‘But that’s another story...’







In the interest of brevity, during various conversations, and in some of my columns, I have made brief referrals to incidents of autos in my past and made the statement “That’s another story for another time.”


            After several requests, it’s time to tell the story of our armored limo.


            In 1953, Phyllis and I had nearly finished our Army tour in Yokohama, Japan. We had decided to sell our 1940 LaSalle for a big profit and buy another car when we returned to the USA. There was a company in San Francisco called Auto Procurement Services, catering to military officers and first three graders returning from overseas. They would find the car you wanted and have it waiting for you when you arrived.


            We had written and told them we would like to find an older LaSalle or Cadillac with low mileage and in good shape. To our surprise, I got a long distance call at work one day from Auto Procurement Services, telling me they had found a car that sounded ideal for us.


            It was described as a 1937 Cadillac V-12 limousine with only 17,000 miles on it. It was armor-plated and in excellent shape. We were told that it had been confiscated by law enforcement officials and in covered storage since 1938 after being used in an attempt to free a gangster being transferred to Alcatraz from another prison. The car intrigued me very much, and after a couple more phone calls and letters, we agreed to buy it and sent the money—$1,500.


            We had a 2-year-old son and Phyllis was nearly seven months pregnant with our second son when we left Japan by military air transport service.


            By the time we arrived at the air base about 50 miles out of San Francisco, we were so anxious to get our “new car,” we took a cab to downtown San Francisco. We went to the main office where all the paperwork was completed. He gave us all the documentation on the car, complete with license and receipts; then called to have the car delivered to us. We stood on the curb with our tired 2-year-old son and baggage, anxiously awaiting the car.


            It finally pulled up. I don’t know for sure what Phyllis expected, or if she was just spoiled from our beautiful 1940 LaSalle we were used to, but when this huge “gunboat” pulled up, she started crying.


            She thought it was ugly, and I thought it was…well—not ugly. At any rate, after consoling her, we loaded our baggage into the huge trunk and our son into the huge playroom called the back seat. We then headed for Camp Stoneman, 38 miles northeast, for processing to go on leave and drive home to Colorado.


            This is where the fun began. After nearly two years of driving on the “wrong” side of the road in Japan, my first driving was from hilly downtown San Francisco to Camp Stoneman. My gosh, that car was big!


            We had spent weeks before leaving Japan making up our itinerary and routing so we knew exactly what we were going to do. We figured a few hours at the base to process leave papers and we would be on our way. The Army didn’t see it that way.


            Unfortunately, it was going into a long weekend for the Fourth of July. We ended up too late to complete processing before everything closed for the long weekend. This gave us four days in the U.S., but unable to head home to Colorado.


            I should have gotten my first clue when it took 18 gallons of gas to go the 38 miles, but I figured we didn’t get the full tank on delivery. The original invoice showed the car to have a 36-gallon gas tank. We decided to visit Phyllis’ uncle about 30 miles away.


            Well—the insulation in the firewall caught fire. We stopped at a firehouse, which happened to be closed, so we put out the fire with a bottle of pop. We fixed that problem before finally heading for Montrose, Colo. The car had the power to climb a wall and speed enough to pass anything but a gas station. The 36-gallon gas tank was only good for about 75 miles, but about every 10 to 15 miles we would have to stop and add four to five quarts of oil to stop the engine from rattling.


            We quit buying oil by the quart and got bulk oil in five-gallon cans. We continued on our way with the only thing keeping us going was the fact we were on our way home. We began to worry about the area between Wendover, Utah, and Salt Lake City, that had a stretch of 85 miles between gas stations. Our trip was spent mostly in one-way conversations where Phyllis expressed her ideas about buying a car sight unseen and no test drive.


            Our son was happy, though…he had a nice playroom in the back seat. It had somewhat diminished, however, by two five-gallon cans of gas and a five-gallon can of oil.


            I had to drive all the way because Phyllis, as good a driver as she is, refused to drive that big boat. We finally arrived in Montrose in the middle of the night. With gas between 20–25 cents a gallon and oil at 15 cents a quart, it cost nearly $400 for the trip.


            We left the car in her parents’ yard and bought a 1950 Buick to continue on to Denver. That car wore out a set of tires between Montrose and Denver due to a bent frame. I finally got smart and traded for a 1947 Cadillac that we kept for quite awhile. The V-12 limo stayed parked in Montrose for a year.


            After discharge from the Army, we finally got it to Denver after some repairs. Apparently, after being stored for so many years, they had put a new battery in the car, poured gas in the carburetor and started it. Several rings were broken and bearings were bad.


            The car sat idle at our home in Denver for quite awhile and was finally traded in—with our ’47 Cad on another car. It left behind a tow truck. The new owner was a car dealer that was going to restore it for its historical value with all the documented history we provided.


            I forgot about the car for several years. Even Phyllis forgot about it because I soon learned never to talk about it. One day, quite by accident, while visiting my sister in Lakewood, I saw the car in her neighbor’s back yard. When talking to him, I found he had purchased it from the dealer I had sold it to and the dealer had been jailed for car theft. I was into restoring LaSalles by this time and even thought about buying it back. He wanted $3,500 and I laughed at him. Again, that car was only a memory.


            A few years later, a local collector, Arthur Rippey, sponsored and hosted an auction at his shop in south Denver. The auction was well-advertised and he had five 1940 LaSalles to be auctioned, so I had to attend.


            To my surprise, there was the armor-plated limo in nearly identical condition to when I was given $500 in trade for it years earlier. It still had the burned area from our fire in California. They had cataloged all of the history of the car and even obtained additional documentation from Cadillac and authorities in California.


            I was shocked when the car sold at auction for nearly $45,000. I never knew who bought it and have never seen or heard about it since. Phyllis is happier that way.


            I often wish we had never sold our beautiful original LaSalle in Japan and brought it back with us. We lost all the big profit from selling it (and more). Did I ever tell you about our first beautiful 1940 LaSalle? I would tell you all about it, but, that’s another story for another time.


            See ya next month.


— Walt