Heart Like a Wheel
Photography: Mark Oliver
(page 3 of 4)
The Auto Club Museum is a testament to Stone’s love of cars. He recalls, “The only problem was the museum alone didn’t really pencil out.” The storage of garden-variety Mercedes Benzes, Range Rovers and turbo Porsches, as well as the addition of a full-time mechanic and a “concierge” service, helped Stone attract clients . . . virtually all of whom use the club’s facilities. Today, Sun Valley Auto has five full-time employees and recently hosted Wayne Willich’s inaugural ball.
John Blackman is as well-known for his art as for his term as coach and now principal of Wood River High School. Less known is Blackman’s passion for old cars. He now blames his obsession on his grandfather, Chris. An immigrant from Denmark, Chris never lost his temper or raised his voice. His calm spoke to the younger Blackman, who was born to a tumultuous family filled with divorces and unexpected deaths. It was through cars that Blackman discovered art and while a junior in high school in Bellevue, Washington, won first prize at the Bellevue Arts and Crafts fair with a sketch of a 1932 Duesenberg. Blackman’s reproductions of Vargas’ World War II B-17 bombers now brighten the walls of the Auto Club.
Standing in his garage, where an ancient black sedan has evicted the family car, Blackman recalls he was 14 when he bought the 1937 Plymouth Business Coupe P-4. The upholstery had long since rotted away, leaving a rusted spring frame, but the flathead six ran and the three-speed shifted and, upending an apple crate for a seat, he forced the Plymouth into gear and drove it home. Blackman eventually sold the Plymouth in 1973 for $500 to his best friend’s father. He recalls, “I wanted the money for a ’68 Firebird convertible,” then sadly shakes his head.
In 1982, he saw an ad for a 1957 Cadillac Coupe Deville in the local paper. Blackman was newly married, enrolled in graduate school and barely making rent, utilities and food. Still, he was drawn to the machine shop address listed in the want ad. The shop had taken the Coupe Deville in trade, then quickly forgot about it out back in a weed-filled lot.
Blackman remembers, “The tires were flat, it was covered with dirt, the upholstery was shot and the interior door panels were stuffed into the trunk.” At the same time he inventoried the rotten tires and filthy engine, he also saw the glass was perfect, the body was straight and the chrome was unflawed. He didn’t know how he would pay for the Cad, or how his wife would react, but when he left, the Coupe Deville was his.
“I somehow found a $100 extra per month until I paid it off,” he recalls. He bought four bias-ply Sears tires, changed all the fluids, rebuilt the carburetor, and almost fell over when the Cad started. Today, 50 years after it first rumbled to life, the enormous V-8 has never been apart, the gloss black paint is original and though the interior has been refreshed, all the numbers match, massive chrome bumper to chrome bumper.
In the way of all obsessions, upon the death of his friend’s father, the 1937 Plymouth returned to haunt him. The widow called Blackman. “He wanted you to have the Plymouth,” she said. The ancient Business Coupe included all the parts, the paint was good and, like an old friend down on his luck, the Plymouth found a home in his crowded garage, where it now waits for him to reinstall the rebuilt transmission.
Blackman recalls how Christian, his son, drove the Cad to high school graduation. In the tradition of such things, perhaps his younger son, Jens, will drive the Plymouth to his own. >>>