By: Natalie Harrington
It’s no exaggeration to call New England the birthplace of the American collector car hobby.
The original American car collectors were a pair of young aristocrats, each with a New England pedigree through and through. Diplomat Larz Anderson was educated at Exeter and Harvard; he married Isabel Anderson (née Weld), a Boston debutante who grew up summering in New Hampshire. The pair saw their first motor car while abroad in Paris, and both were instantly smitten. They had to have an auto of their own. They became collectors with their very first car purchase, the 1899 Winton, keeping it even as they continued to buy a new car every year. Ultimately, they amassed 32 automobiles in addition to a number of carriages and sleighs.
The Andersons only rarely let a car go. Most remained treasured possessions, ensconced in the carriage house where the Andersons’ contemporaries would have kept their horses. That carriage house still stands, nestled on the hillside of Larz Anderson Park, whispering of the grandeur that once attended the estate. Though the house and the couple themselves are long gone, their love of the automobile lives on in the museum that bears their name.
The Larz Anderson Auto Museum is to this day the steward of the world-class Anderson Collection. Though it may not be the grandest or wealthiest museum, it is indisputably the grande dame, safeguarding America’s oldest car collection. And now, the Anderson Collection sends its representative to America’s most prestigious car show: The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
The Pinnacle of a Tradition
Founded in 1950, the Pebble Beach Concours has long been considered one of the world’s premier celebrations of the automobile. It is certainly the top American concours, drawing the likes of Ralph Lauren, Jay Leno, and their fellow one-percenters. One does not simply enter one’s car for judging; one must apply and hope for acceptance or be invited to show it.
The Concours highlights different classes of vehicles every year, though you can be sure that all are fine. In its 70th year this August, the Concours will feature Early Electric Vehicles, and the 1908 S.R. Bailey Electric Victoria Phaeton once owned by the Andersons was invited as one of the most significant electric automobiles in existence. Among other achievements, this particular example is notable for having been the first electric car to cover the 1,500 miles from Boston to New York to Chicago, averaging 21.5 mph and needing no repairs along the way.
The Darling of a Collection
The Andersons loved all of their cars and lavished affection on them, naming each and assigning them mottos and personalities. But the Bailey was Isabel’s favorite, and it held a special place in her heart. Although Isabel Anderson was the first woman in Massachusetts to get her driver’s license, automotive technology at the time still contrived to limit her freedom, as most cars were essentially heavy machinery that required too much strength to crank-start. Thanks to its electric motor, the Bailey started easily, without threatening to break anyone’s arm. It was possible for a woman of Isabel’s slight stature and demure breeding to drive the car on her own (and a rumble seat at the rear meant her footman could still accompany her).
Isabel outlived her husband, and it was she who took the steps to ensure their collection would become a beloved institution. Now, as the 70th annual celebration of the very best collector cars approaches, it is only fitting that her favorite car should take its place on the eighteenth fairway.
The Larz Anderson Collection’s Bailey will cross the country to join the automotive elite, an ambassador from America’s oldest car collection to the descendants-in-spirit of America’s original car collectors. And when the champagne has flattened, the confetti has been swept up, and the corps d’elite have returned to their private jets, the Bailey will return to its home in New England, at the heart of automotive America.
Great story! And a good reminder of the importance of the collection at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum.