Automotive treasures up for auction
The collection of J.C. Stevens — 85 classic cars — will be on the block Saturday.
Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Jim Stevens leans against a 1936 Cadillac inside a garage that contains many of his father’s antique cars. His father, J.C. Stevens, owned 85 automobiles that will be auctioned by RM Auctions Inc. of Ontario, Canada, Saturday. Serious car collectors from all over the world are expected at the auction, which will be off Hillcrest Drive in Cortlandville.
The classic rear fin of a 1959 Cadillac.
CORTLANDVILLE — Jim Stevens remembers hearing stories about his late father, J.C. Stevens, who at the age of 4 would run on to North Main Street in Cortland and greet each and every automobile that drove by.
“If they didn’t stop, he’d run out in front of them anyway,” Stevens said, noting that on at least one occasion a car hit J.C. “He had a fascination with motor vehicles even at an early age.”
That fascination turned into a lifelong passion for J.C. Stevens, who operated Stevens Oldsmobile in Cortlandville for 20 years.
That passion is evident in the 85 classic automobiles that will be auctioned off as part of an estate sale Saturday at Stevens’ farm on Hillcrest Drive in Cortlandville.
With vehicles from all over the country, the oldest of which dates back to 1915, J.C. Stevens’ collection is a trove of antique automobiles for collectors, according to Terry Lobzun of RM Auctions Inc., the firm handling the auction.
“There are quite a few jewels in there which are very valuable to collectors,” Lobzun said.
The crown jewel of the collection, according to Lobzun, may be a 1937 Horch 853 Cabriolet, a German car that RM Auctions has estimated to be worth between $225,000 and $275,000.
“Fully restored, that car could easily fetch $1 million or more,” he said.
The entire estate, which also includes three airplanes and many valuable original car parts, has an estimated value of approximately _$1.1 million, Lobzun said.
With a number of classic Buicks and Cadillacs available, along with some oddities including a couple of electronic cars, both Jim Stevens and Lobzun expect a great deal of interest in the auction.
“We’re expecting at least a couple thousand curious people to come through,” Lobzun said. “He certainly had an eye for the unique.”
Stevens, 59, has mixed memories of his father who, with a highly eccentric and demanding personality, could be hard to live with at times, his son admits.
Still, having labored over his father’s cars and estate full-time since December of 2002, when his father died at the age of 79, and having grown up with his father constantly on the lookout for a classic find, it will be difficult for Stevens to see the collection sold.
“It wasn’t always easy, but I grew up with these older cars,” Stevens said. “It was all a part of the family.”
‘Eccentric doesn’t quite cover it’
J.C. Stevens’ unique taste in cars was a natural extension of his unique personality, his son said.
Stevens politely calls his father ‘eccentric,’ a word with which Keith Standish, a mechanic who as a child and a next-door neighbor worked on cars with J.C. Stevens, takes issue.
“Eccentric doesn’t quite cover it, I don’t think,” said Standish, who has been helping Stevens clean up his father’s cars and get them in as close to working order as possible.
“My father did absolutely everything differently,” Stevens said.
“He always lived right on the edge, he always pushed things to the furthest limit.”
J.C. Stevens crashed his 1947 Republic RC-3 “Seebee” seaplane, which will be available at the auction, on a number of occasions, his son said, including a crash in the Adirondacks that took off both wings, and an incident in Owasco Lake in which the plane nearly sunk.
“It’s amazing that he survived,” Stevens said of his father’s numerous plane crashes. “But we rebuilt it and before long we were flying it down to Florida.”
Another old story recalls his father grabbing hold of the tail of an angry bull to protect his mother, Barbara, and not letting go until the bull collapsed.
“You could ask anyone in Cortland who was around back then and they’ll have plenty of stories about my father,” Stevens said.
Stevens remembers personally driving with his father years ago in one of his father’s favorite vehicles, a 1963 Studebaker Avanti, which will be included in the estate sale.
“I know for a fact that that car can get to 135 (mph) on Route 281,” Stevens said. “I told him afterwards that I was not interested in riding with him again.”
