the world at the time. The oval windows were a unique design element found on only a tiny handful of custom-bodied cars and offered a level of distinction that was difficult to match. The rear compartment featured a sofa-like seat sewn of fine wool and trimmed in brocade while retractable silk blinds were fitted to each window.

Possession of such a fashionable vehicle helped cement the owner's place in high society, posing an additional challenge to any would-be social rivals seeking to usurp their status. Pierce-Arrow was famous for its quality and craftsmanship, offering luxury vehicles to its affluent and celebrity clientele from 1901 to 1938.


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