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Reno Junior and the Snowshoe Advertising Service American Austin Bantam

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The advertising car has been on the roads and streets of the America for many years and may have originated quite early in the realm of motoring. Today the bright vinyl advertising that you see covering automobiles is referred to as ad-wrapping, but it appears these modern efforts could take a lesson or two from Reno Junior and his cute little car.

The little American Austin Bantam he drove had an iron rack that was welded together and included some blacksmithing work at the very top, which was used to hold the round Edises Jewelers sign. Just below it and the taxi sign is one by Bob & Fred Signs whom we assume lettered the rest of them. It appears to have been equipped with either a PA system, or a radio so that Reno Junior could gather even more attention, its horn is lettered as having been installed by Mariner in Reno.

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The Dick Whittington Studio in Los Angeles took the photos during 1930, and the invoice for them was made out to Austin of Los Angeles. The sticker on the windshield is a non-resident permit from the State of California, so it is possible that he used this car to drive back and forth between the two cities; note the Reno to Los Angeles lettering on the hood. You can learn the interesting American Austin Bantam Story here on The Old Motor. The photos are courtesy of the USC Libraries. 

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Posted in Auto photos 1921 - 1942 | Tagged , , , , , |

The James Scripps Booth BiAutogo – A “Motorcycle Car”

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Over one hundred years ago the course of the automobile had been fairly well charted out, but this did not discourage free-thinking individuals like James Scripps Booth who would continue to design new variations of mobile transport. And he could well afford to do so as he was an heir to the Booth family fortune that had originated from publishing the Detroit Evening News. Born and raised in the Motor City, he was educated in private schools and also developed his artistic abilities.

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Booth also had a keen interest in mechanical engineering and automobile design, which led to him laying out the Biautogo sketches in Paris, France around 1910, while studying art there for a time. He did not intend to turn it into a production vehicle, but rather to use it as an engineering study and for promotional purposes at the 1912 New York Auto Show.

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The project was not completed in time for the New York show, but it was soon finished and featured in an article in The Automobile, in 1913. And what a vehicle it was – the aluminum-bodied machine was powered by the first V-8 built in Detroit, a 332 ci. Scripps-Booth engine that produced 45 hp. A steering wheel and shaft actuated the springer type of front fork by the use of a chain and bevel gears. The chain-driven rear wheel was suspended by parallel semi-elliptic springs. It rode on large 37 x 5.5-inch tires and a long 140-inch wheelbase.

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One would assume that a vehicle of this type would be stabilized at low speeds by a powered-gyroscope, but instead Booth fitted drop-down balance-wheels for that purpose. It has been reported that above twenty mph the front and rear wheels would keep it upright by the same principals used for the bicycle. Other features were: a four-speed transmission, an air starter, a very distinctive surface-mounted radiator of copper tubing, and seating for three passengers.

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Full details of this of this unusual vehicle are in a two-page article that can be seen above, which was featured in the August 28, 1913, issue of The Automobile. You can also learn about the JB Rocket Cyclecar produced by Booth and covered here earlier on The Old Motor and the later Scripps-Booth Car here.

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In person, the BiAutogo is a genuine delight to see, and you can do just that by visiting with the Owls Head Transportation Museum, in Owls Head, Maine. At the museum, you will find one of the most diverse collections (a small sampling is above) of primarily pre-1920 automobiles, aircraft, motorcycles, stationary engines and bicycles in the country. You can visit with them here at the Owls Head Transportation Museum.

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Posted in Auto photos 1885 - 1920, Motorcycle photos, Pre-War Contemporary Photos | Tagged , , , , , , |

John Volpe, a V-16 Cadillac and the Gangster’s Last Day

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  • John Volpe’s V-16 Cadillac coupe equipped with bulletproof glass being towed away after his death 

During the years of Prohibition in America, a fortune was to be made by those bold enough to take charge of bootlegging in a city. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania gangster John Volpe was just such a man, and by 1932, he and his brothers ruled the supply of alcohol in the Steel City and also ran a busy rackets operation.

At the time, the organized machine of ruthless bootleggers also included his brothers James and Arthur (Louis Volpe was serving a few months in Allegheny County Jail on a bootlegging conviction) and half-dozen of the gang’s henchmen. His younger brother Chester Volpe had died the previous New Year’s Eve in a car crash in the city.

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  • Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh near the Allegheny County Courthouse

The set of photos seen in this article are from an outstanding account in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, written by Steve Mellon. In his report of Friday, July 29, 1932, titled MidDay Massacre, he tells an engaging story about the gangster’s operation and the events of John Volpe’s last day; the story starts at noontime when he got a shave and a shoeshine in Frank Manna’s barbershop at 527 Fifth Avenue close to the scene of the above photo.

After leaving Manna’s, Volpe and former numbers racketeer Charles Modarelli, walked a few blocks through the city’s Lower Hill District to the Rome Coffee Shop seen below, at 704 Wylie Avenue. The shop served as a front for his numbers operations. There he and Modarelli parted company and Volpe went inside and met up with his brothers and associates.

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  • The Rome Coffee Shop, at far right, on Wylie Avenue and a 1927 Chevrolet

Shortly afterward Volpe went back outside and was gunned-down by a team of three hit men. Finished with killing the gangster, the trio then entered the shop and brutally shot and killed two of his brothers, James and Arthur. Their job accomplished the gunman emerged and fled the scene in a dark blue Ford sedan. The Volpe brother’s deaths brought the toll to one hundred unsolved gang murders between the years of 1927 and 1932 in Pittsburgh.

You can read a more detailed and very intriguing accounting of the situation then we have the time and space for here at, Pittsburgh: The Dark Years, by Steve Mellon. There you see many more photos and learn more about: Prohibition, both political and police corruption in the city, the aftermath of the killings, the funeral, the Volpe family and the details surrounding the location of dozens of bars, “bawdy houses” and gambling dens.

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Posted in Auto photos 1921 - 1942 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |