By Brian Earnest
It’s only been a few years since Bill Brunkow died, and Ken Ganz, one of Brunkow’s car buddies and best friends, still thinks about him pretty much every day.
“I do. Yes, I do,” Ganz admits. “I miss Bill a lot. And I miss his collection, too.”
That collection included about 20 rare and vintage cars, including a Duesenberg, Cord, Auburn Speedster and a group of about 10 brass-era cars. Ganz helped Brunkow feed and care for his stellar family of automobiles for many years, helping with some restoration work, keeping the vehicles running and generally sharing in Brunkow’s love for historic iron.
“Working with Bill’s collection — I spent probably 10 years working with his cars and taking care of them and showing them. And as I spent more and more time with those cars, it seemed more and more like the older the cars were, the better I liked them,” Ganz said.
“And this one fit in really well,” he added, pointing to a splendid 1909 Buick Model F five-passenger touring car, its ample brass trim glowing in the mid-day sun. “It just happened that before he died, he and I had taken the body off this car and were doing some work on the engine. I had done a lot of work on it. I detailed the undercarriage. The brass really needed a good going-through. I spent a lot of time getting the chrome (brass) back into condition.”
Little did Ganz know at the time that he was actually fixing up and maintaining what would be Brunkow’s parting gift to his longtime friend.
“I really didn’t [know], and to be honest, when he passed away, I called his son Bill one day, and I said, ‘Bill, I’ve gone about as far as I can go with this car without spending a bunch of money on it. What do you guys want to do with it?’ And his response was, ‘Well, that’s no problem, that’s your car! Dad wanted you to have that car.’
“And that’s how I found out.”
Out of all the fine machinery in Brunkow’s collection, Ganz says he somehow developed a special affinity for the venerable 1909 Buick. It had enough things wrong with it to keep him busy, it was undeniably beautiful, with its dark red paint, black upholstery and fold-down top, and overflowing brass. And, it was almost 100 years old!
If Brunkow’s ultimate hope was to keep Ganz smiling, tinkering and motoring to shows around his home state of Wisconsin, then it’s been mission accomplished so far. Ganz admits he is always busy doing something to keep the car on the road, and the car continues to make periodic car show appearances, including a stop at this year’s Iola Old Car Show.
The car isn’t without its problems and challenges, and that’s just the way Ganz, a resident of Alma, Wis., likes it.
“There’s never an end with these cars. You’ll never have the ultimate, perfect car, and that’s just the way it is,” Ganz said. “So there is always something that has to be tinkered with, and I enjoy that. You really wouldn’t want to get into a car like this if you didn’t enjoy that. It’s a great hobby, but it’s really a time-consuming hobby.”
The Model F was one of just two two-cylinder cars remaining on Buick’s menu by 1909 and came only as a touring car. It featured a 92-inch wheelbase and rode on 30 x 3.5 tires. Under the hood was a 159-cid, 22-hp inline power plant. The planetary transmission had two forward speeds plus a reverse gear. Power was supplied through chain-drive. The pilot drives on the right side of the cozy front seat, surrounded by a variety of brass trim and shiny do-dads.
The base price of $1,250 also got a buyer wood-spoke wheels, mechanical brakes on the rear wheels and a tilt steering column. The windshield was optional.
Driving such an open contraption is not for the uncoordinated or faint of heart. Pilots accustomed to operating with one foot and one hand are in for a 100-year-old reality check when they get behind the wheel.
“The big challenge is to keep track of the pedals,” Ganz said. “You have three pedals on the floor: low, reverse and the brake. Once things happen you have to move quick and if you’re not used to that, it can be a problem. You kind of have to get your mind in that frame of thinking, that, ‘OK, what do I have to do if I need to stop quick,’ or whatever.
“[Right-hand drive] doesn’t really bother me much. I try to stay over to the edge of the road anyway. At least we have mirrors on this one. Some other old cars don’t even have mirrors to help you.
“It’s a nice-driving car, but you worry on the highway. I don’t want to take it on the highway, but I need to drive it. You’re only driving 30, 35 mph, and everybody else is going 55 or 60 or who knows what. You don’t have turn signals, you’ve got right-hand steering. Just a lot of little things, and you worry about somebody coming up too fast behind you.”
Ganz guided the Buick on the 120-mile New London to New Brighton Antique Car Run in Minnesota a few years back before he became the car’s owner, but these days he lets the car get its most strenuous exercise at, of all places, a small airport.
“I’ve got a good half-mile strip that I can run both ways,” he says. “All I have to do is look out for airplanes, and there aren’t many planes out there.”
Ganz says he likes to keep the brass on the car as shiny as possible, but beyond that he tries not to baby the car, or get carried away trying to fix all its imperfections. The car was restored at least once in its life, and Ganz has no idea how many people have actually owned it — he knows he’s at least the third.
“Some people are so meticulous. I just go with the flow with this one,” he said. “If it needs something, we do it, and if we don’t, that’s OK, too. It isn’t a perfect car, so I like to drive it, and I don’t see the need to have everything back to perfect. Looking at it from this distance, it’s a beautiful car. You can look up close and find lots of little flaws, but that’s what old cars are.
“I’ve even put an electric starter on it. Most people say if you’re a purist, you’d never do a thing like that. But if you crank these things long enough, and they don’t want to start, you’ll be darn happy to have a starter.
“We’re just happy with the way it is right now, and pretty much intend to keep it that way and drive it.”
Ganz figures Brunkow would have approved of his treatment of the century-old Buick. The car continues to get lots of love at home, plenty of miles on the road, and loads attention at car gatherings, where people can appreciate a machine that has lived such a long and charmed life.
“It certainly attracts a crowd, there’s no getting around it,” Ganz says with a hearty laugh. “ I had it at Red Wing [Minn.] at a car show on Father’s Day, and you couldn’t keep people away from it.
“I always thought that about Bill’s cars. Those cars at a car show are like garbage cans are to flies! You couldn’t even get the cars out of the trailer and you’d have people gathered around.
“I really got spoiled. How could you not be, being around those kind of cars? But, I knew it was going to end someday. I’m just really, really happy to have this one.”
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