the men who show their old cars every mother’s day
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct an error in the date of the show.
It’s that time of year – the First Capital Chapter AACA will line downtown Middle Street on Saturday with cars – old cars – cars with wooden spokes and crank motors – models from the 1920s to a 1993 Caprice.
It’s part of the city’s annual rite of passage: Christmas at Bear Plaza, MumFest, Ghost Walk, the monumental railroad club exhibit and all those glittering cars, the sun shining on their wings, many hoods opening like one the crocodiles, the curious (for the most part) of the elders sitting in their chairs, sipping soda and water and chatting with enthusiasts and eager aspirants.
These collectors are a brotherhood (and fraternity) that are often more interesting and colorful than the cars they display.
Take Marshall Van Winkle. Not only does he have an absolutely fascinating name (does he take really long naps like the fictional Rip Van Winkle? Will he go bowling in the woods with tiny little men?), But this 90-year-old collector collects cars since he was a young teenager.
He remembers when he was 13 or 14 when he got his first Model T. “My dad worked in the Cadillac company,” he said. “He thought I would be in (get) a Model T and indeed I was.” That was around the time the Allies were storming the beaches of Normandy, for that matter.
Since then, he has taken over old cars. The one he has owned the longest is a 1929 Model A Roadster which he got in 1951. “I’ve had this car for 80 years,” he said. It has up to 14 cars at the moment – a small number compared to some collectors, but still a pretty impressive batch. When I met him with other members of First Capital, he took along a 1978 Lincoln Continental, a gigantic 8 cylinder beast on wheels. This is one of his cheapest purchases: “A woman gave it to me,” he jokes about it. “I didn’t even have to kiss her.”
Van Winkle is a legend in the local automotive world. He was the founder of the AACA local in 1992 and is one of the two original members. He’s exhibited cars all over the country – he estimates he’s been at 500 shows – and one of his T-models won more awards than any other member’s car, and also spent a year on display. in Hershey, PA.
The color of this car? Well, as Henry Ford once said of T’s, “You can have any color you like, as long as it’s black.”
Mike Waters is another collector who has been working on it since he was a teenager. He drives a shiny orange 1969 Camaro Z-28 which he has owned since he was 15 years old. He saved about $ 1,500 for the purchase, he said, and his father loaned him the rest of the price.
Does he love him? “It’s the most precious material good I own,” he says.
Auto shows are complex things: there are dozens of categories of cars both restored or in original condition; the judges take courses to qualify for their jobs and they inspect several aspects of the car, from the body and interior to the chassis at the bottom (the youngest judge gets that job, they’re all joking).
Many cars have license plates from the year they were manufactured – they’re not hard to find, collectors say – although owners must have an up-to-date license somewhere inside the car. If your car is registered as an antique, it helps keep costs down: it doesn’t matter how much the car is worth, for tax purposes it is declared at $ 500.
And cars, of course, can get expensive – over a hundred thousand dollars, depending on the model, year, and condition, especially if you’re paying for its restoration.
John Watson, who restores antiques as a hobby, pointed out a Thunderbird he’s working on. If he didn’t do it himself, he said, this particular car would cost $ 150,000 to make, although his shop work would cost a lot less.
But don’t let this award scare you if you, if you fancy joining this brotherhood. Member Ben St. John said you can earn as little as $ 1,500 for an eligible car – maybe less if your eye is keen. And that, according to St. John, is really no more than what you would pay to soak up the art of golf or boating.
It takes 30 years for a car to be considered an antique; that old Ford 96 in your grandfather’s garage can be considered a classic – and it’s sad, because that means I became a classic when I had only been married for 14 years.
Collectors give a lot of reasons for their love of the hobby. Obviously, they all love cars and the nostalgia that their models bring. While there is undoubtedly an occasional collector who is unfamiliar with the piston rod of a flywheel (I would qualify for this if I owned an antique), most like to get their cars dirty, up to their elbows in their engines. “There is a lot of joy in going in there and getting your hands on your hands,” said St. John, who will be exhibiting a stylish 1978 Mercedes next Saturday.
Excuse me. Mercedes 450SL. They don’t just use first names when talking about their cars (well, maybe they do when they’re alone with their machines). They pronounce every vowel and every number, like your mother when she found the cat you just used with her razor to shave.
All collectors, however, love their hobby because they love to chew. “I like the people watching (my cars) and ooh and ahh,” he said.
Marshall is more succinct: “I like talking to people,” he said. “I cannot be silent.”
This year’s show – the 29th the club presented on Mother’s Day weekend – will take place at the intersections of Middle Street and Pollock Street with cars from across the state meeting at 8 a.m. and judging and rewarded before 3 p.m.
First Capital AACA meets the fourth Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Moore’s Old Tyme Barbeque, 3623 Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd.