Motts Museum obtains rare Rickenbacker Motors auto

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Messenger photo by Rick Palsgrove
Motts Military Museum Director Warren Motts, left, and Eddie Rickenbacker historian Richard Hoerle look over the 1925 Rickenbacker Brougham automobile recently obtained by the museum. In the background is a full scale replica of World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker’s Columbus boyhood home.

He was known as America’s "Ace of Aces" in World War I for shooting down 26 enemy airplanes. But he was also a Medal of Honor winner, renowned race car driver, manager of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for 15 years, president of Eastern Airlines, and a published author.

But in addition to all of these accomplishments, Columbus’ own Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker was also one of the leaders of the Rickenbacker Motor Company that from 1922-27 produced approximately 34,500 cars, of which only 125 are believed to still exist today.

One of those cars, a restored 1925 four door Rickenbacker Classic Brougham, was obtained by Motts Military Museum in Groveport and delivered to the museum on Aug. 10.

"To have one of Eddie Rickenbacker’s cars is a real coup," said Motts Military Museum Director Warren Motts. "There’s not many left and maybe only four or five in Ohio. We’ve tried to get one for a while and the last one we heard about, before we got this one, ended up going to Japan."

Rickenbacker historian Richard Hoerle said the museum obtained the car from a family in Pennsylvania for around $20,000.

"It needs a few minor repairs, but it’s in good shape," said Hoerle of the car. "Most of the public doesn’t know Rickenbacker built a car with his name. His company built the entire car, including the motor."

The Rickenbacker Motor Company

According to author W. David Lewis in his book, "Eddie Rickenbacker: An American Hero in the Twentieth Century," Rickenbacker believed transportation was key to the success of a society.

In an address broadcast by Los Angeles radio station KHJ in 1922, Rickenbacker stated, "The entire history of the world’s progress has been in the main a history of transportation."

Rickenbacker went on to note how the automobile had opened up new horizons for business and pleasure by increasing the mobility of citizens. He could also see that the automobile was transforming urban areas.

"Cities are laid out with suburban residence districts served by the automobile and by no other means," Rickenbacker told  the radio audience.

With this vision of the future, Rickenbacker teamed up with entrepreneurs from Detroit to found the Rickenbacker Motor Company.

According to Lewis, the company "had begun making money in the first 90 days of production" in 1922 and an estimated 3,700 cars were built in the first year.

In 1923 the company took the innovative step to introduce a four wheel braking system on its vehicles.

"(Eddie) Rickenbacker knew that four wheel brakes were safe because he had driven race cars with four wheel brakes," said Hoerle. "But the public was wary (of the innovation)."

The competition seized on this wariness, particularly Studebaker, which used advertising to attack Rickenbacker Motor Company’s innovation by claiming the four wheel braking system was unsafe.

In addition, Chrysler rolled out the Chrysler Model 70 in 1924 which proved to be a formidable competitive foe for Rickenbacker.

According to Lewis, Rickenbacker Motor Company began to falter in 1924 in the face of competition, conflicts with dealers, and a growing instability in the sales network. Sales fell and by 1927 the company ended operations leaving Eddie Rickenbacker with substantial debts.

The loss left him wiser and motivated Rickenbacker to excel at other future business endeavors.

Rickenbacker car has a home

Motts said, for the time being, the 1925 Rickenbacker Classic Brougham will be stored in the museum’s vehicle building.

"We’re hoping to build a hangar by the Rickenbacker house (a replica of Rickenbacker’s boyhood Columbus home on the museum grounds)," said Motts. "Then we’ll park the car in there. We also hope to obtain a Spad 13, one of two types of airplanes Rickenbacker flew in World War I, and display it in the hangar as well."

"I feel like the car is finally home," added Motts.

Read about the car’s history at http://www.rickenbackermotors.com/index.html. For information on Motts Military Museum, visit http://www.mottsmilitarymuseum.org/rickenbacker.html.

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