Tom Van Doren's
Great Auto Adventure

One of my grandest interests in life has always been cars, and as a young man, I indulged myself in finding and restoring several wonderful projects.  In high school I had a job with a cabinet maker in Pennington, New Jersey.  He was a great guy who happened to love old cars.  Between jobs we would check out those old barns and garages in search of possible treasures.  I was with him when I found the Jaguar and the Mercedes.  He was strictly an american car guy. But if i found a good car and could bring it up to acceptable standards, he would paint the car for me in his cabinet shop. He was really great with a paint gun, so I came away with a sharp car, without much of a cash outlay. My hobby never really cost me any money.  I had about $3,000 to begin, and that's what I ended up with, plus a great deal of FUN!

I guess I'll just start with the grandest car I have ever owned, or ever expect to own.  This 1931 Packard needed very little work.  That may be because I bought it from some guys who were starting up an antique car restoration business in Hibernia, New Jersey.  35 years later I found them on the internet still doing business in the same place.  This shop was absolutely amazing.  Even in the 1960's it was rare to find auto restorers that did complete frame off restorations.  They took cars down to the very nuts and bolts that held it together.  I don't know why they let me have this Packard.  At the time it did look a little plain with black wall tires.  But a few months later, a customer brought in a beautiful 1928 SuperCharged Dusenberg Convertible.  It looked perfect, but the owner or his wife wanted a complete makeover, and that meant new tires.  And guess what, they just happened to fit my Packard.  Wow!,  they just made my car look like a million bucks!!  Well not actually that much., but that restored Dusenberg was a dual cowled phaeton, and several years ago did indeed sell at auction for $1,000,000 !!

I could really go on about what I saw and learned about car restoration from these guys.  While I was hanging out there, they were restoring not only the Dusenberg, but a 1930 Cadillac V-16 cylinder coupe, a 1916 Packard Opera Sedan, a 1928 Auburn Boat Tail Speedster and a 1937 Cord Coupe.  I ran some errands for them just to have the privilidge of being there.  They even gave me the keys to all three of their huge warehouses that were packed with all sorts of classic cars just sitting waiting to be restored.   There was this one 1936 P-3 Yellow Rolls Royce !!  I can't tell you how many hours I sat in that Rolls trying to think of how I could come up with and justify $5,000.  A 19 yeat old kid comuting to college in a custom body Rolls Royce!   I overcame some other test drive envy in a Ferrari Daytona, a Lotus Europa and a hot little English import called a TVR.  Look it up.  I don't remember too much about it except you step on the gas and your head jerks back hitting the rear window.  The car was basicly  2 seats behind an American 400 horsepower engine.  You sat between the two rear wheels and that is where the back of the car was.  No trunk. No surviving a rear ender.  A few years later, some Texan named Carrol Shelby did the same thing and called it a Cobra.

 1934 Ford 3 Window Coupe

Ford's first Flat Head V-8 Engine, endorsed by Texans, Bonnie and Clyde.

My last purchase from the guys in Hibernia, was this really neat little Deuce Coupe, an all original 1934 Ford 3 window coupe for $700.   And it ran great with no problems.

In 1969 I restored this great 1957 Jaguar Drop Head Coupe that became my regular commuter car to Rutgers, and then to my car sales job at Nassau Toyota in Princeton.  The Drop Head Coupe like mine, meant that the top dropped and raised manually, and the doors had roll up windows.  The car was also made as a roadster with convertible top, but snap on side curtains for a chilly and wet drive.  Finally, the car did come in a hardtop model, with a rear jump seat for groceries or kids.  The hardtop was quite ugly.  All models came with a beautiful enamel badge on the center of the trunk lid that said, "Winner at Le Mans 1954, 55, 56"  The engine really did take up all of that long nose.  It was a beautiful all polished aluminum, twin overhead camshafts, and a set of side draft carburetors that delivered a great kick for it's 160 mph speedometer.

The engine was left over from World War II Royal Air Force fighter planes, and would remain the backbone of Jaguar for the next 40 years where it would power what some people called the most beautiful sports car in the world.  The Jaguar  XKE.

