The Automobile Driving Museum Welcomes ‘A Woman’s Touch’ Through July

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 03/2017
  • posted in: Great Garages

Fast women, for sure: Shirley ‘Cha’ Muldowney, Janet Guthrie, Lyn St. James and the Force sisters, Brittany and Courtney. They are the “Sirens of Chrome” and the “Racing Divas”; however marqueed, they drove themselves to success in a male-dominated industry.

These great female racers and dragster drivers will appear at “A Woman’s Touch”, through July 31 at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo, California, minutes from the LAX airport.

“Our new exhibit recognizes the impact that women have had on the automobile industry from the inception of the automobile to modern times,” says Tara L. Hitzig, executive director of the museum. “It portrays the history of women in the automotive industry, the key players of yesteryear and today, the ‘Sirens of Chrome’, and how women have been used in automotive advertising and the role of the automobile in the Suffrage Movement.”

Founded in 1970 by Stanley Zimmerman, the Automobile Driving Museum comprises 130 cars reflecting the history of the American automobile, with a small section of British cars as well.

Its mission is to collect, preserve exhibit and, every Sunday, to offer rides in three alternating historic vehicles. The cars are mostly from the ’20s and ’30s, many of them long-discontinued marques such as Packard, Durant and Saxon. “We use our collection to present educational opportunities and displays that illustrate the aesthetic, engineering and the cultural evolution of the automobile,” Hitzig explains.

Be There! (Muldowney and St. James Will)

The women have been drivers, inventors, CEOs, writers, designers, race car drivers and models. They include Hellé Nice, who drove a Bugatti Type 35C in five Grands Prix in France; Pat Moss, Stirling Moss’ sister, with outright wins and seven podium finishes in international rallies; journalist and racer Denise McCluggage; Janet Guthrie, who finished ninth in the 1978 Indy 500; Jutta Kleinschmidt, the only woman to win the Paris Dakar Rally; Nellise Louise Goins, the first African-American funny car driver; and Arizonan Danica Patrick, whose win in the 2008 Indy Japan 300 is the only women’s victory in an IndyCar Series race.

Also expected are “Grease Girl,” Kristin Cline, offering “Ladies Car Care 101” May 13, and Pati Fairchild, a professor in the automotive technician classes at El Camino College in Los Angeles County, who will be hosting “Girls in the Garage Car Show & Vintage Fashion Exchange.”

Shirley Muldowney, who won the NHRA Top Fuel Championship in 1977, 1980, and 1982, and Lyn St. James have confirmed for a July 8 appearance in conjunction with Collector Car Appreciation Day.

A Phoenix-area resident since 2012, St. James competed in the IndyCar series and was the first woman to win the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award. With Roush Racing, she has two victories at the 24 Hours of Daytona, in 1987 a Ford Mustang with co-drivers Tom Gloy and Bill Elliott and in 1990 with a Mercury Cougar co-driven by Robby Gordon and Calvin Fish.

Also with Roush Racing, she had a win at the 12 Hours of Sebring, also a Mercury Cougar, with Robby Gordon and Calvin Fish. In addition, she also earned victories in a Ford Mustang in the IMSA Camel GT Series GTO Division at Watkins Glen and Road America in 1985, again for Roush Racing.

In 1994, she founded the 501©(3) Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation, a driver development program, which became the Women’s Sports Foundation in 2013, including a Project Podium scholarship fund for women in racing (

“Other than Shirley Muldowney and Janet Guthrie, I wasn’t aware of any other female drivers growing up in Ohio,” recalls St. James, who will be signing her book, Lyn St. James: An Incredible Journey during her appearance at the museum.

“My inspiration came from loving cars and driving fast, and loving to compete. I also think watching Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs probably played a role in giving me the inspiration to not be afraid to pursue something that mostly men were doing.”

Cars in the Spotlight

Among the cars featured are Shirley Muldowney’s restored 1977 World Champion Top Fuel Dragster; President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt’s 1932 Plymouth Town Car by Brewster; a replica of the 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen in which Bertha Benz participated in the first long-distance drive; and a 1914 Saxon representing the one driven by Alice S. Burke during the Suffrage movement.

Also displayed is Jean Peters’ 1955 Packard Caribbean Convertible, a gift to the actress from inventor and Hollywood studio owner, Howard Hughes, and a 1955 Nash Rambler representing the interior design by Helene Rother, one of the first women to work in automotive styling.

