Saturday, June 20, 2015

Cars in Family Photos Can Help Date Photos and Determine Places

Do you have ancestors who liked to tinker with cars? Did they have photos taken of themselves with their cars?

Cars in family photos can be a great help in dating the photos and determining locations. If the license tag is visible, you can get the year and often the county and state.

If the tag is not visible, as in the above photo, then you may be able to study the make and model of the car to at least set the earliest date the photo could have been taken. I had a cousin who was an expert at this. He could look at almost any car and tell you the year and type of car it was.

In the above photo, Ralph B. Pierce poses on the trunk of a small two-seater car in front of his father’s Reservoir Inn convenience store and gas station on Moffett Road in Mobile, Alabama. The young boy is not identified. Another car can just be made out in the background.

The two-seater car turned out to be a something of a mystery.

At first I thought it could have been a British import. I checked with an expert on vintage British cars and he said this one wasn’t either a Morris Minor or Austin 7, both of which it resembles. The tire wheels don’t look to be the originals, which could have been wire rims.

The car doesn’t appear to have any component that is a Minor, and although the wheels might not be original, they look like they have four hub nuts, while a Minor’s wheel hubs only had three. The steering wheel is not from a Minor.

Another cousin solved the mystery.

Ralph built the car from junked parts in the backyard of the Reservoir Inn. His brother Raymond for a time operated a repair garage from the back of the Reservoir Inn and that’s where Ralph got the parts.

So the two-seater in this case isn’t much help in dating the photo. But there are other clues that show that the photo was taken sometime between 1940 and 1944.

We know this because the woodsy area to the right of the building shows that the Mobile Water Works and Sewer System had not yet built its filtration plant on Moffett Road. The plant went into operation in 1944. And Ralph’s father, N.B. “Bonie” Pierce, opened the Reservoir Inn in 1940. So the photo had to have been taken between those two years.

Of course, there is still the mystery of what the car body was originally. Any guesses?

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  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. The car is apparently a Bantam Roadster, perhaps a 1937-38 model by the American Austin Car Company. Austin was an American company founded in 1929. From 1930 through 1934, Autin produced cars licensed from the British Austin Motor Company, which made the Morris Minor which the Bantam resembles.Austin filed for bankruptcy reorganized under the name American Bantam.

    Production resumed in 1937 and continued through 1941, including the first prototype of what later became the Army jeep.

    The door opening on Ralph Pierce's car is more like that of the jeep than of any of the Bantam car models. It is still a bit of a mystery, but Ralph may have changed the opening.