Owner Loves Her 1958 Diamond Volkswagen

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Kathy Mohler of Bluffton, Indiana, likes Beetles. Specifically, she likes anything made by the Volkswagen Company 1957-1961.

 

Mohler grew up in a family that worked on cars. She and her brother, Terry Webber, learned how to rebuild engines from watching their father, Don Webber, when the family lived in Fort Wayne. “I was my dad’s other son,” she said. “Dad was always working on old cars as a hobby.”

 

One experience Mohler recalls was when the three of them built a dune buggy in the 1970s. “We built it from metal scraps and I learned about everything, including the welding and building the engine,” she said.

 

When Mohler married and began a family, she never forgot her interest in classic cars. In 2009 she researched the Internet to find an older VW. “I liked the style with all metal,” she said.

 

Mohler found what she wanted in the state of Montana. It was advertised as a 1958 green and cream Diamond VW bug.

 

She  purchased it sight unseen. Mohler liked several things about the car. “It had tweed, tan-colored interior material,” she said. “I also liked the exterior paint.” She wanted a VW with a rag top that folded back like a Roman shade. “They were only made certain years,” she said, adding it might have been the late 1950s and early 1960s.

 

The car did have an oil leak, but that was no problem for Mohler and her brother. They replaced the engine with a bigger one, fixed the transmission leak and installed a new clutch. Today, Mohler estimates she gets 30 miles per gallon. She also added chrome to the car’s exterior and a bamboo rack on which to hang her purse under the dash. Everything else in the car is original.

 

As is true with most VW’s, the car’s engine is in the trunk and the front functions as a trunk. The car has no air conditioning, seat belts, heater or radiator. “Heaters were options then,” she said. “I’ll probably put in lap belts.” Mohler also added a gas gauge.

 

Mohler has had the car inspected by local law enforcement officials to obtain a historical plate.  

 

The harsh Indiana winters can prove costly on any car so Mohler parks the VW during the cold months. Otherwise it serves as her daily drive to work. Mohler estimates she drives it 1,200 miles per year. The 1958 VW was her first classic car to own.

 

Mohler has entered the VW in classic car shows and competitions, such as the Bluffton Free Street Fair Classic Car Parade where she won Ladies Choice in 2009. She has also participated in Fort Wayne’s Muddy River Run and the cruise-in’s at Arnold’s Drive-in in Decatur, Indiana. The furthest she has driven the car was to the Plymouth (Indiana) Blueberry Festival. Mohler likes the fact that her car is a head-turner. “People give me a thumbs-up sign all of the time,” she said.

 

At home Mohler still changes the oil in both of her cars. Some things never change.

 

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Les Claghorn Races His 1967 Nova

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“It’s always been speed for me,”  said Les Claghorn of Bluffton. Claghorn owns a 1967 Nova he purchased in 1991 from a man in Pennville, Indiana. “It was an old race car,” said Claghorn.

Claghorn had owned a 1967 Nova in high school. Perhaps in memory of his and the car’s younger days, he converted his Nova to a race car in 2004.

Claghorn installed a bigger fuel pump, stock suspension, rebuilt transmission and power glide 2-speed. It has a scatter shield and diaper under the oil pan. It sits low to the ground for better aerodynamics. He estimates the car which he painted ‘Red Corvette Garnet’ has 600 horsepower and can get up to 150 miles per hour. The Nova weighs 2,600 pounds.

Claghorn’s daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren and friends accompany Claghorn to local racing venues. One of the family’s most popular racing locations is Muncie Motor Speedway.

Claghorn has also raced at Milan Dragway in Milan, Michigan, and at Osceola Dragway in Osceola, Indiana. “My wife says I’m too old to race,” he said. “But when I’m wearing my 5-point harness, I’m safe because my arms can’t come out.” He has never had an accident while racing.

While speed is important to Claghorn, winning is no longer his objective as it was when he first converted the car. “I don’t win races anymore,” he said. “My reflexes are too slow. I still have fun.”

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This article was published in IN Autos and RVs magazine.

’57 Chevy delights owners Sue and Jerry Fell

This story appeared in IN Autos and RVS magazine, a publication I write for regularly. It’s fun to write about old cars and their owners!

 

Jerry & Sue Fell love their ’57 Chevy.

 

Jerry & Sue Fell

 

Jerry Fell from Fort Wayne had always wanted to own a 1957 Chevy convertible. He had already owned other classic cars that he had restored over the years. In high school, he had fixed up a 1930 Model A, then a 1940 Ford Coupe and a 1949 Chevy club coupe.

