As most of you don’t remember, my birthday falls early in August and I always wax a little nostalgic around this time. For a number of years, I’ve had a low grade itch to own an old car or truck, but hate to spend the money that people want for most of them.
The affordable ones are usually non-running hulks that require tons of work and money. However, I keep looking, on eBay and elsewhere, and a couple of days ago I found one.
It was on eBay, but was located at a used car dealer in nearby Akron. My searches include vehicles from 1931 to 1941, the period when, in my opinion, the best looking cars were built in America. The car at Akron was a 1940 Nash Ambassador 4-door sedan, with a Buy it Now price of $7995.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Nash cars, as Dad bought his very first new car in 1947, a Nash Ambassador, and my first real job after high school was at Marquis Motors, the Nash dealer in Beaver Falls, Pa., who had sold Dad his car.
Marquis Motors was a small dealership run by the owners James T. Marquis and his wife Margaret. They had never had children, so had kind of adopted their nephew, Dave Marquis, who was the main salesman and manager of the front office, which included the showroom and gas station.
Uncle Jim, as everyone called him, was a crusty old individual, who’d been in the car business probably as long as there’d been cars. He was always well dressed, but with a chew of tobacco in his mouth. Aunt Margaret was a lovely, soft spoken woman who worked in the dealership office.
Marquis, a spiffy dresser with a Homburg hat and an ever present bottle of Coke in one hand and cigarette in the other, was a whirlwind of energy. There was an “office girl,” as they were called in those days, and a young fellow like me to man the Amoco gas pumps, change tires and wash cars.
In a separate building in back was the service department, which Uncle Jim pretty much ran. He was a good mechanic, but there was an excellent mechanic named Gillingham, whom everyone called, “Gillie.” The service manager, and another young fellow to serve as grease monkey, completed the staff.
It was here that I bought my first car, a clapped out 1940 Dodge, which burned almost as much oil as gas. I think it cost me $400, which I paid off by giving Aunt Margaret $25 every week from my pay (which I don’t remember, but couldn’t have been much more), but it was my first car and I loved it, at least until I had the chance to get something better.
This happened in just a couple of months, when Aunt Margaret’s 1948 Nash 600 4-door sedan was replaced with a 1951 Statesman Deluxe (of course, Uncle Jim drove a top of the line 1951 Nash Ambassador Deluxe).
Aunt Margaret used her cars very gently, and the 600 was in great condition. The top was painted light green, and it was cream below the belt line. It had white wall tires and chrome wheel rings, and it was beautiful.
Unfortunately, I have no recollection of how much it cost, or of how I financed it — probably with a lot of begging and wild promises to my Dad, which I’m sure he knew I wouldn’t keep.
Maybe about that time, I was promoted to the grease monkey’s job in the service department which, as it was then winter, kept me from having to pump gas in the frigid weather (this was the dreadful winter of 1950-51, which some of us geezers remember).
I wish I could remember my pay. My duties included greasing and changing oil in cars, prepping new cars for delivery and some light mechanical work.
Marquis Motors was an Official Pennsylvania Inspection Station where the mandatory twice yearly vehicle inspections were performed. Uncle Jim took his responsibilities for these inspections seriously.
Oh, he trusted me to check lights, horns and tire tread depth, and I did the grunt job of pulling a front wheel for brake inspection, but the actual checking of the brake lining was done by Uncle Jim, or if he wasn’t available by Gillie, or maybe the service manager.
In early summer of 1951, my career at Marquis Motors was over. I wanted to move on — to what, I didn’t know. A good friend worked for his older brother building new houses, and I got a job with him and left Marquis.
Anyway, getting back to the 1940 Nash. I pored over the 40 photos posted on eBay and the car looked pretty nice, a black 4-door sedan, with an AM radio and Nash’s famous (at the time) Weather Eye heating system, both of which worked.
It was open for bids, with the “buy it now” price mentioned earlier. Still I procrastinated, and the sale ended without a bid. So, on a Friday night I checked the dealership’s website and they still had the Nash listed in inventory.
They were open all day Saturday, so that afternoon I drove to Akron with some money in my pocket and found the dealership. As I walked in, there was the Nash and I walked over to it. A salesman was on the phone, but he motioned to the car and said, “Unfortunately it’s sold.”
I could have cried. Now that it wasn’t available, I wanted it more than ever. But, I’d procrastinated a little too long — he told me someone had come in just the day before and bought the thing.
I console myself by saying that right now, with the mess in Washington, is not a good time to be spending money foolishly. Besides, now I have the fun of continuing to look at all the old vehicles out there and to wish and dream of owning one someday.