Imagine going to the local theatre guild and having Anthony Hopkins show up unexpectedly in a cameo role.
That's the closest analogy I can make to the surprise of encountering a real Grand Classic car at a small-town cruise night a few years ago.
The car was a 1931 Marmon Sixteen, the work of Harry Sherry, a world renowned car restorer whose shop just happens to be in a small Ontario town called Warsaw, not far from where I live.
It's the kind of car that we just don't see any more, a grand touring coach that would look at home gliding through the ivy-covered gates of a tree-lined drive, ferrying ladies with broad brimmed hats for an afternoon of divot-stomping, accompanied by gentlemen heirs of old-monied families.
'Sherry Classic Cars'
Although his shop in this small peaceful town is as quiet and unassuming as the man himself, Harry Sherry's 'Sherry Classic Cars' has produced some of the world's finest restorations.
A virtuoso craftsman, his work is known all over the world for its exceptional quality. Indeed, it includes several Grand Classics and multiple award-winners at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, the pinnacle show venue of classic cars in North America.
General Motors of Canada's impeccably restored 1908 McLaughlin-Buick – the first of the model-line produced in Canada – is also Sherry's handiwork.
Within the shop, Sherry can recreate almost every piece of the vehicle, from voluptuous steel fenders using old English-wheel technology, handcrafted wood pieces such as burled instrument-panel and door inlays and fine custom leather seats. He even retools moulds to fabricate engine parts, nuts and bolts exactly to original specs.
The attention to detail is staggering – this Marmon Sixteen took over two years to build and is a breathtakingly beautiful piece of rolling art.
Sherry doesn't like to reveal the cost of these incredible restorations – and has been known to refer to them in terms of numbers of houses (comparing the value of one piece to a chunk of new subdivision).
Indeed, it would seem almost gauche to ask for a dollar value on something like this. A bit of research and digging on the Internet produced only a few recent sales of convertible models – all for well over $500,000 US! The hardtop coupe model such as this one is even more scarce.
The Marmon name came to be synonymous with fine automobiles but it first gained prominence as a manufacturer of flour-milling machinery. Howard Marmon, the company's chief engineer, was passionate about the newly-emerging automobile and built his first car in 1902.
By 1911, the Marmon name was established in racing circles when the Marmon Wasp won the first Indianapolis 500. In 1926, the flour milling division of the business was sold to the Allis-Chalmers farm equipment company and Marmon reorganized, becoming the Marmon Motor Car Co.
Lower priced cars were introduced in order to stay in line with the flagging economy. More models were developed and sales started to climb. The economy cars were a financial boost for the company, but Howard Marmon had a vision; to produce a car of his own design – a glorious V-16 luxury coach.
Although this wasn't the first available V-16 (it had been preceded by the Cadillac engine in 1930) it was the largest and most powerful, and with its extensive use of aluminum, also the lightest with the best power-to-weight ratio. It was a beautiful engineering feat, winning the Society of Automotive Engineer's annual design award (‘the most notable engineering achievement of 1930’).
Alas, the magnificence of the Marmon Sixteen wasn't enough to save the company from the devastating effects that the Depression had on the economy. Fewer than 400 Sixteens were built and the Marmon Motor Car company went into receivership in 1933.
Today, the Marmon Sixteen is an almost priceless collectible and it was a privilege to have seen one up close.