A while ago, I fell into conversation with Roger Willbanks, a seasoned car collector and friend. I asked him how he first became interested in cars. It’s one of my go-to questions. Acorn stories—how big things grow from small things—have always interested me.
“Denver car show, 1940,” he quickly answered, a grin crossing his face. He was a boy back then, he explained, when dealerships often put on the Ritz for new-car unveilings. At this particular event, Willbanks said, his big brother lifted him up on his shoulders for a better look at the Chrysler Thunderbolt concept car, which, to his eyes, seemed like a rocket ship on wheels, a car completely different from other cars of the time. Right then and there, he decided he would someday own that car.
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When I was still a teen in high school I got to know a local classic car collector who took me under his wing.He sold me a '39 LaSalle sedan,which was the beginning of a long relationship with the old car hobby.
Last year,while my wife ran in for a few groceries.I was sitting in the parking lot with our '40 Packard Coupe. A young father with two kids ,a girl about 10 and a boy about 8.pulled into the space ahead of me. I could almost lip read what the boy was saying, as he pointed at the Packard.His dad must have said "ask the man who owns one" because the young fellow shyly approached me and asked me what year it was. I told him it was even older than his dad. "Wow",he said. I let him get behind the wheel and told him all about the car. His dad thanked me for taking the time to talk to him.Believe me,it was a pleasure.Maybe I planted a seed.
I recall back in the 50's as a kid living in Berkeley CA seeing the search lights at night in the sky all over the city crossing each other to usher in the new year model at the local car dealerships. I also remember the AMT plastic model kits introducing the latest models and the smell of Testors glue.
I was maybe 6 or 7 when I watched our TV repairman slide our set into the back of his Crosley station wagon, and there was born both my love of "funny little cars" and television technology. The seed that was planted that day in '54 or '55 was watered and fertilized by a neighbor's Isetta, a fraternity brother's series of Minis, culminating years later with the discovery of a whole world of micro cars, and my ownership of a Goggomobil TS400 coupe. The joy of letting kids sit and ride in a car that was much more their size will remain one of the peak experiences of my life. Planting that seed of car love for a new generation is SO worthwhile!
When I was 8 yrs. old, my "baby-sitter" had a boy friend who would come to see her after my folks went out for the evening. Nick had a '50 Ford... but it was different than the ones I'd seen before. It was flat black, had shorter windows and chrome spotlights by the windshield. It was very low to the ground and I could barely see the rear tires. I asked if I could go for a ride and off we went. It was loud, rumbley and fast! Nick drove to a filling station in town where there were a bunch of cars that were also different as well as a few motorcyles. His buddies looked like him; longer hair combed back, T-shirts, black leather jackets, jeans and engineer boots. They all seemed so happy... I've never been the same!
I grew up in Allen, Nebraska, a small town of 350 +/- residents, 5 blocks wide and 7 blocks long. Back in the 50's and 60's we actually had a Chevy dealership, McCord Chevrolet. The highlight of my year was the day the new cars were delivered into the "showroom" - all four of them. My buddy, Kevin and I, were allowed to walk the three blocks to Main Street after school just to see the new cars and collect all the brochures. I can still remember seeing all the chrome and flash of a 1960 Chevy Impala and the new car smell was something else. I wish I had kept the brochures!
A few years ago I was invited to show my car at a Cub Scout meeting along with about a dozen other cars. It was a '70 Pontiac LeMans convertible. Nice car, but not a showpiece.
As the Scouts came out, most of the other owners hovered around their rides to make sure nobody touched their cars. I, on the other hand, opened the drivers door and invited them to hop in! I then showed them how to look "cool" with one hand on the wheel and one arm on the door. I also let them push the button to raise and lower the top. You shoulda seen the parents taking pictures and the kids having a blast! That was the most fun I've had at a show in a long time!
I love it. Kids love to get their hands on stuff. Dad let me shift the four speed in his '57 Bel Air, and his '69 Superbee when I rode with him. I don't remember this because I was too young, but Dad tells me this story all the time. He's at a stoplight in his '57. Mom and I are beside him on the bench seat. This Chevelle SS 396 pulls up next to him and blips the throttle and Dad obliges. The light turns green and they launch. Mom is yelling, "Slow Down!" I am jumping up and down on the seat yelling, "Go, Dad! Go!" He said I was maybe two or three. I don't remember the race, but I remember the car. Dad gets a big belly laugh talking about it even now.
I asked Mom about it a couple of years ago, and she told me the same story. She also said that he burnt the Chevelle by quite a bit by the time he hit the next traffic light. Dad always said he felt like a hero with his little boy next to him yelling , "Go Dad! Go!"
Nature vs nurture...I’m told my first word was “car”. My dad was a car guy and I think I inherited his love of cars.
Dad was a Ford man in his youth, due in part to his father’s employment as a Ford salesman. Dad’s first car was a ‘36 Ford rumble seat roadster, a car he always said he wished he’d kept. Fast forward 30 years from 1947...Dad himself worked in the auto industry-for a MOPAR parts wholesaler! He’d changed allegiance, and now it was time for my first car. I’d grown frustrated with his constant rejection of my selection of potential first cars when one night, as I returned home from work (a 16 year old can’t afford his own car without the means to purchase and support a car, right?), my Dad greeted me with an ear-to-ear grin and the auto classifieds from the local newspaper. After looking at the ads I expressed my confusion as nothing I saw was in my price range. Finally he pointed to THE ad-a 1969 Barracuda convertible. Excited, I asked if we could go look at it. It was then that he told me I already owned it! We picked it up and we worked out the finances over the next couple of weeks (my $800 down against the $1250 purchase price plus registration, insurance, and repairs, paid weekly with interest). I had my first car, and dad had the spiritual successor to his roadster.
Dad is long since gone, but his legacy remains: I still own that car.
I know Roger. He lives around the corner from me. We also were Colorado Granders back in the mid ‘90’s. Awhile back, he told me the same story and I was amazed then. As a youth, I had similar experiences but not nearly as significant. Great story and thanks for sharing it. The article is really well written. BTW, the Chrysler was a Pebble Beach last year so I had a chance to view it there.
Great topic. I'm with lemansboy70 who invited youngsters to sit in the car. My wife and I do the same. We have learned that with a little supervision no harm will come of it. We believe that for the love of the hobby to continue we must encourage others. I only wish they lived closer so I could teach them how to handle some tools and understand there is more to it than just driving and showing. If we can remember when we caught the bug so will they. It is good to think that years from now somebody will remember the old man and lady that let them do more than just look.