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Stars and Their Cars: Antique Car Collectors - Ladue News: Import

Stars and Their Cars: Antique Car Collectors

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Posted: Thursday, October 29, 2009 12:00 am

To collectors of vintage automobiles, a classic car is more than just a convenient means of getting from one point to another. It can be a work of art, an awesome feat of engineering, a link to the past—and a way to make people smile.

Jay Kweskin

Chick Kweskin made sure his teenage sons never went over the speed limit: When the boys turned 16, he gave each of them one of his prized vintage cars. “He gave my brother, Dan, a 1931 Model A Ford sedan,” recalls Jay Kweskin. “When it was my turn, he gave me a 1930 Model A Ford coupe. We drove them to school every day. They didn’t go fast, but we sure had fun.”

Fun was important to Chick, owner of Southern Metal Processing on South Broadway. “Those cars weren’t investments to him, or objects to show off,” Kweskin says. “Dad was outgoing and sociable, so the cars were another way of communicating for him. He knew they made people smile. He’d honk the horn and get a big kick out of making even a complete sourpuss grin.”

Chick was well known around town, both as a businessman and for his cars. “He drove them in every civic and Cardinals parade,” Kweskin says. “He was a huge baseball fan—we still talk about the 1972 Old Timers Day at Busch Stadium, when he drove New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel around the field.”

Chick passed away in 1990. “He had both cars almost completely restored for us during his final years,” Kweskin says. “My brother and I are trying to carry on the tradition, but we’re not as patient as Dad was. The cars take a lot of work and upkeep. We have a cousin in the Model A Club who helps us out.”

Kweskin’s son is now 16. “Naturally, I’m teaching him how to drive the coupe—my 14-year-old daughter is interested, too,” he says. “Whenever we go out in that car together, it’s like we’re driving with Chick.”

Ted Fivian and Steve Unland

Vintage cars are not for the shy. When Ted Fivian and Steve Unland take their 1954 Aztec Red Cadillac Eldorado convertible out for a spin, “let me put it to you this way, we don’t go unnoticed!” says Fivian.

The car was in good shape when they bought it a couple of years ago. “We wanted to take it up a couple of notches, so we had the original red-and-white leather interior and padded dashboard restored, as well as some special trim on the door panels,” Fivian explains. “Precision Restoration did an amazing job.”

Fivian and Unland, who live in a house full of antiques, view the Caddie as an extension of their appreciation for beautifully made objects. “It’s a genuine car made with very little plastic, unlike most of what you see on the road today,” Fivian says. “The ’54 Eldorado was definitely ahead of its time, with standard features like power seats, steering and windows.”

The car runs like a dream and gets about 15 to 18 miles a gallon. “Those old Caddies like to be driven, so we take it out as often as possible,” Fivian says. “It’s a great feeling to be behind the wheel, evocative of a glamorous, elegant time when women were ladies and men were gentlemen.”

Rodger Van Ness

When Rodger Van Ness was a kid, his dad took him to the Chicago Auto Show. “On the stand was a 1953 Corvette, one of the first ever made,” he recalls. “I made up my mind then and there that I’d own one some day.” He bought a ’53 ‘Vette as soon as he got out of college.

That was the beginning of Van Ness’s lifelong love for, as he puts it, “anything with wheels.” For many years, he was COO of Union Pacific Motor Freight. Today, he’s executive director of Kemp Auto Museum in Chesterfield, home to an award-winning private collection of rare and vintage cars, predominately Mercedes Benz. Van Ness also has his own collection of six vintage Mercedes Benz, including a rare 1962 300d Adenauer. “It still has its original spare tire,” he says.

Asked to explain the lure of cars, Van Ness doesn’t hesitate. “It’s the speed, the design, the engineering—it’s all of the above!” Over the years, he has owned more than 40 vintage autos. “I got to know the late Fred Kemp Sr. when I was president of the local Mercedes Club, so representing Kemp Auto Museum is a dream job for me,” he says. “Fred collected with the goal of sharing his treasures with the public. He passed away before the museum opened four years ago, but Fred Kemp III has taken the wheel as steward of this great resource.” Recently, a 1939 540k Mercedes from the Kemp collection won the Mercedes Benz Star of Excellence Award at the Concours d’ Elegance, a series of prestigious car shows, Van Ness notes.

As a national officer in the Mercedes Benz Club of America, Van Ness travels all around the country to car shows. “My wife and I have built lifelong friendships with other collectors,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s not about the car; it’s about the people you meet.”

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