Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Dad's 32 Lincoln

I've written about the 1932 Lincoln Judkins Coupe with rumble seat. This account of events is by Laura Welles, the daughter of Tom Welles and can be found at www.naplesmarcoaaca.org. The Lincoln, current owner Gene Nau, Tom Welles and I will be at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance this year.

This is a true story about one man's reunion with a lost memory from the past. This car is currently owned by Naples Marco Island member Gene Nau
Dad’s Rosebud: A 1932 Lincoln KB Judkins Rumble Seat Coupe
How much can a car mean to someone? Well, to my father Tom Welles, who has had a lifetime obsession with antique vehicles, a particular car meant a great deal.

Photo by Mercedes Welles


I have a vague memory of a day back in November 1985 when Dad sold his unrestored 1932 Lincoln Judkins Coupe. It was being carefully removed from the place it sat in an old barn on our property in CT to be loaded onto a flatbed truck. I was 13, the same age that Dad was when he discovered the car. He purchased it at age 15. I had been told the car was very rare, so the day had significance to me on that level, but otherwise, I had no idea what the day meant to Dad.

To Dad, it was a sad, humbling day facing the fact that he would never actualize the dream he had for set himself...to restore and drive the Lincoln. Dad had bought and sold many antique cars, but this was his prized car of cars and “the one” that he wanted to see to completion. But being self-employed and subject to changes in the economy would make it difficult for him to have the car properly restored, especially a car of this caliber which justifies spending real money. He had already sunk $10,000 into having the engine expertly restored and knew this would just be the beginning. The engine took years to restore (the guy worked on it part-time) and we would actually “visit” it in Pennsylvania while on family road trip vacations. Dad, then at 40 years old, felt it was time to face the likelihood that his dream would never be realized. Have you heard the saying, “If you love something, set it free?” Well, that certainly applies here. It would be better for the car to be restored than to continue to deteriorate. Dad knew the car was of great value to collectors, but he wanted the car to go to a good home. If selling the car had just been about the money, Dad would’ve run an ad in Hemming’s Motor News and sold it to the highest bidder. But he was concerned about the destiny of the car and wanted it to go to a good home where it would be restored. It so happened that Dad would receive periodic calls from a collector asking him to sell it. When another call came, Dad relented and decided to let it go given that the collector seemed to cherish the car as much as he did and said he wanted to keep it in his private collection. When the collector promised to treasure, restore and not immediately resell it, Dad thought it was a good match. It didn’t take long after waving goodbye to the Lincoln on the flatbed truck to hear news of it’s new life...in Hemmings Motor News. It was advertised for sale almost immediately. Dad was shocked and insult was added to injury.
Photo by Mercedes Welles

I didn’t realize the impact the sale of the Lincoln had on Dad until June 17, 2012. On this weekend, my family and I were visiting my parents for a baby shower for my brother and sister-in-law. While there, Dad pulled out his laptop to show me a website showing photos of the very Lincoln he once owned, now fully restored. I asked Dad how he knew this car was actually his former car. The website happened to have a brief history of the car and it listed the serial number, KB-1303, and, of course, Dad remembered the serial number. I also wondered, how did Dad find this website? Actually, he didn’t. A car such as this has many admirers. One of these is the son of the person who worked on the car back in the 1950’s, Bruce Hotchkiss. Bruce shares a love of the car in that it is a connection to his Dad. Bruce found the website through sheer persistence. Over a span of many years, using the serial number and other information he collected from my Dad, he would periodically do internet searches for the Lincoln. One day, his search was successful and he sent an email to my Dad to confirm that it was indeed the very same car that had passed through both families. I later asked Dad “How did you remember a car’s serial number after so many years?” Referring to the movie Citizen Kane and the main character’s last word before he died, the name of a beloved object from his childhood, Dad answered, “How do you forget Rosebud?”

Dad was beside himself in seeing the Lincoln again. He studied the photos, pouring over every detail he could glean from them. The whole weekend, including at the baby shower, Dad talked about the Lincoln. This is when I knew what needed to be done. He had to be reunited with “his” Lincoln.

I asked Dad to forward me the emails that had passed between he and Bruce so I could see the car again. In doing so, I learned that Dad had mentioned to Bruce the idea of finding the current owner (Dad was looking!). Dad knew the current owner’s name, but only phonetically, and had written “Gene Gnau” (the correct spelling is Nau). I then had Bruce’s email address and wrote him asking him to keep our communications and my quest to find the Lincoln a secret from my Dad. About this time, I was sick with my pregnancy and I said to Bruce that I would try to locate the owner, but that I likely would not get far given how sick I was. Bruce offered to help and and, again, through sheer persistence and excellent detective work, found the owner’s correct name and contact information. I later learned that Bruce figured out the spelling error, tracked down and, somewhat blindly, snail-mailed a hand written note to a “Gene Nau” of Ohio in hopes that he’d be the right Gene. He was!

