Ready to ride: Classic car enthusiasts congregate

Area residents may have done a double take this week at the sight of antique cars making their way around town. Members of the Veteran Motor Car Club of America have been staying at the Tiffin Hampton Inn and driving their historic automobiles to points of interest in the area.

Based in Massachusetts, VMCCA is dedicated to the preservation of historically significant “veteran” vehicles. The group is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

Club president Mike Werckle of Caledonia, Ill., said about 50 cars and more than 100 people are participating in the Ohio excursion.

Werckle himself is driving a 1955 Austin British taxi for this part of the club’s National Heritage Tour of all the presidential sites in the United States. The week-long tours are spread out over the summer months.

“We do no more than two (presidents) at a time,” Werckle said.

The “Tempest and a Teapot” segment in Ohio included a stop in Bucyrus on Monday to visit the Copper Kettle and the city’s speakeasy. Tuesday’s route ran to Marion to see the Harding Home and Museum, Union Square and the Popcorn Museum.

The first to return to Tiffin Tuesday was Michael Romano of Rosetto, Pa., who had driven to Marion with the top down on his 1936 Dodge. The retired elementary school principal pointed out the running boards, explaining how the treads were affixed to the steel decks. On the interior, Romano had removed the doors’ linings to repair missing stitches by running upholstery thread through the original holes.

“I’ve had this seven years and I just love touring with it,” Romano said. “I like to tour, but the car I had had mechanical brakes a ’28 Chevy – and it was a four-cylinder. People were always waiting for me, and the brakes weren’t always that good. So I decided I wanted to find a touring car.”

Romano said he also owns a 1915 REO. Its name arose from the initials of Ransom Eli Olds, for whom the Oldsmobile also was named. A magazine ad for the Dodge attracted Romano’s attention, especially because the seller only lived about 30 miles from him. After the winter weather started, Romano called about the car, hoping the price had dropped a bit. He said he “fell in love” and bought it right away.

“I do all the mechanical work except for the engine, because you need special tools and bearings. I’ll take the engine out and send it away. I do everything else,” Romano said.

He said he was especially proud of the wheels. When he obtained the car, all the wheel covers were painted black. Romano used lacquer thinner to remove the top layer of paint and reveal a cream-colored design around the edge of each hubcap. He crafted a template of the scalloped pattern and used it to repaint the border.

Next, he restored a pair of pinstripes with a special tool called a Beugler Striper.

“The paint comes out of this little bottle onto a wheel, so … I took the (car) wheel and made a plate for it so it would spin. Then I made an arm for the Beugler. I spun the wheel and brought the arm down. That’s how I got it done. It’s amazing they did these things by hand,” Romano said.

His restoration efforts were rewarded when the Dodge became a VMCCA Senior Award Winner in 2009.

What Romano likes best about the car is its touring features. It can carry five people and has a trunk for luggage. The six-cylinder engine can travel at 55 miles per hour. Also, the car’s hydraulic brakes are more dependable and easier to operate than their mechanical counterparts.

“And its a convertible,” Romano said. “And there’s a heater in it. If it’s cold in the morning, you turn on the heater. By afternoon, you can put the top down.”

Also touring with VMCCA were Mike and Mary Johnston. They had driven their antique car from Oxford, Mich., about 150 miles away. With beautiful weather on the first two days, they were hoping it would hold for Wednesday’s leg in Sandusky. The couple lived in Sandusky for about two years in the 1980s and wanted to see their former home.

“The last time we went up (Rt.) 250, coming into town from the south side, it was ‘Wow! Has that changed!’ We didn’t even recognize it,” Mike said.

They bought their vehicle about 12 years ago. Mike said he did some of the painting and most of the mechanical work to get it in shape for the road. The Johnstons have taken it on numerous tours, including two in Texas. They were glad to leave the trailer at home and just drive the car for this week’s tour.

“It’s a 1940 Ford Deluxe convertible, or as they like to say, ‘the Luxe,’ in the old movies,” Mike said. “She’s the owner, I’m the mechanic and the driver.”

Getting parts for older vehicles has not been a problem. He said club members often have Ford parts for sale and a number of companies have reproduced parts available.

“Basically, if you’ve got the money and you’re looking for something, you can probably find it,” Mike said.

On the trip to Marion, the couple missed out on some of the stops because they were helping another driver having car trouble, but they did get to see the Harding Museum with a knowledgeable tour guide.

“The Harding Museum is one of my favorite places. We kind of had a private group,” Mary said. “We’re looking forward to going back to Sandusky driving across the causeway. We’re hoping it won’t be raining, because it’s such a beautiful drive in a convertible.”

The travelers also were to visit Marblehead Wednesday. Today’s itinerary includes the Clyde Muesum and McPherson Home and the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont. Friday, the tour moves to Toledo to see Fort Meigs and the Islamic Center.

To learn more about the Veteran Motor Car Club of America, visit