We lost Jerry Van Dyke yesterday (Jan. 5, 2018); he was probably best known as Luther Van Dam on “Coach.” But he had a unique connection to the car world, so here’s a little tribute to Jerry, from the Golden Age of Color Television:
Today, building a new car from previously-introduced components such as engines, instruments, body, and chassis pieces is nothing unique. Lotus even does it with a Toyota engine. But back just before The Great Depression, when there were practically more automotive manufacturers in America than there were cars on the road, the idea of borrowing bits and pieces from one make and/or model to complete another one was a brilliant, pioneering breakthrough.
Witness the 1928 Porter Touring Car, valued today as a rare treasure, lusted after by antique car collectors. Built by kitbashing real cars on a true 1:1 scale, the Porter engineers began with a Chevrolet frame, engine, and transmission. And why not? All the development work and costs were done, everything fit perfectly together, and it was a strong, reliable base for a grand touring car in the Roaring ’20s.
Similar to Henry Ford‘s “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black“ philosophy, Porters were only made in Carnation Red with a white folding top. The red went very well with the brass fittings, maybe reminiscent of a fire engine, but the ultra-wide whitewall tires set on wire wheels seem a bit “bright” to me.
Because of the expense of stamping new body panels, existing body parts from the Ford Model T, the Maxwell, and the Hudson were used. It even had rear suicide doors. But the hood, grille nameplate, and brass radiator surround were made just for the Porter. Also unique to the design are the lowered headlights, setting the styling apart from other 1920s cars, as well as adding to the special appeal of this classic. The windshield-to-bumper braces were another innovative Porter feature.
The Touring Car’s body only had three doors, but seated five people. Its body widened from the cowl toward the rear, but with the primitive driving controls, only two people could comfortably sit up front. Three-across seating was comfortable in the back; there was no rumble seat. A wicker case served as the trunk.
Unique Porter engineering features included “Stop-On-A-Dime Brakes” and a carburetor that contained sixteen nuts, fourteen screws, and three bolts. They were also the first cars to have a factory-installed radio in the 1920s.
Only two original Porters are known to exist. One is in the hands of a private collector in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; the other is in a museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Since they were just built for a very short time, the attractiveness (and scarcity) of them has spawned reproductions, made easier since many of the parts this car was made from are still available.
All of these ancient, antique cars are so much fun today! Whether in parades or car shows, they draw stares, smiles, and cameras. I think that they should not sit around and collect dust, but should be shown to those who would drive many miles to see them.
OK, we’ve gone on about the 1928 Porter, and now it’s time to say… if you haven’t remembered the car by now, it’s my duty to tell you that it actually never existed–not until 1965, that is. This car was the star of TV’s My Mother The Car, which was only on for one year (1965-66). Barris Kustom Industries built it exactly as described above, but with a 283-in.³ V-8 and a Powerglide (two-speed) automatic transmission. Yes, there are replica(r)s, and a 1928 Porter Touring Car is at the Star Cars Museum in Gatlinburg.
My Mother The Car‘s plot revolved around an attorney (Jerry Van Dyke) who bought a car that was somehow haunted by his late mother (voiced by Ann Sothern). She spoke to him from the afterlife through the car’s radio, accompanied by a sequentially-flashing dial light. Once again, this would have put Porter engineering ahead of its time, since car radios were not factory installed until the 1930s.
To have been broadcast for nearly an entire year (30 episodes were made) tells how TV trends have changed since the 1960s. Instead of today’s policy of demanding an overnight hit, the network gave the show time to try to find its audience. Now the audience must go to a museum or a car show to see My Mother The Car, or find it on the web somewhere.
Image Credits: The black & white image is from Blogspot.com. The second photo is from RemarkableCars.com. The car show image is from Farm2.Static.Flickr.com. The My Mother The Car image is from Wikipedia.