In search of the oldest car in Arizona - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

In search of the oldest car in Arizona

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Mike Sakal’s column runs on Fridays. Contact him at (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com, or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282

Posted: Friday, February 17, 2012 7:41 am | Updated: 9:38 am, Mon Aug 25, 2014.

Who's got the oldest car in Arizona?

The Kiwanis Club of Tempe Nuevo wants to know - and hopefully in time for its 8th Annual Catch a Wave Classic Car Show that will be held at Tempe's Kiwanis Park on March 24 in conjunction with Arizona's centennial celebration.

As centennial activities kicked off at the State Capitol on Tuesday, state officials remembered the pioneers who settled the state soon after its forefathers arrived in the territory on horses and covered wagons to launch the legends of the Wild West.

But we can't forget those who have meticulously preserved four-wheeled forms of transportation that feature a crank and a 2-cylinder motor to get its driver moving down Arizona's then dirt-covered desert roads, some of whom were on hand for a car show at the state capitol last weekend leading up to the centennial.

Kiwanis Club of Tempe Nuevo not only wants to learn who has the oldest car in the state, but also wants to put it on display at the show. Last year, there were 135 cars at Catch a Wave.

"We've had this show each year for quite some time now, but we really haven't thought about trying to find the oldest car," said Ray Devine of Kiwanis Club of Tempe Nuevo and the chairman for the car show. "But since this is Arizona's centennial year, we thought we'd try to find out. We'd like to know what cars have been in the territory the longest, but it's OK if the cars came from somewhere else. We've had some cars from the 1920s at the show before, and I think some Model Ts or Model As from 1912."

As the weather warms up, classic car shows are held nearly every weekend at various locales throughout the East Valley featuring mostly the 1950s classics and muscle cars from the 1960s. It isn't very often that car buffs can see cars that were manufactured in the early 1900s, much less ones that still function from that era.

Most of them simply were called horseless carriages, Tin Lizzies and Model Ts.

Although it has yet to be seen who officially has the oldest car in Arizona - a pre-1910 car has yet to emerge in the East Valley. So I set out to see what I could find. I regularly attend car shows in the early part of the year with Roland Smith, a friend who is a winter visitor from Ohio. We're two car guys who kick off the year at the Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction in Scottsdale and then attend other shows throughout the Valley. We dream and drool over the cars we'd like to have whether it's a 1936 Chevy Coupe, a 1957 Chevy, a 1963 Corvette split-window coupe or a 1953 Chevy pickup truck with the corner windows - all beautiful cars that are one of a kind.

There are at least eight known cars in the state older than the state itself. Steve Freegard of Sun City owns a 1905 Cadillac and a 1913 Overland that sold more than Model Ts in Arizona because it was a stronger car and could better navigate hills and mountains.

Dave Longstreth of Cave Creek owns two cars that were produced in 1904 - a Queen and a Haynes Apperson.

Jim Brodes of Tucson owns a 1911 Grabowsky Power Wagon pickup truck, a 1902 Packard that is currently disassembled, and a rare 1905 Rambler.

Freegard said he also knows of a 1903 Oldsmobile that someone owns in Arizona, but he doesn't believe that it runs.

It wouldn't matter. Devine said Catch a Wave participants can bring their cars on trailers. However, don't be disappointed that the fragile relics from the early 1900s might be stationary. Instead, their owners often rev their engines just to let people know how good they still sound after more than a century.

And last but not least, Jim and Donna Bunch of Glendale cherish the 1909 Sears Motor Buggy that Donna's grandfather, James Roberts, was the second owner of. An auctioneer, Roberts bought the car for $2 in 1929 and later turned down an offer of $40,000 from Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford, who wanted to buy it in 1934 for his auto museum in Michigan. Roberts owned the car until his death in 1975, and per his will, the car was sold and purchased by his former mechanic.

Jim and Donna are the fifth owners of the black beauty, buying it two years ago from a man in Arkansas who had bought it from a relative of Roberts' former mechanic off of Craigslist in 2007. Jim and Donna plan to display the car at Catch a Wave.

Their car is one of a kind as well - a black carriage-like car with a 2-cylinder, 14-horse motor that starts with a "peg," or an Allen Wrench-like key that slips into a box - an invention by the guy who designed the car. The Sears Motor Buggy cost $395 new - the average annual salary for the working man in 1909. "It's a memory of my grandfather, and it's so much fun to show," Donna Bunch said. "I remember riding on a float behind him when he was driving the car in the centennial parade for Marysville, Pa., in 1966. He was the grand marshal of the parade and was driving the oldest-living Civil War veteran at the time. It's so unusual. The car has a lot of memories and it's something that people rarely get to see."

For now, it looks like Jim and Donna Bunch can be the winners for having the oldest car at Catch a Wave, but there's still a month to go before the show.

"You never know what will turn up," Devine said. "People surprise you."

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