Frank Lloyd Wright 1867-1959


    Frank Lloyd Wright - "Car Guy"

 "Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was more than America's most famous and revered architect; he was a certified car nut as well" - Dennis Simanaitis in Road & Track Magazine, July 1995.

Frank Lloyd Wright owned a wide variety of cars, he took a stab at designing a few, and the impact of the automobile on America was one of the central themes he dealt with in his Broadacre City vision of architecture, urban design, democracy and society.

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Wright's cars during his lifetime included a Packard Speedster, an L29 Cord, a Lincoln Continental, and English AC roadster, A a Jaguar, a Bentley, a Riley, a Mercedes gull-wing, a fleet of American Bantams, and Crosleys (Mr. Wright is pictured here in his wife Olgivanna's Crosley Hotshot in the Crosley Hotshot at Taliesin East in this photograph taken in 1952-1953).

To Mr. Wright, art and life were one. He was always designing his environment, be it his home, hotel room, or automobile. He had his cars painted his favorite color, Cherokee Red. He had his 1940 Lincoln Continental customized with a circular window. His long and busy life left behind some anecdotes about his driving style and manners.

Broadacre City

(The Broadace City section is currently  under construction)

The Architect as Automotive Designer

In addition to his famous buildings, Wright designed dinnerware, carpets, furniture, boats, bridges, umbrella stands, cabinetry, and many other things encountered by daily living. The omnipresent automobile was not spared from his hand. Mr. Wright's automobile designs appear in his drawings only; an automotive engineer has not attempted to bring to reality or even model these fanciful attempts at automotive design.

Lord Vader, Your Car is Ready (slogan from a GM ad for the Chevy Monte Carlo)
 

The "Automobile with Cantilevered Top" design from 1920 is shown in the drawings to the left. The front "elevation" bears a supeficial resemblance to the helmet of Darth Vader from Star Wars.The cantilever was a structural theme found throughout Wright's work (see Fallingwater) . He even referred to the wide brim of his hat as one. However, one would wonder at the structural integrity of any car with cantilevers should it meet an accident. This angular design fits into Wright's themes of the early 1920s, and is much like the Tahoe barge. As far as its relevance to automobile design goes, this car is somewhat out of place for its year, and predicts the general shape of many of the cars of the 1930's (though none would have this angularity, or a cantilevered roof).

Mr. Wonka, Your Car is Ready

 In a speech in 1957, Mr Wright said, "First of all, we've got to agree upon some way to take care of this confounding, insensible, immobile automobile. I think nothing is more degrading to the spirit of good design than the motorcar of today. I would refuse one as a gift. They tell me it was all done for "madam" but I don't believe that. They had to please her, of course, but that doesn't account for all this swank and style for a ferryboat instead of an automobile. She-madam-may have wanted to look long and stylish and as though designed to fight all the other cars behind her in the streets, but. . .. "

During the late 1950's, Mr. Wright produced a few sketches of what he called a "Road Machine". These rather unusual designs were quite rounded, fitting in with Wright's fascination with curvilinear forms at this time in his career. (see Guggenheim Museum, Marin County Civic Center). The design was patterned after the International Harvester Tractor "M" used on the farm at Taliesin East in Wisconsin.

This unconventional design had the following features:

  • Two enormous wheels of about 6' diameter, one on the center of each side of the car. These are the drive wheels. One can see similarities between the spokework and the circles in the design of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church.
  • One small wheel of conventional size in the center of the very front.
  • One small wheel at the very rear called a "pivot wheel" used for steering.
  • Two curved doors on the front of the main pod, on either side of the "nose" that contains the front wheel.
  • A center driver position (either in front of the engine, or in a bubble sitting on top of it)
  • A "mid engine" sitting just back of the seats

 These cars populate the roads of Broadacre City in variations where the pivot wheel is hooded or open, and with different driver placement. In a three-person model intended to be a taxi, (reminiscent of a very early proposal for the Tucker 48) the driver sits in the middle seat between two passengers, and another model has the driver sitting in a bubble up over the engine. A large six or seven passenger model of the Road Machine also appears in some 1958 sketches.

The Road Machine is a fanciful conveyance that can remind one of the following:

  • A farm tractor (as mentioned above)
  • H.G. Wells' time machine, as despicted in film. 
  • A four-wheeled version of a Pennyfarthing bicycle (or an 1870's tricycle, as shown to the right)
  • A road-borne version of a sidewheeled paddlewheel steamboat
  • Something you might find in the parking lot of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

This 1950's design bears no resemblance to any of the common design motifs and styles of its automotive era, or any other, for that matter.

Frank Lloyd Wright Mercedes Benz 300 Saloon and 300 SL Gull-wing 1956
Frank Lloyd Wright with his wife Oglivanna in the AC Acendes roadster 1948
Drawing for remodeling of a Lincoln Continental Cabriolet, 1940
Lincoln Continental Cabriolet remodeled, 
Road Machine Proposal, 1955, Frank Lloyd Wright. 

