At the close of the previous chapter, I was waving goodbye to the rare racing Alfa Romeo SZ that I had taken so many years to run to ground, then purchased and almost immediately sold the car, literally in a few days!
I hadn’t taken the time to pursue selling the car in my usual drawn out fashion, i.e. a 5,000 word Hemmings ad, multiple telephone calls etc. etc. . .
So what pushed me to move the Alfa Romeo on down the road?
I could sense the ground supporting the high line European cars growing somewhat unsteady pricewise.
Further, it took a highly educated aficionado to fully appreciate an Alfa SZ back in those days. The then current Alfa Romeo GTZ was the sought after model at that point.
Finally, I had repeatedly heard grand tales of all types of very high line classics shifting to Japan.
As an aside, I was somewhat chuffed that I had never received so much as a “how do you do . . .” from any of these big buyers in Japan. Nor did I know any of the new breed of dealer / broker types that were “high shifting” all types of Ferraris, etc. into the land of the rising sun . . .
I was particularly disturbed by the prospect of a number of significant competition Ferraris, Maseratis, etc. disappearing deeply into the Pacific Rim. Would they ever be seen again on the world stage?
I had heard that residents of Japan living in certain high population density centers were only allowed by law to drive their priceless baubles on the street one day per year!!
Maybe it was time to put on another hat. That included Marilyn and I possibly moving to Florida! We were both growing weary of the winters in Philadelphia, but in the meantime . . .
THE 1991 GRAND NATIONAL ROADSTER SHOW . . .
. . . In the meantime I had received an invitation to the vaunted Grand National Roadster Show, i.e. (Oakland Roadster Show), with the Fred Rowe / George Barris / Bill Layman 1951 Mercury Custom convertible. It was a worthy invitation, as that car was unquestionably the finest fifties custom Mercury Convertible ever completed, both mechanically and cosmetically. And it had been in the movie: “Running Wild” with Mamie van Doren, which had been a, uh, world-beater of a film!!
As an interesting aside, Fred Rowe had purchased the Mercury brand new off a dealer’s showroom floor and two weeks later given it to Barris to have it fully customized!
The invitation had arrived along with lots of printed material, including a diagram that showed exactly where the Mercury would be placed at the show.
It clearly showed that I, as a rookie entrant, would be parked in a spot in a dark place, far from the main show floor.
I telephoned George Barris to get his reaction and George told me that the vaunted spaces on the main show floor were assigned to big time custom builders of the period: men like John D’agostino, Gil Ayala, Dean Jefferies Richard Gnocchi, Boyd Coddington, Dick Dean, and the King of them all, Bill Hines . . .
Barris got off the phone and pushed some levers and leaned on a few old pals and voila, we were placed on a very special spot right smack on the main floor!
Immediately after receiving notification by mail of our new location, a steady flow of information poured in from various entities connected with the show. They were offering all manner of items to enhance our display, among others were chrome ramps to raise one or both sides of the car, carpeting for the entire area, heavy chrome plated stanchions, miles of “velvet” rope. The offers of bells and whistles went on and on, but the capper was the offer of literally acres of what appeared to be a material bearing a strong resemblance to cotton candy. The prices for these accoutrements were off the planet.
I rounded up Inter-City Lines and before you knew it, there we were at the hallowed Grand National Oakland Roadster Show venue!
My friend Will had gone with me.
We arrived at the arena barely in time. Intercity off loaded the Mercury while we ascertained exactly where our show space would be. And, quickly I determined that, in fact, we were front and center. Indeed, Boyd Coddington was right next to us introducing the incredible Aluma coupe!
VERY NEARLY TOSSED . . .
We hadn’t gotten very far placing the car when a very nice gentleman introduced himself. He was John D’Agostino one of real kingpins in the world of building and displaying great custom cars. John was exceedingly gracious, but he was essentially telling us: . . . “I hope you east coast donkeys don’t think you’re commandeering that prime bit of show floor without some fairly elaborate accoutrements.”
I guess I hadn’t done my homework relative to what was expected to fill out the display area for a car that was the caliber of the Barris “Freddy Rowe” Mercury.
Very quickly the whole scene got a great deal worse, as an army of officials that ran the show descended upon us!
“Where are your display materials??” They asked!
“We don’t give out these spots unless the displays are really over the top!!” said another. I’m assuming you guys have all the Mamie van Doren “Running Wild” movie material with you!!”
