Copyright © 1999 Henrietta W. Hay
January 22, 1999
We all have "wish we hads" One of mine is, "I wish I had bought one of
those square body MG roadsters back in 1940 or so when they cost
$1700." Of course, in 1940 the idea of buying an English sports car
for that humongous price was unthinkable. And owning one of the old
classic automobiles is still fantasy for most of us.
But last week fantasy almost became reality for a couple of hours when
the Great American Race came to town. About a hundred magnificent old
cars were driven into Lincoln Park and parked for a 15 minute pit stop
on their way from New York to Los Angeles. We could see them and smell
them and marvel at them. Chris, my teen-age companion, enjoyed hearing
his first "UH-ooooooo-GUH, but I was moving back in time emotionally,
remembering when I had first seen cars like that.
Somebody said that Americans have an ongoing love affair with the
automobile, starting with the first Tin Lizzie. Certainly I have had.
These old cars have special meaning to those of us who grew up with
them. They bring old memories, generally very fond ones.
Apparently my interest in cars is inherited. My father's best friend at
the University of Illinois had the first automobile on the campus.
During the summer of 1906, so I have been told, they drove it from
Champaign to the West Coast and back again. I find this so hard to
imagine that I asked a couple of the drivers at the Great American Race
whether it could have been done. Both told me that it was quite
possible, but it would have been, to put it mildly, a lengthy and
difficult journey. But those young men were adventurous, and
automobiles were new. The roads were primitive and repair shops
non-existent. Gasoline would have been hard to come by. They had to
repair and replace as they went. The car must literally have been held
together with baling wire and Scotch tape, except that there wasn't any
I am aware of the first car in my life only because there is a picture
of me -- very small -- standing on the running board of a very early
Dodge. Any resemblance between that car and a Dodge today does not
extend beyond the fact that each of them has four wheels.
The first car I really remember was The Old Hudson, probably a 1926 or
so, that hauled us all over the state of Colorado including that never
to be forgotten first visit to the Grand Mesa and Grand Junction during
my high school years. We went on main roads that would be considered
cattle trails today, in blinding dust when dry and bottomless mud when
wet. The hairpin curves were so tight you had to back up two or three
times to get around them.
The Old Hudson hauled us over Loveland Pass the first summer it was
opened, it navigated Gore Pass in the mud and it thought Monarch was a
snap. And one wonderful day on Kenosha Pass my dad stopped The Old
Hudson and asked me for the first time whether I would like to drive
it. The Old Hudson may have faltered now and then, but it never failed
When I was in C. U. I dated a guy who had a Model A Ford convertible
with a rumble seat, the ultimate in sportiness in the '30's. For the
uninitiated, a rumble seat was sort of a convertible back seat. When
it was closed, the car looked like a coupe. When open, there was a
fresh air passenger seat. It was possible to put at least eight college
kids into that Model A with fair comfort, but it was much better with
only two! Seeing the Model A's last week, I could only marvel at how
they have shrunk.
I have continued my love affair with the automobile and have had a
series of really interesting cars, but never have I seen a collection
like that in the Great American Race. From the tiny Ford Midget Sprint
to the huge Packard super-8-roadster, from the Model A's and Model T's
and old Buicks and Chevys and Studebakers to that wonderful 1913 Rolls
Royce Silver Ghost they were a treat to see. And oh the memories they
brought with them.