The cover of this month’s Memphis is certainly, well, different. But I’m guessing it caught your immediate attention, doing exactly what a good cover is supposed to do: make the reader stop and look inside. Heck, that’s probably how you landed here.
I wish we could tell you more about this wonderful old photograph, but we have virtually no hard information about this particular image. My friend Angelo Van Bogart, editor of Old Cars Weekly (oldcarsweekly.com), suggests that the scene depicted on the cover is probably from the early 1920s, and that the roadster itself appears to be a miniature Packard, “probably homebuilt.” In those early automotive days, you could indeed purchase a car by mail and put it all together in your own backyard or in buildings people were starting to call “garages.”
As for the two individuals crammed into the front seat, we have no earthly idea who or where exactly they are; let us know if you have any information (no, they are not Laurel and Hardy). But they provide the perfect introduction to this month’s cover story on the early days of automobiles in Memphis. Executive Editor Michael Finger has pulled together all the moving parts, so to speak, describing how cars helped transform every facet of life in this city in the first three decades of the twentieth century.
We all think we live in super-revolutionary times, what with our iPads, texting, and our dwelling in an interconnected world the like of which has never been seen before on this planet. But really, as Michael’s story on page 30 explains so well, the technogical advances and cultural changes that Memphis experienced in the early 1900s on account of the invention and popularization of the automobile were every bit as dramatic and life-altering.
“Cars!” this month is just a small piece of an even bigger project Michael’s been working on: Memphis in Motion, a definitive illustrated history of the automobile industry in Memphis, from 1901 til the present, with a special look at the families that have become household names here: Dobbs, Schaeffer, Gossett, Skelton, and many more. This coffee-table book will be published in late October by Contemporary Media, the parent company of this magazine, in conjunction with the Greater Memphis Automobile Dealers Association, which is celebrating its centennial this year. The Memphis of 2016 is dramatically different from the one residents here knew in 1916. Michael’s book will trace just how much the city has changed over that century, and just how major a role cars, roads, and automobile dealers have played in that transformation. (GMADA is celebrating this centennial with an international auto show at the Cook Convention Center over the last weekend of October, showcasing the latest models from America and abroad; check out all the details on page 25.)
Regular readers of this column know that every month the visual we feature here is a previous Memphis cover from our four-decade history. Picking a cover this month was a no brainer. Our May 1984 cover (an illustration by Mike Coulson) showed then Memphis Mayor Dick Hackett alongside then Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris crammed into the front seat, yes, of an antique roadster. Coincidence? A premonition? Who knows. But I’m confident that this month’s issue of Memphis will take you for a real joyride down memory lane.