Mountaineer Motor Tours - How did it all start?
Through most of my life, I have been surrounded by people that loved cars. My dad drove a 1967 Austin Healey 3000 and a 1978 Jeep Wagoneer through the entire decade of the 1980s. The Wagoneer would later be a fixture of our driveway growing up and a place my brother and I spent many an afternoon on its sticky, musty bench seats going on imaginary adventures, wherever our minds could take us.
Where it all really started for me though, was the Estes-Winn-Blomberg car museum, just a few miles from our house in North Asheville. My first real memories of falling in love with cars and a place were formed here. I remember the smell of old grease, wood, leather and gasoline wafting up as you pushed the large oak door open to reveal rows of gleaming headlights gazing at you. All of the cars seemed so unique and stately. Being so small, my dad would hoist my brother and I up, so that we could drink in every detail of each one of these magnificent machines. The cars my brother and I would ask him to lift us up to were the 1927 LaSalle and the 1928 Chandler. I would later learn that the history of these two cars is tied together and is very fascinating. More on that in a future article. This has been a place that has always been a constant in my life and has never changed much. I read once that everyone needs a place in their life that stays fairly constant, no matter how much things change and I think that is true.
Going to the museum was a regular event for my dad, brother and me. Eventually, we got our own classic car as a family, a 1962 Austin Healey 3000, that we still have to this day. I'll never forget how my dad revealed that we were going to get the car. We were looking through a large book of illustrated cars from the DK book series and he flipped to the page with an Austin Healey and said "we are getting one of these cars tomorrow." After questioning him for about an hour, it finally sank in that we were actually getting this car. My dad roared into the driveway the next morning with the Healey and we spent most of the day crawling all over it and pretending to drive it. He took the entire family on a ride that afternoon and we could not have been happier. Later that year, we took the Healey out trick or treating, while wearing full body Scooby Doo costumes. To this day, people still ask us if we have that little red convertible that they saw us at Blockbuster on Halloween night wearing Scooby Doo costumes in.
I would return to the Estes-Winn museum in the Austin Healey through many different seasons of my life. It was always a place of comfort and inspiration, where a certain intangible magic could be felt. After my second summer of college, my dad and I spent a lot of time learning the nuances of driving the Healey and working on it. My most vivid memory of learning to drive the car was sitting on the hill of Edgewood road and Merrimon avenue, waiting to turn and hoping I wouldn't stall out. The parking brake was out of adjustment at the time and would not hold the car, so I had to learn then and there how to finesse the clutch. After stalling the car multiple times, a kind woman behind me in a faded Ford Explorer leaned out the window and shouted "You can do it!" It was at that moment, the clutch engaged and I did a "one wheel peel" spinning the tires with too much gas all the way through the traffic light, dad and I laughing the whole way.
That summer, I made many trips to visit friends with the Healey in the Grove Park and North Asheville area. One evening, while visiting my friend Nick, he asked if I could give his grandmother a ride around the neighborhood. I of course obliged and had one of the best evenings I can ever remember. Nina and I zoomed out for a ride around the Grove Park neighborhood, while she smiled as big as a kid! We got to talking about all things, while the mountains and the summer breeze faded into the background. It was at this moment I started realizing the power that driving these old cars had. Many of my friends of course enjoyed riding in it at elementary school sleepovers, but this time it was different. I had mastered the skill of looking after and driving this wonderful old car, but sharing that with someone else who remembered the car in its era was truly something special. That thought was simmering in the back of my head for a long time.
As time went on, my dad brother and I sought out "boys trip" destinations with a car theme like the Coca Cola 600, Indianapolis 500, off roading our family Isuzu Trooper at Uwharrie Forest and going to Rausch Creek Off Road park for the East Coast Xterra Challenge, which mostly terrified us as the truck went sideways and bounced off of rocks. I started discovering a deep love for history and connections to places through the pictures, people and places that these cars transported.
As the years went by and I spent more time returning to the Estes Winn and reading books on car history, driving the many backroads of Asheville in the Healey, thoughts continued to form. In 2018, I had the opportunity to visit Havana, Cuba and take a vintage car tour there to Ernest Hemingway's house, the Finca Villa. We toured Havana in a 1957 Mercury Convertible, learning much of the history of the area. The day before, we had been on a large bus, with a load of tourists. This day was different thought - it was just our guide Juan Carlos and us. I loved the privacy and focused nature of the car tour - taking things at our own pace and being able to ask more questions. There was something about being out in the wind, talking to people in traffic and seeing how the language of cars was universal. Cuba is a lovely country and this is an experience everyone should get the opportunity to do.
This left my mind whirling when I got back about how I could bring this experience to Asheville. I had begun to study the incredible automotive history of Asheville, starting in the 1920s and going through the late 1990s. My thoughts went to what kind of car would be appropriate and suit the area? The true heyday of Havana had been the 1950s and so the American "Yank Tanks" seemed to be right at home there. The true time of glamour and opulence of Asheville had been the 1920s though, which is when most of the town as we know it today was developed. A couple of more years would have to go by, as well as a couple of test drives of classic cars that did not go well. One was a particularly memorable test drive of a 1962 Pontiac Ventura, where the car would stall on hills and over any bump in the road, ending with a call to AAA, a mile from my house after many exasperating miles. Needless to say, I did not buy that car.
Finally, the Estes Winn museum would provide the answer again. On one of my return visits, I was fortunate enough to meet the curator and one of his friends, who were starting all of the cars and doing some routine maintenance. His friend happened to be selling his modified 1923 Ford Model T, that contained the engine, transmission and rear axle out of a Ford Ranger and was very drivable, in comparison to an original Model T, especially in somewhat unforgiving modern traffic. We ended up making a deal and the car was mine!
Now, the model T, which is almost one hundred years old will begin a new chapter in its life. Hang on to your hats and get your favorite 1920s outfit ready, adventure awaits!