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Frank Lloyd Wright was not only America's most famous architect, he was also passionate about his cars and had a diverse collection of both American and European marques. In addition to his personal collection he also had fleets of American Bantams and Crosley Convertibles. Each year from the late 1930's until Frank Lloyd Wright's death in 1959, the Taliesin Fellowship, as the Master's apprentices were called, drove these fleets on twice-a-year treks between the Spring Green, Wisconsin, facility and Taliesin West, its Scottsdale, Arizona home.

All the Crosley's were selected and purchased by Mr. Wright from the showroom of Smart Motors in Madison, Wisconsin. Each car was finished in Cherokee Red, Wright's own bricky-orange livery that adorned all the other Taliesin vehicles and became affectionately know as Taleisin Red.

After Wright's death in 1959 a mechanic bought two derelict Super Sports Roadsters from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. He was able to bring one back to running condition and used it in parades but later sold it and the other spare parts to a local Museum.

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One of America's most famed architects applied his style to the automotive world; this 1940 Lincoln Continental is a surviving example of his interpretation of automobile styling.

Though there have been many well known industrial designers who have been involved with automotive design and styling, far fewer are those schooled in architecture who have chosen to apply their skill to car design. Perhaps the most memorable would be Buckminster Fuller, father of the geodesic dome and his Dymaxion Transport Units of the early 1930s. Less remembered for his automotive designs, yet very well known for his architectural works, is Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright came up with a number of automobile designs as far back as the 1920s. These include his "Automobile with Cantilevered Top" and, much later, a strange 1958 design that featured a pair of massive central drive wheels on either side, a spherical ball wheel at the front and a standard pivoting wheel at the rear for steering. He had envisioned his perfect society in "The Living City" and was a proponent of the freedoms that automobiles had to offer the modern age. However, neither of the previously mentioned designs made it past the drawing-board stage.

Instead, his daughter provided him with the means to apply some of his craft to an actual production vehicle when she had an accident in her relatively new 1940 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet. Under Wright's supervision, the Ideal Body Shop, located a short distance from Wright's Talesin East studio, reworked the Lincoln. Its windshield was cut down by close to five inches, and the body and rear seating were lowered. Re-crafted by Ideal as a Coupe de Ville, it featured a rear window that was filled in completely, half-circle opera windows and a removable leather-covered front roof section.

Repainted in Wright's attractive signature color, Talesin Red, though much of the Continental's stunning appearance is attributable to its original design, Frank Lloyd Wright's personal touches lend it an even more dignified, formal appearance; and it is fitting that it survives today as a testament to his interpretation of American automobile design.

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Frank Lloyd Wright was a car nut.
Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the first car nuts there ever was.
The guide sent me down to the Research Center below the Home and Studio, where I made bad photocopies of bad photocopies of bits and pieces and clippings and hearsay articles on the adventures of Frank Lloyd Wright and Cars.
I went nuts.
OK, I was already nuts, but now I was a nut with a mission.
Let me show you only ONE of the incredibly groovy bits of car info I found:
The 1940 Lincoln Continental.
Mr. Wright purchased two 1940 Lincoln Continentals, number 2 and number 5 off the line.
He gave number 2 to one of his daughters, who promptly smacked it up beyond all recognition.
Number 5 he "remodeled" the way you have seen him remodel buildings.

 
On the left is a promotional photo for the 1940 Lincoln Continental. On the right is a photo of Mr. Wright's number 5 at Taliesin.
The color photos here are from Hemmings. They are the best I have found of the car.
He covered the back window because he was only interested in where he was going, not where he had been...
Perhaps the way he left his wife and 6 children without looking back, or the way he continued on with his life and his work after his mistress was brutally murdered at Taliesin.
 
I have been tracking this 1940 Lincoln Continental, which belonged for a long time to on of the biggest Wright fans, the founder of Domino's Pizza, until he sold off his collection. The car now belongs to movie producer and Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Society board member, Joel Silver.
Mr. Silver also owns the only Frank Lloyd Wright Plantation, Auldbrass, in South Carolina. Auldbrass is about 3 hours from the BMW Factory in Spartanburg where all Z3s begin.
I had the good fortune to visit Auldbrass on the one day a year it is open to the public, perhaps for the last time it would be open to the public, as Mr. Silver is no longer under any obligation to open his home to the public. Thanks to SeaJay, another Z3er who told me I better get down there before it's too late.
We had a zplendid time, and ended up with another rare experience of living in a Frank Lloyd Wright space for a short time.
I had a mission to seek out the Lincoln, but after poking around and making a pest of myself, I found out the car was in Savannah for repairs.
I have seen mentions of this car being shown at the Pebble Beach Concours.
My search for the car continues.
In reading the research I found that in Wisconsin there are still the people who did the work on Mr. Wright's cars, and his fleet of apprentice cars, and how the apprentices all followed Mr. Wright's open top car in their 2 seater 4 cylinder convertible roadsters

1952 CROSLEY SUPER SPORT ROADSTER
OPTIONS:
COLOR - TALIESIN RED
TRANS - 3-SPEED
CYLINDERS - 4
VIN - VC40169

in caravans from Wisconsin to Arizona and back between the two Taliesins.
Does any of that sound familiar?
It should. A whole world of Frank Lloyd Wright opened up before my eyes and behind closed doors I must open. Frank Lloyd Wright and cars.

