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Automotive Greats: Whom have you met?


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In a discussion with a number of old friends recently, we began to reminisce about the folks we had known or met over the years, who were or became notable figures in the automotive world. I was surprised to hear stories about race drivers, corporate executives, nationally known collectors, designers, & restorers who had at least some contact with a number of us in the group. 

I thought this might be an interesting topic of discussion in the AACA forum. Please respond with your personal involvement with the great and near-great automotive personalities in your life.

I'll kick it off with my one and only brush with the infamous...

In the early sixties, as the counter-culture movement gained steam, many were searching for new ideas and methods that might transform the materialistic '50's into a new utopia. They also searched for "idea people" and those had "bucked the system" or , at least, were influential in creating alternative methods and solutions.

Universities, as ever, were in the forefront of attempting to develop new thought and action. In this vein, there was a resurgence of popularity of some artists, inventors, philosophers, and others who had made relative recent and significant strides. One standout in this group was R. Buckminster Fuller, holder of 25 U.S. patents, the inventor of the Geodesic dome, the Dymaxion  house and, of course, the Dymaxion Car.

He became Scholar in Residence at my California College in the Spring of "64 or '65, lecturing weekly and leading classes in engineering and industrial design. I was very fortunate to be a member of a small group of design students he met with weekly. Discussions ranged  from his experiences in the Navy, to energy sources, structures, maps, and the universe. Needless to say, we were enthralled. I believe he was influential in redirecting my thinking from "styling" to a more serious ergonomic and international viewpoint.

I certainly would like to hear of others where influenced by, worked with, or just knew personally other shakers and movers, especially in the automotive industry.Dymaxion-car.jpg.1fbd1163419b836a3b0d471fc0ff229d.jpg  

Dymaxion Car   1933

 

 

 

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Haven't had any major experience like that. Met Steve Kinser, Terry McCarl and more than a few others at a sprint car race. Met 1990 Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope at the 2019 New York International auto show. Met most of the monster truck drivers of the late 80s and early 90s when they came to Orange County Fair Speedway. 

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The man I was fortunate enough to meet way back in 1982 was not a great designer/race car driver etc....

He was the founder of the National Woody Club - Mr. Will O'Neil - and what a wonderful person he was, too.

He was the ONE person who was, at least in my eyes, responsible for bringing Woodies and their owners together

and giving the cars the recognition they deserved to a much broader audience other than just in "the surfers world"

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Rene Dreyfus the pre war French race car driver and his brother Maurice who was his head mechanic, Sterling Moss English race car driver - had lunch together, Ed Marks and Carl Doman - chief engineers at the Franklin Company and later for Air Cooled Motors that made the engines for Bell helicopters and the Tucker car, spent a vacation week with them each year in central NY, Alec Ulman who started the Sebring race course in Florida, Janet Guthrie - race car driver ,  collectors Bill Harrah and Austin Clark were very close friends - vacation each year with Bill and other car people and the Hershey show as well, Austin was my boss for several decades when I worked for him in his library/archives, Charles Addams the cartoonist was a car guy/friend too that I supported he in and his wife Tee in a charity event, modern artist/sculptor Richard Lippold was another car guy friend.  They were all just down to earth people ( except Alec who was the showman 24/7) . Plus numerous former employees of the Franklin Car company in the early 1970s when I helped host annual luncheon to honor them - oh the stories they could tell - especially former test driver Howard Carey, who would roll a test car at least once a month when he worked for Franklin .

Edited by Walt G (see edit history)
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Yes Rudy Creteur ( Rollston CO.) and Hugo Pfau ( of LeBaron) were friends as well - to many people to recount. Many people had looked upon Hugo as just an office boy at LeBaron and discounted his worth - I got to know him quite well and he was a great artist/ illustrator, continued his career in design , just not car design. Hugo and his wife Irene did not live to far from me about 25 miles east . His book was one of the first to recount in hard cover the coach built era and he was very generous to me in sharing his knowledge as to the location of period material and accounts of what went on in that era. He did not "hoard" his information but shared it with people who he thought were sincerely deeply interested in the history aspect of what went on. Austin Clark and John Conde were also of the same attitude as was Ralph Dunwoodie. They were my inspiration to continue sharing the information with people that I know exists, it is why I started a few threads here on the forums.  I keep repeating - just so much stuff of the pre WWII era that has never been told but the images and material do exist, it is just easier for some people to repeat what has been stated so many times before and give opinions rather then get down and do the research - that takes enormous amounts of time.

