MODELS: Classics of the Open Road

by Bob Hagin

November 12, 2001

When it gets close to Christmas our mailman is burdened with dozens of catalogs peddling all sorts of articles from kilts to kitchen ware. We get a good number of automotive catalogs, of course, and this year one in particular attracted my attention. The Danbury Mint produces die-cast metal replicas of all kinds of cars and trucks as well as auto related items.

For one who has been involved with wheeled things most of his life, the current Danbury Mint catalog, "Classics of the Open Road" provided me with another stroll down memory lane. These are the items that especially attracted me:

MOBILE SERVICE STATION CLOCK - The Mobile service station model on page 6 bears a striking resemblance to the one I rented as my first self-owned repair shop and used car lot but with one noticeable exception: While the service bays and lift in the model are indoors and relatively cozy, mine were out in the open and exposed to the weather. This wasn't so bad in good weather but in the rain, it was difficult to get much done. My dad, a retired private investigator, came in every day for the two years I was there to simply hang around and hold an umbrella over me during inclement weather. Fortunately it doesn't snow in Oakland, CA.

WWII JEEP - When I served my 11 months in Korea in '53 and '54, I drove a military Jeep. I think it was labeled the Type M-38. It had a more rounded hood and a softer profile than the original World War II version. But there were lots of the old models in service with the South Korean army. The war was just over when I got there (I never saw a shot fired in anger) and the peace talks were going on in a field tent in Panmunjom. I was assigned to the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG), an organization that had been assisting the South Korean government in putting together an army since the end of World War II. To distinguish the U.S. Army KMAG Jeeps from those of the South Korean Army, our motor pools drilled a series of holes in the front quarter-panels of our Jeeps that spelled out the letters "KMAG." At the start of the Korean war, our units were overrun and a few of these KMAG Jeeps were captured. One of our officers told us that when the peace talks started, the Chinese and North Korean negotiators all showed up in these captured KMAG Jeeps, just like the one pictured on Page 8 of the catalog.

THE SCHWINN BLACK PHANTOM - Few of us who spent our childhoods in the '30s and '40s will ever forget our first bicycle. It was a vehicle that provided exhilarating freedom and mobility that we didn't experience again until we got our driver's licenses. My bike was a well-used Schwinn like the Black Phantom shown on Page 10 but for whatever reason, I couldn't keep its front wheel bearing from seizing up and I spent more time dragging it home than riding it. Five decades later when I was a high school auto shop teacher, an old Schwinn was given to us along with several other bikes and two VW Beetles. A fellow teacher admired the Schwinn and since he'd transported the cars for us, I gave it to him. Later I learned that it was an original '30s version and still had it's original '36 license plate. Today those old Schwinns are very valuable.

1940 FORD DELUXE COUPE - Page 22 contains a model of the 1940 Ford Deluxe Coupe, a car that is of particular importance to me. During World War II, my father had a beat-up '40 Ford Tudor sedan that he used for commuting from San Francisco south to the California Imperial Valley. On occasion he'd let me drive it if the road was lightly traveled and to a 11-year old boy, it was a thrill of a lifetime. Later my brother Don owned a '40 Ford Deluxe convertible coupe and ultimately, this was the car I learned to drive on. I quickly discovered that it's easier to learn to drive from your father than it is from your short-tempered older brother.

1949 FORD CUSTOM CONVERTIBLE - Don Burstein was a high school buddy whose family was better off than my own. While the rest of us were bumming rides from parents and older siblings, Don cruised around the streets in his year-old black '49 Ford Custom Convertible with the top down an the radio blasting (yes, kids, we did it back then too!), a situation Don described as a definite Chick Magnet. On occasion, several of us would pile in with Don on his cruises but we came to the conclusion that Don's "swell" (cool) Chick Magnet was only as hot as the guys that were in it. Page 22 shows a '49 Ford Custom Convertible just like the one Don Burstein used to troll for girls.

1955 OLDSMOBILE SUPER 88 - The '55 Olds Super 88 on page 26 is without a doubt my favorite vehicle in the catalog. In '58 I was a member of a generic sports car club that met monthly at a boat house by Oakland's Lake Merritt. The president of the club, Bob Wiles, was a friend of several years whose sister, Carole, was not particularly interested in sports cars but was dating a club member who owned a very high-class Mercedes-Benz 300SL gullwing coupe. The owner of the Mercedes couldn't attend one evening in October but Carole came anyway on a lark, driving her mother's '55 Oldsmobile Super 88. It sported the same color scheme as the one pictured in the catalog on page 26. We "officially" met for the first time in the parking lot before the meeting and as they say, we hit it off. We were married a few months later. Although we may have connected at some later date, I'm thankful that Carole's mother relented and let her drive her "fabulous" (a quote from the catalog) Oldsmobile that night.

The "Classics of the Open Road" catalog is free and as easy to get as calling 1-800-493-2934. You might find a few memories of your own in its pages.

 

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