The Riley Teardrop
http://blog.hemmings.com/?s=retractable+hardtopBut both Otakar and I were stumped when Richard Kales sent us these photos of a mystery hardtop convertible from around about 1938. As Richard wrote:
It is a sequential still of a retractable hardtop car that was – according to WBGH (PBS) – shot on May 11,1938 in Reseda, CA and shows up in the film “The World of Tomorrow” – an excellent documentary about the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.
Nothing about the styling of the car gives us any hints, and that fin’s throwing us all for a loop. Seems like something that would have appeared in the pages of Popular Mechanics and then promptly disappeared. So we’re sending the call out to identify this car, or at least point us in the right direction.
First up, a retractable hardtop car that we’ve seen here before, the Dan LaLee car , but in much better resolution than the grainy photos from three years ago. The photos all date from February 10, 1938, and depict LaLee, along with Jack Knight of United Air Lines and model Betty Bryant, showing off the retractable in or around Dearborn, Michigan. A couple of the photo descriptions include the word “rebuilt” and those wheels appear to come from an earlier Ford, so we can presume LaLee used a chassis from a wrecked car on which to base his retractable.
An unidentified rural letter carrier poses next to a Model-T Ford vehicle with a snowmobile attachment. The vehicle is fitted with a kit advertised as the “Mailman’s Special” from the manufacturer, Farm Specialty Manufacturing Company of New Holstein, Wisconsin. It included skis that replaced the front tires and caterpillar treads that wrapped around the back tires. Rural carriers are responsible for providing their own transportation. At a time when automobiles were not yet equal to the demands of icy or snowy roads, the skis and tread kit saved carriers the expense of purchasing and maintaining a horse and sled for winter deliveries.
And then there is this
An unidentified rural letter carrier poses next to a Model-T Ford vehicle with a snowmobile attachment. The vehicle is fitted with a kit advertised as the “Mailman’s Special” from the manufacturer,
here's shots from the National Postal Museum
Not long after automobiles and horsepower began to replace horses, the need for a way to use automobiles year round followed. The snow across which horses could jauntily pull a sleigh was often too much of a challenge for automobiles. Foremost among those who needed to find a way to use their cars and trucks all year long were America’s rural letter carriers. After all, even if “neither snow nor rain or heat nor gloom of night” has never been an official postal motto, it certainly reflects the expectation that letter carriers and the mail will make the trip to our mailboxes, regardless of the weather.
This 1921 Ford Model-T was owned by rural carrier Harold Crabtree of Central Square, New York. While Crabtree was able to use the car for his daily rounds most of the year, snowy days were an annual challenge. While many carriers held onto their horses and sleds for winter deliveries, Crabtree decided to try something new. After suffering through a few winters of using his back-up horses and sled instead of the car, he decided to buy the Model-T snowmobile attachment kit advertised as the “mailman’s special.” The kit included skis that replaced the front tires and caterpillar treads that wrapped around the back tires.
The attachment manufactured by Farm Specialty Manufacturing Company of New Holstein, Wisconsin, had its history in a series of designs and adaptations dating to the first decade of the 20th century. One of the most successful transformation kits was a direct descendent of Crabtree’s purchase. It was work of inventor Virgil White. In 1906 White began trying to convert automobiles into snowmobiles using a Buick Model G. After the Model-T’s popularity made it the go-to car of the early 20th century, White turned his attention to creating a kit for that vehicle, devising a series of designs that he patented over the next few years.
By 1922 White was sure enough of his latest design to begin marketing it to the public and sold just over 70 kits in the next year. White sold the kits for $250 to $400 each, depending on size and complexity, from his new Snowmobile Company in West Ossipee, New Hampshire. A few years later White sold his snowmobile patents to the Farm Specialty Manufacturing Company which quickly recognized the kits’ appeal to rural carriers and advertised the attachment kit in postal association publications. Rural carriers across the northern United States were able to keep their cars on the road through the year thanks to the “mailman’s special.”
Plastic car from Ford 1941
It’s a good guess that the man on the left is Robert A. Boyer, who headed Ford’s soybean and plastics research from 1930 to 1945, and who later invented soy protein-based synthetic meat, an indirect result of experiments (cut short by World War II) in creating synthetic wool out of soybeans while he was still at Ford. “We tested the wool fabric for salt content and other factors and one day – I’ll never forget it – it occurred to me that if we could make something for the outside of man, why not for the inside,” Boyer told Ralston Purina Magazine in 1970.
Originally Posted by cartalk