(. . . .OK Kirk, you’re about 2 minutes from being thrown the hell out of here! Got anything to say to these fine people? You knew perfectly well the car was featured in that movie . . .)
So out of nowhere I spit out the following:
. . . “Intercity Lines had all the materials stored in the belly boxes under the floor of the trailer and the driver encountered a terrific ice storm in Illinois and everything was wiped out including the Movie Marquee we had just completed! . . .”
At that point Dean Jeffries had joined the group and he and John calmed the organizers somewhat then turned and informed us in no uncertain terms what it would take on our part to at least get a lid on everything. We were directed to a local Carpet store and were successful in securing a brand new 1600 square foot carpet in a shade of grey very close to the interior color of the Mercury. At no small cost, I might add.
We rented a vast amount of velvet covered theater rope and the supporting very expensive heavy stanchions to hold the great unwashed at bay.
We passed on the “Cotton Candy” that, in my mind, seemed to indicate to the showgoer that the car on display had “gone to heaven . . .”
Just when we thought we were done at the show site, I raised the engine hood. Within moments the organizers descended and said if we wanted to raise the hood that would be fine. But we would not be allowed to touch it thereafter. Up or down, make your choice.
I have never been a fan of the “hood-up” gaping mouth school of automobile showing. But with a dazzling engine bay, which the Mercury had, I thought it advantageous to do both from time to time . . .
Down went the hood and we were finally able to view the other show cars. They were all spectacular, maybe not all to my taste, but remarkably well built.
Coddington’s Aluma Coupe was a masterpiece! It broke “new ground” from any number of aspects. It was the essence of simplicity, yet one could easily see it took forever to carry out the design and turn it into such a breathtaking hot rod.
If memory serves me, we set up late the Wednesday before the show. It opened the following day to a handful of people who had served a long period of tenure with AMBR (America’s Most Beautiful Roadster) show.
A number of years prior, the show had opened a major award category for Custom Cars, hence we were being tolerated but it was clear we were not one of the “good old crowd” who had the chrome ramps, acres of the cotton candy, etc., etc.
Thursday, and into Friday morning the world ground to a near standstill.
How many times can you look at the same show car displays, posters, literature, etc. before everything begins a slow descent to a standstill. The cars were spread over several buildings and long hallways.
As I drifted down one of the hallways I came upon a remarkable Harley Davidson.
Mildly, but “just right” customized. Memory tells me it was a dark red and cream in color. With little need for our presence around our Mercury, I spent a lot of time looking at that great Harley. It wasn’t long before the owner came by his motorcycle to at least meet the guy who couldn’t keep his eyes off the bike.
His name was Barry Weiss and yes, it is the same Barry Weiss from the Television hit:”Storage Wars!
LIFE WITH BARRY WEISS . . .
Boy oh boy, the wild experiences we boys had with Barry throughout the ensuing years, particularly the weekends of the Los Angeles Roadster Show, would probably take another book!
An example: on one occasion in a rental car with Barry driving, we slew up the Beverly Hilton driveway at a high rate of speed with the rear wheels in “emergency brake lockup.” It sounded like the car was totally out of control! As we arrived, the tennis great Maria Sharapova was crossing the driveway. Upon hearing an out 0f control automobile apparently bearing down on her, she dove for the shrubbery! The front door hotel security descended upon us. As I was in the front passenger seat, mine was the first door that the Security giant threw open. But then, fortunately, the whole squad saw it was Barry and it all lapsed into “business as usual” with Barry!
My son-in-law Darick who had joined us that year thought that was slickest trick he’d ever seen. Barry tutored him and Darick became quite good at the stunt!
A couple of years later when we were attending the LA Roadster Show, we returned to our hotel late Saturday evening and a huge wedding was just departing the hotel. Darick was driving and simply couldn’t resist, so he locked up the rear brakes and approached the wedding crowd appearing to be a vehicle out of control. One poor wedding guest was in a wheelchair. Upon spotting the apparently out of control vehicle, the wheelchair bound fellow bolted from his wheelchair and ran back into the hotel!!
Darick carried on for years about his healing powers . . .
(. . . Sorry, sorry, I’m always wandering away from a storyline . . .)
Returning to the Roadster show, both Will and I had observed the gals that worked with various exhibitors. A few were blasé yet a great number of the ladies were not only engaging but totally knowledgeable about their “products” and demonstrated a pleasant humor with virtually all the show attendees.