        1959 Mercedes 190  SL 

was really a piece of junk when I bought. It ran but couldn't stop.  I made it home on one brake. There was a lot of rust,so I took it to a body shop to have the sheet metal welded.  That's when I learned what SL meant in the Mercedes name.  It was a 190 Suppra Licht, meaning Super Light. To make the sports car better performing, they reduced its weight by replacing steel body parts with Aluminum.  Doors, hood, trunk and fender panels were all lightweight aluminum.  Do you know how many people know how to weld and braze aluminum? Very, very few.  I did find a guy who did a good job on the rear rocker panels.  Got the job done, interior and top were great.  A new paint job in my boss's cabinet shop and she was super.

Drove her for about 6 months, when the engine seized. Still, I sold the car for what I had in her, so no loss, except to my sore muscles and dignity.  Today, however, low end price:  $40,000 top prices $70,000.

Luxury? or Fun?

  Luxury? or        Fun?

OK !
1966 Cadillac Convertible

 light blue, white top, and Marshmellow White leather interior
   Can the kids say "CreamPuff" for Gramps?   After all the older restoration cars, I just wanted to have something nice, dependable and luxurious.  Who could not love a Cadillac?  All those summers at the Jersey Shore, really left me with an eye for convertibles.  However, each summer must end, and a foot of snow on a canvass roof just takes the romance out.  I don't know why I traded it in, perhaps because I was only 21, and I wasn't ready to retire yet.

My first "New" car from the dealer!  First model year 1967 Camaro, bought out to go head to head with the Mustang and Barracuda Muscle Cars.  A real sharp yellow with black interior, 2 bucket seats and 4 speed manual transmission.  It was this exact yellow and I added the black bumble bee stripe on the nose.  Oh yeah, brand new, 67 camaro, tax, title and license..$2,400!

OK, now I just have to get down to basic family transportation.
The college comute is wearing me down, so it's time to settle for a Buick.  Big, rag top highway cruiser and of course I had to have a little extra power to get by all the trucks on US 1. So I had to settle for a '66 Buick Wildcat Convertible with a 440 cubic inch engine,with a Holley 4 Barrel carburetor, tweaked to
 pump out 375 Horse Power !! So lay down some
rubber!!!  Hey, gas was only 35 cents a gallon.
 ( Thank God!!)

This 1967 Volvo Model 144 was the best little lunch box I ever owned.  1. It was dependable.  I never had to spend more than $100.00 on it.  I never needed any body work, and the paint lasted as new for at least 10 years.  2.  Never had any electrical problems, transmision problems, nor anything I can remember.  Volvo's theme was that the car would remain safe and dependable, through multiple owners.  3.  The 4 door design made everything accessible to the front passengers.  4.  The trunk was the closest thing I have ever seen, resembling a classic steamer chest.  The trunk was deep, wide and would hold up to at least 4 full size suitcases.  My car had a boosted fuel system and would claim 125 hp., coupled with a 4 speed manual 4 on the floor.  In addition, it had an electrical switch that would throw it into an overdrive, and that would give the car  a smooth and quiet ride.  It was fun and a solid performer.  I remember towing a full size U-Haul all day long.  Now I did have to drop out of overdrive when going up hills, but it was truely a fun car to drive.  And I drove it with every shift a joy, for every 225,000 miles I put on that little 4 cylinder.  When I traded it in, it only needed a new clutch and before the ink was dry, a kid at the car dealership had swiped it up!  So Mom and I drove out with a new 1974 Chevy Malibu, and into car monotony for the next 10 years.

Then, in 1981 it hit me again.  I came, I saw, I bought it.  "Veni....Vedi.....Veci"  It was attributed to male midlife crisis.  I was a macho Irving PD Detective doing an investigation of a burglary at an import car dealership.  Azure Blue, Light Blue Leather interior, 5 speed transmission, fuel injected, twin overhead cam 4 cylinder engine, TURBOcharged with Boost Guage on the dash, next to the 160 mph speedometer. How much? Oh really?  Hey Chris, guess what I just bought.  Took the whole family for a ride. Chris pregnant with Ben in the front, and little Amanda, Adam and Sarah in that big jump seat in the back.  Well, big is a relative term.  Great ride, everyone enjoyed the hot sun and the wind tangleing everyones hair into numerous knots.

Well, this little Fiat was a great car to end my habit on!
 I  really had a great time !!!