PROFILE: All revved up
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — They glitter and gleam like the jewels in Ali Baba’s cave. All 40 of them.
With their sleek aerodynamically sound lines and soft as sable interior linings, they are testaments to the belief of a bygone era that efficiency and luxury could blend into beauty with practicality.
Even the Model T over in a corner of the massive warehouse on Washington Avenue has a certain cachet. They are the collection of antique cars that Huntington businessman Jimmy Taylor has collected over the past 50 years and now shares with the world at his Antique Automobile Museum in the west end of Huntington.
Each has style and distinction, right down to the hood ornaments, like the flying goddess perched on top the 1932 Cadillac or the silver greyhound on the 1936 Ford.
The car that started the collection and the one Taylor concedes is a special favorite is the 1914 Model T that he first tried his hand out in restoring. It’s also the oldest in the collection.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” he concedes. “I made a lot of mistakes.”
But he learned quickly that antique car restoration is an art that has its own timetable and won’t be rushed.
“It can take years sometimes,” Taylor said. “It is nothing you want to do quickly, if you do it right.”
Of the collection it is about half and half, give or take a couple that Taylor has restored himself, through the trial and error method whereby he taught himself the art of antique car restoration. The others he bought from collectors across the country and Canada who are just as passionate as he is about vintage cars.
There’s the 1932 Cadillac with its porcelain manifold.
“That’s the first good car I had,” he said. “They put in that extra touch. It has a good look to it.”
Then there’s the 1929 Packard with its original interior and exterior, plus an attached trunk that holds three suitcases. Or take the T-bird that revs up to go 150 miles an hour and has its entire frame molded from a single piece of steel.
“You look where we were and where are now,” Taylor said looking out at the warehouse he built especially for his cars. “It’s like history out there.”
Each car has a story and an insight in the technological progress the automotive industry has made through the 20th century.
Like the 1914 Model T whose lights are outfitted to run on an electric bulb, but if the battery goes, there’s always a reservoir of kerosene with an attached wick to ignite for illumination.
Or the 1914 Buick with a special interior feature that made entering and exiting the car a little bit easier.
“The steering wheel raises up so you can get in and out,” he said.
Another one of Taylor’s favorites is the 1930 Cadillac Imperial limousine, the exact make and model of one owned by famed Chicago Mafioso Al Capone.
Taylor got that one from a collector in Canada, across from Detroit. It has a 16-cyclinder engine under the hood and burl walnut interior surrounding plush seats and carpeting.
Or the 1932 Cadillac limousine that Taylor acquired eight years ago.
“I saw this car years ago before I bought it,” he said. “I saw it and thought, ‘I’d give anything to have a car like that.’ ”
And there’s the 1940 Packard once owned by the J.P. Morgan Jr., son of the famed financier. This was one of the last cars the younger Morgan owned before his death in 1943. He took over the House of Morgan at the death of his father and created the Pierpont Morgan Library as a memorial to him.
There were only five of these Packards, with its grey suede interior, foot rests, jump seats and burl walnut accents still in existence.
The museum, part of Huntington’s restored Central City historic district, attracts visitors from across the world. As Taylor goes through the guest book, he points out names from California, France, North Carolina, England and Germany.
“Some of these older people, these go back to their childhood. They get a kind of excitement from them,” Taylor said.
Taylor, who started Taylor Iron and Metal, a scrap metal recycling and auto parts business in the early 1950s, opened up the car museum five years ago.
“I thought maybe life has been good to me, I would share this,” he said. “It doesn’t cost anything to come to see these cars.”
The museum, located at 1404 Washington Ave., is open 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and by appointment.