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The History that almost died

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As children, experiencing so many things in the world for the first time, we never really know who or what is going to stay with us and drive us for the rest of our lives. For a very young Terry Cox, life in the epicenter of the Northern California hot rodding community was all he knew. Going to Tognetti’s to eat lunch on Saturday with racers and builders like Baggy, Rex Hutchison, Dick Bertolucci, and other local legends was nothing out of the ordinary. “I’m part of the lucky-sperm club, I suppose – I was pretty much born into it,” Terry says, looking back at some of the local legends he grew up around. So – with hot-rods and hormones pumping through his veins – Terry was primed to fall in love. And, at the ripe age of ten, he did just that.

 

Darryl Wagner was another local hot-rodder with a pearl white 1932 Ford coupe and a litter of young daughters around Terry’s age. He could often be found taking them out for Sunday rides to Partytime Doughnuts, and Terry quickly decided to fill the role of the son he never had. Terry found himself spending more and more time at the Wagner’s house playing with Darryl’s old Erector Sets, sitting in the coupe making engine noises, and even dating one of Darryl’s daughters throughout high-school.

As time went on, however, they grew apart. Terry took over his family’s business, the daughters moved away, and the car went up on jack stands and eventually became a piece of Sacramento hot rodding lore. But as Terry grew and learned more about the people involved in the car, he started to gain an even greater appreciation for the role it played with local history.

In 1952 a young Marshall Crowes was driving his Model A to and from high-school and started seeing the coupe sitting in a driveway on Gunn Road regularly. “I saw it often enough that it started driving me crazy,” he laughs. Six weeks later Marshall had scraped together $200 and the car was his.

Within no time at all the coupe started coming apart and the panels started to get beaten. Harry Westergard was still working at a local Ford Dealership doing repair work and moonlighting in a barn near by doing custom body work. Since he wouldn’t charge dealership prices, he was the obvious choice to repair and lead the bobbed fenders and install custom tail lights in the rear aprons. Harry even built a 3-piece steel hood for the car with it’s signature Triumph latches. Like many cars of the time, it was in a constant state of repair for years – being taken down to bare metal for work and then primed again when funds ran low. It would be driven daily in the mean time and even raced at Kingdon Drag Strip on weekends. Soon enough Marshall started getting ready for the chop by cutting up and gluing black and white photos of the car before it was taken to Norman Marcott’s barn for a haircut.

With the top chopped and filled the car didn’t stay together long, as various pieces were sent out to Capital Plating for chrome and the Flathead V8 was decked out in every piece of polished aluminum Capital Speedshop had to offer. Dick Bertolucci sprayed the car from top to bottom in an off-white pearl and the coupe was accented with a bright red interior and Dean Jeffrey’s pinstriping. By 1956 the coupe was back on the road and Marshall started hitting the show circuit with his buddies in the Pandraggers CC. That year the car took first place in the Sacramento Autorama as well as in Santa Rosa and Chico. By about 1960 the flathead had grown tired and, as Marshall said, “…flatheads were no longer adequate for the day,” so it was replaced with a 283 ci crate engine from Capital Chevrolet.

Over the next decade, Marshall’s life expanded and the amount of time he could put into the car dwindled. The car ended up living in a rented storage unit until a rainstorm flooded the unit around 1970. The flood upset him so much that he finally decided it was time to let the car go down the road to his friend Bill Deezy.

Soon after the coupe changed hands, Darryl Wagner found out that the coupe he had grown so fond of over the years had not only gone up for sale, but that he had missed his chance to own it. So, Darryl did what any right-minded hot rodder would do in his position: he hounded the new owner for the next six years. Despite wheel changes and other small modifications Darryl had his sights set on that coupe and was unwilling to let it leave Sacramento. Finally, in 1976, Darryl traded Bill a 1957 Thunderbird and whatever cash he could gather for the car of his dreams.

Darryl owned the car for the next three decades and took the responsibility seriously. He shared his love for the car with his daughters, Nora, Lisa, and Hilary as well as with the young, aspiring hot rodder, Terry. Darryl eventually restored the car to its original glory and even showed the car at the Sacramento Autorama around 2000; the same show where it had reigned supreme nearly a half century earlier.

In 2012 Darryl passed away and the coupe was without a caretaker for the first time in fifty six years. Terry Cox, who was still in close contact with Darryl’s daughters, offered to help the family find new owners for Darryl’s collection of cars and parts. Terry, unable to purchase the car himself, then set out on the heart-wrenching mission of finding a new owner for the car he had always wanted. For two years he spoke to prospective owners – trying to find the perfect person that would care about the car as much as he would. With no serious buyers on the horizon the car was slated to go to Barrett Jackson when tragedy struck.

The coupe was being stored in a 104 year old downtown warehouse with the rest of the Cox family’s collection of hot rods when an electrical fire brought the building to the ground. Eighteen cars, numerous engines, and generations of family heirlooms were lost in the blaze. Through fate, fortuity, or just plain dumb-luck, however, the coupe had been parked under a skylight; when the firefighters dowsed the building with water from above, the car filled up with water instead of burning. The following day, from the ashes, the coupe was pulled out into the street. The paint was pealing, the interior was full of water, and the car looked and smelled like it had spent a week in a smoker.

In the aftermath of the fire the daughters decided to sell the car as it was rather than restoring it once again; there was really only one person that thought the car was just as beautiful as it was when he first saw it decades before. Finally, after years of waiting, Terry took ownership of a car that is a true survivor in every sense of the word.

 

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