- Written by webmin
The last week has been a banner one for finding additional images of long-lost vehicles. First, we found the color images of the Brooks Stevens FC-150 Commuter, and now, thanks to Bob Stinnette, we have three more images of the mysterious Mars Express.
Bob wrote on his My Hemmings page that his father, Robert B. Stinnette, took the photos sometime in the late 1930s on U.S. Route 1 just north of Richmond, Virginia.
We know from automotive historian Bob Cunningham that the Mars Express first appeared on American roads in 1934, promoting the Pan American Petroleum Corporation. As an account in the Tuscaloosa News from June 14, 1934, reported, Pan American advertised the Mars Express as a 1,000 MPH car that “follows scientific forecasts of 50 years in the future.”
There will be decorated automobiles of the newest type accompanying the Rocket Car. And a special auto will carry the “Man from Mars,” who depicts the characters that we will see journeying to earth perhaps from our neighboring planets.
The cars complete streamline effect will help to make possible the unbelievable speeds of the future – speeds of 1,000 and more miles an hour.
To eliminate useless weight, while retaining essential strength, the car has an aluminum body, painted copper. Its overall length is 20 feet, width 7 feet, height 6 feet.
The rocket car has powerful radio, two loudspeakers and microphone. On the dashboard, ahead of the driver’s seat is a planetary map… a well-known artist’s fanciful idea of the heavens.
The cabin is beautifully finished in fine tan leather. Here you see the control board, with strange instruments predicted for rocket car tours – switches for humidimeter, velocimeter, disintegrator ray and oxygen tanks.
Pan Am is the first to build an actual practical car following rocket car lines.
That last claim appears to be just as fanciful as the rest of the claims made about the car. Either way, the Mars Express next shows up in 1938, just a few days after Orson Welles’s radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds,” with the somewhat more plausible claim of being able to run 115 MPH with a supercharged Ford V-8 engine powering it. However, Pan-American no longer associated itself with the car; instead, Peter Vacca (sometimes referred to as Peter Vacco) of Buffalo, New York, claimed to have spent $16,000 building the car. The man in Stinnette’s third photo may just be Vacca, posing with the Mars Express for an impromptu portrait.
Cunningham said that the Mars Express later went on to tour with the Cole Brothers circus from 1939 through 1942 before disappearing altogether; with that much aluminum in its construction, it’s very probable that it was scrapped for the war effort. The major differences we see here are the spotlamp mounted to the front and the 1937 New York license plate (5x-xx-90); previously published photos of the Mars Express show it sans spotlamp and wearing a 1938 South Carolina license plate (102-624).
So what was Vacca doing with the Mars Express in Richmond, Virginia, at that time? And does anybody know its ultimate fate?