I know my K inside and out. Since
first buying her in ’87, she’s taken me to five national
meets and in between, I have given her a ground up restoration. She
spent a year at RM Restorations, now RM Sotheby’s. I’ve
seen her dismantled to the point where she could not be recognized.
I’ve seen her stripped to bare metal. I’ve seen the
surgeons cut out large sections of bondo and rust. I’ve taken
the 413 apart to the last nut, bolt and plug. I’ve trudged
through junkyards and swap meets and wrote and answered adds in
pursuit of parts. And, this is the great satisfaction of the whole
thing, I’ve seen her all come back to life again. Brand new,
she’s a 64/88 model, if there ever was one! I know my K, like
my right arm. Except for her past.
When I bought her from George Riehl,
he was able to give me some of her recent history. A solid body with
no front clip or engine, the roof and interior in tatters, she was
fished out of a Pennsylvania wrecking yard by Curtis Thompson. It
seems that Curtis had two very rusty Ks, a coupe and a convertible
and he wanted to marry the three of them into one good car. That was
sometime in the late ‘70s. Later on, a guy from Ypsilanti,
Michigan bought the whole project. He commissioned Curtis to haul
the body to a Syracuse, New York body shop for the basic bondo and
pop-rivet job. Meanwhile, George was hired to restore the engine and
transmission and later store the painted body. At this point, the
owner dropped out of sight, owing George money for mechanical work
and storage. Later, George was awarded legal ownership of the car
through a mechanic’s lien. He finished the car in time to
debut it at the 1984 Toronto meet.
So much for the recent history, but
I kept wondering about an original owner and how did she end up in a
Pennsylvania junkyard? At the Mena, Arkansas meet, I learned that
our club had copies of the microfilm on our cars.
I eagerly fired
off a request to Gil Cunningham and he promptly returned me a copy of
the car’s dealer order card. Accompanying this was a neatly
written interpretation of all those numbers and little black boxes.
Right at the top of the page was written, “selling dealer –
Nissely Motors, 361 E. Main St., Middletown, Pennsylvania”. I
had the Atlas open to Pennsylvania in a flash and was searching for
Middletown. There it was, a tiny little dot, just south of
Harrisburg. The next day, I called a friend in Chrysler’s
sales division and asked him if he could get me Nissely Motor’s
phone number. An hour later, he called to tell me that Nissely had
gone out of business in 1982. However, he told me that there was a
Dodge dealer who had been in operation since 1962 and was still in
business. That evening, I called the Dodge dealer and had a nice
conversation with Tom Baine of Baine Dodge. Although he was
interested, he could not help me out. He had tried to buy up the
Nissely franchise when it folded, and he still had a record of every
car that he ever sold. So close but yet so far! Well, I still had
one more rock to throw. My brother-in-law, a Windsor policeman, ran
the vin number through the Pennsylvania license department. Their
records only go back ten years – another stone wall.
Ever since then, I had determined to
go to Middletown the first chance I got.
This summer, as Louise and
I started to plan for the Boston meet, she reminded me that we had
an obligation to visit friends who had been job transferred to
Oh boy, right down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, with
Middletown less than ten miles out of our way. We got out of Windsor
at 4 AM on the Saturday before the meet. It was a beautiful sunny
day, with the temperature just poking eighty degrees. The K ate up
mile after mile of Ohio and then Pennsylvania Turnpike. By 1 PM we
were taking the off ramp for Middletown. It was a beautiful day for
a homecoming. We were so close now.
Questions kept running through
my mind. When was the last time the K had run this road? Would we
be able to find 361 E. Main St.? Would the building still be
standing? Would wonder of wonders, someone recognize the car? We
answered the middle two questions within seconds of hitting town.
After passing the obligatory “WELCOME TO MIDDLETOWN”
sign, we descended a hill to a red light. E. Main St. passed in
front of us and on our right stood a large older building, decked out
in Chrysler blue and white. The sign said “Acme Auto Parts”;
but the address, 361, said the K was home. After pulling into the
neat asphalt parking lot, I got out to take a look around. Acme was
closed; but right next door was a used car lot and garage. The sign
for this establishment, read “Bob Nissely Used cars” and
it was open. I headed next door with high hopes. I approached a
young man, working on a car in the garage. I quickly learned that
Bob was out of town on business and that he was the son of the former
owner of Nissely Motors. The young man only rented space from Bob
and he could not help me any further.
Well, that was
it. I guess I was a little disappointed. I hadn’t learned
very much. I never met any original owner or seller but
maybe I had expected too much. In the end, I just stood there for a
few minutes, leaning against the K, letting the history of the place
sweep over me, with my imagination in high gear. Oh, if those walls
could talk. Would they remember a transport chugging up in front,
dropping off a golden 300K convert, all shiny and powerful? Would
they remember a first owner, eagerly negotiating for that new car?
Would they remember all that glorious excitement, all those years
ago? Finally, with a shake of my head, I exorcised all the imagined
memories and we once again turned east for Philly.
Thanks to Bill Elder (Wild Man of the North) for preparing this article