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Classics 101: An Introduction to Classic Cars
The articles are presented with the permission of the publishers and authors with full credits on each.
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EPILOGUE from The Classic Era

Awareness of the superb quality and special attraction of the cars we know as Full Classic® probably dawned when the cars were new. Of course that awareness was by no means universal and it would be many years before car enthusiasts recognized the time as a very special era.

Let your imagination take you back to 1932 and picture a couple of high school students mulling over the features of the new cars on the market. There would probably have been some enthusiasm for the new Model B Ford, as Ford was the favorite of youths at the time. But for a kid who was really into cars, there was a different new product from the Ford Motor Company: the Lincoln KB.

Consider the monumental differences. Compared to the Ford, the Lincoln weighed well over twice as much and was almost half again as long. To move that size and weight, the Lincoln had three times as many cylinders, well over twice the engine displacement and four times the horsepower. The biggest disparity was the price, with the cost to own a Lincoln nine times the price of a Ford. That put the Lincoln, and all cars like it, in the dream category. For some the dream did not go away.

As the thirties limped along, the World War veterans who had now reached their prime earning years were all too frequently looking for a job. The market for fine cars almost disappeared at a time when manufacturers were turning out the most spectacular cars ever seen. Those who could purchase the very best in automotive luxury often treated their cars no differently than if they were run of the mill. Buy them, enjoy them for a few years and trade them in on the latest model. Some original owners did recognize that they owned something very special and kept the cars long after the first-ownership span. A few kept them and cared for them throughout their lives. Young people who dreamed of owning one of the great cars had only to wait and save their money. The high operating costs of those big-engined brutes made them great bargains as they aged, so it didn't take much to fulfill their dreams.

As the thirties faded into the forties, the enormous gap between low-and high-priced cars significantly narrowed. This was true throughout the industry and is illustrated by considering that, in 1941, Chevrolet was only 10% less in overall length than the shortest Cadillac, offered 60% of the power and sold for about 58% of the price.

Still, those top-of-the-line cars are what stirred dreams and desires. When a new generation of warriors returned home, everyone wanted a new car but not everyone could get one. Some of those interesting old eight-, twelve-, and sixteen-cylinder behemoths of the highway, which really were built to last, were still there to fulfill almost forgotten dreams. You would see them in the cities, sometimes as push-cars in gas stations. In trailer parks they were the pullers of choice when the homes really were mobile.

Across the country in places like Pasadena, Lake Forest and Bar Harbor; the big estate coach houses harbored magnificent examples that had simply been stored during the war. They came on the market at reasonable prices and, for a great driving experience, challenged most new cars. One neighbor; an Air Force vet, returned home with three years’ back pay in his pocket, earned while he was a prisoner of war: He purchased in a short span of time several “everyday” cars. These included a supercharged Graham coupe, an Auburn Speedster; a supercharged Cord phaeton and a custom Packard-all in like-new condition. Seeing him on the road, usually with a pretty girl sitting close, there wasn’t much doubt some of the dreams that had helped him survive the POW camp were being realized.

In those early postwar years and into the fifties, there was no real problem to find a mechanic to fix things, not just replace them. If you really, absolutely, had to have parts, you could still find them in salvage yards – Atlantic Auto Wrecking in California, Sam Adelman in New York and many others across the in-between. There were even extensive repositories of new-old-stock parts. In Auburn, Indiana, one Dallas Winslow had parts for Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg, Franklin, Graham, Hupmobile and several other makes. Blue Star Auto Parts in Chicago had a big headquarters building, the top three floors packed to the rafter with such things as Cunningham pistons, Marmon Sixteen radiators and Reo Royale headlights, all "new and in the box." In 1948, after buying the parts stock and right to the Duesenberg name, Marshall Merkes set about supplying Duesenberg parts to keep "America‘s Mightiest Motorcar" on the road.

