Manchester resident shares passion for antique cars
By Lois Szymanski and The Advocate
Apr 22, 2015 | 3:00 AM
When Doris Phelps, a senior citizen from Manchester, was a child, she said, she went wild when antique cars traveled through Manchester and down the road past her family home. She'd yell to her mom to come and look. She never outgrew that excitement over antique cars.
"I've been doing car shows since 2003, and because of that, I have so many new friends from all over the country," Phelps said. "They call me the Cadillac Lady when I come in but I say, 'Don't call me that. I have a Ford, too.'"
In fact, it was a Ford that got Phelps started in 1964. She didn't know what was in store for her when she purchased it. She didn't know how many years it would sit, waiting to be restored and that it would lead her to win national awards in the car show world.
"When I got the Ford I was young and single," Phelps said. "I was driving to Rockville, Md. one day a month for my job when I saw it sitting in a driveway."
The rusty, red 1929 Model A Ford Roadster with a rumble seat drew Phelps like a moth to flames. She stopped and asked the gentleman who owned it if he would sell it. He said no.
"Every month I drove by and every month I stopped to tell him I wanted to buy that car," Phelps said. "I had no money, but he didn't know that. Then one day he said, 'You are becoming a pain. If you give me $400 you can take it home.' I didn't even tell my father about the car. I went to the bank and asked for a loan."
Phelps said she told the banker that she could pay $50 a month. She was surprised when they gave her the loan, telling her if she missed a payment they would take the car.
"I remember laughing as I went out the door and thinking, 'if you saw that car you wouldn't want to take it,'" she said.
Phelps said she found a garage in Manchester to store the antique car for $10 a month.
"The car sat in that garage for many, many years because I never had the money to make it showable," she said.
Years passed. Phelps married. She said her husband loved snowmobiles and hunting, but not restoring old cars. He told her it was a piece of junk, but after he passed away, she found out he'd told their son, "We really should get that car restored."
Thirty-eight years had passed since she purchased the Ford. Then one day, Phelps realized she could afford to finally get it restored. She took it to a man named Richard Reinhold, near Redding, Pa., in 2002. It took him a year and a half to bring the roadster back to its original glory, but, Phelps said, it was worth the wait.
"I've won all the top honors with that car," Phelps said. "I took it to Buffalo, N.Y., and won the Grand National in 2004. I thought that was the best you could get. Then someone said to take it to the Senior Grand National in Dover, Del. So I did that [in 2006] and I won the Senior Grand National. That is a really special car."
Around 2004, Phelps began looking for another antique car. She was hoping to find something easer to drive than the Model A. She wanted a car with an automatic transmission.
Howard Klare, of Hampstead, had passed away, leaving two fully-restored antique cars — a 1950 Cadillac Coupe Deville and a 1967 Cadillac Sedan Deville. In 2005, a friend told her that one of them was going to be sold. Phelps wanted to buy both cars, but Klare's son had decided to sell just the 1967 and keep the 1950. So Phelps brought home her first Cadillac.
The Cadillac Sedan Deville immediately began winning awards. Phelps' son, Michael, would bring the 1929 Ford to car shows for her in a trailer, and she'd drive the Cadillac, showing up at shows up and down the East Coast. She said she thought things couldn't get much better. Then, in 2006, she was driving past the Wooden Indian Hampstead Hardware store, in Hampstead, when she saw the same 1950 Cadillac Coupe Deville for sale along the side of the road. It wasn't long until Phelps brought home her third antique car.
Phelps is a member of both the Gettysburg Region and the Chesapeake Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America. She said she travels to car shows several times a month from April through November annually, and over the years her three cars have won over 350 trophies.
The first car show of 2015 for Phelps was on April 12. It was sponsored by the Mid-Maryland Ford Club and held at TownMall of Westminster. Her Model A Ford Roadster won a plaque, finishing in the top 40 of 275 cars.
Charlie Poole is a Hampstead resident and on the board of directors for the Mid-Maryland Ford Club, which puts on five shows a year. He said he sees Phelps at most of the shows.
"We give 40 trophies to cars," Poole said. "Many times she will win with two and sometimes all three [cars]. People really like her cars."
Phelps said there is usually a fee to show. It was $10 per car for the April 12 show. The winning cars get plaques or trophies.
Poole said he can remember meeting Phelps several years ago at a car show at the Cow Palace at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. At the time, Phelps was having trouble with the hood on one of her Cadillacs. He said he'd known Klare and recognized the car immediately. He walked right up and started talking to her.
"The cable to her hood broke and I got it fixed for her," Poole said. "We've connected ever since. At the shows they usually want your hood open so they can see the engine. I knew the car right away because I knew the man who had it before her, so I walked up and started talking to her."
Phelps has since become good friends with Poole and his wife, Lois.
"There is at least one woman at every show I go to, but not older women like her," Poole said. "That's what amazes me about her. She always tries to get all three cars there, too, and that takes a lot of effort. I have several cars and I don't even do that. I usually take one. She has to find someone to drive them for her."
Phelps said she greatly enjoys the time she spends at shows.
"I may be the only woman my age who does this," she said. "And I have a tremendous good time with it. I have three shows in May and I'll have some every month through November."
Poole said the joy Phelps finds in showing cars is evident when she talks about them.
"She always is so happy when she's talking about the cars," he said. "She's in her glory when she's talking about her cars and she's always ready to talk about them, too. A lot of people like me are impressed that an older woman goes to all that trouble. She could be sitting back taking it easy ... It's a wonderful hobby."
Doris Phelps will be at the following car shows:
May 9: Hampstead American Legion Auxiliary Unit 200 will host a car show at the Arcadia fire company carnival grounds, at 16020 Carnival Ave.in Arcadia, from 9 a.m. to noon.
May 16 and 17: The Manchester fire company will host the Days Gone By 2nd Annual Antique Gas Engine and Tractor Show, which will include antique cars, trucks and fire equipment. It will be held at the fire company's carnival grounds, at 3297 York St.in Manchester, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 16 and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 17.
May 23: The Hampstead Day Lions Club Car Show, hosted by the Hampstead Lions, as part of Hampstead Day, will be held at the Arcadia fire company carnival grounds, at 16020 Carnival Avenue in Arcadia, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.