Interview with New Chief Judge

Q: So tell me how you got interested in cars?

A: I was always one of those kids who liked cars. I went to grade school in Berkeley, and when I was in the fifth and sixth grades I was a traffic boy. After school and in the mornings I would go down and station myself at one particular corner. There was a big house at the corner that belonged to Katherine Towle, who was the Dean of Women at UC Berkeley, and she had a 41 Packard 180 Super 8 big sedan. Mr. Perrin, her driver, would take the car out of the garage and would park it so that the back door would line up with the front door and walkway from Ms. Towle’s house. Depending on the weather he would adjust the windows, and he did it seemingly without effort. This baffled me because I had never seen a car with power windows before. One day I finally asked him about it, and he told me the car had electric windows. That just fascinated me. It got me paying attention to the fact that there were special cars. So that planted the seed, and tuned me into Packards. That was the igniting point to a lot of my interests.

Q: Where are you from?

A: I was born and raised in Berkeley. There were lots of cars to look at in Berkeley and there were also lots of cars hidden away there. I soon got involved in car clubs. I joined the Packard club in 1962, at age 17, and I took my first car tour that fall.

Q: Really, so early?

A: Yes. It was a joint meet with a group from Northern California and a group from Southern California. We met in Paso Robles at the old Paso Robles Inn, and there were some fantastic cars that showed up on that first tour. From there I started joining more classic car clubs.

Q: Did you go on that first car tour on your own?

A: I was invited by the fellow who introduced me to the Packard Club. I also rode along with various folks over the weekend. I think I had bought a Packard by that point.

Q: Really? You were only about 17.

A: And I had a ’47 Packard.

Q: So that was your first collector car?

A: That was my first driving car. I think that I paid $65 for that ’47 Packard, and then I started buying and selling cars. I have always been a horse trader. I sold that Packard and bought a Packard convertible, in Nampa, Idaho, for $200 and then I drove it home. I bought my first classic, a ’31 Packard Sedan, from an old gent in San Francisco. I had that car twice. I bought it, sold it, bought it back, and sold it. It’s still around. It is now in Salinas.

I met Phil Hill in that car. I had it for sale the first time, and I got a call from Hill who saw the ad and wanted to come by and look at it. We took the car out for a test drive and we had a great time. I don’t think he wanted to buy it, I think he just wanted something to do on a Saturday afternoon. We became great friends and we stayed that way until he died.

Q: So, when did you first show a car at Pebble Beach?

A: I think my ’31 Packard was the first car I ever showed. It was a preservation car, definitely. It still had the original safety glass in the windows, which had yellowed—it had actually turned amber, and often when glass does that it delaminates, but these were remarkably clear. I remember that I asked Lorin if I could show the Packard at Pebble Beach and he said, “Yeah, but you know, you’ve got to change that glass!” So I took all the glass out, cut new glass, put it all back in, and it made the car much better. But I kind of missed that old yellow glass.

Q: What is your first memory of Pebble Beach?

A: I drove down to Pebble Beach in ’63 in my yellow ’48 Packard convertible. I think it was late April, and it had rained so much that they couldn’t put the cars on the lawn, so the show was at the stables. I remember parking at the Polo Field. The cars were lined up down Portola Road just as they used to line up for the tour. They built a ramp along one side of the road, and there weren’t that many cars, but there were folks there that I knew.

Q: So, were you in the Concours that year?

A: No, I was just a spectator. The second or third year I went, I flew to Los Angeles and drove up with Harold Crosby, J.B. Nethercutt, Gordon Maynard, Dick King and a whole caravan of cars for the Concours. I think Harold was driving his 1932 Twin Six, which was runner up to Best of Show. I started going every year after that, and for years I was just a spectator. I wasn’t a judge, and I wasn’t an entrant. I just went and had a good time.

Q: When was your first judging experience, and what was it like?

A: My first judging experience was with J. B. Nethercutt for the Classic Car Club. I can’t specifically remember when I started judging with the Classic Car Club, but in third rank classic events, Nethercutt was the chief judge for the West Coast. And he did a very interesting thing. He would take the four judging forms from the four judges and enter them into a statistical grid without any names on them in order to show you how you judged in comparison to the other three judges on the team. He did this so you could see if you were being more stringent or more lenient than others. It was a very instructional process; I have never known anyone else to do that kind of analysis for the judges, but it was a good thing to do. I also remember that if you did something that he questioned, he would just come out and ask you about it. I once gave a car a really low score on plating, and he questioned that score. I defended myself saying there wasn’t a piece of plating on the car that wasn’t deteriorating, and so we talked about it and he finally agreed. He was a teacher.

The Classic Car Club used to have its winter meeting in Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania, which is a big resort high up in the Poconos, and Nethercutt was always there, and as he walked through the big parking garage he would ask questions. He would invite a response, and then he would talk about it. At one point, there were several Duesenbergs in the garage, and on the side of the hood they had a belt line. Some of them had a scallop that came up just behind the front, and others were straight. He was wondering why some were this way and some were that way, and then he launched into a conversation about custom bodies and different styling techniques. Those were amazing meetings.

Q: When did you first judge at the Pebble Beach Concours?

A: In 1973.

Q: How did that come about?

A: Through my acquaintance with Harold Crosby. It was around the time when he was made Chief Class Judge; when J. and Lorin started the new system; they gave the classic era to Harold Crosby. That’s when a lot of the now longtime judges came aboard. I judged for a while, but then I got so involved in the field operations that I stopped judging—because I couldn’t go to the judges meeting and oversee the parking of cars in the morning. I don’t think I judged again until Harold retired. At that point I called Lorin or J.—I can’t remember which—and I asked if I could have Harold’s job. Their only reluctance was that they didn’t want me to stop working on the field!

Q: How do you like your new role so far? Is what you expected?

A: I suppose that I have been around long enough to get the lay of the land. It has also been great to see just how incredibly cooperative, willing, and ready the more than 100 judges have been. They have great enthusiasm. It has been great to make new acquaintances and meet new people. It is really amazing that there is an expert on every marque, model, and body builder; it is a fascinating hobby.

Q: In a previous interview you said that if you could buy any car in the world it would be an Isotta Fraschini 8A Landaulet. Why did you pick that car?

A: When I was 19 or 20 I read an article about the car, but I had never seen one. I met a guy who knew about an Isotta Fraschini for sale. It was at Pacific Auto Rentals, a place that rented unusual cars for movies, and this particular car was in the 1950 movie Sunset Boulevard. The man said that he would sell the car to me for $4,000, but I only had $2,000, and he said that he could not take it. I should have robbed a bank or something! That was the dumbest day of my life. Those cars are incredibly high quality, luxury cars that were hand constructed—just an amazing piece of work. They are also massive, and really representative of an era.