His father’s work habits were also extreme, Stevens said, as he labored long hours into the night and could be very demanding to work with, especially when it came to working on his growing collection of automobiles.
“It became an obsession, he was working constantly,” Jim Stevens said. “He never wanted to do a full restoration, he would just work on them to get them running and he’d work pretty much non-stop until he did.”
Chasing cars again
Barbara Stevens, 81, who helped her husband with a number of his car acquisitions, said she could always tell when J.C. had an interest in a car.
“My husband would start researching and reading and making phone calls and I’d think, ‘Oh no, he’s looking at another automobile again,’” she said.
His father was meticulous in his research whenever he had an eye on a car, Stevens said, and once he was sure he wanted a particular car, he was determined to get it.
“He chased a family all the way into their driveway for that car,” Stevens said of a 1929 Buick four-door sedan that will be part of the auction. “Poor folks, I think they were a little scared until they realized he was after the car and not them.”
Often his father would acquire cars he was interested in without entirely realizing their value, Stevens said.
The first car his father acquired, a 1919 Buick five-passenger touring car he bought in the early 1950s, was being used as a chicken coup when J.C. got to it.
“I remember going out to Cincinnatus and looking at the car and seeing all those chickens,” said Stevens. “I wasn’t all that impressed, but he wanted it.”
When his father acquired the Horch, by far the most valuable vehicle in his collection, from a former military man in Binghamton, he thought he’d been scammed, Stevens said.
“He traded a year-old Buick for it, and I remember he really thought he got took,” Stevens said. “Of course it turned into a valuable automobile so it was a pretty good investment.”
The value of the Horch and many of the other vehicles in the collection come from the fact that they have had very little work done on their original structure, Standish said.
“They’re pretty much unrestored originals, and that’s what people like,” said Standish, who has worked many late nights in the last two months, and has managed to start 74 of the 85 cars he and Stevens are preparing for auction. “It’s not easy to find unmolested classic cars these days.”
Interested car collectors have called about the auction from all over the world, Stevens said.
“I think there will be a lot of curious people showing up who remember my father and how eccentric he was,” Stevens said. “I just hope it doesn’t bring too much commotion to Cortland.”
While the auction will likely reap significant rewards, Stevens will be most happy to be done dealing with this portion of his father’s large estate.
“The sheer quantity of cars have made this extremely challenging,” Stevens said. “Hopefully when all is said and done, collecting and holding the cars was worth all the time my father put into it, and all the time I’ve put into it.”
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A day in the park
Belly dancer Donia, also known as Denise Robinson of Cortland, performs a dance as other dancers Judy Salton, left, and Sue Michales wait their turns. The group, known as El Negoum, brought Middle Eastern flair to the Willet Day in the Park.
WILLET — Saturday was the eighth annual Day in the Park in Willet, and the variety at the event certainly could have kept people at Willet Town Park for the entire day.
“Every year we do something different so we don’t get to be old hat,” said Martha Kenyon, president of the Willet Community Group. “Last year we did Wild, Wild Willet.” Kenyon said the Western theme had gone over well.
This year, the event’s theme was Dance Mania. The Ithaca Salseros performed Latin and salsa dance-styles early in the day, and Let’s Dance Productions performed and gave mini-lessons in swing dance.
Given the blazing heat, it made a certain amount of sense when the public address system began playing Middle-Eastern music.
El Negoum is a belly dancing group that’s based in Cortland and performs Egyptian dances. Instructor Denise Robinson of Cortland teaches the classes at the Cortland Fitness Center in the Marketplace Mall on Main Street.
Robinson performs under the stage name Donia. She was accompanied by Sue Michales of Cortland and Judy Salton of Windsor, both of whom are students.
All three women were dressed in traditional belly dancing outfits that Robinson said had been ordered from Egypt.
Proceeds from the event are going to be used to help fund the relocation of a historic schoolhouse in Willet, Eaton Hill Schoolhouse No. 5, according to the treasurer of the Willet Community Group, Gail Lohsen. The schoolhouse is on the corner of Covey Road and Route 41, and would be relocated to across the street from the town park by helicopter.
A figure for how much was raised was not available this morning.
Lohsen said the total cost has been estimated around $80,000.
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