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Mechanical Delight
By Geoff Wheatley

Mechanical Delight. by Geoff Wheatley

Many of us who are interested in the history of the Motor Vehicle spend whatever time available on a vacation, in some Motor Museum, Usually we do this alone and past experience has shown that wives/ girl friends/ children and others who vacation with us, seem to be allergic to such educational experiences! In a way that has its benefits as we can linger for extended periods in front of some mechanical delight without being encouraged to return to the beach etc. Some of us have from time to time been accused of caring more for our motor vehicle than our family which of course is not quite correct.

I would agree that some people do go a little over the top with their treasured transport, like an owner in Birmingham England, back in the 1930's who dug a large hole and announced to the world that he would bury his antique Daimler in protest to having been ordered to pay taxes on the building that he had built to store his treasure. How he managed to get the car into the hole is not reported but a few years later it was retrieved and ran in a Veteran Car Club event. Here in the USA in the 1960s a vintage Rolls Royce was found at the bottom of a lake. How it got there is not clear except that it was certainly driven into the water back in the 1920’s. Later it was suggested that this action was the result of some type of gang killing possibly over the distribution of illegal liquor. I would also add that such disputes were common during probation with people seriously interested in maintaining their dry market.

In Germany after WWII several items of value were extracted from various watery graves including bars of gold and silver, even today there are people who are still searching for treasurers hidden when the war seemed to be lost for the Germans. I think one of the most interesting discoveries was in Stockholm where a 1912 antique touring car was discovered in the local harbor.

Like the famous Swedish Ship the "VASA", that was buried in much the same location and survived for over 300 years, now on exhibit in the Maritime Museum in Stockholm, the car was in excellent condition and one of the tires still held air. Both the condition of the car and the ship is attributed to the deep mud and lack of sunlight. Recently it was discovered that the ship is starting to disintegrate, not because of any problems with the 300 year old wood, but the fact that the original nails used in the construction are simply dissolving leaving the ship in need of serious attention. I had the privilege of visiting the museum a couple of years ago. Did not see the car of course but was impressed with the ship.

I would be the first to agree that America has some of the most delightful eccentric car owners in the world. A Ferrari owner was so attached to her car that she requested in her will that she and the car should be buried together, with her seated in the vehicle.

A few years ago I was invited to a party in New York State, the Birthday boy was a keen collector of antique vehicles that he stored under open sided shed type structures that of course filled up with snow during the winter. He maintained that this preserved to cars even if it did not enhance the condition! In his main living room he had two MG's located so that he could sit in either one and view TV. As I recall one was a MGB the other a MGA. I have also seen a complete prewar Ford in a Barbers shop that customers literary pushed and shoved each other to sit in while waiting for a haircut.

During my early days of vehicle ownership the local Breakers Yard was my favorite location to waste a couple of hours simply looking at the various cars waiting for someone to purchase what useful items they may still have. In those days twenty five dollars could buy used radiator or a pair of front fenders. A working starter motor cost around ten bucks and I once purchased a complete spare wheel with a decent tire for fifteen. I recall that the procedure was to ask what they had and more important where it was located.

By that I mean that you as the buyer, were expected to venture forth with your traveling tool kit to remove whatever it was from the selected car or truck. Today it’s totally different; you are seldom allowed to walk the field with a wrench etc. The various parts are in store, clean and shining awaiting some eager customer looking for an inexpensive replacement. I often wondered what ever happened to the skeleton of these cars when every useful item had been salvaged.

Reading a recent publication I discovered that fifty or more years ago, these items were often sold as "Fill In" material for repairs to roads or bridges, or simply crushed and sold as metal scrap for a few dollars. It is reported that Henry Ford purchased thousands of old cars and had them melted down for the production of his new vehicles. The going price at the time was around twenty dollars depending on the condition and what might be saved and used.

You might think that the engine block was the most desirable item for restoration but that seems not to be the case. Most of these engines were virtually worn out at around 40.000 miles and not worth the trouble of restoration. However fenders, doors and rear drive units were worth restoration. As most of these cars had a very limited range of instruments such things were seldom saved, and remember that many of these early mass produced vehicles did not even have a Speedo meter.

I started this article with the intention of explaining the attraction of the Motor Car to history buffs like this scribe, but in the process, as often happen, memories got in the way. Let me simply say that ever since I saw my first Motor Car at around six or seven years of age I have been addicted to the things. Yes, as my Wife will confirm I have wasted a fair amount of money on this addiction but I have also had some very memorable moments behind many steering wheels !
Geoff Wheatley © 2017
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