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A few names come to mind, but none as special to me as Peter Egan, who wrote for Road and Track and Cycle World. For years growing up his columns would be my first stop whenever my magazines arrived in the mail. I believe he is one of the best automotive writers of my time, and frankly probably yours too. My family has a connection to Mr. Egans wife, and through that I was able to meet Mr. Egan at his home several years ago. We spent an afternoon chatting in his workshop, and he signed my copy of 'Leanings' I brought with me. I was probably a little 'star struck'. A true class act. 

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I met Gordon Buehrig once at an AACA meeting at the Henry Ford Museum. WONDERFUL man! He brought some of his artist renderings and was a great speaker. I think I was 16 years old.

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"Brushes with greatness" tend to fall into one of two categories, depending on how many parties remember the event.  

 

It's usually only us; the Great One in question has no memory of the meeting, the few words that were spoken, our name, anything.

 

My two brushes fall in this category: Carroll Shelby and Peter Egan.

 

 

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The first one I met was Richard Teague in 1980 at the Alberta Post-War Car Society annual meet.  He gave a slide presentation of his tenure at Studebaker-Packard in the mid-1950's.  I had a great conversation with him afterwards on the body-sharing proposal between the mid-range Clippers and the Studebaker line of cars, and once that proposal was out of the question, then his renderings of updating the 1956 Lincoln body for the 1957 Packard line.

 

In 1983, I met Bob Bourke, designer of the 1953 Studebaker Starliner, Robert Andrews, one of the partners who designed the Avanti, and many of the Studebaker engineers and product planners who were still alive and willing to share their experiences at the time.  

 

In 2010, I met Bob Marcks, of Marcks, Hazelquist & Powers who designed the 1966, and future Studebaker models after production got shifted to Hamilton. Bob Marcks At Glendale - Studebaker Drivers Club Forum

 

Craig

 

 

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3 hours ago, Walt G said:

Plus numerous former employees of the Franklin Car company in the early 1970s when I helped host annual luncheon to honor them - oh the stories they could tell...

 

Today's car fans who were active in the 1950's and

1960's had the ability to know many people from the

early years of car manufacture.  A great opportunity!

 

I agree with Walt:  So many articles, even in good magazines,

are written merely by reciting catalogues and maybe data

from Krause's Standard Catalogs.  But for those who had

interviewed historical figures, what depth of knowledge

they could share!

 

I really appreciate reading first-hand accounts by people

(even car owners who can tell of decades ago) who were

actually part of history.  So, write down your remembrances

of even the 1960's and 1970's!

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John has it right, write down your remembrances. I am not just into auto history but have been the local historian for the village where I reside for 25 years. To hear what history is like first hand in the first person is priceless. Little facts, or observations then that we now know make it much more of a "real"  history besides all the well know "usual" facts. It paints a bigger picture . It is "just the little things" that give a story presence, and puts you back to when it was happening.

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I never really kept track.  Meeting them was important, but after a while I came to realize they are just like all of us, and it's the love of the automobile that brings us together.  First time i ever really noticed I was in the company of someone "famous" was at a swap meet in Michigan many years ago.  I'd made the rounds and had a bag stuffed with spark plugs, a nice brass lamp, and a few other trinkets.  The big brass multiple twist horn wouldn't fit so I carried it.  While headed back to the car to dump my stuff off to make another round, a guy behind me remarked - "wow, that's a neat horn."  We stopped, and sat at a nearby picnic table to empty our bags and talk about our treasures.  I learned a lot about that horn- it was made in France in the very early 1900s.  In turn, I drooled over a fabulous early brass sidelight in his bag.  After talking at length about our hobbies, collecting spark plugs, etc, the guy said I needed to come visit him and look over his collection.  He handed me a card and then realized I was talking with Dick Teague-a legend in the old car hobby, and of course a famed designer with a long heritage in the automobile industry. 

 

There were others - Austie Clark, Beverly Rae-Kines, and so many others. Even the late Tom Gerrard was someone who just came over and sat with us at a dinner table somewhere at an AACA meet.  It was only later that I learned who he was.  It doesn't matter, really.  We all had fun, and the memories will indeed last forever.