 

In 2002, Fell, a retiree from Slater Steel in Fort Wayne, finally purchased a turquoise 1957 Chevy Bel Air convertible from a local owner. He thought his dreams had come true! Except the car with faded red paint didn’t look or run well. “It needed a new interior and new top,” he said. Fell had the engine rebuilt and added power brakes and power steering. The car was without rust, so Fell added chrome bumpers.  The car’s convertible top usually stays down but not always. “It gets too wrinkled if it’s left down,” he said.

 

As for paint, the Chevy had a red, albeit now orange, exterior. He chose to paint it  turquoise for two reasons. One day, while looking down inside the car’s back window, Jerry’s wife, Sue, discovered what she thought was the vehicle’s original factory color:  turquoise. “We restored it to its original color,” said Jerry Fell.

 

The second reason the Fells chose turquoise was sentimental. “When we were married, we had a 1955 turquoise sedan,” said Jerry Fell. “We always liked that color and wanted another car like it.”

 

The 1957 Chevy is the only classic car the Fells currently own. Jerry Fell likes that particular car’s style. “I’ve liked Chevys since they came out,” he said. “The Chevys made between 1955 and 1957 were all different, but popular.”

 

Over the years the Fells have exhibited their 1957 Chevy in various car shows around the tri-state area. In eight years they have won 67 trophies, including  Mayor’s Choice, Best Convertible, and Best of Show. The Fells and the Chevy have been featured in a local newspaper photo as part of the Waynedale Parade during a Memorial Day celebration.

 

The furthest the Fells have driven the car is to Marshall, Michigan, to attend a car show. That was a couple of years ago. Now, the Fells drive their turquoise ’57 Chevy mostly around their neighborhood and to local cruise-in’s.

They store it in the winter and drive their other, modern vehicles during cold weather.

 

The Fells hear comments from people at car shows who recall ’57 Chevys from their past. “They share their memories and it is fun to hear,” he said. The Fells have added an attraction that must surely prompt those remembrances — two soda glasses that appear to be filled with frothy liquid and a cherry on top. The glasses are balanced on a  tray attached to the driver’s window. Who wouldn’t want to stop by and chat with that car’s owner?

 

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Indians, Stagecoaches and a Caddy! Oh my!

In honor of the summer season when more people are taking vacations and exploring, I’ve posted a travel article I wrote about one of my favorite museums: The Miami County Museum in Peru, Indiana.

This is the type of museum that makes you feel at home. But don’t think it’s full of small-town stuff!

There’s a neat Cadillac that once belonged to a hometown boy who made it big (Yes, you’ve heard of him!), stagecoaches used in Western movies, mocassins worn by a small white girl who was raised by Indians.

There’s more, but why don’t you read the article and go visit the museum? Let me know if you do and what you think of it!

 

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Cadillac owned by Peru native and international musical composer Cole Porter.

When the Miami Indians were forced to move out of the area aroundPeru,Indiana, to reservations inKansasin 1846, they left remnants of their presence. Much of their lifestyle is on display at the former Senger Dry Goods store, which today serves as the Miami County Historical Museum in Peru, Indiana.

 

One of the most unusual native American artifacts in the museum is a tiny pair of 200-year-old moccasins worn by a white girl who was kidnapped in 1778 from her home by the Delaware Indians inWilkes-Barre,PA.The Indians carried 5-year-old Frances Slocum through Pennsylvania and Ohio until finally settling in Miami County. Young Frances was eventually raised by theDelawareand adapted to their ways. She grew up peacefully, eventually marrying an Indian chief and raising a family. Her white family found her after many years of searching when she was an old woman. She refused to leave her Indian family and died happily in their midst.

 

Other Miami Indian artifacts on display at the museum include pieces of clothing, jewelry, weaponry, and household pieces.

 

Circus memorabilia fills the Miami County museum.

Another popular exhibit at theMiamiCountyMuseuminvolves the circus. Circus life has been and continues to be a part ofPeru’s history. Following the Civil War, aPerunative, Ben Wallace, bought a circus from an owner who had gone bankrupt. At one point Wallace teamed with a partner to form the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus. One of their ornate circus wagons, used to transport and exhibit wild cats as they traveled throughout the Midwest, is on display theMiamiCountyHistoricalMuseum. Restored to its former beauty with bright colors and pictures of animals painted on its sides, the wagon greets visitors with excitement and nostalgia upon walking in the front door.

