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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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Sparking an Interest


While visiting with a fellow vintage car enthusiast recently, I was asked how old I was when I became interested in vintage cars. I replied that it was hard for me to remember when I wasn't interested in them. I think he was expecting me to say that I was much older when I developed my interest, as is the case with many car buffs.

His question made me reflect on my earliest memories of old cars. When did it start?

I didn't start out preferring Classics; I just liked old cars. I was born and raised in southeastern Michigan, in a rural town about 35 miles northeast of Detroit. When I was about five years old, my parents and I lived with my maternal grandfather. He was a plumber and owned a mid-Thirties Dodge pickup. I just liked the look of it compared to "modern" cars.

Then, one day, I was in his garage/workshop and spotted something on the wall--an original sales brochure for a 1920 Willys-Knight. He had bought one new and tacked up the brochure on his garage wall--a few years later, with his blessing, I carefully removed it, and it's been in my collection ever since.

My mother always told me about how her German-American grandparents, who lived with them in the 1920s, were so proud of their son's handsome automobile. They spoke very little English and would tell the neighbors that their son, Albert, owned a "Stille Nacht," which is German for "silent night." Willys-Overland would have loved it.

My other grandfather made a much more significant contribution to my interest in old cars. Nearly every Sunday, he and my grandmother would go for a drive after dinner (that was the noon meal; supper was later). I would often join them. One day I spotted a roadside automobile museum. We stopped, and that was the beginning. I loved it and he knew it.

Not long afterwards, he took me to the annual Old Car Festival held at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. At that time--the mid-1950s--the vintage cars on display were from 1925 and earlier. It was terrific.

Because my grandfather had grown up with these automobiles, I received what amounted to a running commentary on them. I remember him pointing to an early Brush and telling me that was the car on which he learned to drive, and that the front axle was made of wood.

It didn't stop there. Our family business was a dairy--we processed milk and delivered it. When I was old enough, I helped out with deliveries. Most of our customers were in the village, but we also had rural customers. If I spotted an old car, I could always persuade my grandfather to stop so I could look it over. Most of the vehicles we found were pretty average--Fords and Chevrolets. However, I can remember spotting a Cadillac from the Twenties, as well as a Pierce-Arrow truck.

None of them ever made it home, though. While my grandfather may have indulged my interest in vintage automobiles, my father wanted no part of it. I had to satisfy myself with trips to roadside car museums, the annual Old Car Festival, expeditions for derelict old cars and perusing car books.

Just how nice was my Grandfather Schultz? I remember dragging him to the local Edsel dealer's showroom in the fall of 1957 so I could get an Edsel model while Granddad endured a sales pitch.

When I finally saved enough for my first car, he was there to help me bring it home. It was a tired 1929 Ford Tudor sedan that had belonged to a local farmer. He'd sold it to two brothers who removed the interior, then lost interest.
We brought it home and within a few days, Granddad had it running. I was in heaven. But I had to do something about that missing interior. When I mentioned to my parents that I was trying to figure out how to restore the interior, they told me that Granddad Schultz could probably help.

That was an understatement – and yet another surprise. It turned out that after getting married and graduating from business college he had taken a job in Detroit for a few months: He worked for the Hudson Motor Car Company as an upholsterer! Until he died, he continued to upholster for his family and friends; he truly enjoyed it.

Granddad and I picked out the upholstery. I watched in amazement as he filled his mouth with tacks and installed the headliner. I began to believe there wasn't anything he couldn't do, and that may have been true.

As time went on, I discovered the Classics--Lincolns, Packards, Stutzes. These were cars that my grandfather only dreamed of owning. But nevertheless, he had plenty of stories to tell, including another short job as a member of the Detroit Police Department, which had a number of big Lincoln "Police Specials."

Concurrently, I went off to college and discovered the Classic Car Club of America. Now I was able to see the great Classics in person. I attended my first Grand Classic at the Dearborn Inn in 1964. One of the cars I admired was an all-black, mostly original 1931 Lincoln Town Sedan. Many years later, after countless letters and postcards, I bought the car.

Unfortunately, neither of my grandfathers lived to share my growth in the old car hobby. I would have especially enjoyed sharing it with Granddad Schultz. When he wasn't helping me with my cars, he was taking me on driving tours of the great Detroit city landmarks, including the old automobile factories.

Having such a wonderful experience at that early age conditioned me to share what I know about our hobby with anyone who's remotely interested.

This article originally appeared in the April, 2008 issue of Hemmings Classic Car.