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Fleetwood Pennsylvania car plant

Growing up in the 1970s, the name Fleetwood meant two things to me: it was part of the name of a successful rock band and also the moniker for a luxury Cadillac brand. I didn’t realize there was an actual town of Fleetwood, from which the latter got its name.

Fleetwood Pennsylvania car plant and factory

If you’re visiting the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles in Pennsylvania, an excellent auto-themed takes you 15 miles northwest to the small hamlet of Fleetwood, former home of Fleetwood Metal Auto Body. Founded in 1909, Fleetwood built coaches for Packard, Pierce-Arrow, Cadillac and other high-end brands.

Fisher Body Company/General Motors acquired it in 1925, moving the operations to Detroit within six years. The Fleetwood name was long associated with Cadillac models until it was retired in the 1990s.

Visiting Fleetwood today you’ll still find an original manufacturing building marked “1909 Fleetwood Auto Bodies” at the corner of Locust and South Franklin Streets as a tribute to that long ago legacy.

But there’s more to the Fleetwood legacy, at the Boyertown Museum they feature a 1872 Hill Car that was built by teenager James Hill, who just happened to live in Fleetwood.

Mack Truck Museum in Allentown, PA

From Fleetwood to Mack

Ok, I couldn’t resist that pun, but if you’re visiting Fleetwood, you may as well complete the circle and head 25 miles northeast to Allentown (the former home of Mack Truck) to tour the Mack Trucks Historical Museum.

 

Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles Mister Softee truck

The Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles in Pennsylvania includes gasoline, steam and electric powered cars along with carriages and sleighs. The main exhibit area is in the former factory of the Boyertown Auto Body Works, where truck bodies were built from 1926 through 1990. A few of these trucks have returned home and are now on display. Located 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia, the museum’s focus is on Pennsylvania-built cars, reflecting the Keystone State’s importance in the early automobile industry. There’s also a connection with automotive pioneer Charles Duryea, who built vehicles in the area.

Highlights of the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles

Oldest car at the Boyertown car museum

A showpiece of the museum is the 1872 Hill (shown above), one of the earliest autos in existence. Teenager James Hill built it just up the road in Fleetwood. Ironically, given the name of the inventor, the first model was too weak to climb hills.

Boyertown car museum 1913 SGV Touring

The 1913 S.G.V. Touring Car was built in nearby Reading and originally featured a steering wheel mounted pushbutton Vulcan Electric Gear Shift. Unfortunately the wildly named technology was ahead of its time and malfunctioned repeatedly, causing the cars to be retrofitted with a floor mounted shift.

1918 Biddle Roadster at the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles

A 1915 Biddle with dual side-mounted wire wheels was manufactured in Philadelphia, one of only five believed to exist, while the rakish cream-colored 1918 Biddle Roadster (above) looks like it could race on the streets right now.

Antique Duryea cars at the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles

Six Duryeas manufactured in southeastern Pennsylvania are on display including a Philadelphia-built 1917 Duryea GEM Roadster, a three-wheeled hybrid of motorcycle and car. It was a sales flop and Charles Duryea’s last attempt at automobile production. At least the GEM came with a steering wheel, unlike the joystick steering on the other Duryeas. The stubborn car builder didn’t like steering wheels and was late to the game in using them.

The extensive bicycle collection highlights the way many car companies grew out of bicycle manufacturers; in an intriguing setup there are two bicycles from the Acme Bicycle Manufacturing Company alongside a 1910 Acme Roadster.

The 1952 Masano is a unique car built by Reading, PA auto dealer Tom Masano. Its one-off fiberglass body is mated with a Henry J chassis Masano found in a junkyard—what’s most striking is the triple tail fin configuration straddling the trunk. It was the first fiberglass bodied car to be licensed in Pennsylvania.

Original Mister Softee Truck Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles

A crowd favorite is a 1958 Ford Mister Softee Ice Cream Truck that blared the ubiquitous theme song around the neighborhood of my youth. They were all fabricated in this building. (If you miss that cloying song you can download it as a ringtone at www.mistersoftee.com. Be careful though, it’s difficult to get out of your head.)

The oldest attraction is the restored 1872 Jeremiah Sweinhart Carriage Factory; it was the launching pad for the Boyertown vehicle industry. Inside you’ll find a reconstructed blacksmith shop and belt-driven machine shop which still works. Several carriages are on display including one of the museum’s oldest pieces, an 1875 Hose Cart that was used by the local fire company which, not looking bad for its age, now resides in the shop where it was built.

Vintage Sun Oil service station

The museum also features roadside architecture including a 1921 Sun Oil cottage-style service station and the 1938 Fegely’s Reading Diner. During periodic Diner Days, visitors can sit down in the diner and order a cup of coffee and slice of pie at 1930s prices. A must-see event is the annual Duryea Day Antique, Classic Car and Truck Show that takes place Labor Day weekend and attracted over 700 entrants last year.

1948 Chrysler Town & Country

Find the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles online at www.BoyertownMuseum.org. Check the website for special blacksmithing days and carriage factory tours.

For a cool side trip, visit nearby Fleetwood to see where early versions of this iconic model were built.

Here’s our 2017 gift guide for travelers.

Classic Car Travel Guide

Recently I was checking out classic car books at the local library when I came across one that I’ve never seen before but is now a new favorite. Cars of the Fabulous ’50s: A Decade of High Style and Good Times, by James M. Flammang and the auto editors of Consumer Guide, is full of so many photos, illustrations and information that you can read it over and over again, picking up a new tidbit each time.

Each year in the decade gets an introductory two page spread that talks about auto production and current events in the USA for that year. So for 1951 you’ll learn not only that Chrysler issued a 150-horsepower Hemi V-8, but that Korean War industrial production requirements were causing chrome trim on cars to be thinner.

Above you can see a close-up of one the pages related to 1955 Fords. Below see the double-page spread of this same topic.

What really blew me away about the book are the excellent graphics and information, which I’ve tied to capture in these photos but you really need to see the book in person. Vintage ads are shown side-by-side with the actual car it marketed, along with detailed breakouts of each model.

 

Cars of the Fabulous 50s book

Cars of the Fabulous 50s was published in 2001 and new and used copies are plentiful on Amazon. And if one decade isn’t enough, other books in this wonderful series include Cars of the Fascinating ’40s, Cars of the Sizzling ’60s, and yes, Cars of the Sensational ’70s. The latter one has the dream cars from my teen years that focused on disco, bell bottoms and long sideburns. I’d like to get all of these books for a complete reference library of American cars of those eras.

Note: Don’t be turned off by the high prices listed below. These books are available on Amazon for much cheaper pries than they list here.