The year was 1976, the Bicentennial Year. The State of Illinois had 10-year-old Kelley Jordan of Normal redesign the license plates, the Cubs finished 26 games out of first place, and “Play that Funky Music, White Boy” garnered the number five spot on the top singles list. Oh, and I almost forgot, Time Magazine and the New York Times were warning us that mankind, and specifically the USA, was bringing on the Next Ice Age, by spewing smoke into the air, reflecting sunlight back into space. It seemed reasonable at the time.
Back in those times, CCE was going strong. One of our big events was running the “World of Wheels” Custom Car Show at McCormick Place in Chicago. We had taken over the show from the Chi-Town Shifters after sub-contracting for them for several years (indeed, that is how I got my start with CCE, I joined to work the show back in ’71).
The World of Wheels was a national franchise that put on car shows across the country, and it was quite a big deal. Feature cars were hauled across the country and had incredible displays, Hollywood celebrities were hired to talk to fans and sign autographs. It was common to have up to 400 autos in large venues like McCormick Place. Some years we had the upper level, other years we had the lower level (this was before the expansions that made McCormick Place the monster it is today).
We had parts and specialty equipment vendors, paint shops, food courts, and rock and roll bands, many of whom were quite good! Car clubs competed for display awards, and the whole thing was as festive as could be. A fan of custom paint jobs would be overwhelmed—it was a great time!
This particular year, the promoter, a man named Bob Larivee, had rented McCormick Place for the weekend following Thanksgiving Day, as he was able to get a special deal with an extra day, almost for free. Many of us didn’t care to be away from our families, but, as they say, “The Show Must Go On!” I had met Mr. Larivee a couple of times, but he did not come across to me as particularly friendly, so I was quite content to let our event chairmen, Don Fletchic, Steve Epstein, and Harry Jensen deal with him, and I consciously stayed away, and busied myself with other show-related activities.
Also, this year, one of the featured cars was “The Beatle’s Rolls-Royce”—actually a ’56 Bentley that once belonged to John Lennon. The promoter had gotten permission to actually have this car driven around town in order to promote the show by having a local radio station offer winning callers a ride to and from the show in John Lennon’s car! This was accomplished early in the run of the show, but subsequent events (as I shall describe) abruptly ended this particular promotion.
John Lennon’s “Rolls-Royce” had seen better days. It still had the psychedelic paint job—a huge red metallic sunburst on the hood (sorry! that is, the “bonnet” to you English types out there) stripes and paisleys (what the heck is a “paisley”, anyway?) surrounding the rest of the body.
The interior had black leather seats—well, at least the front seats were—the rear seats were a ghastly pink leather—all were well-worn and cracked. The wood burl trim and dashboard were not in too bad of shape, but the buttons and knobs on the dashboard were rather mysterious, as most of them had no labels to indicate function. A small spring was threaded through the hole in the shaft of a control that lacked a knob- function also unknown. To top it all off, the car was (naturally) right hand drive.
As was typical of English cars of that era, most of the electrical components were manufactured by Lucas Industries (otherwise known as “the Prince of Darkness”) a fact I had noticed, but paid little attention at the time. The engine electrical system proudly displayed its “Delco-Remy” origins, so I figured the thing would actually run.
In an attempt, no doubt, to balance the structure of this rather hefty auto, the designers had chosen to put the battery in the trunk, with some VERY long cables to the starter in the engine compartment. Of course the climate in Great Britain is somewhat more “clement” than what we in Chicago deal with, so it might have been a logical choice when it was built, and this car was unlikely to be exported.
It was not until the end of the show that any of this became relevant to me. The show was a smashing success, the awards and trophies had been handed out in record time (a major bone of contention amongst show participants in previous years) and move out was running smoothly. I heard through the grapevine that an issue had come up regarding the Bentley.
More to come next month…
As we left off last month, I had related how CCE used to run the World of Wheels Custom Car and Hot Rod Show in McCormick Place, Chicago. In 1976, one of the “feature cars” was the Beatle’s Rolls-Royce—actually a 1956 Bentley (pretty much the same, except it did not have the fancy grille!)—as Larry Claypool was fond of saying, It was the “Biscayne of Rolls-Royces”. It was supposed to be used as a limo ride to the show for some lucky listeners to a Chicago radio station promotion, but the car had some problems (as will soon become apparent), and the limo project was abandoned.
At the end of the show, I heard that another problem had surfaced regarding the Rolls—er, Bentley. We now continue our story…
A truck was supposed to come and pick up the car to haul it to the next car show in the series, and the producer had just been informed that the truck in question had broken down in Pennsylvania. Leaving aside the question of how long it would take to get to Chicago from the Keystone State (the people responsible for the truck had at least that much notice, after all) there would be no one to take the car, and the next show was ready to move into McCormick Place that night. Options were limited.
