Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Odd and Unusual: the McQuay-Norris Streamliner Vans of the 1930's

Somehow, for some reason, I came across this on Facebook one day. A person by the name of Luis Cesar had posted these photos and I was instantly mesmerized by the unusual style of these vehicles. You can view the entire album on his Facebook page by clicking here. I had to know more. Here is some basic information on these uniquely-shaped automobiles and their history.

McQuay-Norris Streamliner- 1934
This vehicle was created as a promotional vehicle for the Mcquay-Norris Company of St. Louis, Missouri, which manufactured replacement pistons, rings, bearings, and other automotive parts used to rebuild an engine or chassis. Six cars were built for promotional purposes but more importantly they were used as test cars. As such, they were equipped with a multitude of gauges mounted on the dash to monitor the performance of various components. The highly advanced, streamlined body design was constructed of steel and aluminum over a wood framework. The curved plexiglass windshield offers a panoramic view–except to the rear. These vehicles traveled extensively across the U.S. and Canada from 1934 to 1940. The driver sits in the middle of the body, and there is room behind the seats for a suitcase and blowby meter (used to measure how well the piston rings and valves are sealing).


Manufacturer: Hill Auto Body Metal Company
Engine: Ford Flathead V8, 221 cubic inches, 85 horsepower
Top Speed: 80 miles per hour
Years of Production: 1933-1934
Source: Lane Motor Museum

The McQuay-Norris Company, based in St. Louis, MO, manufactured replacement pistons, rings, bearings and other engine rebuilt parts. In the early 1930s, six promotional vehicles were built by the Hill Auto Body Metal Company of Cincinnati, Ohio for the McQuay-Norris Company. Along with being promotional vehicles, they were used for testing. As such, they were given a plethora of gauges on the instrument panel to monitor the performance of various engine components.

The exterior of the vehicle was as unusual as it was advanced. It streamlined shape was made of steel and aluminum over a wood framework. The curved windshield offers a panoramic view - except to the rear. The driver sits well back, near the middle of the body, and there is room behind the seats for a suitcase, a blowby meter (to measure how well the piston rings and valves are sealing) and a viscometer (to monitor oil viscosity). Some of the gauges monitored the engine oil level, pressure and temperature, water temperature and ammeter, and an accuracy refined speedometer and odometer.

From 1934 to 1940, the vehicles traveled across the United States and Canada. Powering the Streamliner was a Ford flathead 221 cubic-inch V8 that offered 85 horsepower. It was mated to a three-speed manual gearbox and had a top speed of 80 mph.

The drivers of the Streamliner were required to rebuild the engine in their vehicle with McQuay-Norris parts. This gave them first-hand knowledge to the quality of the McQuay-Norris parts, how to use them, and how they can be used. The drivers were instructed to monitor the fifteen (sometimes more) gauges and to document the various aspects of the health of the drivetrain. The drivers records were referenced during impromptu seminars held when the Streamliners rolled into towns where there were existing or potential distributors and users for its product line. Tars were kept until 1940, and then individually sold off. Two cars have survived. One was given a restoration in 1990.


In 1932 the McQuay-Norris Company of St. Louis had six teardrop-shaped cars built for promotion and research purposes. Company engineers designed the vehicle to test McQuay-Norris products on the road under normal driving conditions and to make these products known by every driver and mechanic across the country.

Through the 1930s the cars traveled the United States and Canada. McQuay-Norris hired young graduate engineers to drive the vehicles after personally rebuilding their vehicle's Ford engine using McQuay-Norris parts, so they could testify to their effectiveness as they called on potential customers.

This particular 1934 McQuay-Norris Streamliner is believed to be the sole survivor of the original fleet of six. The vehicle, known as test car number 9, was found in less-than-ideal conditions in Columbus, Ohio, in 1975. (The company labeled the cars one to fifteen, even though only six cars were produced.) At that time a collector purchased the vehicle and took 15 years to get it into operable condition. After changing hands several times, the vehicle was purchased by Lane Motor Museum in early 2005.


Blog post featuring a number of pictures, not only of the McQuay-Norris but other vehicles as well

February 2nd, 2016: "Newly discovered photos reveal the McQuay-Norrises in detail and a mystery streamlined bus"

Blog post about the Lane Musum in Nashville, TN which at one time had this on display, complete with trailer

View an entire gallery for this vehicle at

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