From The Editor: O Pioneers!

<< Back to Robb Report, August 2003

The solemn bands of farmers who in the 1840s first hitched their teams to covered wagons and slowly rolled forth across the unknown horizons beyond Independence, Mo., gave little thought, one suspects, to romantic notions of gold and Manifest Destiny. For all our zeal to cast them as giants on a mythic landscape, the pioneers were practical men and women whose paramount concern was simple survival. Many, of course, did not survive, and the future, like the Oregon Trail, would be paved with their blanched bones.

Such is the fate of many who cross frontiers, and the automotive realm is no exception: The road to modern transportation is littered with the windburned carcasses of many a visionary. Among these, few examples better illustrate the industry’s sudden shift from the production of low-volume, handcrafted vehicles for the patrician few to line-assembled machines for the many than Alexander Winton.

Winton, a Scottish immigrant, began his career as a bicycle manufacturer in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1896, his one-cylinder wonder rolled out of the shop, a contrivance resembling a hay cart supported on bicycle wheels; two years later, another Winton became the first commercially sold car in the United States. A pioneer not only in the field of engine design (he held more than 100 patents), Winton also blazed new trails as a brazen self-promoter, organizing speed races as well as cross-country tours to promote his stylish vehicles. The two-cylinder 1903 Winton was the first to cross the continent, from San Francisco to New York, and the Winton Six, his most popular creation, drove his company to prosperity in the decade following 1910.

The motor of Winton’s personal success, however, sputtered to a halt in the 1920s, when he refused to recognize what had more prescient automakers licking their lips: the mounting middle-American lust to join their betters on the open roads. This failure had been symbolized earlier, in 1901, when Winton (despite a 44-hp advantage over his opponent) had lost a much-touted race in Grosse Pointe, Mich., to an obscure car maker named Henry Ford, who, as result of his victory, managed to secure financial backing for his struggling concern.


The final stroke of the piston, as it were, came with the loss of Winton’s core clientele, the beaver-coat-clad plutocrats, who began to look to newer, sportier luxury marques for their kicks—companies like Cadillac and Packard. The latter, Winton himself inadvertently helped to found when industrialist James Packard purchased one of Winton’s finest in 1898. On the return trip from Cleveland to Packard’s home 50 miles distant, the car broke down repeatedly, coating Packard in a rich layer of grease. Packard returned the car to Winton, demanding certain alterations to the design. Winton haughtily suggested to Packard that, if he knew so much about cars, he should build one of his own.

Winton, whose company shut down in 1924, would have much company in the tar pits of extinct automakers. This month, we present the beautiful bones of three of the industry’s more contemporary inductees (“Auto Exotica,” page 67): the Tatra, the Bizzarrini, and the Bristol, each of whose designs established new standards of beauty and lived on, if not commercially, at least to inform subsequent generations of fine automobiles. A partial exception, Bristol continues to turn out a handful of Blenheims each year—though, as author Robert Farago notes, the marque’s finest moments are as much a memory as the Winton Six.

 

 

Corrections

At least a couple of readers, including a member of the Swiss embassy in Washington, D.C., noticed that in our description of the Alinghi SUI-64 as the “Best of the Best Sailboats” (June 2003), we mistakenly ceded Lausanne to the French when we identified Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne as being in France. As Jack Pogany, an English language media consultant for the EPFL, noted, the error would be the equivalent of writing about “Canada’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”


In the description of Singapore Airlines’ first-class amenities in “Best of the Best Airlines” (June 2003), we wrote that the seats convert into 6-foot-4-inch beds, when in fact they convert into 6-foot-6-inch beds. A negligible error perhaps, but when you are in bed, at least, every inch counts.

Our description of Hokuli`a as one of the best golf communities (June 2003) included an incorrect phone number. The correct number is 888.817.0833.

Readers may have been surprised to see an ocean-size water hazard in what was supposed to be a photo of a La Quinta golf course in our “Best Places to Live” feature (July 2003). The water hazard is indeed an ocean; the photo is not of La Quinta.

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