Volume 12, Issue 19 ~ May 6-12, 2004
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Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton

We Old Timers Were Made Well to Last Long

If anything happens to it, I want to go with it.
—Harold E. Allen of Catonsville on why his ’49 Ford Tudor Custom Sedan isn’t equipped with seat belts.

You might call ’em nuts, or more appropriately, car nuts, but that’s how more than a few auto collectors think about their vehicles, whether they be antiques, classics, customized, hot rods or such — and we all know a few who hold the same opinion of their new cars. Many look upon their means of transportation as more than, well, a means of transportation.

That was easily understood May 2 when a fleet of flashy customized and/or antique vehicles were displayed at a fundraiser for Community Health Charities of Maryland at the Department of Motor Vehicles, Glen Burnie. For me, it was the first time I ever left that behemoth bureaucratic complex’s parking lot without at least a tint of heartburn.

As for Harold Allen and the seat belts for his vintage Ford, he does have them, though he hasn’t gotten around to installing them. Of course, they’re on his 2002 Lincoln LS, in which he does nearly all of his driving. But not infrequently, he and wife Ethel take the venerable black Ford for a five-mile spin to a McDonalds for morning coffee.

No fatty, fast food for them. They want to be around a lot longer to enjoy their vintage vehicle. And each other, seeing they’ve been married for almost as long as the Ford is old, since he wooed her in her native Scotland where he journeyed to work on telephone facilities.

Old Cars Have Long Memories
There were more than a few autos lined up for public, not DMV, inspection. What memories they brought back. Harold’s Tudor Custom might have looked a bit shaggy on the outside, but not because of his choosing. It’s the original paint job on that car, and Ford officials advised him that repainting was a no-no.

photo by Bill Burton
Harold Allen alongside his vintage ’49 Ford
“Leave it as it is,” they told him as his car filled a niche that Ford was anxious to fill when the company was seeking a ’49 for the celebration of its 100th anniversary. Forty-nines have become more scarce than the proverbial hen’s teeth.

I recall the ’49. It came on the market when U.S. auto makers — imports were few back then — were gearing up in the post-World War II boom to become top dog. The big sellers were Ford, Chevrolet and Plymouth, but interloper Studebaker had come out with a big splash, a car with a rear window so big and unusual that more than a few drivers behind it feared that they were facing a car coming in their direction.

Harold’s entry in vintage autos came unexpectedly. His V-8 flathead, 100-horsepower 49er was a gift from a widow. She wanted it to go to someone her husband knew, so she gave the vehicle — stored in a barn for many years — to Harold, who says one vintage car is enough. Me, I’d like to have a dozen like it.

Riding in Style
“Wowee,” said granddaughter Grumpy (Mackenzie Noell Boughey) when she was invited inside. I exclaimed the same. Hey, they knew how to make cars in ’49. It is as spacious inside as any custom car on the road today. Remember when three people could fit in the front seat? And there is leg-room. The steering wheel is almost as big as the tires, and the gear shift is on the steering post.

The original radio has Bakelite buttons, none of that digital stuff that requires 10 pages of how-to in the owner’s manual. Interior lights are on the mid support post on both sides. The trunk is spacious enough to harbor a subcompact of today. There are wing windows in front and back, a feature sorely missed today, for with wings you could open a window and not get blown out yet ride noiselessly. The original heater is still there. It was an option, as all heaters were back then.

But that’s not all, as you find if you take a test ride.

I did, for five miles with Harold at the wheel, Ethel between us, and I’d take the oldie in preference to Harold’s Lincoln. Though 55 years old, the Custom Tudor rides like a chariot, no squeaks, rumbles or highway noise, just a purring engine with lots of pickup. People turned their heads to watch it pass. You’d have thought we were in a Lamborghini.

Styles of Riding
Another eye-catcher was the ’35, 115-horse Chevy of Porsche red still driven by Jack Tom Thompson of Millersville. It features a split windshield but no trunk. The back seat was stowage space, so on a trip you had a choice: more passengers or room for satchels — though accordion-like gates held luggage on the running board if need be. Remember how running boards made entry and exit easy?

’Tis still said by many, the ’36 Chevy (I drove one my first year newspapering) was the best car ever made. Thompon’s ’35 came off the assembly line lacking a rear window. Tom took me for a short drive around the parking lot; as in Harold’s Ford, there was the sound and feel of a substantial and quiet ride.

Going back even further was the souped-up and customized ’32 Model B Ford (it replaced the famed Model A) driven by Les Stephenson of Hampstead. Good-bye rumble seat. The Model B’s had trunks, and the gas tanks were moved from under the hood near the windshield to the rear that year. A transplanted Lincoln engine pushes this car to 85 in third gear, but she’ll do over 100 — and she has air conditioning for trips to places like Detroit, Daytona or Syracuse. The license plate reads 17 AGAIN.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated May 5, 2004 @ 11:30am.