The hobby has lost restorer Merlyn Kaufmann, better known to his friends as Joe, on June 11 following a heart attack. He was 90.
There were many who knew Kaufmann as "Joe," because he was simply the type of man who was easy to befriend. Although he had an imposing frame, Joe was as gentle and friendly as a man can be. I met him several years ago when he graciously welcomed John Gunnell and I to his shop for an interview to be published in Old Cars Weekly's annual Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club Reunion issue. We went to Joe's base of operations in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where he restored many different types of cars, including his well-known work on the "King of Classics," the Duesenberg Model J. Joe had a string of Duesenbergs in his shop over the last 60-plus years and in his own garage, and he was most proud of his work on the famous Duesenbergs owned by Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Marion Davies and Greta Garbo.
John and I spent the day with Joe talking about these cars and Joe's other favorites, his early Fords. Although our interview was supposed to be a team effort, I spent the day with pen and paper aside, trying to absorb every word I heard Joe speak as I immersed myself in his stories while John's recorder spun away. It was a day that I knew I would never forget, and when it had to end, I didn't think I would need to drive home — I figured I could simply float back to Iola.
Whenever an editor or writer publishes an interview with one of their heroes, they worry whether the subject will enjoy the story. Following publication of the interview, Joe was as gracious as he could be when I saw him at the ACD Club Reunion in Auburn, Ind. Such graciousness is not unusual after a story appears, and certainly a good indication we didn't offend the interviewee. I knew we went one better and truly made Joe proud the moment Joe and I saw each other across the crowd gathered in the town square at Auburn during the reunion. There were many vying for Joe's attention, as they always did during the reunion, but when Joe caught a glimpse of me, he smiled and gave me a wink. And that's how I will always remember Joe — not in his shop, talking Duesenbergs and Fords while surrounded by history, but by that wink on the Auburn town square.
Godspeed, Joe. Auburn and our hobby won't be the same without you.