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The ‘everyman’ car collector

Not everyone’s idea of a car collection is the same. Former late night talk show host Jay Leno seemingly wants one of everything. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld is said to have one of largest private Porsche collections in the world.

Then there’s Joseph Galvin, an avid Buffalo promoter and West Side real estate developer. A recent visit to his unassuming city garage (Seinfeld has a $1.4 million structure on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, while Leno keeps most of his in a series of old airplane hangars at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank) uncovered about a dozen old vehicles which, while maybe not as valuable monetarily, give up no ground to Leno’s or Seinfeld’s cars in the category of popularity or condition. When you see cars like Galvin’s at a cruise night, there’s always a crowd around them.

Why? Because most of them are vehicles that almost no one thought of saving back in the day. Mainly, there were just “family cars,” most of which, at the end of their useful lives, ended up in junkyards…while the more glamorous Bel Airs, Mustangs, and GTOs were lovingly saved.

Luckily, some mom-and-dad cars did survive.

Joseph Galvin car collection | Buffalo Magazine

Take, for instance, Galvin’s 1949 Chevrolet Deluxe 4-door sedan. Under the hood is a straight-six, which is connected to a “three-on-the-tree” transmission. If your father didn’t own one of these, odds are your uncle did, or at least one of the neighbors. Galvin’s cars are all registered and insured, and all take their turns out on the streets of Buffalo. This Chevy is built like a tank. Driving it?

“Every time I get in it, it smells like 1949,” said Galvin.

I had to ask — “Is that a good thing?”

“It’s a great thing,” came the reply. This one was bought about five years ago, found on Craigslist in Massachusetts.

Galvin finds many of his cars on Craigslist, most of them in the Northeast, and has them shipped here. “I always knew that some day I’d own old cars — and drive them,” he said. (The old “use it or lose it” adage also applies to old cars.)

Although he owns a few makes that are still in business, these days he’s leaning more towards the orphan brands (cars made by manufacturers that have gone out of business — think Studebaker, Hudson, American Motors). Some collectors stretch it to include nameplates that have disappeared (like Oldsmobile, Mercury and Plymouth) although the companies that marketed them (GM, Ford and Chrysler) are still building other brands.

Let’s not pick nits. It’s not likely that Plymouth, Oldsmobile or Mercury will make a comeback.

Ditto DeSoto. Galvin owns a beautiful 1950 DeSoto Custom Deluxe, a car he also found in Massachusetts, where it was bought while its previous owner was in high school. The DeSoto is equipped with Fluid Drive, a sort of semi-automatic transmission which only has to be manually shifted for a quick up-shift (to pass) or to go into reverse. Another car that’s still in great shape, “It still has the old plastic seat cover,” Galvin told me, “and when the car’s running, it sounds like a sewing machine.” Before you ask — yes, that’s a good thing. (This car is close to my heart, as my parents brought me home from Sister’s Hospital as a newborn in one of these — my first car ride!)

DeSoto steering wheel | Buffalo Magazine

There are two Chryslers in Galvin’s collection as of this writing (things have been known to change rapidly!): a 1950 Windsor Newport (Newport being Chrysler’s name at the time for a pillarless hardtop) in a gorgeous deep red with a black top; and a 1955 New Yorker Deluxe Newport in Rhapsody Blue. The ’50 was bought locally about three years ago, and has a straight-six and a column-mounted manual transmission. The ’55 was bought from the car’s first owner.

“He was a mechanic at Fort Drum,” said Galvin, “it was well-taken care of.” This one has Chrysler’s V-8 and an automatic transmission without a “park” feature — just reverse, neutral, drive and low. The shifter came straight out of the dash above the ashtray (remember those?).

One of Galvin’s newer acquisitions is a 1960 Edsel Ranger 4-door sedan. You’re forgiven if you didn’t know there was such a thing as a 1960 Edsel. Ford pulled the plug on the brand in November 1959, a mere three months into the 1960 model year after producing only 2,846 cars (of which 1,288 were 4-door sedans). The Edsel at this point wasn’t much more than a Ford with a strange-looking grille and an even stranger-looking set of taillights. “I found this car in Connecticut on Craigslist,” said Galvin, “It was part of an estate.”

DeSoto dashboard | Buffalo Magazine

A lot of these old family cars are sold after a death. Many were stored for years in barns or garages, not so much being collected; rather, their previous owners and their families just couldn’t let go of them.

They wait for guys like Joseph Galvin to come along, who told me, “There’s no rhyme or reason here — if I see it and I like it, I buy it.” And with a garage that holds only so many cars, it can lead to a lively turnover of inventory.

“I still have the first old vehicle I bought,” he said, “a 1962 Chevy pickup. My dream car right now is a 1959 Chevy El Camino.”

Stay tuned!

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