By Duane DeButts

Reprinted from the 1978 Club News Volume V Number II

Mom and Dad always knew I’d be different. I hardly learned to ride my overweight Riverside Racer bike before I started coveting cars. Any car, any color. Two doors, four doors, hardtops and especially convertibles.

While other kids traded baseball cards, I collected car magazines. When I couldn’t afford to buy them, I’d stand casually by the drug store racks until no one was around. Then my fingers would flip the pages while I frantically tried to memorize each picture. Red chop-tops, black limos, and on page 38 a long white foreign convertible with beautiful wire wheels. In a very short time, I had been kicked out of every drug store and magazine stand in town. Still the image danced in my mind: long … white … and wire wheels.

Years later, to my surprise, I found a soul mate. Terry McTaggart would call and say he’d spotted a new car in town. I’d jump into my ’51 Nordic Blue Dodge four door and wheeze off to meet Terry and his ’51 Mist Blue Dodge four door. We would rendezvous at our shiny chrome and enamel idol to worship tailfins and rooflines. Then we’d talk until dusk about zero-to-sixty and positraction and other automotive lore.

After high school, Terry went to U of M and I to State. Separated, we had to find new car freaks to talk to. I found Cunningham. Gilbert Austin Cunningham drove a white ’54 Ford convertible. He commuted, so even as a freshman he had wheels. He also loved cars. After he put his Ford to pasture and bought a mean-looking black ’57 Chrysler 300C hardtop, I knew he had the divine madness: 300 fever.

After college, Gil and I and the C moved to Chelsea. Gil and I lived in a walk-up $75 three room apartment on Main Street. The C lived in a $15 one-room efficiency-style garage at the end of our driveway.

I had satisfied my hunger by gradually buying better cars as my bankroll grew. In ’64 I was ready. Gil brought an ad to me from the LansingState Journal.

FOR SALE: Chrysler convertible
1958, two four barrel carbs,
leather interior. Call 571-7270

I called.

That Saturday, Gil and I drove to Lansing in the C. The directions to the house read, “Mr. Hope Road south to Factory, then right over the bridge to River Drive. Right on River Drive to 1851.”

Suddenly we were there. There was a fine late afternoon haze along the river. It was creeping toward the house as I rang the bell. No sign of the car. A smiling bald man answered the door and began a running commentary. “So ya drove all the way up from Chelsea? Well, we took good care of this car. Don’t know why my son bought it, but he’s moving west and left it with us. He set the price and told us not to sell it for less. I guess you know what you want, but it gets terrible gas mileage.” He walked around the side of the large old-fashioned house. Gil and I followed.

Behind the house was a weathered barn. “This place must have been a farm,” I thought. Not anymore. I noticed the grass in the barnyard had just been mowed. We followed the path around the barn toward the river. The fine fog swirled at our feet, hiding the path and slowing our pace. We emerged from the shadow of the barn.

There it was, sitting on a fog-shrouded earthen ramp leading to a barn door. I felt like running up to it, but I couldn’t move. What was so different about this car? Was it the setting: this incredible white monster sitting on a tractor ramp? I felt like a fifteen year old kid looking at a life size picture of his dream car. I blinked my eyes and it hit me. Glistening through the mist were wire wheels. Real wire wheels. The enthusiast’s mind boggles.

I walked up the ramp to the rear of the car. The bald owner was waiting for me to talk. Neither Gil nor I had heard a word he’d said since we saw the car.

Nice car. Where’d the wire wheels come from?”

These are new. The originals are in the trunk.”

I opened the trunk. Inside were four more wire wheels. No spare, just wheels. I was too dazed to be boggled again.

We lifted the hood and haggled over the price and fired ‘er up and checked the oil. I suppose someone kicked a tire, but the car and I were wed on that hazy fall afternoon long before I drove it home.

Duane passed away August 12, 2013. I am glad we can remember him through the stories he wrote.