YOUNTVILLE — The two sports cars were both red, both nearly half a century old – and both the recipient of family bonding, hours of it.
Wesley Ware’s 1966 Sunbeam Tiger convertible was parked on the grass at Yountville’s V Marketplace, where spectators at Sunday’s Father’s Day Invitational Auto Show saw it first among dozens of restored vintage cars. Beside the gleaming tiger was a 1967 Sunbeam Alpine, which Ware, a Napa resident, already had reserved for his 16-year-old daughter Emma – once the New Technology High junior-to-be earns her driver’s license in the coming months.
Even before sliding into the driver’s seat, however, Emma has started helping her father plan out the engine swap and makeover planned for the Alpine. The work, they said, will carry on a family tradition that began with the Tiger, when a then-teenage Wesley pitched in on a sleek British coupe his own dad bought new in 1966 and thoroughly overhauled after a quarter-century of use.
“I like just being with by dad and having him pass on his knowledge,” Emma said as the auto show opened at 10 a.m. “A lot of people these days don’t know how to work on their cars, and it’s really cool that I get an opportunity to learn it.”
“I want Emma to be able to take it to college and have it be her daily car,” said Wesley. “She’s gonna learn about cars, through me, through this.”
In its 26th year, the Yountville exhibition gathered together an array of internal-combustion art spanning much of the car’s history, from Ford Model As of the 1920s to rumbling, massive engine Detroit musclecars of the late 1960s.
Hosted by V Marketplace, the show in recent years has drawn about 3,000 spectators to the Upvalley town each June, according to spokeswoman Laurel Johnson. But if the event gives visitors the chance to see and touch automotive history, for some hosts, the Father’s Day element of the show is the more meaningful.
A pair of near-identical, gracefully curving coupes – one yellow, the other sky-blue – formed a glimpse into an obscure corner of American motoring. These were Muntz Jets, just two out of no more than 200 luxury coupes turned out in the early 1950s by the engineer and electronics pioneer Earl “Madman” Muntz over three years.
For passers-by to see two Muntz cars side by side was a rare enough sight, but the pairing also marked the spot of a father-and-son reunion. Earl Whitney Jr., 85, had driven his yellow 1950-model Muntz from Sonoma to Yountville, where he met his 61-year-old son Earl III – who had driven his own, blue 1951 coupe all the way from Grants Pass, Oregon for the auto show.
“When I was in the Army, I saw a Muntz for the first time in 1951, in Hollywood,” recalled Earl Jr. “Later, when I found mine (in 1976) … well, it was very rough – the engine was in the trunk. But I never kept track of the money it took; I did 90 percent of the work myself.”
Near-ruin though the Muntz was, the elder Whitney bought the car and spent eight years of spare time bringing it back to showroom-like glory. The example was not lost on his son, who in 1994 bought his own battered Muntz in Sonoma County – building a new garage door for its former owner in exchange.
“Through my life, he was always into restoring cars, and that’s where I learned the trade,” said the younger Whitney, remembering racing at the Cotati raceway and taking on a Jaguar for his first overhaul before an Air Force stint and a 28-year career as a UPS mechanic. “Without him showing me the way when I was a kid, who knows what I would have done?
“We’ve been coming here all 26 years since the (Yountville) show started. It’s something I’d never miss. If I didn’t come some year and something happened to my dad, I’d be kicking myself for the rest of my life.”
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