Heiress’s roadster among storied vehicles at museum

The Seal Cove Auto Museum’s 1911 American Victoria Underslung was built for Bostonian shipping heiress Isabel Perkins Anderson by her diplomat husband Larz Anderson. She used it to tour the Belgian countryside. PHOTO BY LAURA COLE

If you look closely at the side of the 1911 American Victoria Underslung displayed at the Seal Cove Auto Museum, you’ll see “Captain Ginger” written on a small gold seal on the car’s right side.

No, the vintage vehicle wasn’t owned by a person with fiery red hair, or a woman named Ginger. It belonged to Bostonian shipping heiress Isabel Perkins Anderson, wife of American diplomat Larz Anderson and one of the wealthiest socialites of her time. Captain Ginger was the hero of her children’s stories.

“What else is one of the wealthiest women in America going to do? She wrote books and stories,” museum curator Roberto Rodriguez asked.

The American Underslung, along with about 50 other vehicles, can be seen at the museum in the Tremont village of Seal Cove. Visitors can view cars and motorcycles from the earliest days of automotive innovation and read about the history and development of the auto industry.

The cars, themselves, are historically significant. Some are quite rare, such as the 1900 Skene Steamer — one of only a few cars known to be manufactured in Maine, Rodriguez explained.

But what really makes the vehicles special are their owners and stories associated with them.

Larz, a diplomat originally from Washington, D.C., used to spend summers with his family in Bar Harbor. President William Howard Taft named him U.S. Minister to Belgium in 1911.

“He buys a fleet of cars, and these are going to be the official embassy cars,” Rodriguez related. “The one that he orders for his wife is this one.”

In addition to writing children’s books, Isabel also wrote memoirs of life in the diplomatic service, including one about her time in Belgium.

“She took the trouble to tour around and get to know the countries that she lived in,” Rodriguez said. “And so in her book about her travels in Belgium, she talks extensively about her motor trips in to the countryside so she could see what it was like, and of course, her trips were in this car.”

The touring car, one of only eight or nine “underslungs” left, took her all around the Belgian countryside.

Underslungs are characterized by their frame, which hangs from the springs rather than being above them.

“It gave the cars this low center of gravity — and a really sporty look,” Rodriguez said.

After Larz’s tour in Belgium ended, the Andersons brought the roadster back to Boston. Before Isabel’s death in 1948, her cousin Briggs Swift Cunningham, an automobile and yacht racer, bought the car.

After taking the Underslung on “tours” for a few years, Cunningham placed the car in the BriggsCunninghamAutomotiveMuseum in Costa Mesa, Calif. After the museum closed in 1986, Cunningham sold the car to the Collier family, which has more than 100 automobiles on view at the Revs Institute in Naples, Fla.

The Seal Cove museum acquired the car from the Revs Institute in the late 1980s.

Although many of the museum’s cars are a century old, ranging from 1900 to 1928, their paintwork shines and many of them can run, thanks to the museum’s team of volunteers, the “Tuesday Tinkerers.”

And Rodriguez has stories to tell just about every vehicle.

The son of a U.S. diplomat, Rodriguez was born in Santiago, Chile. For a little over 40 years, he has worked in the museum field serving as a senior designer, manager, executive director and curator at museums in Canada and New England.

He was the executive director of Seal Cove Auto Museum from 2009 to 2011, and then returned as interim executive director in 2013 before taking his current position as curator.

Seal Cove Auto MuseumWhere: 1414 Tremont Road, Seal Cove

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., daily

How much: $6 adults, $5 seniors (62 and older), $5 teens (13-17), $2Children (5-12). Children under 5 go free.

Contact: 244-9242, www.sealcoveautomuseum.org

Laura Cole is a summer 2015 intern for the Ellsworth American, writing primarily for Out and About, the paper’s guide to Downeast Maine. She was born and raised in St. Louis and studies journalism and political science at the University of Missouri.