T here is no great secret to keeping a good car on the road for many years, but rather an “attitude” and a conscious effort to continue to do so once the “new car” appeal has worn off.
For 84-year-old Clarence Curtiss, this effort has spanned a lifetime.
Photo: Thomas McDonald/NY Times
Way back around 1938, Curtiss scraped together $10 and purchased a 1929 Model A Ford from a neighbor. Now remember, this was during the height of the depression and no small feat, especially for a young man of just 15.
“He was out of work, and he was hungry,” Curtiss told the New York Times recently, “I drove it for a year with no license. The day I turned 16, I got my license with this car.”
Today, the unrestored Ford has well over 200,000 miles on its odometer and can still be spotted cruising the roads in and around Shelton, Conn.
“I raced kids home from high school with it, but there were a couple of cars that I couldn’t beat,” the former Honda Dealership owner said.
To give him a slight advantage over the other cars in the neighborhood, he installed a Hudson Terraplane engine under the hood back around 1940 increasing the top speed of the car from a mere 55 miles an hour to more than 80 mph.
“Then I could beat them all,” he told the newspaper.
While we all remember our first car, and some of us, like Curtiss, have even managed to hang on to them for years, it is the strong emotional attachment to his Model A that has kept him from ever parting with the car.
According to the article, Curtiss met his wife, Dorothy, shortly after he purchased the car. The couple was married for more than 56 years when she passed away in 1998. The initials they carved together into the car’s steering wheel as teenagers can still be seen to this day.
“She was the first and only girl I ever kissed in the car, he told the Times. “It’s priceless because of that, as far as I’m concerned.”
Proving that his first car is more than just a museum piece, Curtiss still takes his Model A to more than a dozen car shows a year. Despite the fact that there is a hole in one of the floorboards, cotton stuffing coming out of seats and the paint is wearing thin in places, the car has won 14 trophies over the years.
The car’s winning edge may well be the handwritten story that he tapes to the side window when it is being displayed.
Curtiss has no plans on selling the car anytime soon. In fact, his 16-year-old great-grandson told the Times that he hopes to keep the car on the road and in the family for many years to come, despite the fact that the “new car appeal” wore off nearly 80 years ago.