Roadsters and Runabouts: Collecting and Restoring Antique Classic and Special Interest Sports Cars by Bob Stubenrauch
Published in 1973 by Dodd, Mead and Co.
274 pp., hardcover
Acquired from the estate of a friend and fellow ‘car guy’. Currently out of print.
You could be an auto enthusiast your whole life, owning many different vehicles. You can go to cruises, meets, car shows and auctions, and travel to automotive museums. There will still be cars you won’t have much chance of ever seeing in person. Some of the great classics of automotive history are rarely seen and often in only the most special circumstances.
The collector car hobby goes back many years. The Antique Automobile Club of America has existed since 1935. The Classic Car Club of America, formed in 1952, keeps a list of what are considered ‘Approved Classics’. As these cars are limited to those built between 1915 and 1948, it’s easy to see why it can be rare to encounter these cars in person. Often, one must rely on books such as Roadsters and Runabouts: Collecting and Restoring Antique Classic and Special Interest Sports Cars to become at least acquainted with some of these great classics automobiles.
Author Bob Stubenrauch was a collector car hobbyist who wrote a couple books about old cars. Written in 1973, this book is a real trip back to a different time, and not simply because the cars are old.
Stubenrauch opens with almost 45 pages of information on identifying worthy classic cars, searching them out, negotiating a sale, finding parts through meets and flea markets. Though written almost 50 years ago, some of the information is still relevant. Certainly, the internet has helped make the process easier. There are still cars to be found in back garages and old barns, and there are still treasures to be found in flea markets and swap meets. The author writes of inquiring at the local garage about cars that may be hidden in town, or befriending local tradesmen who may have spied such cars at their customers’ homes. Believe it or not, some of these methods still work! I know of one such tradesman who has acquired a few nice cars himself simply by noticing and asking if the car is available. Now, these methods are more difficult today, as the world has changed. But it’s true that word of mouth still works well.
One thing that certainly has changed since 1973 is what it takes to purchase such cars. It’s a trip to read things like…
… a 1930 Model A roadster being sold for $350.
… three years ago this writer (could) acquire an excellent 1931 Chrysler Imperial sedan for $1000 and a 1926 Minerva opera coupe for $1250.
… and so forth. For reference, in a Facebook group I saw an ad with a new 1970 Ford Galaxie sedan for $2469. Imagine acquiring a that ’31 Imperial, a top line classic in excellent condition for 40% the cost of the average new car! Today, a search on Hemmings shows a 1935 Imperial sedan at $68,000. The days of acquiring an ‘Approved Classic’ for a grand are surely long gone.
Strangely, the remainder of the book veers away from finding and restoring cars to features of 24 classic cars. The names are legendary – Hupmobile, Packard, Mercer, Stutz, Lincoln, Mercedes, Jordan, Bentley, Ruxton, Marmon, Duesenberg, Cord, Bugatti and more. Stubenrauch even considers what would be ‘modern classics’ by adding cars such as the 1953 Buick Skylark, 1960 Corvette and 1963 Studebaker Avanti.
The text of the features is somewhat odd though. It’s a mix of corporate histories, notes on other cars by the manufacturer and some info on the particular car featured. There isn’t a discernible pattern – the 1957 Thunderbird feature is mostly about the 1955-57 Thunderbird, while the Avanti feature devotes much space to the history of Studebaker and the cars it built before the Avanti debuted. However the information found is interesting and still tells a story about collector cars.
What is wonderful about this book is the photographs. Yes, they are in black and white (for reasons I’ve mentioned in other reviews). However, there are many of them. Each car gets 9-12 clear, mostly large photos, many detail shots including interiors and special features. Some features include advertising. The photos are a great way to learn about these cars, which as stated above, you’d be lucky to encounter in person.
All in all, I enjoyed Runabouts and Roadsters very much. Coupled with Famous Old Cars, these books give wonderful insight into some of the truly classic cars of early motordom. Don’t look for any technical information to help you restore your pre-war car, it’s not here. This book is strictly for relaxing and travelling back to the early days of roadster motoring.
Pros: some of the most revered cars in early motoring are featured; lots of great photography of cars that are often hard to find.
Cons: there could have been more detailed information on the feature cars.
Where to find it: Amazon, eBay, private collections, used book dealers.