The 2022 edition of the annual Revival Glidden Tour is in the books. It wrapped up last Friday, September 30, 2022, with a closing banquet at the host hotel outside of Princeton, NJ. In all, 115 pre-1943 cars were registered; an unofficial count states that 7 cars did not finish the tour due to various mechanical issues; a small number were unable to attend; and that leaves me estimating that approximately 100 vehicles completed the tour, driving a total of 450 miles over the course of 5 days.
Starting with the purchase of my first collector car right after college graduation, a 1957 Ford Skyliner, my interest in this hobby has been in the cars of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, no surprise coming from a card-carrying Baby Boomer. However, participating in this year’s Glidden tour as a boots-on-the-ground photographer, present at almost every planned stop over the entire week, has turned my head around. Now I’ve seen proof that pre-war cars can be as reliable and as enjoyable as post-war cars for touring purposes.
Here are some general observations about Glidden drivers and their Glidden cars:
- Driving 60 to 100 miles a day, no matter the weather, is not only NOT an obstacle; it is THE enjoyment. (The places of interest and the meal stops are only a means to an end.) A casual observer, stumbling upon these cars gathered together, might think this was a car show. To the owners, however, these cars are “Touring Cars” (NOT “drivers”). The difference is this: a “driver” will likely show at least some cosmetic wear, and not all its mechanical features may operate to 100% effectiveness. A Touring Car, by contrast, is both cosmetically and mechanically exceptional. A touring car leaves the owner with no doubt that the car will start, accelerate, handle, and stop. One friend commented to me that “these cars look like they just left the restoration shop”, which misses a major point. These touring cars are driven enough that they have proven their roadworthiness. A fresh restoration may need 200 to 500 shakedown miles before it could be trusted to do what a Glidden Touring car can do.
- The typical Glidden owner is devoted to their marque. I met two Studebaker drivers, both of whom have a collection of Studebakers at home (one man said he had “10 more”[!]). A Ford Model A owner told me this car was one of four A’s. A delightful woman in a 1937 Buick said that this was just one of a handful of Buicks she and her husband had, at which point she rattled off the year and model of each of the other Buicks. A man with a 1940 Ford stated that he has a small collection of flathead Fords at home. One takeaway for me is that the owners know the ins and outs of their cars very well.
- Horsepower is nice to have, but the experienced touring driver makes do with what’s under the hood. The Model T probably had the lowest HP rating of the tour cars, and 1/3 of the tour vehicles were Ford Model As, making 40 HP to push a car weighing over 2,000 pounds. At the other end of the spectrum were a Cadillac V12, a Packard V12, and the two Continental V12s. The Glidden tour is not a race, and again, the ability of all these cars to drive the crowded roads of NJ and get to their destinations in reasonable time speaks to the professionalism and experience of these tour drivers.
- Glidden participants travel throughout the country to participate each year. The Tour Guidebook listed all 115 registrants, and also tallied the number of Glidden tours previously completed. For thirteen, this was their first (and they are referred to as “freshmen”). The remaining 102 have completed at least one other tour. Twenty-nine have driven in 10 or more such events; two people have done 30; one 34, one 39, one 43, and in the top spot is someone who has completed 54 Gliddens!!! Cars were trailered to this year’s event from states as far away as Florida, Colorado, Texas, Nevada, and Arizona.
- The Tour Guidebook lists 14 cars which carried an additional set of passengers, meaning, 4 in a car. Many of the cars from this era have spacious back seats, and this concept also goes back to the idea of “touring” as something which can be enjoyed with a greater number of people provided your vehicle has the room for them.
Last week, I posted a daily photographic account (which you can find here for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday). However, I did not identify any of the vehicles. Some cars stood out for me more than others, and here is a brief write-up about a few of my favorites:
- 1920 Mercer Raceabout: If the searing yellow paint didn’t catch your attention, then the barely-muffled exhaust would! The Mercer’s driver was having no problem keeping up with traffic, and the wide grin on his face verified that he was having as much of a blast as you’d expect. I caught up with him at one stop to ask about the cubic inch displacement of the Mercer’s 4-cylinder engine. He said that it’s “about 300 c.i.” which helps explain his ability to run with the 8- and 12-cylinder jobs. I found myself photographing his car repeatedly during the week.
- 1941 Lincoln Continental: We were treated to TWO beautiful Mark I Continentals on this tour, and while Tour Chair Vince made it clear to me that he preferred the maroon one, I fell in love with this warm silver one. The female owner/driver caught me continuously taking pictures of it, and said to me “it’s not a show car, you know!” I told her it was just as beautiful as any show car. In a self-deprecating way, she complained that her car was photographed at an event and ended up on the cover of the Lincoln Owner’s Club magazine, which to her “was just a shame as there were so many other nicer cars there!” Her car ran as well as it looked. This was my overall favorite car on the Tour.
- 1931 Auburn 8: This car was in the running against the Continental for favorite car. From certain angles, it was stately, powerful, and streamlined. Yet from other angles, the car appeared bulky and less graceful. Nevertheless, it was an imposing automobile to see cruising down the road. I didn’t speak to the driver, but he was out and about every day with no apparent issues.
- 1936 DeSoto 4-door convertible: I had a long chat with the owner’s wife, who told me that this had been her father-in-law’s car, so it’s been in the family for a long time. She said the car is very comfortable and has been extremely reliable. She and her husband also have done The Great Race twice, for which they purchased a 1971 GTO! But it sounded like they both enjoyed that experience less, as she described the tremendous pressure to compete, as it’s a TSD rally. It’s interesting to compare the styling of this ’36 to the 1935 DeSoto Airflow which was also on the tour.
- 1911 Cadillac Model 30 Touring: All credit goes to the driver and passenger of this 4-door open car, both of whom brought adequate clothing for the conditions, which thankfully remained mostly warm and dry. This was one of the oldest cars on the tour, yet they were out there, often leading the pack! When the driver finally opened the hood for me to peek, I saw that the car was running a 4-cylinder engine with twin spark plugs per cylinder. As per Wikipedia, this engine displaced 3.7L, quite large for a 4-banger. Wiki also states that the 1911 Cadillac was the first car to have an electric starter.
My immersion among 100+ cars from the first 4 decades of the 20th century was rewarding beyond words. It was an in-your-face education about the early years of autmotive engineering and styling. Now of course, I want to find a pre-war car to call my own, and go touring in it!
All photographs copyright © 2022 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.