At this point, I decided to be the hero (as you might surmise, this rarely turns out well). I asked Larry Claypool if he might be able to store the vehicle at his shop in (then) rural Frankfort—he had no objection, provided that it remain outside. The promoter didn’t care, as long as it left the exhibition hall right away. I arranged for another friend, Dave Balas, to take my car from the parking lot in McCormick Place to Larry’s and leave it there, so I could get home once I delivered the Bentley.
By this time, club member Tom Hanley had heard about the troubles—he was familiar with the car, and tracked me down to give me some valuable information. Apparently he was involved with the abortive attempt to bring contest winners to the show—the promoter had ended up hiring a limo to do so, as the Bentley had become, ahem, problematic.
Tom told me that the vehicle’s heater was non-functioning—as it was a particularly cold weekend in Chicago, with temps dropping into the ‘teens after dark, this explained why the “Ride to the Show” promotion had been canceled. Of course, the defroster wasn’t going to work either.
Tom continued with the briefing: you could turn on the parking lights any time (and they came on with the headlights), but in order to turn them off, you needed to have the key in the ignition. Perhaps some sort of safety regulation across the pond?
Tom assured me that I would have no trouble keeping the right-hand drive car in the lane—he said that is one’s natural inclination to center the middle of the vehicle in middle of the lane—he turned out to be quite right. Tom continued with my briefing:
Don’t shut the car off if you can avoid it—with the battery in the trunk, it likely will require a jump start.
The turn signals are not on the steering column—the control was the spring wound into the hole of the shaft with the missing knob.
The gas gauge (an electrical component, of course) was not working. No idea how much gas is in the tank.
If I had any trouble, I was to call the show office. In 1976, cell phones were merely a fevered dream in some engineer’s mind.
As I had no idea how well the Bentley would actually run, I realized that it would be an excellent idea to have a chase car accompany me to Larry’s. I canvassed the guys I knew that lived south, and Rick Crawley agreed to drive “chase”. I told Rick of my plan to find a gas station ASAP to put in $5 worth (Five bucks went a little further in those days!) so we could be assured of making it the 40 miles or so to Larry’s.
The time was nigh to remove the
Bentley from its warm environs—I ventured out into the cold (about
In Parts One and Two, I told the story about CCE running the World Of Wheels Custom Car and Hot Rod Show at McCormick Place, how one of the feature cars was a 1956 Bentley that had been owned by John Lennon, that the car had numerous problems, and the truck that was supposed to transport it to its next destination broke down in Pennsylvania.
I volunteered to drive the car to Larry Claypool’s ‘Vair Shop in Frankfort, IL, where it would wait to be retrieved in a few days. Not knowing how much gas was in the tank, I decided to make a gas stop as soon as I could find a station—in downtown Chicago, at 1 AM on a Monday morning, with temperatures down to 10° F—in a car with no heat. The story continues…
I drove into the center of town (specifically onto Congress Parkway) with Rick (and a buddy of his, Rob Nelson, age 15) following in his Corvair convertible. Naturally, the car grew extremely cold inside (there appeared to be some sort of major air leak that blew outside air onto the driver’s hands) and the windows proceeded to frost up. I had no scraper (or gloves!) so I tried to keep the windshield clear with my fingernails.
I came to what appeared, through my frosty view, a double intersection, and I stopped to allow a car go past before I turned left into an Amoco gas station. I pulled up to the pump, got out and prepared to add my $5 worth, when I heard Rick’s soft central Indiana drawl behind me:
“Uh, Kirk? Could you tell this police officer that you were driving my car?”
At this point, several questions fought for priority in my mind;
“Who am I supposed to say is driving the Bentley?”
“Why do you need me to say I’m driving your car?”
“Didn’t the policeman probably see you exit your car?”
And the top question was, “WHAT POLICE OFFICER?”
Sure enough, Rick had followed me into the gas station, a couple of Chicago cops saw both of us run through a red light (remember, I thought I was in the middle of a double intersection!) and pulled in behind Rick’s car.
I quickly asked Rick what the problem was—he responded, “I had my license suspended.”
Oh, God! The second police officer strode up to me and asked if I knew I had run a red light.
“No, officer, isn’t this a double intersection?”
“No, it’s not, and you ran a red light.” He looked at the psychedelic Bentley and asked just what the hell was going on.
I tried to explain that this car was featured in the World of Wheels Show and about the rescue operation that was underway, but he didn’t seem too interested. He wrote me out a ticket.
His partner walked up while this was going on, and informed me that Rick was going to the station at 11th and State to post bail, and had been ordered to park his car on the side street. Rick’s buddy Rob was now my passenger, and I could get Rick at the station after he was done. The officers left while I was paying for the gas—I did not see which way they went.
As I pulled out of the station, I merely assumed that State Street (That Great Street!) was still to the west, so I pulled out and went left.
