Story and photos by Angelo Van Bogart
It was a wet one, but for those who held out until show day on Saturday, there was a rainbow of cars at the end of the storm.
Torrential rains beat down on the Antique Automobile Club of America’s Eastern Division National Fall Meet at Hershey, Pa., held Oct. 9-12. The rain began on Oct. 10 and didn’t let up until the evening of Friday, Oct. 11. During that time, many flea market vendors closed shop, and a good number of those left the grounds. With flooded roads caused by the steady rain, car owners prepared to display cars at the Saturday-only show feared the grassy show field would be relegated to the traditional Hershey mud from years gone by.
However, that was not the case, and those owners who displayed their vehicles were rewarded.
When the clouds broke early on show day, the car owners who pulled their cars out of their vending spaces and out of trailers were treated to sunshine. Among those displaying a car at the Hershey show was Old Cars Weekly reader Chuck Larson, who brought a 1953 Oldsmobile Fiesta convertible, one of only 458 built from the only year of production.
“My dad bought it in ’68, but I didn’t begin restoring it until 10 years ago,” Larson said. “I was 9 years old when he bought it, and he died five years later.”
During that time, the car sat in the family garage with a blown engine, although Larson’s father had bought another Oldsmobile engine to install in the convertible. Larson said the spare engine was from an older Oldsmobile, so when it came time to put the Fiesta back on the road, the original was rebuilt and re-installed.
Although the Fiesta had come from the Midwest, it was still very solid when it came time to restore the car. It was also very complete; Larson only had to find a wiper arm, which he borrowed from the sedentary Oldsmobile when the wiper on his daily driver needed to be replaced years ago. Due to the Fiesta’s unique wrap-around windshield, other Oldsmobile wipers do not work. Finding a replacement proved very difficult.
Since its restoration has been complete, Larson has enjoyed driving the car around his Union, Mich., home. At Hershey, Larson’s was the only Fiesta on the show field.
The fall Hershey meet draws many rarities, and one of the rarest was the 1948 Keller Super Chief station wagon displayed by Sally Barnett and her son Sam.
Sam’s father had sought a Huntsville, Ala.-built Keller since about 1980 because it was built in the family’s home state, but with only 18 built and three known to still exist, the search was tough. In 1996, they found the example they displayed at the show. Sam’s restoration was so fresh, the paint had barely dried.
“It was put away in 1951,” Barnett said. “We tried to keep it original, but it was too far gone.”
Barnett said his father had restored the Keller’s mechanical components before he died, including the Hercules IX3B engine and three-speed transmission. Two other family friends replaced the wood with original Alabama ash as the only wood that could be saved from the station wagon was the window surrounds and the ceiling. The remaining aluminum body and steel cowl were painted a bright yellow hue.
Keller is probably a new name to most hobbyists. The company was one of several postwar start-ups, although it’s less well-known as Tucker or Kaiser-Frazer. Former Studebaker sales vice-president George D. Keller took over the Dixie Motor Car Co., altered its plans for the existing Bobbi-Kar, and renamed the car Keller. The night before his company was to go public on Wall Street, Keller was found dead in his room. In short order, the company folded with just a few cars built.
Barnett’s car was used by Keller’s West Coast distributor to drum up dealer interest in the Keller, and he clocked 44,000 miles on the car, which also proved its reliability. Although many parts on the Keller were borrowed from the parts bins of other companies (1936 Chevrolet air cleaner, 1946 Olds headlamp bezels, 1947 Studebaker steering wheel, Willys rear end and wheels, etc.), the car had its own body design and a unique, partially rubber “torsilastic” suspension by B.F. Goodrich.
To complete what his father started, Sam Barnett took one year off of work to restore the Keller and a 1927 Marmon.
“For five years, the car looked at me angrily,” Barnett joked. “I finished the restorations within a half hour of each other. My goal was to get a [AACA] Senior award with one of them, hopefully this one.”
Although the largest, Fall Hershey is just one of the many events held by the AACA throughout the country. Learn more at www.aaca.org or by calling 717-534-1910.
More visual highlights from Hershey…