Sunday, January 20, 2013

Car in the Lobby

Last Friday (January 18) the person who does public relations for the College stopped by the Library to ask about the car on display in the College first floor lobby. I passed by the car many times and since it had no sign or plaque, I never paid too much attention. She wanted to know more about the car and the story of how it came to the College. She knew the car once belonged to the school’s namesake, Malcolm X.

The car is a black, four-door hard top Oldsmobile Ninety-eight. The Ninety-eight was a top of the line car with many advanced features (for its time) such as padded dash, safety spectrum speedometer, air scoop brakes, dual-speed windshield wipers, Safety-Vee steering wheel, parking brake lamp, power windows, windshield washer, electric clock, Roto Hydramatic transmission, power steering and power brakes.

Picture from

In our investigation we wanted to know the year this car was manufactured. In the 1960’s the vehicle identification number (VIN) is not clearly visible. Initially we couldn’t find it because we didn’t know where to look. Manufactures put the VIN on the engine in some cars, but this car had the engine and all the under hood parts removed. Later in the afternoon, the PR person found a passer-by who knew to look at the right rear tail light for the date of manufacture. This car was made in 1963. Malcolm X died Feb. 21, 1965.

The College archives didn’t help with the quest for information about the car and the story of how it came to the College. We looked in the Library databases for a story about the car and how it came to the College. We couldn’t find anything in the Chicago or national newspapers.
I did find references to Malcolm X driving an Oldsmobile. He owned several in his life time. The challenge is the one described in print was blue, not black. The car in lobby was not repainted. Below are some sources:

From Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention / by Manning Marable. (New York, Viking, 2011)
Malcolm picked up James and drive to Morningside Park pulling his blue Oldsmobile Ninety-eight to the curb …
From: The Autobiography of MALCOLM X with the assistance of Alex Haley, New York: Grove Press, 1965.
Malcolm X promptly did begin to pay me two- and three-hour visits, parking his blue Oldsmobile outside the working studio I then had in Greenwich Village. He always arrived around nine or ten at night carrying his flat tan leather briefcase which along… page 423

When the blue Oldsmobile stopped, and I got in… page 450

After that telephone call, Malcolm X drove on into Manhattan and to the New York Hilton Hotel between 53rd and 54th streets at Rockefeller Center. He checked the blue Oldsmobile into the hotel garage… page 469
From Curry, G. E. “1995, the last days of Malcolm X” Emerge, 6, 34-34.
That night [Feb. 20, 1965], Malcolm drove his blue 1965 Oldsmobile to the New York Hilton Hotel in Rockefeller Center, parking the car in the garage and taking a room on the 12th floor.
These quotes raise more questions than I can answer. Did Malcolm once have a blue 1963 Oldsmobile? Did the writers make a mistake about the color? Perhaps the car in the lobby is not really his? If someone can find the VIN it may be able to trace the ownership.

My task as a librarian is done after I pointed the person in the right direction. Perhaps some day we’ll find the documents in the archives with the answers?
Nov. 1, 2015

In anticipation of the College's new campus, the car was moved to the new building on Oct. 24.  The car was moved with the help of several cranes and lifts.  The wheels never turned.  There is no motor under the hood.  The car will now have a predominate place in the lobby.

Since the ceiling is not complete. this wooden "house" was built to protect the car.

I found out from Oldsmoble sites, that the VIN is probably on the driver side door.  I found this information after I left for day.  Sometimes the metal plate with the VIN falls off because the rivets corrode.  I leave this investigation for another day.

Received from  Doug Kitchener Gaithersburg MD on Jan 23, 2013.  Included with permission.

I've been an Oldsmobile enthusiast for many years. The car pictured is a 1964 model. Can't tell you much more than that. At one time there was an Oldsmobile History Center but I think it's been merged with the GM Heritage Center and I doubt that they have much comprehensive information about any one specific vehicle.

A good reference / "spotter's guide" for Oldsmobiles is _The Cars of Oldsmobile_ by Dennis Casteele, Crestline Publications. Crestline also has other similar publications concerning the other GM lines.

 Interesting story, thanks.

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