SAN MARCOS, Texas – When it comes to the cars of yesteryear, it’s hard not to stare at these unique pieces of art that used to be a part of everyday life. The classics can be seen all over our backroads and highways but if you want to see some of the cleanest and rarest cars in our state, you’ll have to make a stop in San Marcos.
Thomas Fortney is the curator of Dick’s Classic Garage in San Marcos. He gets to showcase an incredible collection of cars that got started in 1980 by World War II veteran Dick Burdick. The collection features rides from a specific time in American history.
“Oh, we stop at 1959 because that was kind of the last year the American auto industry was kind of in the great years,” said Fortney. “We start off with the 1901. We show the evolution of the car up through the ‘50s and how it impacted the society in America and how society impacted the automobile as it grew together.”
These aren’t you’re typical vintage vehicles; they’re some of the rarest retro rides in the world, including the last produced Tucker, number 1050.
“Curtis Foester had it. He rebuilt it in the ‘90s, restored it using original Tucker pieces. He found all of the body panels from wrecked Tuckers and some extra pieces, so it is a complete Tucker,” Fortney said. “It is the only Tucker that has never been driven.”
Another hard to come by carriage they’ve accumulated is the dazzling Duesenberg . They’ve got 4 of them here!
“Some of these were generally about $12-15,000, up to $20,000 back then. Unbelievable amount of money. It’s kind of like the Veyrons of today, the Bugattis, the high-end cars. That would be the only thing that would be even close to comparable, and they were the fastest, most luxurious cars ever built,” said Fortney.
Today, these cars are worth anywhere from a million to a million and a half. But if you really want to feel like royalty, their 1939 Chrysler has an amazing lineage. The King and Queen of England rode in it during a visit to the World’s Fair in New York.
“Chrysler took it back and then they used it during World War II. FDR actually rode where you’re sitting right now during World War II and rode this around to tour the production plants,” Fortney said.
With so much history in these halls, beams of beauty, and metal magnificence, one often forgets about the folks who have to maintain these modern marvels, unless you just happen to crash into them.
Ray Terry has been tinkering with trucks and even the Tucker for the past 32 years. Terry’s got a long history of being hands-on with hot rods and it all started when he grew up in Austin.
“Austin never had a drag strip, but San Antonio did, you know, and so we’d have to tow down to San Antonio back in the ’50s and race,” said Terry.
Now a mature mechanic, this wheel whisperer has the task of making sure these rare relics stay true to form.
“I mean they, they’re kind of like me – they just want to rest. That’s what they want to do. They just want to rest and then you force them to run, and it’s a battle,” Terry said. “Yeah, and you win some, you lose some. Sometimes they win the battle. Sometimes you don’t get them right – but most of the time we do.”
Without Terry, the garage just wouldn’t be the same.
“Ray’s kind of the heart and soul of the museum. He can’t let anything be broken. He’s always got to fix it, he’s always got to make it the best it can possibly be, and he’s kind of the reason we’ve been here as long as we have and showcased these cars like we can,” said Fortney.
For Terry, it’s about remembering a time when a car was more than just something to get you to point A to point B. It defined who you were.
“Man, that was freedom. That was, I mean you, all of a sudden you were ‘whole,’ you know,” Terry said. “We loved our cars. Whatever they were, we loved them.”
While most consider these classics a bygone era, they’re a strong reminder of his days here in old Texas. They shine with brilliance thanks to the hardworking hands of a man whose heart revs with pride for these chariots of the past.
“Well, they’re going away. Bit by bit there’s less and less of them, and less and less people interested in doing anything with them,” said Terry. “We hang on here and if you are, if you’d like to know how it kind of was, well, you can come here and see kind of how it was as far as automobiles is concerned.”