 

Authentic costumes worn by circus performers also gives visitors a taste of what circuses were like from a century ago.

 

Note: An ongoing part ofPeru’s circus history continues each July as the town ofPeruhosts a Circus City Children’s Circus Festival. For more than 50 years, children from the area have performed during one week each summer such stunts as flying trapeze and tightrope walking for the public.

 

Tom Mix, Hollywood film star of Westerns, lived in Peru. A stagecoach used in his movies is on exhibit in the Miami Co Museum.

To add more diversity at the museum there’s a stage coach owned by Tom Mix, the silent movie star of the early 1900s, sitting just inside the front door of the museum. Originally used by passengers to travel throughYellowstoneParkin the early 1900s, theConcordstagecoach caught the eye of Mix when he starred in Westerns. Upon joining the circus, Mix used the coach in the Wild West part of the circus performances.

 

As if cowboys and Indians weren’t enough, the MiamiCountyHistoricalMuseumalso contains personal items that once belonged to one of the 20th century’s most beloved songwriters – Cole Porter.

 

Porter, who was born inPeruin 1891, gained fame with songs like “Begin the Beguine” and “Be A Clown.” While living inParisduring the early 1920s, Porter had a black Cadillac shipped over to him. After Porter died, the car was used in the movie, “The Godfather.” The Cadillac now sits on the first floor of the Miami Co Historical Museum, welcoming visitors as they come through the front door.

 

The museum also owns Porter’s Grammy from 1989, posthumously given, and some of his sheet music. Porter is buried inPeru. The town celebrates Cole Porter Festival during the second weekend in June.

 

The second floor of the museum has a more traditional feel with its design to look like a street inPerucirca 1910-1920. With brick streets and old-fashioned street lights, the 18 shops include a chapel, dental office, one-room school house, pharmacy, law office, and music store. People can stroll through the displays and wonder what it was like to run a business, get a tooth fixed or attend school with other grades.

 

Hours: Tuesday- Saturday 9am – 5pm.

 

Miami County Historical Museum
51 North Broadway
Peru, Indiana 46970
http://mcmuseum.org.

 

 

 

 

 

Stan Geisel loves his 1977 Triumph Spitfire

Stan Geisel and his 1977 Triumph Spitfire

A garage sale introduced Stan Geisel to his 1977 Triumph Spitfire in 2001. The British-made car had a ‘For Sale’ sign propped in its windshield. Geisel was shopping for a motorcycle. When he saw the 2-seater in a friend’s yard, he noticed it needed new brakes, interior, and convertible top. The body was clean and Geisel decided to purchase it and try to get it in running condition.

 

Over the next few years Geisel worked on it, having learned much about car engines from his father while growing up and later at his job as a mechanic in a Ford dealership. Geisel had owned other classic cars, but this was the first foreign car. “I knew it would be a challenge,” he said.

 

Geisel did research on the Internet to find companies that sold original parts for this type of car. Although the Triumph stopped being produced in 1980, certain companies still made parts for it. Geisel added several custom applications. He rebuilt 4-wheel disc brakes. He changed the powertrain by installing the engine from a totaled Camaro into the Spitfire, thus converting the original 1.5 liter engine to four times the horsepower. A son-in-law fabricated a wooden dash for the car. As the car only had two gauges (speedometer and tachometer), Geisel relocated them and added others. The transmission is a 5-speed manual. He installed devices to prevent theft. He also added new tires.

 

One thing Geisel had to adjust to was the difference in terms used by the British for parts of the car as compared to American usage. The trunk is a ‘boot’. The hood of the car is the ‘bonnet’; the top of the car is the ‘hood’. The car’s left rear quarter panel was called a ‘wing’. Geisel referred to the owner’s manual printed online to keep him straight. “It provided the English translations,” he said.

 

Ironically, when Geisel got out his metric wrenches to work on the car, he found the standard American system of measures still applied. “Apparently, the British changed to metric around 1980,” he said.

 

Geisel painted the car British racing green (sometimes known as hunter). Although Geisel had never added new upholstery, he followed directions on a kit and the biscuit-colored vinyl and cloth upholstery looks appropriate for the car’s flashy style.

 

By 2008, Geisel had the car ready for action. Geisel has driven it 2,400 miles, mostly giving rides to his wife, Cindy, and their seven  grandchildren around his home in Bluffton. He has another vehicle for daily use.