Terry

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Two of mine were automotive journalists. Most of you have heard of Beverly Rae Kimes, editor of The Classic Car and co-author of The Standard Catalog of American Automobiles, among others. I got to know her and received a great deal of encouragement specific to writing a series of articles for the CCCA entitled "Driving the Classics" which were driving impressions I formed while playing with cars owned by other people.  The other journalistic  automotive great was David E. Davis, Jr., the emeritus editor of Car and Driver and later publisher of Automobile Magazine.  He judged and gave me an award of excellence for my 1926 Ford Touring. 

The third automotive great also gave me an award. He was the guest of honor at the Straits Area Antique Auto Show in St. Ignace, MI. The award was a 1st in class for a model car I built,  a 1/16 scale Corvette.  The man shook my hand and told me mine was his favorite model at the show, heady stuff for a 16 year old. As I recall his name was very strange, something like Zora Arkus-Duntov from what I remember.  Seems like a lot of people had heard of him!

Edited by ericmac
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I’m very close to an up and coming automotive design personality.  We share the same last name and when he’s on the east coast he even stays at my home.  I won’t mention the brand of automobile to avoid the usual firestorm of negative comments.  

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Spent a pleasant evening with Craig Breedlove here in Palm Springs a few years ago.  Very nice fellow, still going strong.  Shared a scale model of his newly designed Spirit of America.

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About 28 years or so ago, I had a supplier take me to a day of time trials at Indy.  I had a pass for the garage area, and while I didn't meet him, by chance I pee'd next to Mario Andretti in the garage men's room urinal trough.

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I met Caroline Kulba in 1960 while I was putting a Buick 322 in my 54 Ford and getting it ready for paint. While not as well known as the persons mentioned above, over the years she has had more positive influences on me than all the above combined. She's now known as Caroline Beck..........Bob Beck

20210224_164540-1.jpg

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The late Tom Gerrard was a truly memorable figure, and a really "down to earth" knid of guy. We spoke at several shows, as well as at his Montana home/collection, and my wife pressured me to accept his offer when he wanted to sell us his Corvair convertible. But for the lack of A/C I would have done it.

 

Carroll Shelby was driving a prototype of the Cobra, and offered me a ride-along. At the time, like him, I was also working on modifying a version of the AC-Ace, but mine was powered by a Chevy 283, rather than his Ford 260. I had both available, and there were more speed options then available for the Chevy small-block. Obviously, I didn't have anywhere near his ultimate resources, and never completed the project as life, college, and other personal considerations got in the way.

 

Along with several other somewhat less well remembered SCCA drivers, I met and spoke at length with Bob Tullius (Group 44) back when he was driving a D-Production TR-4 at the SCCA races at Marlboro, Maryland in the 1963-1965? time-frame.

 

As a young kid attending the early 1950s GM Motorama at the Waldorf-Astoria in NYC, I sat in almost every display car available. While I was apparently spouting off some accumulated knowledge about the models I coveted, and sitting behind the controls of a Buick Wildcat(?) prototype with fins like a '59 Impala, and a rear-view TV camera with dashboard display, a very large man engaged me in conversation, agreed to look at my very primitave design sketches I always carried, and later introduced himself only as "Harley". He shook my hand and told me to keep it up. Later, someone else explained that it was Mr. Earl himself (and supposedly did not often take a lot of time with kids) !

 

As a young kid, I swept floors for Walt Hansgen's dad and met Walt in Westfield, NJ., his home town. Later got to buy 1952 Jag XK-120MC. Walt drove his first GP at age 41, and died at age 46, 3 years later following a crash during trials for the 1966 Le Mans

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Of course, getting to visit with Jay Leno by invitation to his Burbank collection was amazing, but we had met many years earlier when he was a guest Stand-up Comic and I was subbing for another trumpet player in Doc Severinsen's Tonight Show Band.

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2 minutes ago, Marty Roth said:

Of course, getting to visit with Jay Leno by invitation to his Burbank collection was amazing, but we had met many years earlier when he was a guest Stand-up Comic and I was subbing for another trumpet player in Doc Severinsen's Tonight Show Band.

 

From what I read and hear - and by many people's account - Marty Roth is also in the "automotive greats" category. And a world class musician, to boot!

 

 

 

 

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I met Paul Neuman in the paddock at Lime Rock Park.  Bruce Jenner was there too, but was not as friendly as  Neuman.     John

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    In 2007 on the way home from the Gettysburg Glidden Tour, we stopped in Marion NC for some brake work on our       

    motor home.   WE stayed in the Motor home while we waited for parts and took our 34 Ford off the trailer to explore

    that part of NC.  On returning to the Tom Johnson's RVing Center & Campground, we were flagged down by a guy

    who wanted to talk about his racing days in his younger days in his old 34 Ford.   We talked for awhile and he finally

    introduced himself as Marvin Panch.  Then he asked me if I saw his car in the RV Center Showroom, the 1960 Pontiac

    that he won the 1961 Daytona 500 with.  

