It was the 1950s; cars were faster, sexier and more outlandish than ever before. There was hardly anything cooler than hightailing it in a tricked-out hot rod or cruising in a brand-new Caddy.
That's when, at 15 years old, Roger Anderson bought his dream machine: a broken-down 1925 Chevrolet sedan he saw rusting under a tree during a family drive to Mukilteo.
Anderson didn't even have his driver's license yet, but he knew what he wanted. He'd known since he was 7 years old. Now 67, the longtime Ballard resident still has the class report he did in the second grade on "old-timey" cars; it earned him one of the only A's he says he ever got. It's his earliest memory of a lifelong obsession.
"My parents thought I would grow out of it," Anderson says. "I never did."
While fanatics of mid-century cars are easy enough to spot on the road, collectors of early automobiles from the 1910s and '20s are a rarer breed. They don't have a need for speed. What they do have is a lot of resourcefulness and patience.
Anderson's first car still sits in the garage behind his home. It now has company: a 1928 Model 31A Chandler Phaeton, a 1929 Model 65 Chandler Phaeton, a 1927 Chandler Royal 8 Coupe and a 1923 Chandler Royal Dispatch.
A garage he built a few miles away in Shoreline houses 12 more, for a total collection of 17 cars all built between 1916 and 1929 -- before the Empire State Building was completed and the future-former planet Pluto was discovered.
He has found them in places ranging from Dayton, Ohio, to Harrah's Las Vegas Hotel to Montevideo, Uruguay. He has paid from $350 to $20,000 for a single vehicle. Some run, some don't. A retired machinist by trade, Anderson spends about six hours a day working on them. Among vintage car collectors, he says he's known as the "go-to Chandler guy."
He likes the Chandler, a midrange car manufactured until the onset of the Great Depression, because the Cleveland-based company designed and built its own components, resulting in a higher-quality car.
Even so, Chandlers, like most cars from the era, don't hold up to everyday driving. They can't get up to freeway speeds, so drivers must stick to city streets and back roads. The absence of shock absorbers guarantees a bumpy ride. And, thanks to two-wheel brakes, driving in the rain is a definite no-no.
"Everything about driving a car like this is work," says Stan Wicks, a Woodinville carpenter who owns a 1927 Chrysler.
Tracking down parts can take months. "Most parts are back East, if they exist," he says, adding that many of them were crushed during World War II to make metal for tanks. "If you can't find it, you have to pay someone to make it."
See them live
- The Antique Automotive Restorers Club of Bellingham will feature cars from the 1900s on at the Boulevard Park Antique Car Show during the Ski to Sea race weekend. Boulevard Park, Bellingham, May 30; free to spectators. aarcbellingham.com
Knowledge is also hard to come by. Wicks get most of his information from other members of auto clubs, such as the W.P.C. Chrysler Products Restorers Club and the Horseless Carriage Club of America. But that's becoming more challenging, too.
"The people who know about them -- there aren't very many of them left," he says.
Why go to all the trouble, then? For Anderson, it's mostly nostalgia. "You kind of have a fondness for what you remember as a kid. You like the things you couldn't have back then, so people go back to them."
Wicks agrees: "It's showing people how it used to be." And the reactions are a lot of fun, too. "I could almost run people over in this," he says, "and they'd still give a thumbs up."