LUMBERTON — Dick Taylor’s eyes light up as he cranks up a red 1936 Auburn Super-Charger replica sitting in a garage on Fourth Street.
Taylor shows off the horn, which gives the driver a choice of sounds – a fanfare, short tunes, or any combination of beeps and honks — and each loudly echos off the walls of the building.
The car, built by a friend, is one of about 35 collector cars Taylor owns. It is part of a passion that has spanned more than 50 years and fills garages around the city, including his own.
“I love old houses, old cars and old women,” Dick said. “I’ve just always liked cars since I was a little kid.”
Taylor’s pride and joy, his light green 1936 Stout Scarab, recently won accolades at a car show in Kansas City, Okla. The Taylors — Dick and his wife Lenora — were asked to come to the invite-only show, which raised money for the Kansas City Art Institute, and the rare car — only six are known to exist today — took home an award for Most Outstanding as well as People’s Choice.
“It’s a very rare car,” Dick said. “… It has a flat floor in there and it also has a table so you can sit and play cards or do whatever. It was very revolutionary. It was a forerunner of the later day minivans. This is the only one that has been totally and completely restored like this.”
The Scarab, built by aircraft designer William Bushnell Stout, was one of the first cars without running boards, and was built with the motor in the rear. The aluminum hand-built vehicle seats six or seven people.
No two Scarabs are exactly the same, and Taylor can identify his by its three air vents on the back sides.
“It had flow-through ventilation which is something they didn’t have back then,” Dick said. “If you open the vents in the front and open the window in the back of it, the air will just flow right through. It wasn’t air conditioning, but it was a whole lot better than nothing.”
Dick bought the car in the 1980s from the estate of Bill Harrah, a casino operator, and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars restoring it. The car was sold for $5,000 when it was made, a time when Fords and Chevrolets were selling for $500 to $900.
Bill Wrigley, the creator of Wrigley chewing gum, and chemical manufacturer Willard Dow were said to have owned one.
“There’s a rumor that the one I have was owned at some time by Dan Topping, who owned the New York Yankees in the late 1930s,” Dick said. “It doesn’t shake me up a bit as to who might’ve owned it. I wanted it because of what it was, not because of who had owned it.”
While the cars Dick owns do not cruise the streets of Lumberton much, they get a lot of attention. He participates in a few car shows each year, and has restored and sold many of the cars.
“We don’t want to buy a car and restore it and sell it,” Lenora said. “… We want to give that car that you have looked for all your life and it’s going to mean something to you. … We have done a lot of selling, but what we have sold has been really really special things.”
In 2000, the Taylors sold a broken-down 1948 Buick convertible to Jerry Appleton in Wilmington.
“We never thought anything would come of that car,” Lenora said of the deteriorated grey cruiser.
After four years of restoration, Appleton sent Dick a letter from Jasper, Ga., with a before and after picture of the car, now dark blue, shiny and looking as if it has just rolled out of the factory. He and his wife took it to the 100th anniversary of Buick in Flint, Mich., in 2003.
As Taylor sits in his insurance office in downtown Lumberton, he tells stories of chasing cars, like the 1936 Chrysler Convertible he waited 14 years to get, calling the owner yearly.
“I’d wanted one of those cars for 46 years before I was able to find one like that because there are only a few of them built,” Dick said. “In 1936, there weren’t a whole lot of cars being built.”
Years after Taylor had purchased it, the previous owner was in the area and asked to see it. While he looked over the car, tears streamed down his face.
“That’s how attached they get to these cars,” Lenora said.
Dick knows about automobile attachment. Piled up as high as his desk are issues of Hemmings Motor News and other automotive magazines.
“I’m a little behind on my reading,” Taylor said with a laugh.
A pen holder with a decorative old-style gas pump sits prominently atop his desk, and car books pack the bookshelf. The couple has photo album after photo album of car pictures.
They enjoy telling stories of each photo, and the times when the cars were made. They both laugh as they explain a “necking knob” — a knob attached to the steering wheel of his 1952 maroon Kaiser that allows the driver to drive with one hand, leaving the other free to put around their date.
“You didn’t have to pay attention to your driving, you just held the necking knob,” Lenora said.
Lenora shakes her head as she talks about the successors of the old cars she loves — modern automobiles shipped in from all over the world.
“The Fords, the Chevrolets, the Buicks — those are all family names,” Lenora said. “It was personal to them. Showing a car was a big deal.”
Lenora said the nation’s first four-wheel rides take her on a trip in time.
“Everybody has their car — something that’s really really fun for you,” Lenora said. “It’s your personality. Before the 70s everyone knew what every American car was and we went and we had fantasies. We got in the car and we romanced, we went to work, we shopped, it put us in a place that we liked.”