    I went to see the Pontiac, a stock car with all the factory glass, interior, bumpers and trim except the back of the front

    passenger seat was gone with the entire rear seat.  Even to door panels were still intact in the then 47 year old car.     

   The signage was painted right over the side moldings.

    Marvin was a regular guy and knew a lot about 34 Fords too.  He had 216 NASCAR starts, 17 wins, 96 Top 5's, 126 top

   10's and 21 Poles in a 12 year career.  Voted one of NASCAR's top 50 Driver's in 1998.  Got started in a 34 Ford, just

    like I did.

   MarvinPanchPontiac.jpg.2d8e582b2c2c2ff3730ec58279c66d0f.jpg

   

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Not really automotive, but he did paint schemes for the Detroit buses and other vehicles. I met Peter Max the artist when I was a kid. It was at a psychedelic boutique store in Michigan. He blew up this pillow and gave it to me. It still has his breath in it....

peter max pillow.JPG

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1 hour ago, JamesR said:

I'm jealous. That would be a moment to treasure.

 

I forgot about Paul Neuman.

At the time he owned the same kind of business jet I was flying for my company. We both happened to be at Charlotte, NC. I was standing on the ramp by my plane when his pilot approached me, introduced himself and asked if I would give "Mr. Neuman" a few minutes of my time. I agreed and Paul walked up, offered his hand, and we had a pleasant 20 minute conversation about our air planes.

The nice thing was he asked for permission to speak with me as an equal..........Which of course I was............Bob

 

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One of my old car buddies is Ernie Tuff, great guy, not many of us can say they built a car that was on the pole at Daytona.  He told me Richard Petty asked him what was in the car, Hilborn injected 482 stroked Hemi Mopar powered the 61 Ford Starliner was clocked 170 mph, 16 mph faster than Petty's (154mph) lap that year in 1964 (Petty won Daytona that year).  When Fireball Roberts took out the car for qualifying he said it would go faster because it was spinning the back tires all the way down the straights.  Ernie pop riveted on a 4 inch spoiler on the trunk, now Roberts said it would not turn, but WOW did it go!  Ernie kept trimming off 1/4" strips off the spoiler till the car would turn.  They slowed down the modified-sportsman class after that...

 

image.png.1ac4f733376922a329eff694cd288833.png2129409776_ErnieTuff.jpg.7dbb56b40c5abf2518988cf4437f2a06.jpg

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Briefly talked with Jay Leno at a car show in L.A.  But probably any car buff in S. California could say the same.  A buddy of mine snapped a photo of the two of us.  Not sure Jay was even aware the photo was taken.

 

Met Marc Tarpenning - cofounder of Tesla.  A friend/neighbor of mine is a high school/college buddy of his, and actually introduced him to Martin Eberhart when they were all working at previous companies.

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Well I don’t know if this qualifies as an interaction or not but back in the late 70’s at Road America both Mario Andretti and Danny Ongias at separate times bent down to talk to my then 1 year old son in his stroller in the paddock.  As a National tech inspector for SCCA I saw and spoke to several car folks briefly although most of the big names had someone else bring their cars to tech inspection. I do remember one of my female co-inspectors saying how she couldn’t wait to tell her friends that she had had her hands on Paul Newman’s underwear.

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3 hours ago, zipdang said:

Closest for me was knowing someone who met John Delorean. Also, my grade school bus driver was pretty cool.

 

Our president and chairman of the board told me Delorean was his dorm mate one year in college. Said he was hard to like..........Bob

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I met Doc Watson at a Hurst/Olds meet one year. I had re-created the '72 Hurst/Olds prototype and had it there. I suppose that car had presented him with some challenges, since he didn't seem overly thrilled that I had brought back (evidently) bad memories. Doc was a character, and for some he was an acquired taste. I always admired his "can-do" attitude and what he accomplished over the years. 

 

I know Linda Vaughn. She is one gracious lady and I'm glad to see she is still involved with motorsports. 

 

I met Tom Shaw of Muscle Car Review when he did a photoshoot of one of my cars. His untimely passing was so sad.

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