By Jim Motavalli
10:20 AM EST, December 19, 2012
I enjoy spending time with my friend Alden Sherman, a Fairfield County resident who's 93 but sure doesn't look or act like it. A machinist and jet engine inventor, he lives surrounded by cool stuff — a 1917 Pope motorized bicycle (made in Hartford!), a mid-30s Duesenberg Toledo kid's car capable of 20 mph, a rare 1830-era steam engine that probably powered a sewing machine, and some really cool cars.
Sherman has been a friend of my engineer father-in-law, Lance, since 1951 or so. That was the era when what we now think of as priceless classic cars were treated like used junk. "They thought you were a complete nut if you cared about them," Sherman said. He saw a guy cut up a Stutz Bearcat for $35 worth of aluminum. In Norwalk, a derelict Duesenberg (they fetch millions now) sat by the side of the road for years before someone rescued it. In the 1940s, he was offered a free pair of 1920s SS and SSK-series Mercedes — but he lacked storage, so no dice. A 1929 SSK has sold for $7.8 million.
Fortunately, Sherman rescued some of the cars he saw, and they're in his garage now. The French-made 1925 Amilcar, with the most macho side exhaust I've ever seen, was bought in 1938 for $75. It sports a Willys engine now, but that power plant was put in so long ago (early 1950s) that it has classic status as a period special.
In 1959, Sherman was offered a pair of Type 37 Bugatti racers for $1,500. The catch was that they were basket cases, but Sherman hand-built many of the missing parts. There is a modern Jaguar XKR and a 1964 Ferrari 330 2+2 in one of his garages, but the crown jewel is a two-toned 1938 Bugatti Type 57 convertible. He paid $2,200, which probably seemed like a lot of money in the pre-Beatles era.
There are a passel of super-valuable cars tucked away in Fairfield County garages. I was able to see a bunch of them when I did a series on their owners. They come out to play at events such as New Canaan's Caffeine & Carburetors and the annual Greenwich Concours D'Elegance (the 57C is a regular winner). A rival event, held in Westport, was recently suspended because the venue isn't available anymore, but now there's another choice. The first annual Alden Sherman Classic was held last September in Weston.
The event, which honors Sherman, featured everything from E-Type Jags and old T-Birds to an ultra-rare Gordon Keeble. The three Bugattis were there, of course — Sherman drives them all over the place. He remembers using that irreplaceable 57C, once his daily driver, for dump runs. "I'd take out the back seat, load in two 50-gallon drums of scrap, then drive down to the junkyard," he said.
You can't do that today. Or, you could, but you wouldn't. Sherman admits that his cars are "on the dirty side," but they're also part of the family. Classic car dealers, don't bother calling.
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