Pioneering female aviator Amelia Earhart has been back in the news lately. It’s a good time, we figured, to explore her fascinating history with cars.
Aviatrix and pop culture hero Amelia Earhart has never been far from America’s consciousness, and recently she was thrust back into the center spotlight by a new theory raised about her tragic disappearance over the Pacific in 1937. The theory proved to have some problems and the mystery remains unsolved, it would seem. But this is still a good time, in our view anyway, to explore Earhart’s long and colorful history with automobiles.
Always fascinated by aviation, Earhart liked to say she learned to fly an airplane before she learned to drive a car. In 1923, she and her mother were planning a move from California to Boston, and she found the idea of a long train trip so boring that instead she purchased a new Kissel Gold Bug Speedster—one of the hottest cars on the road. The bright yellow sports car, which she nicknamed “Kizzle” and “The Yellow Peril,” still exists today at the Forney Museum of Transportation in Denver. The rare photo above shows Earhart and the Kizzle with an enthusiastic gang of schoolchildren.
For the introduction of its new aviation-themed Terraplane brand, in 1932 the Hudson Motor Car Company selected Earhart as its celebrity spokesperson. Tall, thin, and athletic, not unlike another famous aviator, the lady flyer was at that moment one of America’s most popular personalities. In July she was the star of a huge rally at the Hudson plant in Detroit introducing the new line, where she christened the first Terraplane off the assembly line with a bottle of champagne. Here she is with a 1933 Terraplane 8 convertible.
The association with Hudson’s Terraplane line continued for years, virtually the life of the brand (1933-1937) it appears. Above, Earhart is shown with a 1936 Terraplane Custom Six Coupe. Other celebrity endorsers of the Terraplane included aviation pioneer Orville Wright. Terraplane’s slogan was, “On the sea that’s aquaplaning, in the air that’s aeroplaning, but on the land, in the traffic, on the hills, hot diggity dog, that’s Terraplaning!”
Other familiar images of Earhart include these shots, above and below, of the pilot posing with a 1936 Cord 810 Phaeton. The Cord was reportedly owned by her husband, publisher George Putnam (whose many credits included Charles Lindbergh’s runaway best seller, We). This may have been an arrangement to protect her Terraplane association. That’s our guess, anyway.
The Cord was painted a special light blue Earhart called Eleanor Blue in honor of her friend, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Of course, also shown in these photos is Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, the aircraft she was flying when she and navigator Fred Noonan were declared missing near Howland Island in the Central Pacific on July 2, 1937.