"When I was running around Hutchinson, Kansas as a kid, it was first one kind of car after another," Doug Keener recalls of his growing-up days.
But there was one car that he keyed in on and never quite got over: a slick black '40 Ford convertible owned by Duane Beeby.
"It had a three-quarter race Harmon-Collins cam in it and he had the rotating assembly electronically balanced. It would wind out farther than anybody else," Keener recalled. Then one day he learned that Beeby wanted to sell the car.
"He wanted something other than a convertible, I guess," Keener said. He traded off a 1941 Mercury and got his mother to co-sign a $175 note and was soon behind the wheel of his dream car.
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"It was great, being out of school and not in the Army," said Keener, who got to enjoy about a year of fun with the car before his draft number came up. "It always started, always ran. It was the fastest car around for the first block, then they would come around me like a freight train," he chuckled.
But the engine blew up and after repairs, never had the same power after that. So when he was home on leave and someone offered him $500 for the car, he jumped at the offer.
"The check cleared and I have been sorry every day since," he said. But the 1940 Ford had set its hook deep in Doug Keener's character.
Over the years, he and his wife, Carolyn, have built a collection of not one, but six, beautifully restored and preserved 1940 Fords.
He looked and looked for his old convertible, but could never find it. "When people ask why I did this car this way, it is because of this car," Keener said, holding up a black-and-white photo of his old car.
His tribute black convertible with red leather interior is accurate right down to the twin carbs and finned Offenhauser aluminum heads atop the flathead V-8.
But Keener admits his favorite car is actually another '40 DeLuxe convertible, this one in a high-gloss gray. They have owned the car since 1971 and he calls it "Old Reliable." "We have driven it all over tarnation ... it has never let me down," he said. On a trip to Colorado with their sons in 1984, with Doug and Carolyn in the convertible and the boys following in their mother's modern Cadillac, the Caddy broke down. "We had to tow it in and the '40 was sitting there, idling away," he said.
Another standout in their collection is the 1940 Ford woodie station wagon, bought sight-unseen as a basket case from Allentown, Pa., in 1976. It would take 18 years before it would emerge, following a complete nuts-and-bolts restoration, including having some wood body pieces recreated by a furniture maker. Tom Richardson crafted the leather interior, while Gary Cushenberry handled the body work and Charles Carver sprayed the jet black paint.
The woodie features an 85 horsepower flathead V-8 with the rare commercial-style offset air cleaner. Like most of their '40s, it utilizes a Columbia overdrive unit.
There are two coupes in the Keeners' lineup: a Mandarin Maroon club coupe that is basically stock, and a black business coupe with fold-down jump seats in back. The black coupe is the only car with a modern engine, a 350 full-dress Chevy V-8. But it is bolted to the stock Ford 3-speed transmission and Columbia overdrive; it also offers air conditioned comfort for longer drives.
The "baby" of the collection is a brilliant Vermilion Red '40 Ford pickup that the Keeners purchased about a year ago. "It's really not a show car, just a nice old driver with a Columbia under it so I can putt around and not get run over," Keener said.
The only non-'40 Ford the couple own is a slick '51 Ford Victoria, the first 2-door hardtop offered by Ford. In two-tone green, it looks like it just rolled off the showroom floor. With its more modern suspension and radial wide whitewalls, it has become a contender for frequent highway cruising honors.
But the draw of the 1940 Ford remains strong with Doug Keener.
"The '40s have always been extremely popular. And over the years I have had a string of nice other cars. But the '40 has always been my favorite," he said.