SI Vault
Kenneth Rudeen
January 02, 1956
Sleek and powerful automobiles from a golden age of motoring are coming off the junk yards and onto the roads in glistening and ever-increasing numbers
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January 02, 1956


Sleek and powerful automobiles from a golden age of motoring are coming off the junk yards and onto the roads in glistening and ever-increasing numbers

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However, most collectors are content with models which, while displaying the technique of a fine bodymaker, were ordered in numbers by the manufacturer rather than by individual customers. Of these, Packards were turned out in the largest quantities, a fact which is reflected on the rolls of the CCCA; it is called the Packard Used Car Club by the disrespectful.

How does the collecting bug bite? If you ask George Lamberson, whose Duesenberg is shown on page 30, he will shrug his shoulders and say, "How do you get cancer?" But if you put the question to Margot Rebeil, the CCCA's first female owner-driver, she will recall a moonlit night of her youth and a ride in a borrowed Packard at 95 mph. "When I found one just like it a couple of years ago," she reminisced recently, "I put my arms around it and we became engaged. It is beautiful and long and black and sleek, and riding in it is like sitting in the best chair in the living room."

Once bitten, the prospective collector is an immediate candidate for a visit to the junkyard. That is where many a treasure has been found and junkmen more and more are becoming aware of the boom. Prices are going up. A mendable ruin that could be snatched up for $20 not long ago may cost $500 or more today.

If it is to be shown in competition, a car must be restored authentically down to the correct color and tires. The CCCA annually sponsors a dozen or so meetings at which cars are judged in as many as seven classifications: production, custom, Rolls-Royce, other foreign makes, sports racing, Lincoln Continental and special interest. The last is a diplomatic concession to owners who show up with cars that officials cannot bring themselves to call classics.

Many owners do a sizable part of their restoration work themselves, needing outside help chiefly for rechroming and topwork. For missing parts they may call on specialists like Sam Adel-man of Mount Vernon, N.Y., whose dusty bins hold a fortune in unlikely hardware. Owners who are not able to take on a restoration send their machines to special shops which make a business of it. The cost, depending on the condition of the car and special difficulties involved, may vary from $750 to more than $4,000. Some enthusiasts have maintained their cars since they were new, and a few others have finessed the restoration problem by picking up handsome models at estate auctions. The most notable success in the auction category was won by William Wharff of Clinton, Iowa, who bid in a Packard of such excellent condition (see page 34) that he had to replace only the battery to win the 1955 CCCA Grand Classic Trophy—the club's top award.

Once into the field the neophyte can pick up the thread of the fanciers' intramural debates. Open vs. closed cars is the most enduring. One school maintains that only a closed car of the formal town variety should be called classic; the other insists that only an open touring model deserves the label. Those of the latter persuasion draw sustenance from a line from an old Michael Arlen novel: "Open as a yacht, it wore a great shining bonnet, and flying over the crest of this great bonnet, as though in proud flight over the heads of scores of phantom horses, was that silver stork by which the gentle may be pleased to know that they have just escaped death beneath the wheels of a Hispano-Suiza car."

However he declares himself, the collector is likely to agree with Griffith Borgeson and Eugene Jaderquist, who salute the golden age in a new book, Sports and Classic Cars (Prentice-Hall, $12.50):

"The classic car makes you a man of distinction even before you start it on its majestic journey. Anyone with his foot resting possessively on its running board is the psychological equal of a millionaire."

Duesenberg J Rollston Victoria, restored from "absolute junk" to gleaming elegance for Jim Aiken, Los Angeles car dealer, develops 265 hp and exceeds 100 mph. One of the most powerful and luxurious of all American cars, it cost $19,000 in 1932.

Lincoln Continental , last of the classic cars, was considered such a "fine piece of sculpture" by Warren Custer that he cashed in a soybean crop from his Newtown, Pa. farm and a station wagon for this 1941 convertible, which has run 85,000 miles.

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