Q&A: September 12, 2019 Edition

Kit Foster answers your old car questions
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Answer Man

Q. I found the Q&A regarding safe drivers’ badges interesting (July 11). My grandfather used to get them from AAA (American Automobile Association) semi-regularly. He often bragged about them. This irritated my grandmother because she never got them and she did all the driving. Grandma even drove Grandpa to work and picked him up every day. I never remember my grandfather driving any vehicle.
— Randy Mattson, Forest Lake, Minn.

A. Well, your grandfather never had any automobile accidents, then, earning him recognition. Was the car registered in his name, perhaps, as well as the AAA membership? That could account for the apparent anomaly.

When I was sorting through some paperwork after my father passed away 20 years ago, I came across a registration certificate for a 1928 Franklin in my grandmother’s name. I knew the family had a Franklin — several of them, actually. My father had said so, and we had some home movies showing the 1928 model. But my grandmother was very crippled by arthritis and I was skeptical that she ever drove. I asked my oldest cousin, who remembered her (Grandmother died the year before I was born). “Never,” my cousin said, “nor did Grandpa ever drive.” “Well, then, who did?” I asked. She explained our grandparents had a couple who worked for them. He was a gardener and chauffeur, his wife a cook and housekeeper. Why the car was registered to Grandmother and not Grandpa I’ll never know. I do know that once they reached driving age, my father and his five siblings did much of the family driving, including taking Grandpa to work. Prior to the Franklins, the family cars included a Packard Twin Six and a Model T Depot Hack.

Q. Can you, or any of your readers, identify this vehicle from an old family photo collection? Nothing is known about the vehicle make or model. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.
— Jerry Jared, Springfield, Mo.

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A. Well, somebody had an idea, because “Pontiac” is scrawled at the bottom of your photo. Unfortunately, although it looks rather “Pontiac-ish” (or perhaps “Oldsmobilian”) from the late 1920s, it doesn’t match up with any GM model I could find. Lots of independent makes produced cars such as this, but searches of Studebaker, Graham-Paige, Hupmobile, etc., failed to find that distinctive belt molding. Then I noticed that the gentleman is holding his hand in a peculiar way. He’s not reaching out to the lady, nor is he resting it on a sidemount spare tire: the spare is mounted on the rear. There is no door handle near the rear jamb, so this car must have “suicide doors,” which open from the front. His hand is resting on the door handle.

That narrowed the search a lot. Hudson built many cars in the 1920s with suicide front doors; I have one, a 1925 Super Six Brougham. It didn’t take long to find this car in some of my references. It’s Hudson’s companion make, a 1929 Essex coupe, and it matches images from advertising of the period.

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That was a good year for Essex, which placed third, after Ford and Chevrolet, in sales. It was the last time an independent make achieved that high a rank until Rambler displaced Plymouth for 1960 (if Rambler could be considered “independent” in the 1960s, instead of just one of the “Big Four”). Hudson advertised Essex as “The Challenger” in 1929. This one surely challenged me!

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