Any of Kentucky’s classic car enthusiasts can tell you that with events like the 48th Annual Street Rod Nationals in Louisville and the 8th Annual Cruisin’ the Heartland in Elizabethtown last weekend, August is like a horse powered drive right down memory lane. Most of the vehicles at these events cast such a legendary shadow that they continue to leave attendees in awe year after year. When keys are turned and these old engines bark to life, they stir a passion in people that has been enjoyed for over half a century.
Motor vehicles are one of many modes of transportation that have been tested over the years. Most people credit Henry Ford as the key player in the introduction of cars to the masses. While it is true that he played an integral role in its mass production, he had very little to do with the invention of the car. In fact, who invented the car is still up for debate even to this day. Some say the horseless carriage created in the 1870’s was the first car while others attribute its invention to the first patent of the 1886 Benz Motor Wagon. Interestingly enough, while the Benz Motor Wagon may or may not be the first car, it is the first vehicle to take a documented road trip.
One thing I was pleasantly surprised to learn about while researching for this article is that Mercedes-Benz recently tested out their new driverless vehicle by retracing the exact route of their first car and it’s groundbreaking road trip.
Initially, cars were extremely expensive and time consuming to make which made mass production nearly impossible… this is where Ford comes in. Henry Ford had a brilliant idea that would revolutionize the automobile industry. He developed an assembly line that could produce more cars at a faster rate, in turn lowering prices. Other up and coming car companies like General Motors and Olds Motorworks soon followed suit and together they created the landscape of vehicles we know today.
But how and why, you may be wondering, did cars go from tinker toy contraptions that topped out at speeds of 20 mph to the beasts of raging power we see at annual classic car shows? The answer to that is simple… prohibition.
During the 1920’s and into the 30’s it suddenly became illegal to buy and sell liquor in the U.S. This might not have been so troubling but the nationwide ban happened to also coincide with the Great Depression. Try as they might, the government could not stop its citizens from drowning their sorrows in alcohol. Bootleggers were paid top dollar to travel around the country distributing liquor… the faster the car the better. Switches were installed into Fords to switch off lights when the police were in hot pursuit. Extra carburetors and cadillac engines were installed to make cars even harder to catch. We have legendary bootlegging speedsters to thank for reigning in a new era of fast muscle cars.
Maybe it’s the danger of a high speed chase or the thrill of a joy ride that we can sense under the hood when we approach a classic revving beauty at a car show or maybe it’s just a memory of a more innocent time. Whatever it is that draws us in, there is no denying that in the heartland, we love our classic car shows.