The Edmond Sun

December 31, 2013

Automotive history an Oklahoma tradition

Special to The Sun

OKLA. CITY — Ann Sherman is a photographer and author based in Oklahoma City who has recently written a book entitled “Car Collections of  Oklahoma Timeless Automobiles and the Obsessed Oklahomans Who Collect Them.”

In that work she takes her readers on a pictorial journey through Oklahoma’s private collections of vintage automobiles that are a vivid reminder of a time when Detroit was the industrial capital of the world and its automobile assembly lines produced vehicles with now forgotten names like Dusenbergs, Pierce Arrows and Packards that had featured elongated hoods, elaborate designs, and running boards.

Sherman’s color photos also speak of a more recent era, a time before the personal computer, social media, the cell phone and the Arab oil embargo of 1973, in which American youth culture focused in large part on cars and the freedom that they provided.

There were songs that referenced Thunderbirds, Mustangs, and Sting Rays that were  played on radio stations that  appealed to   young people.  The factories in Detroit that produced those cars are now largely abandoned and are themselves the subject of pictorial books with titles such as “Detroit Disassembled” that document their decay.

The author also tells of the individual Oklahomans who have collected those vehicles.

 Not surprisingly, some of them are car dealers and they include Bob Howard of Edmond, Larry Knippelmier of Blanchard and Paul Wilmes of Altus, among others.

While most of the collections included in Sherman’s book are private, several of them are open to the public.

One of the more intriguing individuals that Sherman introduces us to is Daryl Starbird of Tulsa, who is the proprietor of the National Rod and Custom Car Hall of Fame Museum on Grand Lake northeast of Tulsa. Starbird has customized vehicles for several decades and some of his cars resemble the ones featured in futuristic movies. He has also built hot rods that are shown with human skeletons leaning on them.  

The Museum of Special Automobiles, located in Shawnee, is owned by Clifton Hill. While most of the vehicles photographed by Sherman for her book have been restored to their original condition, Hill’s museum includes cars that show the ravages of time.

Oklahoma City collector Mel Cooper, who has acquired many classic vehicles that are in need of restoration, plans to open a museum when he has  restored them to their original condition. Every year in March a swap meet for classic car collectors takes place in Chickasha in March at the Grady County Fairgrounds. We are told that vendors who specialize in the production of parts and equipment for such cars also attend.

Only vehicles that were manufactured before 1945 are featured at that event. There is a chapter that includes photos taken at gatherings of clubs with names that include “Corvettes of Enid Club” and the “Horseless Carriage Club.” Most of the attendees appear to be middle-aged or older.

Sherman has a section on the classic cars that were acquired by the late Don Kizziar of Altus, who passed away several years ago, but does not indicate whether or not his family will keep his collection together.

Since we don’t know what will become of many of the collections when their owners are no longer with us, we should be grateful to Sherman for memorializing a part of contemporary Oklahoma life and culture.

William F. O’Brien is an Oklahoma City attorney.