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Hoffman Auto Showroom (now Mercedes-Benz Manhattan)
430 Park Avenue (at 56th Street)
 

Frank Lloyd Wright 1954

This tiny showroom on Park Avenue can hold only five cars - but positioned around a circular and sloping ramp, and reflected in extensive mirrored surfaces, they give the showroom an atmosphere that is spacious, exciting, not at all cramped. 

The positioning of the 'exhibits' around the circular, sloping ramp was a small-scale forerunner of Wright's later Guggenheim museum some thirty blocks up the street.

The geometry of the large circular mirror in the ceiling exploits the three-pointed star of Mercedes-Benz. This part of the design was not executed originally, but was part of a restoration of the building by Taliesin Architects, part of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, in 1981.

The cars have changed somewhat since Wright's day, but the mixture of high-tech glass and rounded white plaster continue to complement them.

Notable Mercedes-Benz 300 "Adenauer" series 4-door limousine purchasers included Frank Lloyd Wright.

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    For more information please read:

Crosley Cars of Frank Lloyd Wright - Automobile Quarterly Vol 29 No 3

Frank Lloyd Wright's Automobiles, The Lincoln Continentals, Architecture and the Car - The Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly SPRING 1997 - Vol. 8, No. 2

Frank Lloyd Wright - The Living City

Penny Sparke - A Century of Car Design

Ivan Margolius - Automobiles by Architects

Biographies of Prominent Carriage Draftsmen - Carriage Monthly, April 1904

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

George Arthur Oliver - A History of Coachbuilding

George Arthur Oliver - Cars and Coachbuilding: One Hundred Years of Road Vehicle Development

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Car

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Era

Richard Burns Carson - The Olympian Cars

Brooks T. Brierley - Auburn, Reo, Franklin and Pierce-Arrow Versus Cadillac, Chrysler, Lincoln and Packard

Brooks T. Brierley - Magic Motors 1930

James J. Schild - Fleetwood: the Company and the Coachcraft

John R. Velliky - Dodge Brothers/Budd Co. Historical Photo Album

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 1

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 2

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 3

Dennis Adler - The Art of the Sports Car: The Greatest Designs of the 20th Century

C. Edson Armi - The Art of American Car Design: The Profession and Personalities

C. Edson Armi - American Car Design Now

John Tipler - The World's Great Automobile Stylists

Jonathan Bell - Concept Car Design

Erminie Shaeffer Hafer - A century of vehicle craftsmanship

Ronald Barker & Anthony Harding - Automobile Design: Twelve Great Designers and Their Work

John McLelland - Bodies beautiful: A history of car styling and craftsmanship

Frederic A. Sharf - Future Retro: Drawings From The Great Age Of American Automobiles

Paul Carroll Wilson - Chrome Dreams: Automobile Styling Since 1893

David Gartman - Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design

Nick Georgano - Art of the American Automobile: The Greatest Stylists and Their Work

Matt Delorenzo - Modern Chrysler Concept Cars: The Designs That Saved the Company

Thom Taylor - How to Draw Cars Like a Pro

Tony Lewin & Ryan Borroff - How To Design Cars Like a Pro

Frederick E. Hoadley - Automobile Design Techniques and Design Modeling: the Men, the Methods, the Materials

Doug DuBosque - Draw Cars

Jonathan Wood - Concept Cars

D. Nesbitt - 50 Years Of American Auto Design

David Gartman - Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design

Lennart W. Haajanen & Karl Ludvigsen - Illustrated Dictionary of Automobile Body Styles

L. J. K Setright - The designers: Great automobiles and the men who made them

Goro Tamai - The Leading Edge: Aerodynamic Design of Ultra-Streamlined Land Vehicles

Brian Peacock & Waldemar Karwowski - Automotive Ergonomics

Bob Thomas - Confessions of an Automotive Stylist

Brooke Hodge & C. Edson Armi - Retrofuturism: The Car Design of J Mays

Gordon M. Buehrig - Rolling sculpture: A designer and his work

Henry L. Dominguez - Edsel Ford and E.T. Gregorie: The Remarkable Design Team...

Stephen Bayley - Harley Earl (Design Heroes Series)

Stephen Bayley - Harley Earl and the Dream Machine

Serge Bellu - 500 Fantastic Cars: A Century of the World Concept Cars

Raymond Loewy - Industrial Design

Raymond Loewy - Never Leave Well Enough Alone

Philippe Tretiack - Raymond Loewy and Streamlined Design

Angela Schoenberger - Raymond Loewy: Pioneer of American Industrial Design

Laura Cordin - Raymond Loewy

 



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