By Yvette VanDerBrink
Ah, there’s nothing like Old Car Smell in the morning. Today was one of those days. I was so excited; it’s what I love and what I do. I’m working with a MoPar horde in South Dakota- The Alan Rietz Estate Collection. To your normal gal, the idea of getting filthy head to tow and diving into cars and trucks to get VIN numbers, and not to forget that occasional mouse next in the headliner, and oh yes, the ultimate raccoon poop, doesn’t sound like their idea of fun. Not your typical spa day.
Well, I’ve never been a girly girl, and in fact, I played with Barbies growing up, but they farmed and were mostly outside. I spent a lot of my time riding bike, playing in the cars in the salvage yard, and my favorite, the races. In fact, the first baby that I held was my own daughter Emily. I loved playing with the orange hot wheels track and cars. We’d have it go way out in the yard. When my kids were born, it was my excuse to play with my orange track and cars again. One of the funnest things of my youth was going to police auctions with Dad for derby cars. We would get home, tear out the back seat, and dive in the trunks to find treasures. It always amazes me that people on the movies get stuck in those trunks. Getting the deck-lid open was easy and then busting out to see what treasures the sunlight revealed in the trunks was exhilarating. Even as we got older, we still played and hung out in the cars. Dad used to stack some of them on their sides around the yard. My sister and I would suntan on top of them. It was perfect for a fast tan with all that chrome! Occasionally, we would have to beat feet and hide because someone was out getting parts. That was an education for a Tom Boy. But pretty soon, I was taking my kids to the salvage yards and teaching them about the old cars. They would even go along with me when I was doing inventory on occasion.
Well I’m not your normal gal, most would say, I’m a car chick. Hell, I haven’t worn a dress in 5 years. I got more cowboy books than heels. Well, that’s fine by me. When I’m working with a collection, especially barn finds, opening those barns while digging in the trees is better than any ol’ spa day. To see those diamonds in the rust, waiting for someone to revive them. I love opening hoods, looking for big blocks, 2-4bbls, fender tags, cowl tags, and more. It;s a rush to grab on to the door handle, open the door to see a 4 speed, buckets, and door tags. I cherish the rows of wonderful old cars-stainless and brass from era’s gone by. To many lay people these cars appear to be eyesores, junk, and rodent havens. Not me, just like any collector, I see them as they would be finished sitting in a garage.
But this fun doesn’t come without challenges, and you have to know how to use some tools. Again, this isn’t a practice for high heels or the squeamish. I’ve crawled through side and back glasses when doors won’t open, and have a technique of pulling the door handle while I body slam or lay on the seat , it kind of looks like a wild Pilates move. Of course, on occasion, there is a big spider waiting for me. I swear I saw a fossilized Chupacabra in a Plymouth that I once jumped in. Mice in the headliner are always a joy and they tend to like getting in your hair. One of the scariest moments I have had was when I heard a startling noise. I was in Nebraska inventorying a Packard. I opened the hood and there was a Badger curled up in the motor. I was out of there! Yep, it was a 6 cylinder! I did get a picture of him and the motor. When I was working with the Lambrecht Collection, I fell through a couple rusty floorboards, and got my foot stuck on an X frame. I also crawled through the back window of a Chevrolet Wagon and got inside and “wow”, that was smelly. Chevrolet pickup steering wheels have a tendency to get gooey – that’s a joy. Also at the Lambrecht Auction, I had an interview with Harry Smith from NBC. He came when I was working and we talked for the interview the next day. I could sense he was looking me up and down, especially my dirty hands. He then said, “Now Ms. VanDerBrink, you will clean up tomorrow?” and laughed. “ I assured him that I would look good and be on point for our interview. Sorry, I was doing inventory!
But to me, it’s all fun. That dirt is a badge of honor. Quite often, I’m still working during the previews and bidders will see me really dirty. One time, I had my Coveralls all greasy and dirty. This guy says, “That’s what should be on a calendar. That’s sexy.” That’s funny. I saw him the next day and he said, “Wow, you clean up good.” Even though I am always working and diving in dirt and grease, I can still be seen as somewhat girly. I like diamonds, and even have a perfume I wear that I think smells like old gasoline – Bond #9 Saks 5th Ave. perfume. I get a lot of compliments on it at our auctions. That’s why I like it. That smell brings back memories. Memories of when I was growing up with cars, and today working with them at our auctions. So if you shake my hand you’ll find they aren’t that smooth, I might be a little rough around the edges, but deep down, the dirt and grease is all worth it to save that automotive history.