Sunday, January 6, 2013

Boxer's limo is hefty bit of sports memorabilia

The other day while I was sorting through a long-untouched box of sports cards and memorabilia from my 30+ years of accumulating, I found this postcard.

It's from a series of 1970s postcards of high-end vintage autos published by Henry Austin Clark, who owned and operated the Long Island Auto Museum in Southampton. The Museum, and some of Austie's other cars, was pictured in one of my childhood favorite bubblegum card sets, the 1954-55 Topps World on Wheels.

The reason I have this postcard is that it depicts an auto that was owned by my former boss (and current owner of the building where I have my retirement office) Chet Krause.

At one time, the pictured auto was the crown jewel of his vintage motor vehicle collection. In 1971 Chet had founded Old Cars newspaper as an expansion of the numismatic periodicals and books line that he had begun in 1952. By the mid-1970s, his publishing business was doing real well, and he had the resources to indulge himself with buying and/or restoring all manner of vintage cars, trucks, tractors and gas engines.

For a tumultuous year in 1978-79, I served as editor of the Old Cars division at Krause Publications before moving on to create the company's baseball card division. 

The car on the postcard is a 1926 Minerva town car. It was built for former professional boxer Patrick "Packey" McFarland. 

McFarland was born in 1888 in Chicago and turned pro as a boxer in 1904. Fighting in the lightweight and welterweight divisions he compiled a record of 105 wins (51 by knockout) against just one loss, six draws and a no-contest.

Considering that record, it is surprising that McFarland never won a world title. Ring Record Book and Boxing Encyclopedia suggests McFarland was the best fighter to never become a world champion. During his career he met and defeated most of the title holders in his weight classes, but none of the bouts were for the championship.

He retired in 1915. Unlike so many boxers, he retired to a life of luxury. He had sizable investments and was a director of two banks. He could well afford this custom-built chauffeur-driven town car. In 1933 the governor appointed him to the Illinois Athletic Commission. 

Like most luxury autos in that era, McFarland's limo was one of a kind. The car was designed by Paul Ostruk. Its chassis was built by Minerva in Belgium. The body was crafted by LeBaron in New York and the car was powered by a 30 H.P. six-cylinder Knight engine.

McFarland died in 1936 when a staph infection attacked his heart. His widow sold the Minerva around 1946. In 1953 it was purchased by collector Embert Grooters of Grand Rapids, Mich. In the auction of his estate in 1972, Chet Krause bought the Minerva.

Speaking with Chet today, as he nears his 90th birthday, he recalled that the Minerva was a "little rough" by the time it reached his hands. He expended considerable money in refurbishing the body and engine.

The Minerva was used periodically to convey visiting dignitaries around Iola. I recall that in 1984, when Allen Kaye, publisher of Baseball Card News, brought his family to Iola to finalize the sale of his hobby paper to Krause Publications, his wife and daughters were much impressed by being chauffeured around town in the long blue beauty by a multi-millionaire. 

Not long thereafter, the Minerva was auctioned in one of James Leake's famed collector vehicle sales in Tulsa.

Electing to offer the car at no reserve, Krause was unpleasantly surprised when it was hammered down at a price that he recalls was under $25,000. Two of the auto hobby's deep pockets went after the Minerva initially, but when they discovered they were bidding against each other, one dropped out.

The car was sold to the Imperial Palace casino hotel in Las Vegas, where it was displayed for many years.  It was again sent to auction in 2000, and was bought by an English collector. Subsequently, it was sold to a collector in New Zealand. At last report, the car has been repainted in burgundy tones. 

During Chet's ownership of the Minerva, I bought an example of a T9 Turkey Red cabinet card of Packey McFarland. McFarland was one of 25 boxers in the 1910-11 series that was contemporary to the tobacco company's more famous T3 Turkey Red baseball players.

The card was kept in a pouch in the passenger compartment to show to guests. It may still be there today.

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