The Story of a Car

This morning it was the Montana Pioneer and Classic Auto Club’s car show. About 40 owners of classic cars gathered at the Holiday Inn to show off a little to each other and to whoever passed by, though only 28 of them stood tall before the judges to be studied, poked and ribboned–if they were lucky.

The club boasts about 700 members in 12 statewide chapters according to its Web site. Among them are guys who have collected cars for only a handful of years since retirement and men who have lived through a lifelong obsession with the cars they grew up in.

Even when they don’t collect actual cars, they still have something to hold on to. The photographer at the event told me that he collects miniatures instead and doesn’t feel left out of the larger show.

Another man I spoke to, the one who headlines my article in the paper, has owned his car since 2002. His is a ’30 Franklin, a car made by a company that only built cars until 1938, when the Great Depression finally took its toll. While in business, Franklin innovated, fitting cars with safety glass and air-cooled engines. If purchased today for the same (albeit adjusted for inflation) price, this man’s futuristic, high-tech car would run $180,000.

Of course, in 1929, it cost only $2,950. Still no chunk of change, especially three months after the stock market crash. Yet the owner, a bachelor, bought it for himself as a Christmas present and took perfect care of it until it passed from his possession around 1940. His only stipulation upon letting the car go: it should only be driven in parades and shows.

Since then, the car has only driven 7,000 miles. I guess people followed the bachelor’s advice.

Now, our 69-year-old Belgrade man is the fourth owner of the car, a position he views more as “stewardship” than “ownership.” Most of the car is original, about 95 percent of it as a matter of fact, and he intends to keep it that way.

Hopefully, the fifth steward will keep the faith.

Tomorrow: Finding a loose cannon at the Museum of the Rockies…

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