Classics 101: An Introduction to Classic Cars
There are still some inexpensive Full Classics® out there!
I think that the best way to start this is to explain why I got myself into this. In the summer of 2009 my wife Ruth and I joined fellow Club members George and Sylvia Potter and Howard and Evelyn Freeman from the Oregon Region of the Classic Car Club of America for “The Far Out West National Tour” This is a whole other story but due to a breakdown of a loaned Classic on the way to this event, we had to resort to driving the only modern iron among 80 beautiful Full Classics®. We have owned a very rare 1942 DeSoto for the last four years but as you know it is not a Classic and I tried to pitch its attributes to the higher echelon in the Club to no avail. Instead, I decided it was time to get our own Full Classic®.
What to buy? I have always been partial to Cadillacs so I started to look online for a 1947 and enlisted the help of my cousin George Potter who became totally enthusiastic about helping me spend my money (and still is to this day). After several emails we finally hit on a 1941 Series 6219D, four-door Cadillac in Chicago, Illinois. I must admit it looked pretty darn good on the computer so I began to watch the bidding. The asking price was $18,000 with a claimed 32,000 original miles. Not bad. A day or two later I saw they dropped the price to a buy now of $14,850and this prompted a call. I asked the contact what he knew about the car and he said he was selling it for a family friend and that his real business was storing cars and that he had 13 cars stored at his warehouse for Michael Jordan. I asked him if he thought I could drive the car home to Oregon if I flew out to get it. He said they hadn’t gone through it mechanically, but with a little tender care it would be possible. I was happy with his reply because the usual “you could drive it anywhere” would have made me very suspicious. I asked him if the radio worked and he said it did but the windshield wipers didn’t and his mechanic didn’t know how to fix them. This should have been a gigantic red flag! The vacuum hose had a bolt in it.
After talking to my buddies in the Club (mainly George), checking prices and watching the bidding, I decided, with one day left, to buy this car. With the title-transfer-cost included I wired $15,000 and now we had to figure out how to get it to Oregon. With a lot of discussion as to what it would cost and some knowledge of the trucking industry as an owner operator myself, I was able to get a transfer to do the job with help from Karen at the dealership for $750 cash. With this car the trucker filled out his load and even though I had no time line, it arrived within two weeks. There are deals out there, if you’re patient.
I received the promised package from the previous owner with all the history that she had of this car. Her dad bought the car in Arizona at a Kruse/Wahler auction January 15, 1984 for $7,035 when it had 29,915 miles on it. He stored it in his hot Arizona garage all those years along with 14 other old cars. When he passed away at age 94 she tried to do the best she could in selling these cars. She sent me records of the big bills she had paid trying to get this car running. I called the garage that had charged her all that money and they really had not ever figured out what was wrong. I think the reduced price had a lot to do with this frustration. I should clear up the fact that her dad had his winter home and garage in Arizona, but the family lived in Illinois.
So the big day arrived. We rolled the car off the truck and I got my first real look at her. She had 32,156 miles on her odometer and really looked pretty good. The paint (Managua beige) had sort of a military look to it and there was a sign in the back seat that said cars like this and maybe this one were used to haul Army officers around during World War II. I got in and started her up. She started but sounded like an old hotrod indicating that the muffler was completely shot. And, although she would idle, as soon as I gave her gas the poor thing belched and blue smoke was everywhere. I said to myself, “What in the #%&* did I get myself into now?” I drove the Cadillac up my driveway, barely making it into my garage and then I called George.
Everyone should have a cousin George. After looking at my car he said, “I think you made an excellent buy” and I began to feel much better. Everything was there and it would idle like a champ but as soon as I gave it gas, all bets where off. We thought it must be electrical so I replaced plugs, points, plug wires, condenser and coil. With help from George we soon realized it was probably a gas problem. It had a Carter carburetor and in trying to adjust the float and reading the specs, we realized it was the wrong carburetor. For whatever reason someone had put a 1947 carb on it. The only difference was the intake manifold which had quarter-inch smaller holes than the bottom of the carb.
Things were starting to look a little better. I must say that before we got to this point I had completely blown the back end off the muffler and it was really hard to love something that loud! Back to the support of our great Club and with some help from Howard Freeman we got a Stromberg for a 1941. With help from George (setting the float with gas and tubing and a warning not to try this at home) we put her on and what do you know? Zero to 60 in 15 seconds with a Hydramatic transmission. Wow!
