We're all eager to own a car with a rich history, right? One of the heavy-hitters from that bygone era we're so obsessed with. Cars that have practically become household names. For those with the good fortune to be able to afford such a thing, it is possible. Occasionally these cars do become available. Jack Calori's '36 Coupe is a great example of a truly exceptional and historically significant car with a ton of documented history, (not the least of which, a 1949 Hot Rod Magazine cover) and has recently popped up for sale. I'm a bit partial to 1936 Fords, so naturally the Pierson Brothers' 3 window also comes to mind right away as well. So, what about the rest of us, the ones that don't own a "Calori Coupe," or a "Pierson '36?" What about us regular guys with 9-5's and a small budget? How does our desire to be included with this history-fetish play out? Well, I hate to say it, but it seems to me like some of us are just inventing it... 

"The Jack Swan Coupe" HA.

Let me tell you what I mean by that, but take it with a grain of salt. I'm not referring to anyone in particular, I'm simply describing a trend I've noticed more and more of lately. It goes like this: A guy buys an old car. Maybe it has some distinguishing feature, or maybe he just hears that such and such used to own it. So, he goes on the hunt for some back story. After a while he's able to piece together some of the history and he finds the original builder's name. Strictly as an example and for the purpose of this story, let's say the guy's name was Bill Burnside. So, current owner tracks the family down. The daughter gives him one grainy photo and some ambiguous story about how it was a "well known" car in it's heyday. Now all the sudden the guy doesn't just have some old car, he has: (drum roll please)  "The Bill Burnside Coupe!" 

Legendary, really...

Is anyone else noticing this trend? It's as if some of us are assigning significance to cars that in reality, were just some guy's hot rod back in the day. Essentially patching together a tale and presenting it as provenance? Is it just me? (maybe?)

The same car, before it was a drag racing legend... 

Don't get me wrong, I am by no means discounting anyone's story. In fact, it's the stories associated with these things that excite me almost as much as the cars themselves. I think they're great - every one of them, but I have to chuckle when someone tells me they "own the Bill Burnside Coupe" completely out of context. As if I'm going to know about some guy's high school hot rod that was written up in the Stillwater, Minnesota Gazette in 1964! 

There you have it, local paper = "documented history" 

Here's another example: Through some investigative work, I found that my 1936 five window coupe was originally turned into a custom hot rod in 1959 by a gentleman named Jack Swan, of Salem, Oregon. In fact, I located Jack and his wife, Sherri, and went down to meet them. In the end, I learned everything about that car from 1957 when Jack bought it, until 1998, when it was sold to Wayne Mahaffey. I ended up with dozens of old photos that document the transition from mild custom, to dedicated drag car in the later part of the 1960's and into the 1970's. It was everything I had ever hoped for in terms of my car's story, but in the end, it's just the story of a local hot rod. I don't now own a car with historical significance, even though "The Jack Swan Coupe" does have a ring to it.. 

Just after transitioning to a race car.

So, what does a car need to have in order to be considered a real piece of "history"? I don't know exactly how to put my finger on it. Maybe it's documentation from the era? Magazine coverage? Who knows. I'm not a fan of that either, because I think that there were tons of cars that were hugely influential that didn't necessarily get a ton of coverage in magazines. But they were a very big deal at the time. I don't know exactly where to draw the line when it comes to how to refer to your car and it's history. And in reality, it isn't up to me to tell you. These are just observations.  

Joking aside, Jack did tell me that at this point, this was the family's only car and they would put one kid in the middle, the other would sit on the package tray!

In the end, it's your car and your story to tell, and you can tell it however you like. I have also noticed though that there are guys looking just to capitalize. These are the guys like the example I mentioned above that are wanting to create a story, but in this case, for financial gain. They'll take a car that was no big deal in the grand scheme of things, trace it's unextraordinary history enough to assign it a name, then try to spin it as being a historically important car. Again, not my place to tell someone what to do, but it makes me chuckle.. 

Interior of the ultra-mega-very-much-historic-custom-drag-racing-hot-rod-legend, The Jack Swan Coupe, circa 1959

So, what do you guys think, am I making this up? Or is this the new trend? Have we run out of actual significant finds and are now relegated to manufacturing history? And most importantly, is my car worth more now that I know it's THE JACK SWAN COUPE? 












My father, Wayne Mahaffey, still has the engine out of this car, it’s in his ’41 Ford PU. He will be 95 next Saturday!

Chuck Hawman

I like the way you think. Just because its Joe Blows old hot rod doesn’t automatically add value.


Nice read. Beautiful car. Take away the story, the car speaks for itself.
Thanks for sharing!

Brian Littlefield

Great observation! I agree. I think some guys do it to try to scrape up any sort of financial gain as possible.

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