CARMEL VALLEY >> It didn't require an overactive imagination to envision a time when James Glickenhaus' 1932 Stutz DV32 Boat Tail Speedster convertible was among the world's most coveted cars, an elegant possession reserved for the rich, the famous, the powerful.
"In 'The Great Gatsby,' this is the car Daisy Miller would have driven," said Glickenhaus, a New York collector whose spectacular vehicle was one of the most eye-catching exhibits at an event crowded with eye-catching exhibits — the 12th edition of The Quail: A Motorsports Gathering at Quail Lodge. "To me, it's a time machine. It's Bogey and Bacall. And the sad thing about cars like this is that people buy them and don't use them. So the oil turns to cement, and the wheel bearings corrode, and the upholstery falls apart. When I find a car, I try to preserve what's there, but I also want a car that's functional. I'm not interested in a car that won't start."
This one starts. In fact, Glickenhaus says he drives the Stutz — maroon, with black fenders and a "tobacco" interior — on a regular basis, embracing the quirks that come with age.
"You have to ask yourself what it might have been like to take a car trip in 1932," he said. "You would have brought tools, and spare tires. It was the era when the phrase 'car coat' was coined because the cars really didn't have heaters. A trip in this car would have been an adventure, but an adventure in a wonderful car."
Glickenhaus' car was part of an exhibit at The Quail for "Pre-War Sports and Racing" — a gauntlet of museum pieces that included 1920s- and 1930s-vintage cars made by Buick, Alfa Romeo, Duesenberg and Bugatti, among others.
John Fitzpatrick brought his 1923 Sunbeam 24/60 all the way from Australia for Classic Car Week, shipping it to Seattle, then driving it the rest of the way with co-pilot Rich Kenny.
"It has an aircraft engine, a 12-litre V12, built by Sunbeam," Fitzpatrick said. "In the spirit of a number of cars that Sunbeam built with aircraft engines, this one was built to attack the world land-speed record, and it broke the record five times."
Though it's speed-racing days are over, Fitzpatrick says it's enjoyable (if challenging) to drive.
"It's actually very light with the steering, but the gearbox is quite difficult. It's very quiet, and very comfortable, but, like all old cars, the brakes are indifferent. You have to concentrate and keep an eye on what's happening up front because stopping can often be difficult."
The biggest attraction among the pre-war vehicles might have been Gary Wales' 1917 American LaFrance, a 22-foot fire truck that was once equipped with pumps, hooks and ladders.
"It was used by the Sausalito Fire Department until the late 1950s, when they became redundant, and this particular one was relegated to a field in Sausalito, where it sat for 50 years," said Wales, a Woodland Hills man who currently is restoring his sixth fire truck with mechanic Andreas Aranda. "It was a terrible, rusty old wreck when we got it. When they sit out in the elements all those years, they just go to pieces."
The restored vehicle, dark brown, tan and red, is powered by a 14-litre, 900-cubic inch Simplex engine.
"Each piston in the engine is the size of a 2-pound coffee can," Wales said. "It's basically a Simplex engine and a half.
"We restored it because we didn't want to see it go to scrap," he said. "We wanted to save this part of our American heritage, because when you lose your heritage, you lose your soul as a country."
Wales' fire engine has won "People's Choice" awards at 13 events, he said.
"To me, that's the award to win," he said. "If you smiled today when you saw this car, then we've succeeded in what we set out to accomplish."
Dennis Taylor can be reached at 646-4344 .