 

The Spitfire holds six gallons and gets around 22 miles per gallon. “After about 150 miles, I’m looking for a gas station to fill it up,” said Geisel. During trips to Bloomington, Indiana and eastern Ohio where the terrains are hilly, Geisel said the Spitfire did fine. Geisel is careful to go the speed limit, though he admits he’d like to get the Triumph on a race track to test its maximum speed performance. “I’ve never been able to let it stretch its legs,” he said. “I’d like to add a turbo charger.”

 

Geisel enjoyed working on his Spitfire, but qualified his enthusiasm. “There’s times when you wonder if you should have undertaken the task of fixing a car,” he said. “If you have a mechanical aptitude, it can be OK.”

 

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Roger Byers and his Classic Car Collection

Roger and Linda Byers beside their 4-door coupe.

In the past couple of years I’ve written profiles of classic car owners for a publication called Indiana Autos and RV’s Magazine. It’s been fun interviewing car owners. I love to hear how much the car owners have enjoyed finding the car of their dreams and then restoring them. I’m looking for more stories. Do you know someone from Indiana with a classic car pre-1999? If so, please contact me with their name and phone number. Thanks!

 

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In the 1970s when he was a young adult, Roger Byers of Fort Wayne purchased a Model A car restoration book.  Byers studied the book with hopes of someday restoring his own model. For the next several decades marriage and a family required most of Byers’ time and money.

 

Then came the 911 disaster. Within the next few years, Byers, nearing retirement, had purchased five old cars, including two Model A’s — a 4-door coupe and 1931 roadster with rumble seat. “I told my wife life was too short not to be having fun,” he said. The other antique cars Byers owns are a 1912 Model T with crank start, a 1910 Maxwell, and 1993 Corvette.

 

The Byers drive their 1931 roadster on road trips.

In 2006 Byers and his wife Linda joined the Old Fort Model A Club, based out of Fort Wayne. He currently serves as president of the club which features cars that were built between 1928 and 1931. “Approximately 73 families belong to the club,” he said. “Some families have more than one so we have approximately 100 Model A’s.”

 

The Old Fort Model A Club members live in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Bill Milholland of Ossian purchased a 1931 Model A Victoria, complete with backseat for two in 2003. After several years of restoration work, the car has won several awards, including Chairman’s Choice (Best of Show) at the Bluffton Free Street Fair. During a trip to French Lick, Indiana, in summer 2010 to attend the National Model A Restorer’s Club show, Milholland’s car won the Award of Excellence for touring class. “Fifty cars were in the class,” he said. “A few other cars won the award too.”

 

The amount of miles Model A club members choose to put on their vehicles varies. “Some people drive their cars everywhere,” said Byers. “Others may only drive the cars for special occasions.” Tom Laupp from Huntington, Indiana, has driven his Model A an average of 12,000 miles each year since he purchased it in 1995.

 

Other club members, like Wayne Hull of Ossian, offer a garage day each May. Any club member who has a mechanical problem with his or her antique car can bring it to his garage in his home’s backyard and he will put the car on a hoist. “Our club contains many antique car experts,” said Byers. He estimates 40 car owners show up at Hull’s house each spring.

 

Byers, who is now retired, credits friends who own Model A’s for encouraging Linda and him to become members of the Old Fort Model A Club, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2010. “They invited us to accompany them on tours,” he said. “Through such experiences we met people who are now our friends. We have no regrets. The cars are a major part of our retirement life.”

 

For more information about the Old Fort Model A Club contact Roger Byers at 260.482.7179.

 

The End

Note: Other classic car stories I’ve written are posted on my blog. Click “Classic car’ in the tag cloud on the right of my home page for a search.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scott Elzey—Racing Collector

Midget car owned by Coxie Bowman

Writers learn to follow leads for stories. I wrote this article about Scott Elzey for Collector News magazine after a friend had told me about Mr. Elzey’s tree with a bicycle hanging in it at the end of his lane to his home. Yes, a bicycle hangs among the branches of his big hackberry tree. How did it get there? Mr. Elzey put it there! Then Mr. Elzey took me for a ride in his airboat on the Wabash River- that became an article for the Ossian Sun Riser.

After interviewing Mr. Elzey about his bike, he took my husband and me to his man-cave —the restored loft of his barn he has converted into a racing fan’s dream. Doesn’t this look like a great place to relax and spend time with friends? I wrote a different article about his love for collecting racing memorabilia for the News-Sentinel newspaper.

