For too long his father’s old Reo Flying Cloud has served as little but a brooding hunk of metal beside the family’s suburban home in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
He has petrol, spark plugs and enthusiasm – but it hasn’t run since before he was old enough to remember.
At this time Parkes is in his early 20s and life already has many ingredients of the American Dream.
He has ditched university for a career with McDonald’s, feet on the first rungs of a corporate ladder but heart set on owning one of the hot rod-era V8s that regularly shake the drive-through window.
His father, Don, is an engineer and there’s barely any distance between apple and tree when it comes to things mechanical.
The Reo’s straight-six coughs on its first taste of gasoline in more than two decades.
The last time it moved without the help of a tow was in the moments before Don was forced off the road into a ditch in ’53.
The front bumper was buckled and the wing bent – and with a growing family, a replacement vehicle with more seats was an easier prospect than repair.
And so the Reo sat, disturbed from its slumber only when the Parkes family moved home.
Like a stray dog it followed from garage to barn to driveway, including the one upon which it now sits rocking rhythmically to the tune of its tired starter motor.
Another cough. A longer splutter. Then it fires – filling the neighbourhood with thick white smoke, and Parkes’ head with dreams of a full restoration.
It was the beginning of a journey with the Flying Cloud that would go on to last most of a lifetime.
This Reo has been part of the Parkes family for longer than its owner – 71 years and counting – so he has lived a full spectrum of experiences with the coupe, from unexpected child’s toy to retirement plaything.
“My first memory of the car is in the family barn when I was about five years old,” he smiles. “We used to run up the fenders and leap off into bales of hay, hoping to avoid bruising from those great big chrome headlamps.”
At that time the ‘Old Brown Reo’, as it came to be known, was probably only about 20 years old, but such was the pace of car design in those days it already felt like a relic.
Living so close to Detroit, the streets were always full of the latest models and even though Parkes’ father was rarely in the market for new metal, he would frequently chop and change from used car lots.
Somehow the Reo lingered, in stasis between jalopy and classic.
“The first time we saw any value in it was in the early ’60s, when a guy walked past the house and offered my dad $1000 for it,” Parkes recalls. “I never thought to ask him why he said no; he worked six days a week and any time left was given to his hobby, flying planes.”
The car’s value – sentimental, at least – was creeping up.
Don had owned the Reo for only a few years before the accident, having traded down from a 1948 Buick with onerous finance repayments.
It had been well kept in the hands of a local doctor and perhaps he felt it too good to scrap, or that someone else would reap the benefit after an easy repair.
Either way, there was never an active decision to keep it, but equally no desire to let it go. Instead it waited for familiarity to mature into nostalgia, and for that moment in 1973 when Parkes would crank it over
This is not my story. I read a lot of it in Peter Drucker’s book, Adventures of a Bystander. It’s the story of Nicholas Dreystadt, and I consider Dreystadt’s life interesting and inspiring enough to pass along. But I’ll do it in my own words, because I think Mr. Drucker might be upset if I plagiarized him directly.
I should explain that Peter Drucker, who passed away in 2005, studied and wrote about business management. Business Week called him “the founding father” of that discipline. Before Drucker formalized management, business managers didn’t think much about the subject. And in the course of his 95-year life, Drucker advised international leaders, including three of our presidents. He studied the workings of major industry leaders, taught at Bennington College, Sarah Lawrence, Claremont, and NYU. He wrote 81 books and received 10 honorary degrees from universities around the world.
What caught my eye in Adventures of a Bystander was the chapter in which he talked about General Motors. Mr. Drucker wanted to study GM to discover how it was organized and how it ran itself. In doing so, he contrasted the management styles of two divisional “presidents,” what we now call general managers: Marvin Coyle of Chevrolet and Nicholas Dreystadt of Cadillac. Both names were familiar to me, but I hadn’t known much about either man.
According to Drucker, Marvin Coyle ran Chevrolet with a heavy hand. His people were generally afraid of him, and he was very much the off-putting autocrat. Dreystadt represented the opposite: easygoing, friendly, good-natured, casual, with a good sense of humor. Coyle, though, had built Chevrolet into GM’s powerhouse—the corporation’s main source of income—and despite being dictatorial, Marvin Coyle earned the respect of his peers.
I think it’s time for something old. Really old. Like 1930s and pre-War ’40s old. We’re talking Muroc dry lake and the birth of hot rodding–though not by that name, yet. The Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), the first “umbrella” organization gathering dozens of already existing roadster clubs, was formed in early 1938.
Also, for me, it’s time for something a little simpler. It just is. So what I decided to do was another “one proof sheet” column. That is, all the photos you see here today came from one roll of 35mm film, in this case 35 exposures, contact-printed (actual film size) on one 8 x 10 sheet of photo paper. These are analogous to thumbnails on your computer. They’re about an inch wide, and you really need a loupe magnifier to see them clearly.
