Enjoy the Drive

“I was 11 years old when my parents would come to Valley City, which was 35 miles from our farm. Valley City was the county seat and had two car dealerships at the time. I would ask them to drop me off at one of the dealerships and pick me up at the other when they were ready to leave. I liked looking at the new car models but really liked the used cars at the dealerships. For some reason the older models really caught my eye. My dad only had one new car in his life. He would buy quality used cars but only one new one. It was hard to afford a new one with five children living on a farm.”
Retired Architect and car enthusiast, Gary Ohnstad, grew up a middle child of five on a farm in North Dakota. He went to college at North Dakota State University in Fargo and after graduation came to Sioux Falls to work at his first job. “I didn’t have the greatest GPA but I did get the best job offer from a firm in Sioux Falls. I had never been to Sioux Falls before. I did get another offer from a firm in Minneapolis but we liked the size of Sioux Falls better. A short time later, I received a better offer from Uncle Sam (drafted into the army) and served in Vietnam. When I came back, I thought I would move to Colorado but the economy in Colorado was bad and the firm wanted me back so I moved back to Sioux Falls. One of the projects I am most proud of was the exterior design of the Joe Foss Terminal. It was before I went to Vietnam. When I came back two years later, they were just having the final inspection. I spent 10 years with this firm but thought it was time to move on. No other community seemed to compare to Sioux Falls so I opened my own practice and had that for thirty years before retiring in 2011.”
“I started collecting cars in 1973. I joined the Sioux Falls Horseless Carriage Club in 1972 and in ’73 I became the second owner of a 1929 Franklin Rumble Seat Coupe. After purchasing the car I couldn’t sleep for the next four nights. I thought I overpaid for the car and questioned my judgement buying it in the first place. Now I am very conservative and a friend of mine, who was also conservative, knew how upset I was after buying the car. He made me an offer for the car but I told him I had more into the car than his offer. Truthfully, on my way home I stopped at Lewis Drug and purchased a light bulb for 23 cents and that is how much more I had in the car than his offer. The offer gave me confidence in my purchase price.”
“Today I own about 20 cars ranging in age from a 1911 Maxwell to a 2005 Chrysler Crossfire Roadster and a 2007 Saturn Sky Roadster. The brands include Maxwell, Buick, Franklin, Pontiac, Chevy, Ford, Chrysler, Jaguar, MG, Austin-Healey, Roosevelt, Saturn, and Cadillac. I can’t focus on any one car or even any one brand. I like them all. Being a designer myself, I look at design and am particularly interested in new and unique design as well as the engineering of the vehicle.”
“I remember when I was a kid, our family would drive 85 miles to a family reunion. The first question family members would ask us was if we had car trouble. Today people never ask that question. In spite of some mechanical troubles, these older cars are amazing. The overall reliability and the technology were unbelievable for the times. Many of today’s technologies are actually just a knock off from technologies of the past. For example, my ’31 Buick has ‘stow and go’ second row seats like the minivans of today.”
“I do not sell my cars. I still own the car I purchased my senior year in college, an Austin-Healey 3000. Over the years, many of my collogues would buy a new car every other year. I did not do that. I purchased cars I enjoyed but never found the time to sell them.”
“I have a ’69 Corvette that I purchased in 1971. I always wanted a new one, but our first child came along and I thought ‘there goes the Corvette.’ A doctor friend of mine offered me this ‘69 for less than wholesale and I couldn’t pass that deal up.”
Gary is a member of the Sioux Falls Horseless Carriage Club. The National Association of Horseless Carriages only allows cars built before 1916 on their driving tours. However, most members have other newer vehicles also, which they may drive in local events. It is a club of car enthusiasts. They have about 40 members today, which is down from their high of 100. “I was a member of the organization for 40 years before I owned a pre-’15 car. My first antique car was the ’29 Franklin. I especially enjoy driving that Franklin in the Black Hills (after trailering it out from Sioux Falls). We get a lot of gawkers when they see us drive that car. It is fun to see the expression on people’s faces. These cars have mechanical brakes instead of hydraulic brakes. So you try to give yourself a little braking room and it is sometimes difficult when a modern car will pull ahead of you and not give you a lot of braking space. One time I was going about 45 MPH and I saw a 1910 Buick come around me going about 55-60 MPH. Some of these older cars had speed capabilities. They were not built for today’s speeds at the time primarily because the roads they had to drive on were not equipped for the high speeds of today.”