Sunday was the final day and the various winners would be chosen. The crowd was vast and the day passed quickly.
And, by George, we did win the top award in our category!
Just at the point where there were the photographers, plus George Barris, Bill Layman and a dozen more who were very interested in the car, along came Will in the company of this stunningly attractive blonde. I shot Will a look that pretty much said:
“What are you doing?!!
He launched into this long tale of having made it his business to interview at length every “show” girl working the show and late Sunday had decided that “Shelly” was light years ahead of any of the ladies that were present at the GNRS. Not the worst way to spend a day, I thought . . .
Shelly was exceptional and went on to do a number of events with us through the years . . . In fact the first show we did with Shelley was one of the Barrett Jackson auctions. We had a funny thing happen right off the bat.
Will and I were having breakfast in the hotel dining room just before the event, when Shelly appeared. Everyone in the dining room stopped short of whatever they were doing as here came this spectacular young lady with the shortest shorts you ever saw and an equally brief top!
I was left to trip all over myself asking Shelly if she might have something a little more “conservative.”
She took us back to her room (that’s got a dicey ring to it . . .) where I witnessed the largest clothing explosion I have ever seen!! I couldn’t imagine how she got them all packed. She quickly rounded up a nice bright sundress, and what really struck me was that she had already committed to memory all the extensive material on both our cars which we had given her to review the night before.
Shelly was a real, no nonsense, asset to us for a number of years’
Finally it was Sunday evening and it is the tradition of the Roadster Show to close with the simultaneous firing of every engine at the end of the show. Spectacular!
We had learned a great deal from that show.
Just as we were getting ready to pack up for home, I was invited to go on up to Sacramento and do it all again at the Sacramento Autorama in 3 weeks!!
“Thanks, truly but I have no place to store the car . . .”
Several people said: “Oh, we can keep it, gladly . . .”
The only soul I knew was Mike Hemus who said he’d be glad to store the car with John Mozart. That was more than good enough for me!
When I returned for the Sacramento show, I brought my son Chris.
This time we knew how to “set-up” quickly so the boredom factor kicked in almost immediately.
WHAT TO DO, WHEN THERE IS NOTHING TO DO . . .
Chris got friendly with the California Highway Patrol officers who were managing a booth at the show. He took their safety tips course at the show and was awarded their certificate and a wallet sized card.
On the Thursday of the show we broke rank and headed for my friend Walt Petersen’s home in Reno, Nevada. Walt was the foremost tether racing car collector in America.
I should add the rental car we’d been handed was a big ‘ol Chevrolet Caprice Sedan in refrigerator white with blackwall tires. Yeah, it was just like a base police car.
We were slugging over the hill on I-80 in very dicey, snowy weather. And then Chris got an idea.
The next slow car in the right lane that we passed, when Chris flashed his CHP card which had a facsimile of a badge on it and vehemently signaled the “offending” vehicle to pull over, pronto.
Over a span of probably 20 miles he was successful in getting 2 cars to pull off the road!!
Boys behaving badly . . .
And yes we did return to Sacramento and we did win the big prize which was a trophy nearly as tall as Chris. But even that spawned an incident!
While we were sitting in the front row Chris was holding the trophy when he blurted out:
“Yo! Dad, the wings on this trophy are plastic!!” said Chris as he sat there in the front row bending an angel’s wing up and down!!
When does it end?
FINALLY, THE “SPEED MERCHANT”, LARRY ZIRBES . . .
Throughout this tome we’ve bumped around the crusty character who owned the Zirbie 1957 Lincoln engined 1957 Thunderbird.
Mark Smith had first put me in touch with him. At the time, I thought he had done so knowing my love for the two seater ‘birds. As soon as I tried to deal with with the current owner who lived in the Philadelphia suburb of Gladwyne, I discovered he was loud, overbearing but most interested in having you come down to look at the car, but, “no it certainly is not for sale!!
I had followed up with this character for a number of years. I was determined to get that car.
After we got home with the Barris car, I have to admit that the white 1957 Thunderbird was the furthest thing from my mind.
THEN ONE RAINY AFTERNOON . . .
The phone rang. The guy on the other end was another “spotter” of mine who covered the Philadelphia area like a blanket, hunting out all types of cars, a few of which worked for me.
He told me a most interesting story.
