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A Proud Heritage

a Vintage Car with a Known Past is a Bonus

Story Kevin Harper / Images Bill Erdman - September 20, 2012 10:00 AM

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You have to be very careful when you are buying a car that has had a little bit of worldly experience.

As time passes, the past tends to get blurred. Sometimes unwittingly, those who have a car for sale may embellish the past to exaggerate the value. It takes painstaking research and demands for proof. It also requires the ability to walk away if you aren’t sufficiently satisfied. Buying a car that you think might be valuable or that you think might have been special sometimes ends up with you owning a car, just like any other car.

That is clearly not the case with this 1936 Ford Model 68 owned by Richard Knapp of Clifton, New Jersey. Since he was not the original owner, Knapp demanded proof that everything about the car was as advertised. He got what he was looking for.

When this car changed hands, so did the proof. There is the original bill of sale, complete with the stamp that reads “Title issued”. The bill is dated February 13, 1937. Dealer representative Isaac R. Wilson in Madison, New Jersey, served as agent of the sale. Mrs. Geraldine R. Dodge paid the required amount and received the 1936 Fordor Touring Sedan, identified by the engine or motor number. The signatures of two witnesses made it official as Mrs. Dodge, also a resident of Madison, took home her new car.

The “R” in Mrs. Dodge’s name stood for Rockefeller. She was the youngest child of Standard Oil tycoon William Rockefeller.

Other documentation included the New Jersey title, registration certificates of the vehicle from 1938 to 1964 and a gas rationing permit from 1942. This is abundant proof to verify this car is exactly what it was made out to be.

Mrs. Dodge was 54 years old when she purchased the car. She had been married to Marcellus H. Dodge, the president of Remington Arms, but he was killed in an accident seven years previous. The widow Dodge occupied her time with her estate, Giralda Farms, which hosted horse and dog shows. Her medieval castle home was demolished by the insurance company after her death in 1973. She died at the age of 91, but the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation was formed to carry her legacy. Bequeathed $85 million, it has also spawned the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

Knapp became the owner of the car in 1978, a birthday present from his father. The car had not been registered since 1964, but remained in good condition as an unrestored original. The car had been previously purchased from the estate after Mrs. Dodge’s death in 1973.

In 1936, Ford produced over 930,000 cars with a wide variety of options. This car, the popular Model 68 Touring Sedan, had a production run of 159,825. It is powered by the only engine option of the model year, a 221 cubic inch flathead V-8 which generated 90 horsepower (though the bill of sale said 30 horsepower). The engine in the 1936 model was closer to the front to change weight distribution. A three-speed manual transmission, called the selective sliding gear, transmitted the power to the wheels and a 4.11 gear.

Front and rear suspension consisted of transverse leaf springs. An all-wheel internal expanding brake system worked within 12-inch drums. The exterior appearance moved toward style, but this year would prove to be the end of the free-standing headlights.

As an unrestored original, it has the factory paints and interior including the seat covers. The tool set and tire chains are still with the car.

Call it a time capsule if you will. But this car has clearly opened up the door to understanding the automotive world of over 75 years ago. Many of the cars you see in this vintage have had to be rebuilt and reconstructed. Seeing anything from the past is heartening, but seeing it exactly the way it was delivered makes the lesson even stronger.

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