Putting together an automobile exhibition without a car is like making a custard without using eggs: you can use other ingredients as replacements, but you’ll have a hard time achieving that perfectly smooth texture without them. At the heart of any show about the automobile industry is the car itself.
It was with this thought in mind that I arrived at the Cranbrook Art Museum at 7:45 AM yesterday morning, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a truck that was carrying the eggs for my custard – a 1914 Scripps-Booth Rocket Cyclecar.
A popular automotive fad from 1912 to 1915, cyclecars served as an affordable alternative to the expensive and larger cars already on the road. Most utilized motorcycle engines (the Rocket features a v-twin Spacke engine) and a chain or belt drive to deliver power to the wheels. Small and light, they usually only sat two people, often in tandem formation.
The Rocket cyclecar was designed and manufactured by the Scripps-Booth Cyclecar Company, James Scripps Booth’s very first commercial automotive venture. The original Rocket prototype is owned by the Henry Ford and is currently on view. The Rocket we received at 8 AM yesterday morning is a later version, made in 1914 and owned by the Detroit Historical Museum.
The DHM has had the car out on long-term loan to the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Maine, however, complicating matters quite a bit. After extensive discussion, it was decided that the Rocket would return home to Detroit from Maine and spend a year here at Cranbrook Art Museum, on view in A Driving Force: Cranbrook and the Car.
And so yesterday morning, six months after I began working on a car-themed museum exhibition, my Rocket arrived. Transporting artwork is a complicated thing, but transporting vintage cars – well, that’s a whole different ballgame. This car traveled 1000 miles in a giant truck, blocked to keep it from rolling and lashed down only at the tires because the body of the vehicle was too fragile to be attached to anything.
Upon its arrival, our stalwart truck driver Raymond undid the tie-downs that held it in place, removed the blocks from the tires, and rolled the Rocket out into our dock. From there it was just a matter of us moving it into the museum vault, where it is now resting until the exhibition opens.
There are a lot of things that make this arrival exciting. For one thing, I’ve never had to work on shipping a vintage car 1000 miles, and that was pretty fun. More importantly, however, I’m so thrilled to be part of a team that returned this historic vehicle to Detroit (by way of Bloomfield Hills). In 2014 the Rocket will turn one hundred years old, and it will be celebrating its birthday while on view at a museum built by the Booth family. This is a family reunion one hundred years in the making, and it all started the moment that car entered Cranbrook.
By Shoshana Resnikoff, 2012-2013 Collection Fellow