Did I know that there was a white ‘57 Thunderbird with alloy wheels lying almost up to the windows in snow alongside an old auction company building less than ten miles from where I was sitting!! He’d heard my old pal Phil Tegtmeier had been dealing with the guy who owned it.
The owner, he mentioned was living in Arizona . . .
GRAND THEFT AUTO!! . . .
I knew it had to be the ’57 “Zirbes” Thunderbird. So, okay, the car was apparently abandoned deep in a snowdrift, hard up against an old and abandoned multi-story auction building.
I know I’m repeating myself. I was slowly trying to justify what I was about to do.
I simply stole the Thunderbird!!
I physically set the wheels in motion to let’s say “re-locate” the car . . . first calling my favorite towing service that had moved a lot of valuable cars for me over the years. I told them that there was a ‘57 Thunderbird laying deep in the snow against an old auction house in Ardmore.
The trucker said: “Yeah, I see it most every day. It’s just sittin’ there, dying away . . .”
“Just get it out of there as quickly as possible and take it to Alex Baynard’s place in Bridgeport.”
Not only did Alex do the best exhaust systems on earth, he was about six foot five, black and a “no nonsense” kind of guy. Alex’s shop had virtually no windows and Bridgeport wasn’t a place you wanted to visit after dark!
I got to Alex’s just as the ‘bird was being wound off the rollback truck.
“Alex, just hold on to this donkey for a few days. I’ll come by and we’ll scheme out what we need for a proper exhaust system . . .”
Alex merely nodded. Exhaust system indeed . . .
On the way home I began to believe the whole deal was almost Heaven sent!
Phil Tegtmeier had worked with me for many years. Phil had patience, understanding and the ability to deal with the old curmudgeon.
Pretty quickly I’d have to bring Phil up to speed. I didn’t want someone else to call Phil and say:
“Hey I see you got rid of that old T-bird laying in Ardmore . . .”
When I got home I poured myself a stiff drink.
I noticed Hemmings magazine had arrived. I was poring over the automobiles being offered for sale and came to the Thunderbird section.
THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING . . .
As I quickly gleaned that “Thunderbird for sale” section, my head exploded and I left the planet. Staring back at me was a quarter page ad with a bold photograph of a 1956 Thunderbird, with alloy wheels. Upon closer scrutiny, it appeared to be a ’55 as it had no continental spare, or porthole windows in the hardtop!
With a photograph and very bold print were the words:
“LARRY ZIRBES 1956 THUNDERBIRD”
LINCOLN 430 POWERED
Blah, blah, blah . . . then finally an Arizona phone number!!
It was a truly ethereal experience. I was certain I was no longer on planet earth!! Next thing I’d pick-up might inform me that Ford Motor Company built 2,500 of the damn things!!
I called the Arizona number and talked with a thoroughly knowledgeable automobile enthusiast who sounded a whole lot brighter than I was on these Zirbies cars. There had been three Lincoln engined Zirbes built in 1956 and finally “my” ’57. Another ’57 Zirbes Thunderbird had been destroyed in an accident soon after it had been built.
Before we start the story, yes, I did buy that Arizona car. I mean, what the hell was I supposed to do?
There I was, having literally stolen one Zirbies ‘bird, and looking at a nationally advertised second Zirbies Thunderbird!! I’d better call Phil within the next week or so to review my having gotten that poor ‘bird out of a snow bank.
. . . (No Kirk, you’ll offer up whatever pathetic pile of words that you have tomorrow first thing in the morning. . .)
Now, Phil Tegtmeier and I had pretty much worked together since the beginning of 1968. He knew his cars and he possessed a talent that I was seriously lacking. Patience. Phil could endure someone for an entire day and remain landed.
Me? I was good for 30 minutes tops with someone and if I didn’t see we were moving forward, I eased myself away as rapidly as I could.
I was hoping Phil could schmooze the owner (?!) into accepting some sensible sum for his, already ‘gone’ car. The worst that could happen would be that I’d have to put the car back in its snow bank . . .
Needless to say Phil was somewhat startled by the way I had gone about things so far . . . but he said he had known of the car for a long time,and with his tireless patience had learned that the owner had run a connecting rod bearing over and that was when the car had made the trip to the Auction company. Phil said he would do what he could to get a deal wrapped up. As I recall, the curmudgeon, who now lived in the Southwest, was then at $50,000.
