Call It Classic
By Leigh MacMillen Hayes
I’ve been in love with cars since I was five years old and my father had a 1934 Packard with a rumble seat,” says Al Robblee of Fryeburg, a retired machinist. As a teenager in the ‘60s, Robblee wanted a cool car to get the girls and acquired a first-generation Ford Mustang. He laughs when he says, “Turned out I had better luck with cars than girls.”
For a couple of years, he drove the ’65 Mustang, but eventually had to park the car because it needed too much work. Though he’s restored and sold other vehicles, he never had time for this particular one until about eight years ago. Finally, Robblee stripped it down to its bare body, shedding years of rust.
The TV show “Overhaulin’” inspired him, though he says, “They do it in one week,” referring to restoring a car. “Of course, they have fifty people and an unlimited budget.” Once he started the job, he pushed himself to get it done and finished in six weeks.
Robblee has also spent time recently working on a 1940 Ford pickup truck, but this is a custom-built job. Starting with an old frame, he searched antique junkyards and the internet. “I had enough parts for a truck and a half,” he says. “The hardest part was the fenders. I had ten different fenders. None were any good. I had to cut pieces and weld them together to create four good fenders. It was a lot of work.” The irony—he recently met a person who was selling four fenders for less than what he spent.
Recreating the pickup meant he had to learn to operate a sewing machine to upholster the seats. That, in itself, presented plenty of challenges, including discovering that when you stitch pleated material to flat material, the pleats grow. “The pleated material was sticking out six inches and I had to start over, trim it and make it fit,” he says. To make it look professional, he added red welting.
Robblee made his own stencils and used an airbrush to paint the Lady Luck pin-up girl on the spare tire cover. “The truck is all custom built the way I wanted it,” he comments. “The Mustang is the way Ford wanted it.” Camaros have always been a passion for Dale McDaniel, an auto mechanic and muscle car enthusiast of Bridgton. “They have style and class,” he says. “They feel good when you are driving in one compared to cars today that have no personality. You can look at a ’57 Chevy and know it’s a ’57 Chevy. I can’t tell what today’s cars are half the time.”
It took McDaniel two years to work on the Camaro. And last fall he took it apart for a complete engine update so it won’t see the road this summer. That’s OK, because he has two other cars he likes to drive—a ’66 Chevrolet Chevelle and an ’86 Buick Grand National, a car that used to give high-end sports cars a run for their money.
Designed like the automobiles of yesteryear are vintage boats with their throaty, hidden engines and brightly varnished wood. Paul Follansbee of Fryeburg restores antique boats professionally and says, “It’s a great thrill to ride in one. The sound of the engine with its low tone, it’s a unique experience.” To completely restore, it takes him at least a year—disassembling, reproducing parts and putting it back together one section at a time. While some people like to customize a boat, he prefers to bring his back to what they were originally. He owns a couple that need restoration, including a twenty-foot launch hull built about 1890, a 1947 23-foot Chris-Craft Express Cruiser and a 17-foot 1963 Cruisers Inc. outboard runabout that you may see at the boat show this year. And if that isn’t enough, in addition to all of the work he does on other people’s boats, Paul has started to build an early 1930s Ventnor, sixteen-foot 135 class racing hydroplane from a copied set of original plans.
These timeless beauties bring a bygone era alive. A woman who owns a 25-foot Chris-Craft runabout that her grandparents had purchased in 1938, takes great pride in this original classic with Philippine mahogany and a triple cockpit. Though it was on Highland Lake in Bridgton for years, the attractive boat is now used on Brandy Pond and Long Lake. “Having the boat on Brandy Pond has been a different experience,” she says. “There are people there who haven’t seen it so they’re always taking photos.” She adds that it’s fun to take out and the family enjoys using it to water ski and tube behind.
The passion for antique cars and vintage boats, whether in original form, restored or custom built, harks back to a time when manufactured products were pieces of functional sculpture created with unequaled craftsmanship that we don’t necessarily see today. There is, however, that unlimited budget that Robblee mentions. He hasn’t kept track of the amount he’s put into his cars. “It’s best not to know,” he says. McDaniel cautions, “If you are worried about money, don’t get started on one. It can be quite expensive to do, especially if you can’t do it yourself and have to hire someone.” But, he notes that if you enjoy working with your hands, it’s a great hobby. As for boats, Follansbee says that many people restore them because they’ve been in the family for generations. Some do it as an investment. Both cars and boats are often worth much more once restored.
In the lakes region, we have the opportunity to view these beauties frequently as they pass us on the road or in the water. The Maine Obsolete Auto League (MOAL) Pleasant Mountain Chapter hosts weekly cruise nights at the Beef & Ski in Bridgton from May through September. They also participate in local parades and head off on mystery cruises occasionally. Robblee, the club president, says that on August 10th, they’ll host the first annual Automobile Yard Sale at the Fryeburg Fair Grounds, where every car in the show will be for sale. Money raised supports scholarships to high school students pursuing an automotive career, and fuel assistance for area towns.
Likewise, the Mountainview Woodies Classic Boat Club of Maine, a chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society, will host its 21st Annual Boat and Car Show on August 2nd at the Naples Causeway. Beginning the Thursday before, you may catch a glimpse of these beauties as they cruise up to Harrison for lunch or travel to Point Sebago to provide rides for the children at Camp Sunshine. They also sponsor a fall foliage tour on Long Lake.
Stylish yet functional. Sexy and glamorous. Glints of chrome. Shiny varnished mahogany. Classic automobiles and vintage wooden boats. As alluring today as they were in their heyday.