As a teenager, Clifford Hay of Cobleskill loved rebuilding used cars, engines and all. When he hit middle age, restoring antique automobiles struck his fancy.
That was after he bought a weather-beaten, rust-bucket 1927 Ford TT truck with a hand-cranked dump bed and restored it. Ever since, Hay’s love of antique cars drove him to buy many over the years and restore them. A few are, or soon will be, 100 years old.
Now, Hay, 79, basks in the glory of his trophy antique cars, several having won awards in car shows, even at the most prestigious such as the Amelia Island Concours D’Elegance, held on Amelia Island Golf Links, Amelia Island, Florida.
“It all started one day when I saw a 1927 Ford TT dump truck and said to my wife Betty that I always wanted an antique truck, so we bought it and I restored it,” said Hay. “And from then on it was one antique vehicle after another, and we’ve been accumulating them ever since for the last 40 years.”
So restoring antique cars, some dating from the early 1900s, became his pastime. He found them through ads in car magazines, at car shows, tips from friends who are also car buffs, and many other sources.
He’s a long-time member of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA), touted on the club’s website as “America’s premier resource for the collectible vehicle community … whose goal is the preservation and enjoyment of automotive history of all types.” The club holds national and regional antique car meets and tours.
Hay’s current restoration project is a 1937 Oldsmobile Business Coupe, a six-cylinder, 95-horsepower vehicle with a three-speed-transmission, manufactured in Lansing, Mich., that originally sold for $810. “I bought it from someone near Plattsburgh, New York, and have had it for about 40 years but didn’t start working on it until a year ago,” he said.
“Finding parts has been a problem. You can’t find any of them, so you either need to have someone make them for you or make them yourself. There aren’t any manufacturers reproducing the parts like they do for more popular old cars, like Fords and Chevys.”
He hammered out the dents in fenders, quarter panels and doors; painted the coupe’s interior; rebuilt the six-cylinder, flat-head engine, transmission and rear end. “Tore it right down, every piece, including the chassis, every nut and bolt and spring was removed and where necessary replaced. In some cases, I had to use a torch to loosen up frozen bolts.”
He had the car’s exterior repainted professionally and will have the seat reupholstered by a professional upholsterer. He replaced all the glass with safety glass, mounted new tires he bought from a company that still produces tires from the original molds used during the car’s heyday.
Reaching into a file drawer, Hay pulled out a folder overflowing with dog-eared pamphlets, brochures, a manual, paint chart, parts receipts — all information relating to the 1937 Oldsmobile coupe he’s restoring, as well as color snapshots he took of the car’s condition when he bought it.
“I keep files on every car I work on. I do extensive research to locate anything I can find about the vehicle, especially the manuals.” He finds most of the material at automobile flea markets such as one held at the annual AACA Eastern Regional Fall Meet in Hershey, Pa., where thousands of vendors offer their wares.
The Oldsmobile business coupe only has a driver’s seat, huge trunk and built-in bookshelves. “The owner probably would place his manuals or encyclopedias he’s peddling or whatever on the bookshelves, or maybe even bottles of snake oil,” said Hay, laughing.
All that’s left to do, he said, is install the windshield; window glass; dashboard panel, with its speedometer, oil and temperature gauge, clock, ashtray, and radio; and mount the hood and headlights.
So far, Hay has restored 19 vehicles, all in running condition. A few he has hauled by trailer to various meets and tours where car buffs parade their prize-restored antique vehicles around the countryside. He has a collection of trophies and other awards he garnered for several of the automobiles at the shows and meets.
“I don’t have run-of-the-mill cars like old Fords and Chevys,” said Hay. “I try to get oddball cars that are different and that I find interesting.”
One is a 1915, 22-horsepower Metz Roadster with a gearless transmission or “friction-drive.” The driver pulls a level that presses a small wheel against a rotating disc that turns the dual-chain drive wheel.
Another is a two-seater 1911 Penn, model 30, touring car, also known as the “Penn Pirate,” manufactured by the Penn Motor Car Co. in Pittsburgh. A three-speed manual transmission vehicle, the Penn has a top speed of 55 mph. It has brass acetylene headlights, brass kerosene tail and side lamps, brass mirror and trumpet horn.
Hay’s Penn won first place in the AACA 2008 Annual Grand National Meet at Amelia Island Concours D’Elegance. It was also featured in an issue of the AACA magazine. Hay noted there is only one other 1911 Penn model 30 in existence, which is in the Frick Car and Carriage Museum in Pittsburgh.
Interest from Leno
The Penn also drew the attention of comedian Jay Leno, who invited Hay and his wife to visit his “garage” in Los Angeles to view his automobile collection, which includes several antique cars.
“We had a great time with Jay Leno,” said Hay. “He took us out to dinner at the Comedy and Magic Club in LA. I even got to sign his ‘Wall of Fame.’ ”
A framed photo of Hay and his wife standing with Leno and copy of the club’s menu with Leno’s autograph hangs on the wall behind Hay’s Penn automobile where he garages his own car collection.
Hay said he enjoys showing folks who love old cars his antique automobiles and offering some tidbits about their history and what it took to restore them.
His wife, Betty, even outfitted a couple of mannequins in period dress to complement the collection. When the Hays tour with their antique automobiles, they wear period attire.
“The history of the automobile is part of the history of the United States,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like a hundred years ago when somebody was riding in one of these automobiles. I just want to preserve them for my grandkids and other grandkids to see them.”