Color is all around you at the Antique Automobile Club of America’s fall meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It jumps out of the asphalt in bright patches. You find it on a ’50s barge draped in improbable Pantone pastels, a blooming garage sign fired in bright primary enamels, or a ruby wand of sunlight refracted through a cloisonne badge or blue-dot tail light lens.
But the color that best describes the expansive Hershey flea market is a bittersweet shade of autumn— the soft red-brown of oxidizing iron and steel.
In the vintage Hershey years of the early ‘70s, when brass and nickel plated survivors from the 1910s and ’20s with meter-high wooden wheels were not yet uncommon, the color of rust was even more prevalent than it is now. Many fewer reproduction parts were available, and rare oxidized castings, carbon-blasted innards, broken brackets and pin holed sheet metal were spread out in their hundreds on beat up collapsible tables that tilted on the muddy undulating fields, to be picked through by owners of arcane marques, haggled over, wrapped in swaddling and lovingly restored in neat basement workshops.
If you didn’t have to wash red dust off your hands upon returning home, no one would believe you had been to Hershey.
Rust, at best, merely colors the edges of things, or rests lightly on the surface where it asks the new owner, “Do you really want to hurt me?” In the day, most rusty cars underwent restoration; few were kept as “survivors”. In fact, the term “patina”, when used to describe an old car, was generally a criticism.
Whoever buys this 1968 Austin-Healey must decide between restoration and preservation. If it truly is a 5600 mile car as claimed (despite the cords showing through the treads) it might be a candidate for the newest wrinkle in the hobby. New rubber and spinning parts, a restored engine compartment, recovered seats and shined up chrome bits would make a striking contrast to its pampered kindred. Given that there has to be a good story attached to that number plate sandwich, “Derelict” might be the class for this baby. One of my old pals used to tell wild tales about weekend passes from The U. S. Naval base at Subic Bay, The Philippines.
And, is that a British plate, minus its chamfered numbers peeking out from under? Sit me down and tell me a tale!
There’s rust, then there’s a rusty look. A rarity in the States, this beautiful ’36 Ford Ute has the traditional brushed on coat of red oxide primer that has been used as a place sitter for final finishing from time immemorial. Seems reasonably priced to me at $12,500 OBO, despite its Ozian driver placement; you can always stick an EZ Pass on the windshield or use a cue stick with gum on its tip to pay tolls. It might not even be that difficult to move the wheel over to the left, given the plethora of Ford parts on the market.
Here’s a rusty mill you would probably want to refinish: a “str-eight” from a ’41 Buick with rare, factory twin-carb setup. By Thursday morning, it was already sold to the happy Hershey patron shown gesticulating about his good fortune in this photo. I don’t know enough to tell whether it’s the smaller 248 cid or big 320 cid eight cylinder, but one thing for sure: it’s got overhead valves. Buick never made a flathead engine, ever. A local garage might even enjoy taking on the project, until they opened up the bottom end and found the cast-in-place babbitt bearings. Horrors!
If you want truly enigmatic engineering that your local mechanic would shake his head at, try the first generation Dubonnet Independent Front Suspension on this ’34 Chevy. Designed by the man who could drink aperitifs for free (and probably did while drawing it up), it was massive and heavy, and the huge lubricant cylinders were likely to leak around the spindles. Chevy recommended checking the oil level every 1000 miles, but few owners bothered, so empty oil cylinders resulted in cars that jumped like gamboling porpoises. This action was exacerbated by the geometry of the design, which prevented inclusion of any kind of anti-dive technology. Though blessed with sprung steering gear and capable of maintaining the maximum contact patch, the system was ill advised for high production cars owned by regular folk. By 1939, Chevy went to conventional A-arm IFS.
How about this little bundle of joy? A two-stroke, three cylinder SAAB engine is just the thing to decorate the corner of your living room, or smoke your honey bees into a calmed state. There’s something winning in its compact size and shape, a mighty mite, Super Mario with the cuteness of a Japanese plush toy.
More red oxide… this time on a trailer. But, also on the trailer, this nifty Nash Statesman, a vehicle that could have preceded the Ford Taurus by 35 years in inspiring Lee Iaccoca’s derisive monicker, “potato car”, but acquired a more fitting nickname, as its shape brought to mind the typical plumbing of its day. When the new Airflyte body was introduced in 1949, the first car could not have been half way along the assembly line before workers started giggling the word, “bathtub”.
This one, in porcelain white, has to be the platonic ideal of the term. It even predicts the “walk-in” tubs with car doors that are being marketed to older folks nowadays. Just flip it over, fill it with water, a capful of Mr. Bubbles and bring your rubber ducky.
It would be just the thing to wash away all that dust—and rust—at the end of a great day in the Hershey flea market.