If you’re interested, the following is a complete rundown on the two remarkable Thunderbirds . .
Lincoln 430 NASCAR Power
These totally unique Thunderbirds (2-1956, 1-1957) were built by Larry Zirbes in late 1957 and early 1958 when the big Lincoln/Mercury Marauder 430 cubic inch engines were first built by Ford Motor Company. The big Lincoln power plants were designed to be potent racing weapons for the Mercury NASCAR Grand National stock cars.
LARRY ZIRBES PERSONAL HISTORY
Larry Zirbes was the charismatic Production Manager of Ford Motor Company’s Engine Plant #1, and as such, made it his business to quietly snare three of these new Marauder 430 cubic inch engines when they became available in late 1957.
Larry was an amazingly talented innovator, engineer, and a man who knew everyone of note in the automobile field. He was a close friend of Carroll Shelby and indeed in the early sixties the two collaborated on the idea of fitting Ford small block engines to Austin Healeys, which is outlined in an article in Hot Rod Magazine, August 1963. Shelby, of course, shortly thereafter wandered into AC Automobiles in Great Britain!
Larry had lived the brief period in late 1956 and 1957 when the potent supercharged F series Thunderbirds had offered strong competition against all things Chrysler, and General Motors, particularly the Chevrolet Corvette, and the fuel injected NASCAR Grand National stock cars.
Zirbes’ persuasion was such that he had coerced one of Ford Motor Company’s forging plants in 1957 to quietly run up a dozen Y block crankshafts with throws that would push the displacement out to 335 cubic inches. They were used in the supercharged F series Thunderbirds that he and his plant superintendent, Red Mathei, had been street racing everywhere; and some quietly slipped into the hands of such hot rod geniuses as Doane Spencer, Lynn Wineland, and Bill Stroppe.
As quickly as he obtained those first Lincoln/Mercury Marauder engines, Larry saw an opportunity to build a few really quick two seater Thunderbirds. Three ‘56s were built, two ‘57’s and this is the only 1957 to have survived as the second ’57 ‘bird was destroyed in an accident.
This Thunderbird was built new at the factory, devoid of any power robbing accessories. As such, it was equipped with a 3 speed manual gearbox with overdrive, and a “blank” (no portholes) hardtop. Power steering, power brakes, power windows, power seat, heater, and radio were all deleted.
Research revealed that Larry Zirbies shipped this car to Bill Stroppe’s shop in California for the installation of a new racing 430 cubic inch Marauder engine.
Bill Stroppe was one of the very top race preparation facilities in the country and was the west coast arm of the famous Holman & Moody organization. Stroppe had fielded some terrific race cars for the Ford Motor Company, including the legendary Pan American road racing Lincolns.
Larry Zirbes had counted Bill Stroppe as a close friend and associate for a good many years.
FLORIDA BOUND, LATE 1993 . . .
Phil did a yeoman’s job in finally bringing the ’57 owner back to planet earth and a sensible price was agreed upon just prior to our departure.
Thus ended that portion of the saga.
In early 1994 after Marilyn and I were settled (??) in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, I had the two cars shipped to Florida. The 1956 was in superb condition and needed very little. It ran like a bear.
The 1957 on the other hand needed a total go through which it got as it marched through my pocketbook! Alex Baynard had fabricated a superb exhaust system just before it left for Florida, but literally everything else was going to need attention.
In New Smyrna Beach Harold and Fred Brandner did a superb job and both cars were a blast to drive. Have a look:
HAVE A LOOK . .
I took the cars to Hershey that year where they were a spectacular hit and they were sold to an astute collector in California.
1993-4 CHANGES IN THE ALTOGETHER . . .
I’ve related a few tales about the Carlisle experience throughout this endless fable. Carlisle was a great swap meet for down to earth automobiles and a colorful group of guys who seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging around our spaces in the R building.
In the fall of 1992, I had told Dick that I was going to sell our “R” building spaces in 1993 as Marilyn and I were getting more serious about moving to Florida!
We both loved doing Carlisle. In the early days it was like the Wild West compared to some of the “stiffer” venues.
Dean Hensley had passed away and the “World’s Fastest Indian” would no longer be coming to our building, nor the huge crowds that had stopped to enjoy the phenomenal
I had watched a great many changes over the years.
The day I arrived for the meet was bit startling.
