Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cars I Have Been Loosely Aquainted With

I ran across this at Jay Leno's Garage today, and it got me thinking about a couple of collector cars that might just have slipped through my fingers.

One summer my Dad decided he wanted to restore a car, so he and I started looking through the Trading Post (an old paper that advertised all sorts of things) for something interesting.

One we ran into was a 1933 Pierce Arrow sedan for $1000. This was back in probably 1990 or so, and fully restored this car was worth around $50,000. We called the owner and the story got even better. Her father-in-law had bought the car new and drove it from Chicago to Cincinnati in 1963 when he came to live with her and her husband. He parked the car in their driveway (in a rather upscale part of town) and never touched it again. Father-in-law died in 1970 and the car was still right where he left it. Her husband had recently taken ill, and she was basically selling off all his stuff.

Pierce Arrow was a well known car 70 years ago, and I think their last year of production was 1935 or so. They were a luxury car- you could buy maybe 10 Model-A Fords for the cost of one Pierce Arrow- and owning one in ’33 would be akin to having a top of the line Mercedes today.

We took a chance and went to see it. The car was complete down to the wing nut on the air cleaner. The tires even still had air in them. The roof was made of leather, over top of wooden bows, even though the sides were metal. Car manufacturers hadn’t yet figured out how to make a solid metal roof that didn’t ‘drum’, or flex, as the car ran down the road. And this is where the trouble started.

Cars of this vintage were almost a wood body wrapped in steel. Sometime in the 30 years between when the car was parked and when we went to look at it the roof had started to leak. And thirty years of water had ruined all of the wood. The wood that framed the roof, doors, body, floor and seats was gone. The paint was faded on most of the car to a mottled blue, and the chrome was dull and pitted.

One bright spot was the front end. A bush had grown up over the grill, headlights and fenders. These parts looked like brand new. If they had thrown a tarp over this thing in 1963 it would have been a $20,000 car.

As it was, it wasn’t worth the $1000 she was asking.

We thanked her for her time and kept looking.

And kept regretting our decision. That car would have been an immense amount of work, but would probably been worth it.

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