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Automobiles of Distinction; Imperial Palace Auto Collection, Las Vegas, Nevada by Henry Rasmussen

Automobiles of Distinction; Imperial Palace Auto Collection, Las Vegas, Nevada by Henry Rasmussen
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Book review by Richard Parks,
photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz


A pictorial and historical work of fine photography is Automobiles of Distinction; Imperial Palace Auto Collection, Las Vegas, Nevada, by Henry Rasmussen. This massive pictorial book is 17 1/4 by 12 1/4 inches in size and is nearly an inch thick, covering 192 pages. There are 71 automobiles portrayed in 172 color and 270 black and white photographs on the finest waxed paper. Rasmussen took all of the current photographs for the book and the historical photographs came from the collections of The Behring, Harrah, Al Michaelian and Road & Track magazine. Rasmussen and Lowell C. Paddock provided the textual material, though it is mostly expanded captions. Automobiles of Distinction is a hard-bound book with a quality cloth woven spine and a spectacular dust cover jacket to protect the book and enhance its external look.  The publisher is Motorbooks International and that tells us that you will find quality throughout the book, for this publisher only handles the best material.  The book was first published in 1990 and the ISBN # is 0-87938-461-1. There is no price listed and it may take some time to locate a copy, but check with book stores and look on-line to see if a copy is available. Ralph Engelstad, owner of The Imperial Palace Auto Collection in Las Vegas, Nevada authorized the work from his collection of over 700 rare and valuable automobiles. Assisting the author with research was Randy Ema, Terry Dunham, Strother MacMinn and Dennis Adler. I know Randy Ema and he is the expert on all things named Duesenberg. Rasmussen, who has more than ten books to his credit and has worked extensively in the automotive media, brings a perceptive eye and a high quality to his photographic work, as well as telling a short but compelling story on each marque. The book is simply too large to put into a bookcase or on a shelf and the beautiful plates belong on a table, prominently displayed. It is a coffee table book par excellence. 

Following the Credits and Acknowledgements there is a two page Table of Contents and the print is in very large type, which I very much liked. The cars are alphabetized with their page numbers following the car. A two page Introduction by the owner of the collection, Ralph Engelstad, gives a short history of his collection. I found Ralph Engelstad to be as fascinating a subject as his car collection. Isn't it true that you can tell what a man is like by the things he collects? Engelstad was born around 1930 and was working by the time he was thirteen years old. He bought his first car when he was nineteen and married at twenty-four, and there was a car in his life at each crossroads that he faced. He never thought he would accumulate so many automobiles, but he had an eye for quality and a desire to add to what he enjoyed. Engelstad also has a love for history and especially the history of the automobile. He didn't say much more than that, but Rasmussen caught him in two poses that really capture what Engelstad is all about. The first photograph showed Ralph straight on, in the driver's seat of a small coupe, with that boyish and youthful look that comes over a man who is remembering the past. The second photograph is equally telling, for it shows Engelstad with the curator and director of the museum, Richie Clyne. Dressed comfortably in a work shirt and jeans, Engelstad has his hands in his pockets, his square jaw set and his eyes focused on his cars. This is a man who is passionate about what he does and what he believes in and willing to stand forth for those values. The rest of the book is simply cars. There is no index to refer to; this is a feast for the eyes and the photography is the reason to buy this book and treasure it.

Some of the photographs stretch over two pages in length, approximately thirty inches in all. Other photographs are smaller and crowd the page. The author spreads out the color photographs on one page and the black and white on the next. He prefers black and white photographs by a margin of 3 to 2. I thought the black and white photographs enhanced the aura of the pre-World War II cars and I can see why he preferred to shoot this way. Rasmussen also shot photos of trucks, motorcycles and fire trucks, but it was his plates of the old classics that take one's breath away. The collection has duplicates and the author shows a row of Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz. The Imperial Palace collection also includes a restoration garage and skilled mechanics and craftsmen to maintain the cars and work on them. Richie Clyne should also be recognized, for this man is responsible for the day to day work, research and the finding of new cars for the collection. A yearly auction at the Imperial Palace attracts nearly 500 rare cars from around the world and hundreds of bidders. The detail on the pictures is simply amazing. Rasmussen is an excellent photographer and has an eye for detail; the kind of things most people would overlook at first. Everyone has a list of favorite cars that they enjoy; mine drifted towards the very early cars of the 1890's and first decade of the twentieth century. Another set of favorites was the pre-WWII marques, those with the soft curves and graceful lines. It amazes me that Benz could create the first viable cars in the mid 1880's and within two decades they look and feel as sophisticated and beautiful as anything that we can create today. In fact, what we produce today is stilted, drab, dull and monotonous. Those early cars had lines, curves, corners and plenty of personality. You knew what kind of car it was in 1910, for no two looked alike. The 1930's produced the most sensual and sleek designs as we shall ever see, except for a few modern sports cars. Even those high finned and buxom cars of the 1950's and '60's are preferable to cars that we have today.

Some of the marques included the 1904 Lenawee that only saw fifteen ever built. The 1899 La Nef Three-Wheeler looks like something that a bike maker would create for modern bike shows, except that it is steered by a tiller. While other cars of the first decade of the twentieth century look little more than adaptations of their farm wagon kin, the 1909 Pope-Hartford looks right at home with the cars of the 1920's and '30's. It's a sad fact that so many excellent cars and beautiful designs simply could not compete in the market place and faded into oblivion. The Pope is one of them, for it stopped production in 1915. Right from the beginning the Cadillac was the king of cars, but the 1912 Minerva with the partially convertible top is better. The Franklin and Simplex are models for the family man, intent on touring the countryside. The 1920's introduce the fashionable cars; 1920 Daimler saloon car, 1924 McFarlan Cabriolet, and Packards of all shapes and sizes. These are luxury cars that most of our parents could only dream of riding in. The 1930's saw the advent of the boat tailed speedsters and the truly amazing 1932 Ford Deuce. Perhaps the Deuce was not as fashionable as the more expensive cars, but it revolutionized the car for teenagers, who made it the de jure hot rod of all time. This was the era of the Great Depression and yet we see these absolutely beautiful roadsters, touring cars and elegant European marques. This is the time of the Cords and Duesenbergs, which rival the Packard and the Pierce-Arrow. The war brings a boxier, more stilted look, followed by the Eisenhower years and then the Viet Nam era. Cars change and Automobiles of Distinction reflect that change in style and utility. The book and the author are not out to make an encyclopedia of car designs, but in displaying these 71 cars the reader can see how the car evolved and the textual captions are just the right amount of information to help us learn more about this automotive progress. style and utility. The book and the author are not out to make an encyclopedia of car designs, but in displaying these 71 cars the reader can see how the car evolved and the textual captions are just the right amount of information to help us learn more about this automotive progress. It's an excellent pictorial and I give it a 7 and 1/2 sparkplugs out of a possible 8.

Gone Racin' is at [email protected]

I rate this book a 7 1/2 out of 8 sparkplugs.



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