“Most of my cars I have, came to me by coincidence. I didn’t have a large pocketbook so I had to buy what I could afford when I could afford it. Our family vacations were usually an annual car tour to a different location every year; driving to a destination and then driving the car on a pre-set route with fellow enthusiasts. We got to see a lot of the United States participating in these tours. The host of the event each year was responsible for setting up all of these activities and the routes for driving. I was the tour host chairman in 1982 and also again in 1989, which was the centennial year for the South Dakota association. On most of these tours we would allow cars produced prior to 1948.”
“My 1911 Maxwell has a particularly interesting story. Many people are not aware of the history of this company. Maxwell Auto Company built cars from 1904 to 1924. In 1924, Walter P. Chrysler purchased the Maxwell Company and the Chalmers Motor Car Company. He thought he should change the name, which he did and that was the start of the Chrysler Corporation.”
Gary works on most of his cars. “I like to work on my cars but I learned a valuable lesson a while back when a couple buddies of mine in the Horseless Carriage Club thought we should take a body class and learn to do more of this stuff ourselves. The only thing we really learned was that you can’t learn to be a body man in three months of classes.”
“The purchase of my 1931 Buick has an interesting story behind it. My goal was to end up with a ‘31 Buick but to get that car I put together a four-person deal. Everybody was happy with the transaction. It involved coordinating four cars to four people to get it done.”
“I can’t say I have one specific favorite because I have a memory of each specific car. For example I chauffeured my son and daughters to their Proms in the ‘31 Buick. I also left a ‘61 Thunderbird convertible for him to drive after the event. The 1928 Buick Roadster I drove in two different 100-year centennial parades for both my parents and my wife’s parents’ communities has also produced great memories for me. I still enjoy taking the cars out to drive in local parades. My MGA is what I call a poor man’s Jaguar. They are a four-cylinder, four-speed sporty looking car. They were built for five years from ‘57-‘62.”
“Cars were a release for me when I had the stress of my job. I would come home and go out to my garage and I all of a sudden forgot about my stress. When I was in college I was close to Detroit Lakes and I always thought I would have a boat. However, my cars give me as much enjoyment. We go on Sunday drives all the time.”
“My wife, Barb, is my high school sweetheart and we have been married for 47 years. I had a 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 in high school. If I was to get one today, I would like to get the retractable hard top. I always have had my eyes open for my next car. I attended the Barrett-Jackson Auction in Phoenix with a good friend of mine for three straight years. He came home with three different ‘57 Fords and all I came home with was two different pedal cars. I also collect automobile memorabilia including model cars and pedal cars so it wasn’t a total waste of time for me. My most prized pedal car is an all-original 1934 Chrysler Roadster. The 1925 Chevy Roadster would be a close second. The 1949 Buick convertible is also very nice. All together, I have around a dozen different pedal cars, a couple of pedal tractors and a fire truck.”
Car enthusiasts always seem to find ways to use their love of cars to help the needy. “I am the Charter President for the El Riad Shrine Classy Autos. We have 22 burn or crippled children hospitals that we transport the kids and their family to at absolutely no cost to the family. Wheels for Charity was another fundraiser organized and carried out by local car enthusiasts. Years ago, all of the different car clubs in Sioux Falls banded together to put on an annual car show. The funds we raised would go to some local needy family. The clubs would all agree on the cause. This is ongoing and is part of the Wednesday Cruise Night.”
“Cars have been a therapy from stress from my profession. They have been a bond of family activities and have allowed me to meet so many good people from all over the world. It is just so enjoyable to visit with other car enthusiasts and share their passion regardless of make or model or value of a car.”
“What’s the next one? I am hoping there will be a next one but I am not sure what it will be. I would like to find a 1905-08 40 HP car. I would also like a 1959 or ‘60 Corvette. And when I win the lottery I will get a 1931 L-29 Cord. They were built by the Auburn-Cord-Duisenberg Company. Hey, I can dream can’t I?” TMM

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