As with any collectible, from salt shakers to fine art, dealers who like the item come along to buy, store and sell. It was no different with Classic cars. Back in 1946, on Ready Eddy’s open air lot in Chicago, one could select from nine Packard or six Cadillac roadsters, a Waterhouse-bodied Chrysler Imperial or an L-29 Cord cabriolet. Another dealer had a Rauch & Lang electric hoisted on the office roof as a sign calling attention to a big open-air lot that held Chrysler Airflows, Franklins, a Pierce-Arrow and a Cadillac V-16 phaeto –-most priced at ninety-five dollars. The ex-Auburn dealer on Stony Island frequently had an Auburn or Cord on hand and sometimes a Duesenberg. His service manager drove a Mercer touring to work every day, John Troka’s 5' Duesenberg & Rolls-Royce Service did what the name implied and sold the cars too.

As interest in these cars grew, other dealers, who appreciated them usually had something fine, old and interesting on hand. Howard Strack’s “Howard’s Used Cars," Bill Victor’s "Imperial Motors" and Tom Barrett’s ''Euclid Motors" come to mind. All three of these entrepreneurs would become members of the Classic Car Club of America.

No doubt other such venues existed across the country. Places like Mayfield Motors in California and Ed Jurist’s Vintage Car Store in New York among them, but that just begins to scratch the surface of car dealers who also liked great cars.

Thus the stage was set: a supply of magnificent cars, some demand for them and the means to keep them on the road. We can all probably recall how our interest in Classics was sparked. A friend saw a picture of an 812 Cord in Popular Mechanics and he was hooked. Working in a gas station/garage after school made it obvious to me that all cars were definitely not alike. A few had qualities of workmanship, materials and performance that even new cars would not match. Fate had me headed north out of the city one Saturday when, going south, came two of the most spectacular automobiles I’d ever seen.

As quickly as possible, I made a u-turn and followed them to a nearby high school lot. There I found the first car show staged in the area by an organization called the Antique Automobile Club of America. While other attendees scrutinized curved dash Olds and wood-axle Brush runabouts in the show. I was drawn back to the two cars that had brought me there, along with a number of similarly imposing vehicles. The two cars? A Packard Twelve dual cowl phaeton and a Hispano-Suiza J12 coupe. Both belonged to D. Cameron Peck, who had the finest collection of classic cars assembled before the name for them had been coined.

Have you ever wondered who first tagged our cars with the Classic label? In 1949 Bob Petersen’s new publication, Motor Trend, hit the stands. In it Griffith Borgeson wrote of a Duesenberg sedan said to “…wind up to 95 mph in second gear with no effort.” Pictures of Talbot, Duesenberg and Delahaye were featured. Enthusiasts at last were getting the message – we weren’t alone.

Subsequent articles by Borgeson, George Finneran, Eugene Jaderquist and Bob Gottlieb were well illustrated and usually referred to “cars of character” or “customs.” Soon Road & Track, True, Modern Man, even Popular Mechanics, joined in the fanfare. All this did a great deal to build enthusiasm around the country. The first published use of the appellation “Classic” came in the March 1950 issue of Motor Trend in a piece by George Finneran.

Were the cars and an era first named by Finneran? While that question cannot be absolutely answered, it is certain that “Classic” these cars became. Using the first dictionary definition – ”of the highest rank or class” – it could not have been more fitting. J. L. Elbert referred to “the Golden Salon Age” in his 1951 Duesenberg book. Ken Purdy, writing Kings of the Road in 1949, gave a description that remains classic: “…Automobiles designed to run for twenty years…We sing here of motorcars beautiful as sunsets, strong as bank vaults, desirable as dark-eyed houris never were, and safe as churches.”

All the while on the East Coast a few young, industrious men were laying the groundwork for a new club. Starting with a small bank of charter members, this eastern group – Ted Kavenagh, Bob Turnquist, Joe Sulley, Gordon Weber and others – did the hard work. The word spread and, in the years to follow, the foundation these people put down grew steadily to build the Classic Car Club of America we know today.