I couldn’t wait to replace the muffler and tailpipe and with a friend in the business we finally had a car that sounded great and was almost road worthy. So now I got in the swing of things and thought maybe I really had made a good deal. The car came with seat covers covering the originals and I had read that you could get this done on a new car from the factory for $8.75 a seat. So, I cut a little of the back seat and thought I had new upholstery, only to find out later that I uncovered probably the best section of original seat covers I had. Darn!
I changed the oil (George says to use oil for Diesel engines) and serviced the transmission at AAMCO. I went to talk with Maaco about painting the car. After some discussion we decided to make a deal. I wanted their best with a few extras and the preliminary came to $4,600. The extras were to replace all the rubber around the doors, trunk lid and across the cowl. I supplied the rubber (What would we do without Steele Rubber Products?)
So I dropped the car off and after two weeks we finally got the best guy in the shop to start and three days later I got a call to come down to the shop. I sense there’s trouble so I call George and when we get there this mechanic says, “I can’t make any money on this car and I quit.” I didn’t know they did piecework at Maaco. So after some discussion the manager said he had a guy from another shop who was trying to get a job at Maaco, would work by the hour and do a good job. At this time I must thank George for his help. We were the good guy/bad guy team and he did the interview of the new guy. I wanted to leave the car there because while taking the chrome off I saw a shoulder bolt that was loose on the left hood hinge and while tending to this minor adjustment I tightened the little mother one turn too many and she broke and the whole hood fell over on the fender. Damn!. So with George’s help and another friend we took the hood off and I hauled it in separately because it would have been awkward to start somewhere else. I learned a lot about paint jobs. When George asked the manager “You are going to block sand aren’t you?” He replied “We don’t do that.” I said, “Well you’re going to do that on this one and it’s okay to charge more” and they did. (I finally had to ask George afterward, “What’s block sanding?”) All-in-all the paint job really looks great. My biggest reason for going to Maaco was that the guy that actually did the paint is painting two to three cars a day and should know how to paint. I also learned that it’s all in the preparation. We painted it with DuPont’s version of the original paint.
There were a few other things such as medallions that were missing from the front and back of the car. I found a fellow in California named Penn Lensen who makes them. He is very knowledgeable about this year Cadillac and has restored eight of his own. I also needed to replace the fog light covers because they were gold. The trunk key was missing and the trunk was locked open. I tried to take it apart to take it to a locksmith but without the key you can’t. Penn suggested I look on the original sales slip for a key number and another problem was solved.
I am writing this as I wait for the seats to come back from the upholstery fellow who has had them for ten days. I hope he gets here soon with the seats because this Friday we are taking Shasta on her maiden tour to Washington State with a few of the other old-car owners in our Club. Oh, maybe you’re wondering why this car was named Shasta? It was my wife’s idea: She-hasta (Shasta) have tires, Shasta have gas, oil, paint and, well, you get the idea.
The following is a list of my expenses. I am sure there will be more as we go down the road.
I have really enjoyed this project and we are really proud of our new 1941 Cadillac Shasta. Thanks to all of you who helped me along the way. We are looking forward to seeing you all on tour.
P.S. If you know someone that would like to have a very rare 1942 DeSoto, I have one and it’s for sale.
Your fellow Classic Car enthusiast,
But Wait . . .There’s More!
It is now the end of January 2011 and everything you have read so far was written before our tour in September of 2010. Some corrections and updates are in order. Even though there was overwhelming demand and interest for my old DeSoto I had to refuse the many, many generous offers I received and sold it to a fellow in California. Sorry.
I planned to take Shasta on the Fall Tour but we had a vibration that had us all scratching our heads. So here goes: We changed the universal joints, balanced all the wheels again and after that I began to panic, thinking it must be in the transmission. As a last resort, I decided to change all of the engine and transmission mounts. Although the transmission mount was brand new, the mechanic who changed it must have thought it was the wrong one because it was cut down to fit and it was doing nothing. The transmission was suspended in air and every shift would give a different vibration. Cha Ching!
The last thing was a slight noise in the rear. Not knowing whether it was a “normal” sound, I decided to investigate. Back to the shop (owned by George’s son, Joe Potter). I should know better. The right rear bearing was just floating and the spindle was all torn up and the left not much better. Off to the metal shop to flash and reshape and a few other things. I wrote the check, and cousin George was grinning all the way.
I now have a Classic that I feel is ready to hit the road. I originally thought I had made a great buy, or as I began this story saying “There are still some inexpensive Classics out there”, may have been a little misleading. To date we are just under $30,000 spent on this project. It has been fun and it kept me off the streets. We are going to drive it to the Valentine Social, weather permitting, for our shakedown cruise. Who knows maybe we can take it on our Oregon National Tour in 2012.