I called Gene Nau and tried my best to explain what it would mean to Dad to be able to see the Lincoln again and how I was hoping to set up a surprise reunion for Dad. It turned out that Gene shows the Lincoln and was going to be in Florida in March 2013 for the Naples Depot car show. Perfect! Inviting my parents to come with me to Naples, Florida, a popular vacation spot, would be a great cover for the reunion.

Maybe because Gene is a car guy himself or just a genuinely nice guy, he seemed to totally “get” what this would mean to Dad. He even invited us to the garage where the car was being stored prior to the car show for a private viewing! This is how the surprise went down:
Once in Florida, I told Dad we needed to visit my friend who I hadn’t seen since high school, who was in Naples visiting her grandparents. While in our rental car about a mile from the garage (so Dad wouldn’t have time to think about it being strange that we were going to a garage) I mentioned that we’d be meeting her at her grandfather’s garage since that’s where they were that day. We pulled into the parking lot spot Gene had reserved for us. Dad happened to back into the spot, thereby facing the closed garage door, behind which sat the Lincoln. Gene was outside waiting for us and, while my Dad, Mom and I were still in the car, he raised the garage door. Before the door was even up over the headlights Dad knew he was looking at a Lincoln like the one he gave up. His jaw dropped. Gene walked to the driver’s side window where Dad sat and Dad was so beside himself that I don’t even think he said hello to Gene. Dad simply asked, “Is that a ‘32 or ‘33? Gene said in a sly voice, “You should know.” Dad then asked, “What is the serial number on it? Gene responded again, “You should know.” Dad then asked, “Is it a 1303?” “It is,” said Gene. “No way, are you Gene Nau?!” “Yes,” Gene replied. Dad was visibly moved and choked up and my mother and I couldn’t help but cry knowing what this meant to Dad. Among Dad’s many exclamations were: “Boy I can’t believe this is happening to me! I can’t believe I’m talking to you Gene. I’m getting weak in the knees. This is unbelievable! To see my old ’32 Lincoln is like closure for me. For me, this needed to happen.”
Photo by Earl Duty
Dad was like a kid in a toy store, bouncing from one part of the car to the next, studying and commenting on every aspect of it; the louvered vents that open when the engine is hot, the cloisonné enameled Lincoln insignias on the hubcaps, the running board with a light, the special door for a golf club bag, and, of course, the engine, the stunning V-12 engine. He was thoroughly and completely impressed with the restoration (which was done by Spiro Klapes prior to Gene’s ownership of the car) which was a relief for me knowing how much of a perfectionist he is and that he was not in any way disappointed at how “his” car had been handled. It was a bittersweet reunion for Dad in that he was ecstatic to see the car in all of its restored glory, but sad at the missed opportunities of restoring it himself and being a part of the car culture that comes with restoring and owning a vehicle such as this. The Lincoln has had a total of four owners since Dad sold it. While Dad knew the car was rare, he didn’t know how rare. We learned from Gene it is only one of 24 Lincoln Judkins coupes built in 1932. There are six known to remain and Gene’s is believed to be the only surviving example with an original rumble seat.

Gene and his wife Ann were so kind and gracious with both their time and their car. Seeming to know the privation Dad had experienced in not being able to restore the car himself, they indulged this “kid in a toy store” and let Dad take as much time as he needed to pour over every detail, ask every question and and even let him drive it! This was the cherry on top of the surprise since the ultimate goal of a restoration would be to sit in the restored car and drive it down the road. I’m sure Dad had fantasized about that moment many times since he was 13. Part of the car’s intrigue are its enormous headlights (perhaps the biggest of any car?) and Dad was particularly excited to be able to view the car with its headlights blazing at night. Going above and beyond my hopes for the reunion, Gene even had a photographer present to take professional photos of Dad with the car and presented an enlarged one to Dad the following day at the Naples Depot Car Show (where the car won 1st Place in the category of Production 1931-1940, by the way). Everyone who knows my Dad and this story are so thankful to the Nau’s for bringing these special moments to his life. Here’s a photo of Dad with his Rosebud, but, unlike the movie, he actually got his reunion with the beloved object of his childhood, 55 years after he first saw the car and 28 years after setting it free.

These photos were supplied by Gene Nau



It is a stunning car.

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