27 July 2015

Cars of Frank Lloyd Wright

Cross-Country Treks Give These Machines Incredible Provenance

ARCHITECT FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT is best remembered for certain signature buildings, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York and Fallingwater (the Kaufman residence) in Bear Run, Pennsylvania, but few people know of his strong interest in automobiles. Wright purchased and drove cars he felt represented thoughtful design, elegance and performance. These included cars from Jaguar, Packard, Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz.

At various times, Wright also owned a 1937 AC 16/80 Competition Sports; five 1949 Crosleys; two Cord L-29s (Phaeton and Cabriolet); a 1953 Bentley R-Type convertible and, famously, a modified 1940 Lincoln Continental. As with many of the objects in his professional and personal life, Wright’s cars were painted in his favorite Cherokee Red (a hue he called "the color of creation"), including the AC and the Crosleys.

Of all his cars, the AC 16/80 and the Hot Shots matter, specifically because Wright incorporated them in his teaching, and his students used them on cross-country trips throughout the 1950s.

Wright kept his cars at numerous locations, including his two residences, Taliesin East, in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona. In 1937, Wright established a school of architecture at Taliesin West, where the students, called “Fellows,” lived and studied.

Each fall, Wright moved from Taliesin East, where he spent his summers, to Taliesin West, which served as his winter quarters. This twice-yearly trek was facilitated by the Fellows, who drove Wright’s cars between the two locations. Wright encouraged them to take their time and visit parts of the country they had never seen. After each trip, the Fellows were required to report what they encountered during their journey, how it affected their understanding of the country and the architecture they saw on the way.

Arnold Roy was one of the Fellows who came to Scottsdale in 1952, and he has stayed with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation ever since. Today, at 91, he is a Senior Fellow of the Foundation. Articulate, spry and full of humor, he continues to live at Taliesin West. Roy made the trip across the country many times. On one trip, he was assigned to drive a Crosley, and he found it to be a miserable experience. With a wheelbase of only 80 inches, weighing 1,200 pounds and having just 26.5 horsepower, the car struggled to get over 50 mph, barely keeping up with the cars driven by other Fellows. The Eisenglass side curtains that served as windows leaked and flapped continually in the wind. Wright typically rode in one of his more prestigious cars, like the Cord L-29 Phaeton. With a 125-horsepower straight-eight engine and a 137-inch wheelbase, it was a far more elegant and comfortable way to traverse the country.

Last January, the Arizona Concours d’Elegance featured three of Frank Lloyd Wright’s cars, including the 1937 AC 16/80 Sports and a 1949 Crosley Super Sports. The Historic Vehicle Association then began the documentation process to place them on the National Historic Vehicle Register. Once documentation has been completed, it will be recorded in the Library of Congress.

During the photography of the cars at Taliesin, Wright Fellow Arnold Roy was reunited with the Crosley for the first time since the 1950s and had an opportunity to drive it around the grounds. He found that it was a great light car for running local errands but still considered it a poor choice for traversing the country.

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