CANTON, Ohio — Bob Lichty has proven that you can, indeed, go home again.
And not only has Lichty come home, but he’s done much to make it a prominent stop for classic car collectors, including those who attended his Grande Salon classic car auction held here on the eve of the annual Glenmoor Gathering concours d’elegance.
Lichty grew up in this northeastern Ohio city where the National Football League also was born. But as Lichty likes to point out, the sports league’s birthplace wasn’t just someplace in Canton, but in the Hupmobile dealership owned by Ralph Hay, who also happened to own the Canton Bulldogs football team.
As a youngster in Canton, Lichty’s passion wasn’t football, but automobiles, old ones such as the Hupmobile and new ones like the heavily chromed Detroit creations of his 1950s childhood.
Lichty was so fascinated by those cars that after high school he studied graphic design at the Cooper School of Art in Cleveland and hoped someday to land a job as a designer for one of the Detroit’s automakers.
Instead, he was offered a job creating designs for carpeting in upstate New York. It was a design job, though not very fulfilling, but it wasn’t too long before the boss came to Lichty one day and told him the company was moving to South Carolina and Lichty had a choice to make: He could move along with the company or receive six months of pay as a severance package.
Lichty opted for the money and spent 5 1/2 months basically bumming around New England. His cash running low, he called the publisher of Hemmings Motor News and inquired about working for the car magazine that recently had moved to Vermont.
Not only was Lichty hired, but he was made assistant publisher, which, he quickly discovered, meant being a jack of all trades, from advertising to typesetting to writing to supervising a staff of part-time college students. It was exhausting, but oh-so-much fun.
But it wasn’t very long before Lichty was recruited to become advertising manager of a magazine that was new despite its name — Old Cars Weekly, which was being launched out in Wisconsin.
After nearly a decade at Old Cars, Lichty became marketing director for Kruse Auctions, the Indiana classic car sales specialist that was just entering its heyday. From Indiana, he moved to eastern Pennsylvania,to become a manager with Carlisle Productions, which stages some of the largest classic car auto shows in the country. From there, the West Coast beckoned and Lichty was off to the East Bay to join the team at the famed Blackhawk Collection.
Lichty liked the work, but the Oakland area wasn’t good for his young sons, whom by then he was pretty much raising as a recently divorced single father. Putting family ahead of career, he quit and decided to come home so he could raise his sons in a better environment, one that included extended family and friends.
As he and his sons were driving across Nebraska, Lichty stopped and, as was his habit, bought a copy of Hemmings. As he thumbed through the pages, he noticed with delight an advertisement — the Canton Classic Car Museum was looking for a new director. Lichty was hired immediately upon his return home, where he strengthened the museum’s place in the community by going out and finding a 1924 Hupmobile for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to add as a showpiece for its display on the NFL’s early history.
After nearly a decade at the car museum, Lichty launched his own classic car dealership (with partner Gary Brown), Motorcar Portfolio, which he continues to operate in an almost unique showroom — within Canton’s historic McKinley Grand Hotel (“almost unique” because there are at least two such setups in Las Vegas, where the Imperial Palace houses a classic car dealership and the Wyn casino and resort has a Ferrari dealership).
Lichty’s sons, Chris and Curtiss work with him at the dealership and at another enterprise, Classic Motorcar Auctions, which stages three major sales a year, two in Ohio and one in Novi, Mich.
Lichty recently turned 65 but says he has no interest in retiring, or even slowing down.
In addition to his classic car businesses, Lichty has written five books, including a history of the Antique Automobile Club of America, and has served as president of the Lincoln Highway Association.
In 2003, Lichty organized a classic car tour from New York to San Francisco on the history Lincoln Highway route — a route, by the way, that runs through downtown Canton. Next year, the Lincoln Highway Centennial, he’s organizing a pair of driving tours, one leaving from San Francisco and the other from New York. Those participating will meet at the highway’s midway point, Kearny, Neb., for a week-long centennial celebration.