As I looked straight out of our spaces, right across I was staring at a run-down eighteen wheeler hooked to a massive open-sided trailer absolutely crammed with “Daniel Boone” fur hats, and ,of course, to my left I had Dale in his “Dress Department”, and finally Sharon on my right with her “Taiwan” speed equipment.
Our gang had diminished, and we were down to “One-arm Henry” and Dick’s pal, “Stub-Finger” McGraw”, who always snuck his toupee into Dick’s toolbox. It scared Dick silly each time he came upon the hairpiece.
So, after taking all that in, I reluctantly reached into the back seat to get the sign that indicated that our spaces were for sale. I sat back up and Sharon was right at my window
“You sellin’ out??” she asked???
Oh boy, Sharon’s was the last outfit I’d like to see move into our hallowed spaces. But, there I was with a “For Sale” sign in my lap!
Ok, I thought, I have to say something. I’ll just hit her with stupidly high price and that’ll be that.
“Yeah . . .” I said.
“How much?” She said.
“Ten thousand,” I said.
“Stay right there” she said.
She was back in an instant with $10,000 in cash.
Well, it wasn’t quite the way I wanted to see it all end. Though, Sharon would probably hit it off pretty well with the new “Daniel Boone” hat guy . ..
I went over to the stadium for one last gustatory experience at “Duke’s Supper Club” and drove on back to Philadelphia.
The Trains on Avenue De Rumine
One morning after returning from Carlisle, a train collector friend called and said you must get this new book that has just come out . . .
The fabulous massive volume of Count Giansanti Coluzzi’s fabled antique toy train collection in Lausanne Switzerland had just been published by Crown Publishing . . .
It completely wound me up again on the exquisite European toy trains of the early nineteen hundreds.
It seemed like it might be a good time to pursue my interest in those early tin toys. Whereas the high-line car market was languishing, the antique toy train market was not only hot it was flying! I knew of the Count and set about finding a way to gain an invitation to visit the collection.
Being ever the merchant, I was, of course, hoping more to be able to purchase some few items for the Kirk F. White . . . uh, inventory. To check on the chance of gaining entry to Count Coluzzi’s treasure trove, I turned to the Dean of all exquisite European antique toys, my friend David Pressland.
And yes, at a point which was fast approaching, David would be in the general area of Lausanne, Switzerland and a visit might be arranged.
David also said that following the Coluzzi visit he might be able to arrange a visit with Jean Thuysbaert just south of Lausanne in the tiny village of Verdon, Switzerland. Thuysbaert was one slick character, and he was definitely a buyer and seller. One could snare a genuine treasure as long as you were sharp as a tack.
It all sounded splendid though I had never even heard of Thuysbaert. Marilyn came along and the entire trip was like living a wonderful dream of antique toy castles and grand characters.
Count Coluzzi’s elegant home was superbly located in the city of Lausanne with sweeping views out over the town and further extending out over Lake Geneva. The home was four stories tall and after visiting the first and second floor we stepped into an elevator. I commented that there was no button for the third floor!
I had read up on Coluzzi enough to know that he undertook antique toy train restorations and was beginning to manufacture a line of large gauge locomotives. The entire third floor was devoted to manufacturing and restoration, he was also undertaking the complete manufacture of a quite nice Mercedes Benz S type model in roughly 1/12 scale, and a 1920’s Bentley 6 liter touring model, both of which were nicely done, though the model car people picked at the details, as they were wont to do. Turned out Coluzzi had used his neighbor’s Bentley as the basis for his model and the neighbor’s example sported a bunch of modifications executed through the years!
Coluzzi marketed them along with the magnificent locomotives under the brand name, Fulgerex.
Landing on the fourth floor, the views were absolutely stunning and virtually every vertical surface on that floor had beautiful European trains, many were Marklin. It was a splendid visit, but as a guest and newcomer, I did not pursue any purchases. When we left Coluzzi, it was late enough in the day that we would visit Thuysbaert the following day.
Thuysbaert lived some distance up a lesser Alp in the village of Verdon. David drove the next morning, scaring poor Marilyn nearly to death navigating the lower Alps narrow roadways. Finally we pulled up in front of a small old Swiss “castle” nestled in a lower Alp. It was an ancient structure that was often included in the better tours of the lower Alps.
As we approached the entry, a giant of a man greeted us and urged us to come in where we fleetingly met his quiet, shy wife.
