Kenneth “Kenny” Hower Buttolph, the face behind Old Cars Weekly’s “Kenny’s Klunkers” and the man behind the wheel of the publication’s 1954 Chevrolet panel truck, died Dec. 23 in Iola, Wis. He was 78.
A gear head in the every sense of the word, Kenny owned hundreds of collector cars: 526, to be exact, when he counted those he remembered for former Old Cars Weekly Editor Keith Mathiowetz upon Kenny’s January 2002 retirement. After retirement, Kenny continued buying and selling cars, and no doubt the number hit at least 600, probably more.
Of his hundreds of cars, Kenny’s favorite was his now-gone 1931 LaSalle roadster that he not only showed, he used it to trailer books and copies of Old Cars Weekly to shows! Although he’d tell you his old LaSalle ran great, he fondly remembered from his childhood the 1941 Buick sedan that his Grandpa Hower piloted as though it were a stock car. Kenny inherited his grandfather’s love for speed, and from his years gripping the seat with Grandpa behind the wheel, Kenny claimed to be a Buick man. He came to own dozens of 1930s to 1990s Buick models, stating that the 1955 Roadmaster was the best Buick, even beating his own 1941 Special fastback with dual carbs and 1941 Roadmaster sedan. Due in part to his love for speed, Kenny also developed a fondness for 1950s Oldsmobile Ninety-Eights, having come to respect them while working at a New London, Wis., Oldsmobile dealer starting in late 1955. (Read about Kenny’s 1955 Oldsmobile 98 here.)
Long before he joined the Old Cars Weekly staff in the 1970s (then called simply “Old Cars”), Kenny was clearly already an established collector. He often traveled with friends across the country to buy cars and parts to add to and feed his growing fleet. It was this enthusiasm for old iron that made Old Cars Weekly founder Chester “Chet” Krause take notice of Kenny. It seemed that every show Chet attended while launching his new publication beginning in late 1971, there he would find Kenny. Usually, Chet would see Kenny at shows in Old Cars Weekly’s home state of Wisconsin, but when he came to spot him as far away from home as Hershey, Pa., Chet realized Kenny was clearly the kind of devoted hobbyist that he respected — and wanted to employ.
When Chet asked Kenny where he was staying during Hershey one year during the early 1970s, Kenny pointed to his room at “The Hilton,” which was actually Kenny’s beloved red-and-white 1956 Chevrolet Townsman station wagon. Chet told Kenny he’d put him up in a warm room with running water if Kenny would work for him while he was at the show. Kenny figured that was a pretty good deal and took Chet up on the offer and the two became lifelong friends. Eventually, Chet figured he was paying Kenny enough money that he should be employed full-time and Kenny quit his job at a New London, Wis., Ford dealership to go into the world of publishing.
Not only was Kenny a face to “Kenny’s Klunkers” — a classified ad section in the magazine for beaters and parts cars — and the man who sold subscriptions at shows across the country, he was a treasured member of the Old Cars Weekly staff. He could identify from which car a lonely piece of trim had originated using only his eyes and experience. (For example, Kenny could tell if the center of a 1955 Buick hubcap had been removed and reinstalled just by the orientation of the center in relation to the valve stem hole.)
He could also identify what was and was not correct on a car, which helped him pick the best car to buy for himself and his friends. Often, such cars were nice originals, and from buying these types of cars, Kenny became the kind of seller from whom everyone wanted to buy a car.
This in-depth knowledge plus his experience buying and selling cars as he constantly upgraded his personal collection made Kenny the perfect person to condition rate cars at auction, and then assign prices to them in the Old Cars Price Guide, and that was his charge for decades.
When Kenny wasn’t covering auctions for Old Cars Weekly and monitoring prices for Old Cars Price Guide, he was building a world-class car collection for Chet, who had also become Kenny’s best friend. One of Kenny’s greatest pleasures was driving his own cars and those in his best friend’s collection, often seeing how far he could push the speedometer needle to the right side of the instrument panel, and doing it with a smile every mile.
Kenny’s work with cars didn’t stop on paper or on the road — he was also the guiding force behind the Iola Car Show’s Blue Ribbon Concours, which was held on his home turf. Hundreds of the top-notch cars prominently displayed in the concours, held each year on Old Cars Weekly’s front lawn, were selected by Kenny. It was his work in the Blue Ribbon Concours that helped build the show into one of the largest collector car events in the world.
It was not only Kenny’s in-depth knowledge of cars in print and at the Iola Car Show that made him a hobby name, it was also Kenny’s love of laughter, whether through a joke or a prank. His humor knew no limits, and friends and even employees of competing magazines were not off limits to his tricks. Especially after he lost his beloved mother in 1994, Kenny’s friends became his family. That family of friends now numbers in the thousands, and they stretch across the country. They’re easy to find, because they almost all have a “Kenny story” to share that’s guaranteed for a laugh.
Visitation will be held Saturday, Dec. 31 from 9:30-11 at North New Hope Lutheran Church in Amherst Junction, Wis., with a service to follow at 11. Click here for details.
Links to more stories of Kenny’s adventures: