Orphan owner puts a better look on country-club roadster

YPSILANTI, Mich.</b> — A 1929 Willys-Knight 66A Varsity Roadster drove home to South Lyon, Mich. from the 2011 Orphan Show here with the Detroit News Joyrides Choice Award on the rumble seat.

Longtime Willys-Knight enthusiast Greg Gumtow was driving the well-traveled unusual six-cylinder, top-of-the-line roadster assembled over 80 years ago at the Willys plant in Toledo, Ohio.

“A car like this was for the country-club set,” said Gumtow, whose collection includes this car — one of three extant ’29 66A Varsity Roadsters — and an equally rare valve-in-sleeve V-8 1919 Willys-Knight.

Gumtow bought the 66A roadster in good condition out of Pasadena, Calif. in the mid-1990s. Since then he had changed the color of the leather seats from avocado green to a subdued gray-green. He also replaced a dingy white top with black canvas trimmed in a blue-green to match the darker exterior of the car.

“I drive this car often,” Gumtow said. “I recently trailered it to New Mexico and did a 600-plus-mile trip from Santa Fe up into Colorado.”

The Joyrides Choice Award goes to the best in show as chosen by The Detroit News. Gumtow keeps the Willys-Knight in award-winning condition by doing regular updates and repairs as they are needed. When it needed new tires, he took the opportunity to paint the wheels red to match its pin-striping.

When they bought their 1934 Railton five years ago, the first order of business for Phil and Carol Bray was to get the very unusual British four-place touring car up and running. It had sat for 25 years, protected but not started, in the heated basement of its former owner in Novelty, Ohio.

The Brays, of Grosse Ile, Mich., own about a dozen special cars. Phil Bray works on them himself. He had the Railton painted British racing green and put on a new canvas top. Following the Railton’s pass and review at the judging stand, they were showing their mint green 1954 Kaiser-Darrin with Willys F-head six and overdrive.

Another participant with more than one vehicle at the 2011 Orphan Show was heavy truck collector and restorer Brian Brown of Ottawa Lake, Mich.

Brown was showing his 1947 Brockway 260-W tractor and a 1976 Brockway N-759-TL. They were two of the 18 he owns. The heavies were produced in Cortland, N.Y. until 1977.

Working on heavy trucks is a “hobby turned profession,” he said. In addition to restoring collectibles for others, Brown refreshes working trailers so they will be road-worthy and not note-worthy when inspectors spot rust.

Then there was a 1911 Ann Arbor, with six persons on board. This one, belonging to Art French of Ann Arbor, Mich., is one of only seven built by Huron River Manufacturing Co. The vehicles were intended to work both as trucks or to haul passengers. The two rear seats were removable, French explained, creating a truck bed.

“They cost $1,050 new and that included the seats and a top,” said French, who has owned his Ann Arbor for 15 years. “It has been in the family for 46 years,” he added.

With rain forecast for around 4 p.m., Donald Wood of Walled Lake, Mich. was preparing early to make the one-hour drive home in his 1931 Plymouth PA rumble-seat roadster. There were two big reasons for wanting to avoid rain: Wood never puts the top of the roadster up because it curtails visibility dangerously, he said.

The second reason? The single, vacuum windshield wiper doesn’t work. Wood said his wife thinks repairing it should be near the top of his to-do list. He thought otherwise.

“It starting raining when I was driving here this morning,” Wood said. “I just pulled over and after a few minutes it stopped. It rained once again briefly, then quit.”

Wood is a snow bird who winters in Florida. He gives his beautiful ’31 Plymouth over to the Detroit company that stores it while he is away and provides them a list of things to fix.

The windshield wiper will most likely not be on it.

Jenny King is a Detroit-area free-lance writer. She can be contacted via e-mail at Wright-King@comcast.net