They had prepared a splendid luncheon and after the better part of two hours at the table, we descended deep in the castle down into Thuysbaert's vast collection of European trains. They were neatly arranged all around us.
From the moment I met Jean Thuysbaert, I watched him closely. Charming, but I sensed a smoldering temper and a scheming mind, probably quite capable of the odd bit of trickery.
Still, apparently a man with a vast collection of marvelous antique toy trains.
THE MAGICIANS . . .
As a dealer or collector in antique toy trains one had to watch out for an item that had come through the hands of one of the “magicians.” I felt that Thuysbaert might just know one or two of those characters.
Unknown to many collectors in America at that time, (including me) there existed in Europe a small band of “Antique” toy restorers, fabricators and a few “magicians.”
There was a handful that could produce rare turn of the century expensive toys literally out of whole cloth. These craftsmen could create rare and desirable Marklin, Bing and other great tin toys. At Thuysbaert’s place, I saw a few items that made me a tad nervous.
Think a “Black Light” will help you?? Not with these wizards . . .
Bearing the aforementioned in mind, I purchased a few important Marklin pieces that I knew were pure and could never be turned up in the US. If nothing else, we spent an educational afternoon with Thuysbaert.
It had been a marvelous trip and we were invited to return.
THE JOHN BOYLE COLLECTION . . .
John Boyle was the King of Marklin trains in America. He was both the most impeccable and knowledgeable Marklin train collector in the US. His strongest interest was in the gauge O trains.
I had worked long and hard over the last several years to establish my interest and desires to a point where John Boyle was comfortable with me, and he began to sell me some of his larger gauge Marklin trains, including one of Marklin’s greatest Train offerings of the 1930’s, The Paris, Lyon, Marseilles Express passenger train in Gauge 1. It was the complete set which included the baggage and Postal car. Every coach carried colorful paint, a full interior and figures. Power was by a Marklin PLM live steam locomotive and tender. In length it had to be over ten feet.
Over time John moved out of his home and into a small apartment in Malvern, Pennsylvania which was close to where Marilyn and I lived. John called one day after we had returned from Europe.
I went to visit him and he sold me all of his autonishingly he sold me all of his prized O Gauge Marklin trains for a staggering amount of money! Shortly after we acquired John Boyle’s stupendous Marklin collection, the Berlin Wall came downwich brings us to a remarkable story.
A YELLOW CAB IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD???
At eight o’clock one morning I opened our front door preparing to go into town to do some errands.
As I swung the door open a yellow cab pulled up out front.
A yellow cab in the city would be of little or no interest, but out there in Wayne, Pennsylvania it was a rare sighting. It bristled me.
Cops wouldn’t be taking a cab. Nor would Government people, would they??
A young well dressed gentleman alighted from the cab. The cab driver got out, opened the trunk and hefted a good sized suitcase for the man, got back in his Yellow Cab and drove off.
The young man approached me and when he got closer, the man said in a heavy German accent:
“Are you Kirk White? I was told to see you.”
( . . .Oh great! So whatever agency he’s with, they do get around by cab! Nothin’ to do here Kirk. That suitcase is probably filled with guns. . .)
I acknowledged I was Kirk White, and he introduced himself as Uwe Heintze. He had come from the eastern sector of Germany, and had been in the US less than two weeks.
“I have been told that you have Marklin trains” said Uwe Heintze . . .
I remember thinking what a fabulous collision of events: the terrible, life choking Berlin wall had come down, and this young man, quite rapidly, through some series of events, had found his way into a small home in America that had just captured the finest O Gauge Marklin train collection in the US!
We went all through our home and he asked about the pricing on several items. He was, of course, speaking in rapid German, leaving me behind, but we settled on a group of really great O gauge trains which he paid for with $40,000 US dollars!!
Marilyn and I have enjoyed Uwe’s company, and his successes through the years. Today we are always cheered to see images of Uwe with his wife and two children travelling all over the globe.
He has worked hard and today he is one of the finest antique toy dealers in the world.
SECOND NHRA REUNION . . .
Then I got a reminder for my trip to the second NHRA reunion in Bakersfield, California. I had signed up to simply attend the event and not baby-sit a hot rod. That didn’t last too long.
At Famoso dragstrip in Bakersfield that second year, there was a huge gathering, since word had spread about the hot rod reunion being a really “pure” hot rodding event.