What I did not know (I was not very familiar with downtown Chicago, as I was a suburban kid) was that I was already one block WEST of State Street.
Soon I was lost in an industrial park, and street signs were few and unhelpful. The interior of the car grew colder, and trying to see through the thickening ice on the windshield grew more difficult. At one point, I am sure that I ended up on a dead-end one-way street! I only escaped by driving back out the wrong way, but at least there were no cops to ticket me again!
Next Month—Rick Riles the Cops...
In Parts One through Three, I told the story about the time when CCE ran the World of Wheels car Show at McCormick Place. A featured car at this show (in 1976) was a 1956 Bentley (advertised by the promoter as a Rolls-Royce) with a number of problems—not least of which was that fact that the truck that was supposed to pick up said vehicle broke down in Pennsylvania- and a new show was ready to move into McCormick Place within the hour—the car HAD TO GO!
I volunteered to transport the Bentley to Larry Claypool’s ‘Vair Shop in Frankfort, IL, where it would sit until it was retrieved—no doubt in just a few days. Unfortunately, my attempt to purchase some gasoline—oops, I meant petrol—engendered getting a ticket for my troubles, discovering that the guy I had driving chase, Rick Crawley, had a suspended license. I compounded this comedy of errors by getting lost on the way to the Police Headquarters to get Rick out of jail…
After about an hour of this nonsense, I managed to find my way to Police Headquarters at 11th and State. I walked in, and saw Rick sitting on the bench—the only other occupant of the room was a surly, grizzled desk sergeant who merely scowled as I approached Rick.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Well, I called the show office to get some bail money, which this fine officer said was $50, but when they got here with the money, the officer changed his mind and wanted $100!”
The desk sergeant growled at me, “There was a change in the law about people driving on suspended licenses, and they raised bail—I was wrong about the $50.”
To Rick: “So the guys are coming back with more money?”
I sat down on the bench to await the guys from the show, so I could get Rick home. Rick began a monologue about how unfair it was, how the cops were enjoying themselves making trouble for him, etc. I gradually sidled away from Rick on the bench, hoping that the clearly irritated sergeant would not decide to view me as an enemy.
After about ten minutes of this, our rescuers, Ed Wargo and Tom Hanley strode into the station.
“Boy! Are we glad to see you!”
“Why, what do you mean?”
Ed related the story—when Rick called the show office from the police station, Bob Larivee (the promoter) answered the phone. Rick asked for Harry Jensen (our CCE event co-chairman) who was then in the office, going over the gate and other minutiae.
Rick proceeded to tell Harry that the Bentley needed to be bailed out—reasoning, probably correctly, that if he told the truth he would get a pretty cold shoulder.
When they (Ed and Tom) arrived with the $50, and were informed that another $50 was required, they noticed that I was not present.
“Rick, what is this money for?”
“It’s to bail me out of jail.”
“It’s not for Kirk and the Bentley?”
“Well, where IS Kirk?”
Returning to McCormick Place for the additional cash, Ed and Tom waved to Harry to get his attention, pulling him out of the meeting with the promoter.
“Uh, Harry, we need another 50 bucks!”
“What!? WHAT DID KIRK DO?”
“That’s the other thing, Harry, the money is not for Kirk, it’s for Rick—he was busted for driving without a license!”
“Well, where’s Kirk? WHERE’S THE BENTLEY?!”
“Harry… WE DON’T KNOW!”
Back to the police station. Ed gave Rick the money, and he (Rick) tried to hand it to the desk sergeant, who refused to take it—he demanded that Rick count it out in front of him—as it was all singles, I thought that the cop was justified.
We went back out to the Bentley—I asked Ed to stick around to make sure it would start—to my considerable surprise, it did. Ed and Tom went back to report on the night’s adventures, while Rick, his buddy and I got into the (still) cold vehicle and started back towards Frankfort and home. After a few minutes, Rick spoke up.
“I want to go get my car!”
“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?” All I could think of was poking a stick at a bear—if we got caught by the cops, I knew we could expect no mercy, and I would get to spend the night in jail!
I steadfastly refused—we drove straight on to Frankfort, dropped off the Bentley, and I drove Rick and his buddy home (Hey, it just had a Corvair heater, but after what I had been through!). Once I got home, I had to treat myself for frostbite—not a pleasant experience.
We had been told that the truck to carry the Bentley would arrive soon, so it was a bit of a surprise to see it sit under a blanket of snow for about six weeks at Larry’s Vair Shop. What happened when they DID show up is something Larry will have to tell you about…
When it came time for me to appear in court for my ticket, I tried to be as upfront and honest as I could be, throwing myself on the mercy of the court. I learned a valuable lesson—THEY DON’T CARE! I was found guilty and had to pay a $50 fine.
Rick’s approach and subsequent treatment teaches a valuable lesson.