The Smithsonian Institution has been around for more than a century and the first car they acquired was a 1894 Balzer in 1899. Now it has 73 vintage cars and some trucks, motorcycles, bikes, and other vehicles. Although being a century old museum, its collection is relatively small but sometimes quality is more important, some have very interesting history. Let’s check out the classic cars they have on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
1948 Tucker Sedan
With 11,721 miles in its odometer, this 1948 Tucker Sedan is one out of 51 that was built. It was donated by the Drug Enforcement Administration to the NMAH, this Tucker Sedan was apparently used in narcotics activities. It was seized in 1992 during a narcotics raid. It was refurbished and repainted for display. This classy Tucker Sedan has an air cooled 334 cubic inch aluminum flat six helicopter engine in the rear that is capable of 166 horsepower. It also has an electric vacuum-actuated manual transmission, independent suspension, cushioned dash, a turning headlight that is in sync with the wheels in front, and a protected “crash chamber” in front of the passenger seat were someone can get cover during an accident.
1953 Glasspar G2
This 1953 Glasspar G2 came as a donation to the Smithsonian Institute sometime in 1996 from a private collector. Produced by Glasspar in California, the G2 was a design by William Tritt that was meant to be like a European sports car with fiberglass body that will be mounted on a Willys chassis. More than 100 G2 fiberglass bodies were made. The success of the fiberglass body that William Tritt perfected was recognized by GM and consulted Tritt for the design of the fiberglass Corvette in 1953.
1964 Chrysler Turbine Car
This 1964 Turbine Car is the #46 out of 50 that was produced in 1962 to 1964. The body was designed by Ghia and with Chrysler’s 130 horsepower turbine engine under the hood. The turbine engine could run almost on anything from diesel, kerosene, gasoline, Jp-4 jet fuel, vegetable oil, and even tequila. More than 200 test-drives were conducted for the Turbines in 1963 to 1966. After the testings, the Turbines were recovered and destroyed. Poor fuel efficiency and bad emissions force the production to stop. Only 9 turbines are believed to exist. This one is donated by Chrysler in 1967.
1977 Chevrolet Vega Hatchback
Donated by Guenther and Siewchin Yon Sommer, this 1977 Chevrolet Vega Hatchback was believed to be a fore runner in automobile engineering but as time went by, problems in the Vegas quality and durability pop-out that damaged its reputation. The 1977 Vega was the last model of the Vega line that greatly brought Chevrolet’s reputation down as well.
1967 STP Turbo Car
The 1967 STP-Paxton Turbo car that was designed by Ken Wallis was the Indy sensation of its time. The STP Turbo driven by Parnelli Jones almost one the 1967 Indy race. With an ST6B-62 gas turbine powering it with 540 horspower, the 1450 lbs Turbo car reached a record of 166.075 mph. The driver and the turbine engine sits side-by-side topped off with the Ferguson four-wheel drive to evenly distribute the jet engines raging power and be able to get the tight turns needed. Parnelli Jones was leading in the almost the entire race before slowing down just eight miles left before the finish lines, apparently a transmission bearing broke. A.J. Foyt took over the lead and secured the race.
1984 200th-Win #43 STP Pontiac Grand Prix
William Withuhn who used to be the curator for the Transportation Collection acquired some race cars into the NMAH collection during the 1980s. One of those cars was 7 time-champion Richard Petty’s 1984 Pontiac Grand Prix stock car that gave him his 200th win. With a 700 horsepower, this Pontiac helped Petty win the Firecracker 400 in July 4 1984 at the Daytona track. He beat Cale Yarborough by a foot in the 160 lap race. This was Petty’s final victory which was attended by President Ronald Reagan who was the first president to watch a NASCAR race. Mike Curb who was the owner for the team and the car donated this Pontiac in 1984.
1979 Budweiser Rocket
On December 17, 1979 was the day a land vehicle reached Mach 1, the Budweiser Rocket got a record speed of 739 mph at the Edwards Air Force Base. The record speed was monitored by tracking radar and built in accelerometers. The Rocket was designed for Project Speed of Sound that was started by director and Hollywood stuntman Hal Needham. It was designed and built by Bill Fredrick. The Rocket was propelled by liquid and solid fuel rocket and an AIM-9 sidewinder missile engine. Unfortunately, FIA and FIM certification was not present to certify the record and the official record went to Thrust SSC’s in 1997.