The year before at the reunion, I had seen a black ’32 Ford roadster that simply sat in the spectator parking area. So, what’s the big deal? We’ll put it this way, I’d not seen another flathead powered ’32 that was as “dead nuts” perfect and proper as that particular ’32 roadster!
( . . .Yeah, I know all hot rods are perfect because they satisfy the owner’s expression of a “perfect” hot rod. . .)
All of the speed equipment, running gear, instruments etc., etc. were not only in perfect condition, everything was period correct right down to the last fastener. The roadster was a complete hot rod that worked perfectly. It had been built by a man who was known as a hot rodder who built the purest of cars. He was a gentleman of few words. After a great deal of angst, the owner sold me the car. Oh, don’t worry he received an inordinate amount of money. And he spoke right up to tell me that if I was buying the prize ’32 roadster, then I was also buying his hot rod “A” roadster which was a slick hot rod on its own!
I acknowledged I was Kirk White, and he introduced himself as Uwe Heintze. He had come from the eastern sector of Germany, and had been in the US less than two weeks.
Maybe two weeks later, while waiting for the cars to be picked up in Aptos, California, my cell phone rang just as I was turning into the drive of a home where I had been invited for dinner. I was already running a bit late.
It was my friend Bruce Meyer who had been a huge help to me in getting to know the real hot rodders on the west coast.
Did I want to sell that ‘32 roadster I just bought at Bakersfield?
“Well, yeah, but not right now . . .”
(What the Hell does that mean Kirk??. . .) this is as good a time as ever to get into this serious problem I’ve always had. If I buy something that is really over the moon great, I almost without exception have to “bring it home and enjoy it for a period of time. . .)
“The car is still in California isn’t it? Why drag it all the way across the country and then sell it. I mean your winter is right around the corner, isn’t it??”
Bruce went on . . . “I’ve got a friend who wants a genuine, authentic hot rod but it has to the right one and that one you bought is really a great car. . .”
“Bruce, I just want to hang on to the car a bit. Enjoy it, have some fun with the car.”
“C’mon Kirk, you’re a dealer for Heaven’s sake!!
“Say a number. . .” said Bruce.
So, OK, I’d wind this phone call up in a hurry. And I hit him with a “sky-shot” number.
Now get this . . .
Bruce said “Is that agreeable with you Glenn . . . ??”
Oh my God!! . . . He’d had the customer on the line the whole time!!
So much for that movie star of a car coming east . . .
AND SO, THERE WENT THE ’32 (AT LEAST FOR A WHILE . . .)
It turned out the customer was Glenn Mounger, who in addition to being the then current Chairman of the Pebble Beach Concours was a long time fine automobile collector and enthusiast.
I knew Glenn as he always came to Hershey with John Mozart, Carl Bomstead, the late Gordon Apker and Jim Brucker.
So, I just had to put on my “big boy pants” and sell the damn ’32 roadster.
It all went well and Glenn loved the car.
BUT THEN . . .
Then one day a couple of months down the road, Glenn called me. Yes, he was enjoying the car, but it was time to get the ’32 Ford roadster titled and registered for the road.
“Where is the serial number on this car, Kirk? We’re having difficulty finding it . . .”
Suddenly I felt like I’d been doused in ice water.
Every hot rodder worth his salt will install a greatly improved 1956 Ford Pick-up truck steering box to a 1932 Ford hot rod. But in the process, the car’s going to have its serial number ground away, which is stamped on the upper portion of the left frame rail! That’s right… right where the ’56 steering box is mounted!
Installation of a ’56 Ford steering box, though greatly improving the steering, obliterates the serial number.
Oh yes, there is another matching serial number stamped on top of the X member of the frame! You simply have to lift the entire body away to get to that number. That was not an option with this jewel of a car.
The ice water continued down my back.
As I mentioned, prior to selling him the roadster, Glenn and I were friends and I was always glad to see him at Hershey, Pebble Beach, etc.
But our friendship would certainly be tested with the statement I was about peel off:
“Glenn, you’re car is fitted with a blah, blah, blah . . . which leaves you with the choice of committing a crime by stamping in new correct numbers or I’ll be glad to take the car back.”
(. . . Isn’t it ever thus with you, Kirk? Real good at hitting the high spots, details be damned . . .)
It turned out the state of Washington where Glenn lived was thoroughly reasonable and helpful and it all went well.
Back to Pennsylvania and maybe I should get some serious selling underway in every field I was playing on (in??)