July 28, 2012

El Dorado man honors friend’s car-loving wish

Jim Warren and Carrol McHenry became buddies through their love of automobiles, meeting as members of the Bluestem Vintage & Classic Auto Club.

Jim Warren and Carrol McHenry became buddies through their love of automobiles, meeting as members of the Bluestem Vintage & Classic Auto Club.

Warren was more than 20 years older than McHenry.

"I would pick him up and take him to club meetings. We would go out for coffee in the mornings. He showed his car right beside my pickup," McHenry recalled.

One day, Warren called and asked McHenry to take him to the courthouse so he could take care of some legal business.

"In the elevator going up, he told me, `I’m going to put on the title of my car that it is transferable to you on my death,’ " McHenry said. "He told me, `I want somebody to keep showing it at car shows in my honor when I’m gone.’ "

It was an awesome responsibility to take on, considering the car in question was a beautiful, low-mileage 1923 Dodge Brothers business coupe in running, driving condition. McHenry checked with Warren’s family to make sure the arrangement was all right with them, then agreed to deal.

"I never in my wildest dreams ever thought he would leave me a car," McHenry said. About a year and a half later, he spent his last day with his friend in the hospital. Jim Warren died in October 2010 at the age of 92.

"I was with him when he passed away. He was kind of like a dad to me,” McHenry said. “I led the funeral procession with that 1923 Dodge right behind the hearse.”

He has done little with the car since then except to keep his promise, performing routine maintenance and taking it to car shows and parades, just as Jim Warren wished.

"He had bought the car from an insurance agent in Wichita. He was the fourth owner. He and his son-in-law rebuilt the engine in it. I really don’t know what kind of shape the car was in when he got it," McHenry said.

The Dodge sold new for $980, he said, and came equipped with a 212 cubic-inch flathead 4-cylinder engine that cranked out 24 horsepower.

"It had no brakes on the front and band-style drum brakes on the back," he said.

When people see the 12-volt battery housed under the driver’s floorboard, they assume the car has been converted to modern electrical components. But McHenry said Dodge used a 12-volt positive system way back then. The car employs a combination starter/generator driven by a chain at the front of the engine.

That chain also powers a horizontal shaft that drives the water pump and distributor on the other side of the engine. A vacuum tank serves in place of a fuel pump, drawing gasoline to the updraft carburetor from the fuel tank tucked between the rear fenders. A small floating indicator shows how much oil is in the engine.

"Dodge was way ahead of the times back then," McHenry notes.

The engine is mated to a 3-speed manual transmission, which is shifted by means of a reverse-pattern gear lever inside the car. That provides extra knee room, with high gear being up and away from the heavy black leather bench seat.

A rolling horizontal speedometer is mounted in the middle of the well-appointed dashboard, with the odometer indicating 52,468 miles, which McHenry believes is the actual mileage on the car. He thinks the paint on the sleek body and fenders may be original, too.

The windshield is shaded by an adjustable external visor and the two-piece glass panels can be opened up to allow a breeze to flow through the interior. The Dodge coupe is a three-window design, with no rear side windows, which tends to cut down on visibility to the sides, McHenry said.

Among his favorite features of the car is its thick 4-spoke wooden steering wheel, which now matches the tall 32-by-4-inch wooden-spoke road wheels at all four corners. McHenry said he thinks the car’s wheels originally were painted black, but Warren spent countless hours removing the paint to reveal the beautiful wooden spokes beneath.

McHenry uses his 1951 Chevy half-ton pickup to haul the old Dodge to its appointed rounds. He replaced the original inline 6-cylinder engine with a modern Buick 3.1 liter V-6 engine mated to a Turbo 350 automatic transmission and a modern differential. The truck has also been treated to a bright metallic blue paint job, fresh wooden floored cargo bed, chrome wheels, radial tires, bright chrome trim and a suede/vinyl interior.

The pickup does OK hauling the Dodge to shows within about a 75-mile radius of El Dorado, but on longer road trips, McHenry tows it with a modern heavy-duty pickup. He figures if he can only take one vehicle to a show, the one everyone wants to see is his friend’s beautiful old Dodge.

"Going to car shows is fun," McHenry said. "We had a ton of fun with this car. I’m tickled to death to have this now."

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