Story and photos by John Katerba
In the fall of 2019, I learned about “Nellie’s” 1955 Ford Tudor while working in Brick, N.J. I met her grandson, Bill Chandler, and was informed that his family had an old car that his late grandmother once owned, and it was still in an old garage on the family farm. The car had been parked there in 1968.
Last winter, Bill and I muscled open the old wooden door to the garage and there it was, unbelievably just as he had told me. Through the dust, I could see the Ford was a Customline two-door sedan with a V-8. After filling the tires with air, we pulled it out into the sunshine for the first time since 1968, when Nellie parked it for the last time before her passing just a short time later.
The odometer read just a little more than 30,000 miles. The car was just as it had left the Pt. Pleasant Motors Ford dealership when Nellie purchased it on June 30, 1955.
According to Bill’s elderly mother (Nellie’s daughter-in-law), the reason the Ford was never driven again was that under no circumstances did Nellie allow anyone else to drive her car. Well, Bill’s mom took her mother-in-law’s words literally and never did allow herself or anyone else to drive it. Bill’s mom went on to tell me, “If she didn’t want me to drive it when she was alive, I’ll be dammed if I’ll ever drive it!”
When Nellie parked it, she essentially turned off the ignition and walked away. The keys were left in the ignition, a few of her personal effects were still inside the car and the 1968 license plates remained mounted from when she last registered the car.
I made a deal to purchase the car and Bill delivered it to me last October. I took an archaeological approach to the car, treating it as though it was a 50-year-old time capsule. It turned out to be true that no one had gone through the car or its belongings since 1968. The glove box contained all of the New Jersey registrations up to 1968, some candy boxes with candy still in them, even Nellie’s pink hair ribbon. Under the front seat I found old drive-in movie ticket stubs from the Eatontown Drive-In plus A&P paper shopping bags, Nellie’s umbrella, pre-1968 coins and even lost coupons that expired in 1958. The trunk produced old Coca-Cola containers, more shopping bags from local establishments and the like. I think the spare is original and still had some 1968 (or older) air left in it!
I have left the car as I found it — I just cannot bring myself to wash it yet despite my wife’s pleas to clean it.
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