Enjoy the story!

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As a teen during the late 1960s, Scott Elzey of Uniondale, Indiana, accompanied his grandfather Coxie Bowman on weekend racing trips across the state of Indiana and into the eastern half of the United States, as well as Canada. During the week, Bowman operated a Texaco gas station in the small town of Ossian, Indiana. Bowman might have appeared to be content earning a living at sedately filling the gas tanks of cars. But on the weekends he wanted high speed, excitement, and high stakes. He raced midget cars.

Racing items hang from Elzey's restored barn walls

Though small in size, midget cars could reach speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour. Prizes were set accordingly as midget race winners earned $800-$1000, an enviable amount in the years following the Depression. “Grandpa started racing in the 1940s and continued for 30 years,” said Elzey. As he watched his relative race in nearly every state in the nation – 43, to be exact — Scott Elzey gathered racing ticket stubs and other racing souvenirs that represented life on the racing circuit.

Today, those ticket stubs and dozens of other racing memorabilia are part of a collection Elzey has displayed at his farm outside of Ossian. The items are not in Elzey’s home, but in his barn’s hayloft. Rid your mind of cobwebs and dust motes. There’s nary in sight in this loft that is covered with drywall and adorned with carpet, plush sofa, big screen TV, and custom-made bar.

It seemed natural with Elzey’s collection of racing items to design his retreat with a racing theme. As Elzey began to collect larger car parts at Internet sites, he initially stored the items in the century-old house he and his wife, Deanna, had remodeled. He knew the day would come when he would need more space to display them. In 2006, they designed a floor plan to convert the hayloft to a game room to accommodate Scott’s racing collection.

Among the items he has collected over the years are two midget race cars his grandpa raced in. The midget chassis that sits on the loft floor was built in 1972 in Indianapolis, Indiana. After purchasing the car in 1987, Coxie Bowman lowered the front chassis, gave it the present red and white paint scheme and the number “33”, and cut the hood to accommodate the engine with the lowered chassis.

When floor space in the loft became too tight to accommodate the second midget car, it was no problem. Elzey hung the remaining car, one Coxie Bowman had built, from the ceiling.

That’s not the only large item suspended from the ceiling in Elzey’s loft. A 12-foot hydroplane racing boat hangs in one corner. Although no Elzey family memories are attached to it, it is present because it upholds the room’s racing theme.

A third midget, partially completed, is perched atop Elzey’s stairwell leading to the loft. According to Elzey, this car is unique. “Grandpa was building that car when he died,” he said. “It had an independent front suspension, which was later outlawed by various midget racing associations. And the driver sat on the left side of the engine, not behind it and not on the right side, as all the other cars were set up. Sadly, the car was never finished so these technical innovations were never tested.”

Random car parts like sheet metal from race cars are tacked to the walls, along with racing posters and framed black and white photos of Grandpa Bowman. In several he is standing beside one of his midget cars after winning a race. He placed in dozens of races during his lifetime.

Elzey completes the racing theme with National Hot Rod Association drag racing lights, which flash red, yellow, green, adding pizzazz to the ‘man-cave’ when plugged into an outlet. An antique racing car steering wheel, brake lever, and fuel pump, the type used when fuel was pumped by hand, hang on a wall. A nearby shelf holds helmets from Indianapolis racing driver Bobby Grim and others.

Just to make sure no one gets bored Elzey added arcade games in keeping with the racing theme. “We always had a game room in our home with pool table and pinball machines while I was growing up,” said Elzey. “I developed a love for games from my father.”

Even the room’s basic functional pieces contain a racing theme. Cam shafts serve as rail ballasts. Gearshift knobs work as coat hooks, and exhaust pipes and radiator hose provide a nifty look as banisters. On his custom bar Elzey implemented an aluminum diamond plate and checkered pattern seen in racing decor.

Grandpa Coxie Bowman passed away in 1996. He never saw his grandson’s eclectic display of racing memorabilia. But he might have suspected his influence on the younger man as in 1980, Scott Elzey began attending major racing events. So far, he has witnessed 46 events, including the Indianapolis 500 Race, NASCAR and Formula 1 races. He still attends midget races in Fort Wayne. Of course, the ticket stubs become a part of the collection.

At this point Elzey’s hayloft/game room looks filled with racing items. Who knows? If Scott Elzey continues to buy racing items, he may need to find another farm building to convert.

The End