17 July 2011

The Collector and the Car: Selden's toys got bigger and bigger

Eugene Selden has always loved collecting cars. They just got bigger and more expensive as he got older.

Selden, of Torch Lake, Mich., gained an interest in collector cars as a child in the 1930s, first by cutting out pictures of automobiles and pasting them into scrap books and later by purchasing toy cars.

“Wherever we went, I always looked for the ‘five and dime’ (store) so I could buy another car,” said Selden, who recently took part in Hagerty’s monthly Collector and the Car employee-education series in Traverse City, Mich. “After awhile I began putting labels on the bottom of each car, with the year and place I bought it.”

Selden still owns most of those toy cars. He also hung onto every scrapbook, along with hundreds of auto brochures he collected.
He purchased his first “real” collector car when it was a new model – a 1962 Ford Galaxy that he still owns today. In 1991, a restorer/collector suggested Selden enter the Galaxy in a show, and after the vehicle won an award, he enthusiastically began purchasing other classics. He now owns seven, ranging from a 1940 Buick Super to a 1963 Ford Thunderbird.

“Seven is probably about all I’ll ever have,” Selden said. “I had to build another garage to fit them all in. I have enough room for eight, but there’s furniture in one spot so we have a place to sit. I guess if I get another car we can always move the furniture.”

Selden’s 1955 Buick Century Riviera four-door, on display in the lobby window at Hagerty, is another award-winner. He purchased the all-original Riviera – with only 22,500 miles on the odometer – after seeing an ad in Hemmings Motor News. The owner lived in St. Louis, and Selden bought the car over the phone, sight unseen.

“He sounded trustworthy,” Selden joked. “I got lucky, I guess.”

Selden said his favorite car is whichever one he’s driving – and he loves to drive them all. If he ever adds an eighth vehicle to his collection, he’d like it to be a black ’37 Buick, like the one his father drove.

“On Christmas Eve of 1936, when I was eight, I saw headlights flash on our wall, so I looked out the window and saw a car coming up the driveway,” Selden said. “I could see two headlights – plus two parking lights. I knew that the Chevy my dad drove to work that day didn’t have parking lights, so he had a different car.

“It was a new 1937 Buick, and it was supposed to be a surprise for the family. But I ruined the surprise. I don’t think my dad even knew it had parking lights, but I did.”

Selden’s enthusiasm for automobiles has never waned, and he rarely turns down an opportunity to talk about automotive history – especially when that history intertwines with his life. For example, he enjoys recounting the story of George B. Selden, who patented an automobile in 1895 but eventually lost a lengthy court battle with Henry Ford.

“Oh, that’s Uncle George,” joked Selden, who has no proof that he is related to the turn-of-the-century auto manufacturer. “Just think: If he had won his court case, all of you who are driving Fords would be driving Seldens – and I might be CEO of the company.”

And, Selden surmises, he’d also have a lot more toys.

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