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Shades of the Untouchables

Some people are surprised that I never owned a muscle car. I once had a ’63 Chrysler Sport 300 that had a 383-cid big-block V-8. It was actually a pretty fast machine, but it was big and only had a two-barrel carb. I also had a 1984 Camaro Z/28, but I never considered that a real muscle car either.

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Personally, I have never been surprised by my lack of a muscle car, but I am very surprised that I never owned a car from the 1920s or early 1930s. Those are the kinds of cars I longed for when I was a boy in the ‘50s.

Back then, we lived in Staten Island, N.Y. and there were plenty on Depression Era cars still in everyday use. Others were in the hands of collectors, but few of them had storage buildings or private museums at their homes like collectors do today. Heck, even owning a small garage was a luxury in New York in that era.

So, a lot of the cars sat out in the street or parked in back yards. Every Wednesday my mother would drive me all over the Island to check on the status of cars we had spotted. There were Model A Fordors and old Dodge Brothers touring cars. Near my grandmother’s place sat a gorgeous Buick rumbleseat coupe. I loved every one of those cars.

On Thursday nights we would anxiously await the next segment of a TV show called “The Untouchables.” It was about FBI hero Elliott Ness and gangsters like Al Capone. But, the stories didn’t matter as much as the cars that the characters drove. I’m sure that I couldn’t tell a Ford from a Chevy or a Lincoln from a La Salle back then, but all of the cars on the show were my dream machines. They were what I wanted to drive when I grew up.

Thinking back on this, I realize why I really enjoyed the car show at King Veterans Home in Waupaca, Wis., last week. I would guess that about one third of the vehicles in the show were of what we call “prewar” vintage. In case you’re new to the hobby, that means the cars were built before World War II started. And it was great to see so many.

Actually, it’s getting rare to see a lot of prewar cars at most car shows these days. They just don’t come out as much as they used to. The people who grew up with them are getting too old to participate in the hobby the way they did 10 or 20 or even 30 years ago. And that’s a shame, because the old cars really tell the fascinating history of how the automobile developed.

A lot of people and clubs and companies have tried to start programs to get young people involved in the hobby. Today, we are seeing the fruits of some of these efforts. Younger car buffs are showing up and often they’re doing it with more modern special interest cars. And it’s good. But maybe we could also use a couple of ideas about how to keep older hobbyists involved. Actually, it should be easy. They already have the passion for prewar cars. All’s we have to do is find ways to get them out to the car shows again.

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