My First Vintage Automobile
As I noted in an earlier column, my interest in vintage cars began when I was about 10 years old. My grandfather Schultz took me to the annual Old Car Festival, held at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. We'd also visited several roadside car museums that were common in the 1950s. One of my favorite museums was owned by Joseph Temrowski of Romeo, Michigan; I grew up nearby in Richmond. It was full of early cars--nothing newer than 1925, as I recall.
It was several years until I owned a vintage automobile--and it wasn't a Classic. My father was dead-set against me buying a vintage car, even though I'd saved up for it. When I learned about a Ford Model A Tudor sedan that was available, I talked that same grandfather into helping me bring it home. I'm sure my father was less than pleased, but I don't recall him saying much.
The Model A originally belonged to a local farmer and still retained most of its original color--Andalusite Blue. However, he'd sold it to a family that immediately tore out the interior, planning to replace it but never quite getting around to it. So that became my first order of business after I got the car running.
As most collector car enthusiasts know, automobiles don't come much simpler than a Model A. This was the perfect car for me to learn about automobile mechanics. I was largely self-taught, although I had several sessions with my grandfather, who'd grown up with the Model A.
When I finally got the Model A running, it was time to work on the upholstery. I must have mentioned it in front of my parents, because I recall my father saying something like "Well, your grandfather should be able to help you with that."
I approached my grandfather and we made a trip to Detroit to buy upholstery material. I was surprised at how easily he figured out exactly what was needed for the seats and the rest of the interior.
Finally, it was time to begin the work. Secretly, I was hoping my grandfather would make it look reasonably good. To paraphrase a term I've heard too many times from government officials, I was "cautiously optimistic."
Then the magic began. I watched my grandfather fill his mouth with trim tacks and begin installing the headliner with a steady cadence. All I could think of was "He's done this before!" But where?
It didn't take long to learn that one of my grandfather's first jobs after graduating from Cleary Business College in Ypsilanti, Michigan, had been to work as a trimmer for the Hudson Motor Car Company. It was a craft he learned well and never stopped using. Until he died, he would regularly upholster furniture for friends and family.
I enjoyed the Model A for a few years, but then discovered Classics. I don't remember exactly how I discovered the Classic Car Club of America but I do remember attending a Grand Classic at the Dearborn Inn in the summer of 1964.
That event was an eye-opener. I saw cars that truly left me speechless. These were cars that I'd only seen in magazines and books. Most owners were very gracious to me--a young college kid. Of course, this was a different time and it's also worth noting that many of these Classics were 30 to 35 years old. A 1940 Lincoln Continental was only 24 years old.
It was at that Grand Classic that I spotted a 1931 Lincoln two-window Town Sedan owned by the CCCA Michigan Region's "Mr. Grand Classic," Sam Dibble. I never forgot that car. It was all black with blackwall tires. Understated elegance.
For years, I pursued that car. While doing so, I owned a number of Classics and a few non-Classics. Among the cars occupying space in my garages over the years were a 1933 Packard Super Eight club sedan, 1936 Cord 810 "armchair" Beverly, 1923 Locomobile 48 Sportif and 1934 Chrysler CV Imperial Airflow sedan. Each of those cars is worthy of a future column and I'll try to remember to include them.
After years of correspondence with Sam, I finally acquired the 1931 Lincoln. One summer we drove it from our home in northeast Ohio to Richmond, Michigan, where my father still lived. Sadly, my grandfather had died several years earlier.
I remember my father just staring at the Lincoln for what seemed a very long time. I asked him what he was thinking about. He just nodded his head and said, "You know, we never saw cars like that in Richmond, but I do remember seeing them pull up at Hudson's Department Store, where your grandmother loved to shop; one after another, and the doorman knew the names of all those ladies."
So, what was my first Classic? It was a 1941 Packard 160 touring sedan that had been purchased new by the wife of the mayor of Paterson, New Jersey. It was a very low mileage original painted a metallic brown. I lived in northern New Jersey at the time, and one summer we drove it out to Newport, Rhode Island, then to Mystic Seaport and Old Sturbridge Village, before spending a week in the Adirondacks. That trip so many years ago convinced me that the best part of owning vintage automobiles is driving them, and I haven't changed my mind.
I still have my grandfather's upholstery tools. I've never attempted to upholster an automobile but did re-upholster a Victorian chair shortly after he died. And I'd love to find a Hudson built in the late Teens or early Twenties.
A few months ago, while visiting Cleveland's famous Crawford Auto Aviation Museum, I decided to conduct a quick genealogy search for my grandfather at the nearby Western Reserve Historical Society library. I examined the 1920 U.S. Census and there he was, employed by the Hudson Motor Car Company--as a trimmer. I wish he was still around to do some minor work on the Lincoln.
This article originally appeared in the September, 2009 issue of Hemmings Classic Car.