Customs & Classics
An upcoming car auction is bringing international attention to a US town and to a man whose passion for old Fords sent him scouring the country for the next addition to his unique collection.
It all started long ago, with the first car Emery Ward Jr had — a blue 1936 Ford roadster. That was also the year of the Ford dump truck upon which he built a successful trucking company that eventually expanded to a dozen rigs.
Ward got rid of that little roadster and retired from trucking, but he never could get past his love for the sleek lines and simple chrome of those 1936 Fords. From the early 1980s until his death in 2007, he worked tirelessly to build a collection of every Ford model from 1936, starting with a roadster just like the one he had all those years ago.
"He went out West hunting every year. He had a friend that lived out there who had a junkyard. When he went out, he went out with an empty trailer. When he came back, the trailer was full," said John Ward, one of his four sons.
The vehicles came from Montana, Wisconsin, Florida, Texas, and the East Coast. Some were barely recognisable from rust and neglect. Others had been long-ago riddled with bullet holes from bored teenagers when Ward winched them into his trailer to haul them home.
Once there, Ward would set to work getting them roadworthy once again.
"He was out in the garage every day," said Jeff Ward, another son. "That's what he did. Once he retired that's all he did, was work on his cars."
In the end, Ward had put together a collection of 23 various 1936 Fords, including a fire engine, a wood-bodied station wagon, and an all-original two-door sedan he pulled out of a barn near Clyde. The collection included all but one variant of the passenger cars Ford sold that year.
After his death, the cars sat untouched. Following their mother's death in 2012, the four boys decided it was time for someone else to care for the Fords.
They're keeping one, a delivery vehicle that he built for their mother. The rest — 13 cars, a pickup, a panel van, six trucks, and a bus — will be auctioned off this weekend at the Erie County Fairgrounds in Sandusky, Ohio.
"We've had them in the family for 30 years now. He's been gone seven. It's hard," Jeff Ward said. "But they've just been sitting, you know. We'd like to have somebody who's going to use them, drive them."
Though the collection was well-known around Sandusky, publicity of the auction has generated a lot of excitement within the collector-car community. Several major publications, including Hemmings Motor News, have written about the collection and auction.
Daniel Strohl, the Web editor for Hemmings, said it's not unusual for someone to start off with the idea of collecting one of each model or year, but very few are actually successful.
"He knew his stuff, and he knew where to look, and he spent a long time doing it," Strohl said. "You can't just put these collections together on a whim. You've really got to work hard at it."
Ford built almost 800,000 vehicles in 1936. How many remain is anyone's guess, but some models are particularly difficult to find, especially in original condition. One of the rarest is the roadster, with just 3862 built and many survivors turned into hot rods.
Ward's sons said their father bought the vehicles when he could find them and kept them in storage waiting for restoration, which on average took a year to a year-and-a-half.
One of the collection's desirable rarities is the wood-bodied station wagon. Ward located one for sale in Maine, but when he arrived it had been sold.
"He came all the way back home, and the next day he found another one that was just south of Maine," Jeff Ward said. "The following weekend he went back up, and that's where he got it."
While not the rarest — Ford built more than 7000 in 1936 — the woody is one of the most valuable 1936 Fords. Pristine, museum-quality examples have sold for well over US$100,000 (NZ$115,000).
Most of the cars are drivers, not show-quality cars. Still, many should bring good money. Auctioneer Bill Baker of Baker Bonnigson Realty & Auctioneers isn't giving out an estimate on what he expects the cars to bring.
"If it does as well as all the buzz we're hearing about, it's going to do just fine," he said.
In addition to all the 1936 Fords, there are a handful of other collector cars from the family, notably including a 1958 Edsel Pacer convertible and a 1966 Chevrolet Corvette coupe. There's also a barn full of car parts and a collection of oil and gas-related collectibles.
Baker has received interest from prospective buyers in more than 30 states and has people from as far away as the West Coast planning to attend. The auction is drawing online bidders from Europe.
"What causes the bang on it is it's predominantly one individual's stuff, and that's the thing. It's 1936, that was his passion," Baker said. "That's where you get the buzz."
For Ward's sons, seeing the collection go will be difficult. The cars were a lasting love of their father, and something they all worked on together.
"He did a lot of work on them, but he enjoyed it," said Emery Ward III. "We all helped. I did more sandblasting than I care to remember."
But with the four sons getting older and the next generation not showing much interest in nearly 80-year-old cars, Emery Ward III said it was time to sell. They're comfortable with that decision as they approach the auction date. But they're also a little surprised.
"We never expected it to get this big," he said. "My dad's getting a lot of recognition out of it though, which is good."
-MCT/The Blade, Toledo, Ohio