Attendees will also enjoy an interactive map showcasing the first woman, Alice Huyler Ramsey, to drive across the United States and the 125-city, 10,700-mile, 178-day Suffrage movement drive of Alice S. Burke and Nell Richardson.

“We consider ourselves the ‘petting zoo’ of car museums,’ Hitzig says. “At our museum, visitors are allowed to open the doors and step inside the cars in their time. We are very tactile and experiential. You can get up close and personal with our cars, and our dedicated and informed docents are available for tours to learn more.”

Hitzig invited us into the Art Deco-inspired museum. Here are some of the collection:

•1936 Packard Touring Car –– The sedan is one of just 12 convertibles produced. The engine is the 67-degree V-12. A full restoration has been completed by Glenn Vaughn. “The car has placed first in every show except Pebble Beach and is our resident 100-point car,” Hitzig says. “The Senior Series Twelves had the finest of leather, cloth and wood trim money could buy. No expense was spared in these cars.”

•1930 Stutz 4 Door Monte Carlo –– This Model “MB” has Weymann coachwork and a Stutz Vertical Eight SV-16 engine.

Harry Stutz was born in Ansonia, Ohio, in 1876. Self-taught, he learned his trade hands-on, working with talented people at several auto manufacturers at the turn of the century. In 1909, he decided to design and build a car, so, with the Indianapolis 500 being proposed to run in 1911, he built a model to enter the race and begin car sales. 

Stutz was innovative throughout the years, racing at Indy and gaining popularity with the “Bearcat” in 1912. His cars were priced from high median to expensive throughout the 1920s, with from a high of 5,000 units in 1926 to under 1,500 units in the early ’30s, Hitzig says. 

“To increase sales, Stutz went with an Anglo-French design, hiring Weymann Body Builder to do a lightweight all-fabric wrapped body over an ash frame,” she says.

An extensive five-year body-off restoration was completed, which earned the Stutz a Best in Class at the 1990 Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance. Other awards have followed: Best of Show at both the Lafayette and St. Mary’s Concours and Most Exotic Classic and Judges Choice at the Silverado and Hillsborough Concours, respectively. 

•1955 Packard Caribbean Convertible 5580 –– This gift to Peters from Hughes carries the year’s major redesign by Richard Teague of the 1951 style. Some of the changes were to the tail lights, the wrap-around windshield, grill, interior and dash. Torsion level suspension was standard for the Senior models and optional for the Clippers, and a new V-8 engine was also standard.

“With its new president, James Nance, this was Packard’s attempt to regain its share of the luxury market now held by Cadillac,” Hitzig says. “Packard had a very competitive product for 1955 in all areas, but it was too little too late to turn the company around. 

“Our founder, Stanley Zimmerman, worked for many months to acquire this car for the museum,” Hitzip says, noting that it’s in original condition with a little more than 7,000 miles on the odometer.

•1937 Pierce Arrow Brunn Metro Town Car –– Only one Town Car of 137 cars were built this year. 

Pierce Arrows were among the automotive masterpieces of the early 1900s, beginning in 1902 with distinctive styling such as the headlights built into the fenders first in 1914. “No expense was spared, and many were created specifically for the future owner, complying with each and every request and demand,” Hitzig says.

Pierce Arrow stole the New York Auto Show in 1933 with its streamlined Silver Arrow, designed by Phillip Wright. But sales dropped to 2,152 units in 1933, 500 below the previous year and 1,000 below break-even. 

In 1938 there were only 17 vehicles created before the company closed May 13, 1938. 

“The Great Depression was thinning out the number of individuals who could afford one of these magnificent creations,” she says.

•Curtiss Candy Company Car “Baby Ruth” 1938 American Bantam –– Outfitted with a Saab Sonet 3-cylinder, 2-cycle sports car engine, this bantam was once a red roadster used to distribute Curtiss candy bars. A complete cosmetic restoration required 13 years and was completed in 1982; another followed in 2000. 

The Automobile Driving Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m.−4 p.m. As a donation-based museum, the admission fees are $10 per adult, $8 per senior, $5 children, ages 11−17, and children 10 and under are free. For information, see or call 310.909.0950.

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