So I went to my files, opened a drawer marked B&W Negs, and then selected a file marked “Early Lakes.” There were about 100 proof sheets in it. But I know what most of them are, and what I was looking for–an old one with notes written on the back. I’m really not into doing research this week.
I found it quickly, and the first note on the back said, “All photos ’39-’40.”
But a quick scan through them showed me that wasn’t quite correct, since the photo above was listed as “Strokers club from Whittier/La Habra at Irvine Park ’47(?). All cars raced lakes, too.” That’s probably correct. You’ll note all are A and ’32 Ford roadsters. There were more in other shots. And I’m pretty sure this was Frank Currie’s club, and also pretty sure that’s who had all these photos and let me copy them with my camera. Besides building 9-inch Ford rearends, Frank was a consummate hot rodder all his life.
I should also explain that (a) I shot this roll of film, developed it, printed the proof sheet, and wrote the notes on the back 45 years ago. Wish I had a loupe that would sharpen my memory. And (b) not only are some of the notes hard to read, but some photos don’t have any. But given those caveats, let’s just dive in. This will be primarily a picture show, and I’ll relate what I know (or don’t) as we go.
Pretty much every history of automotive tailfins establishes the Harley Earl-led field trip of GM designers in 1940 to see the then-secret P-38, then jumps right on ahead to 1948, when the newly restyled Cadillac debuted, tailfins and all. Franklin Q. Hershey often gets a nod, and that’s about all most people care to dig into it.
Were they to dig a little further, though, they might discover a more meandering development path for the tailfin, one that nearly placed the feature onto Vauxhall’s postwar cars instead of Cadillac’s.
The story of the tailfin—at least, as it appeared on postwar production American automobiles and not on the odd custom car or land-speed racer—does indeed begin with that field trip to Selfridge Field near Detroit, where Earl pulled some strings to get his studio chiefs a good look at the twin-boom Lockheed P-38 Lightning, a plane designed specifically as an interceptor. And indeed, as Michael Lamm and Dave Holls noted in A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design, the P-38 proved plenty inspiring.
Pretty much every history of automotive tailfins establishes the Harley Earl-led field trip of GM designers in 1940 to see the then-secret P-38, then jumps right on ahead to 1948, when the newly restyled Cadillac debuted, tailfins and all.
The designers got all excited about the P-38, especially since they could see its twin tails as extensions of a car’s rear fenders. They went back to their studios and started doing sketches of cars with tailfins. The P-38 also prompted other aircraft motifs: Plexiglas canopies, various types of air intakes, grille spinners and bumper bullets.
Among those who Earl invited: Bill Mitchell; Ned Nickles; and Hershey, who returned from a stint in Europe the year before to head the Cadillac advanced studio. Hershey reportedly became fascinated with the tailfin idea before moving on to other projects and, eventually, going back overseas to serve in the Navy during the war.As William Knoedelseder wrote in FINS: Harley Earl, the Rise of General Motors, and the Glory Days of Detroit, Hershey saw nature and poetry in those fins.
Joe Merola of Braddock, PA entered the Tucker in the 1951 Memorial Day race
One of the things you learn very quickly here is that there’s never any telling what the Hemmings Nation can uncover, especially on this blog. In that spirit, we present this photo, furnished by Ron Pollock of Niles, Ohio. If the name’s familiar, that’s because we recently posted a photo from Ron’s sold-out 50-year history of Sharon Speedway in northeastern Ohio, which depicted a 1961 Chevrolet bubbletop turned into an uncommonly good-looking pavement Late Model.
Ron checked in again this week. The photo above depicts what may be the only Tucker Torpedo ever used in a racing event. He used the image in another book he authored, a history of Canfield Speedway,Â a half-mile dirt track that operated between 1946 and 1973 at the Mahoning County Fairgrounds, outside Youngstown. Ron was trying to respond to an earlier question on the Hemmings blog about whether a Tucker had ever been raced in NASCAR. The date on the photo suggests it ran at Canfield over Memorial Day in 1951.
The open-wheel single seater is said to be ready for vintage racing or man-cave décor
Midget racers were big in the mid-20th Century, scaled-down versions of Indy 500 cars that skittered around oval tracks with full-size performance.
Chief among them were the Kurtis-Kraft Midgets created by iconic race car designer Frank Kurtis to bring high-performance competition within reach of teams and drivers on a budget. They also were gorgeous pieces of kinetic art.
The Pick of the Day is a Midget racer built in the late ’40s, although the manufacturer is unknown, according to the Macedonia, Ohio, dealer advertising the car on ClassicCars.com. The little critter runs and drives well and has competed in historic racing in recent years, the seller says in the ad.