Q: Hi Greg and thank you for the article you wrote about that 1931 Dodge that was bought and given to the bookkeeper of Al Capone. I found that article while searching around the Internet trying to see what car Robert Stack drove in the TV Series The Untouchables. I do love the older cars and if you can shed any light on Stack and his cars can you please let me know?
Also, Superman’s car in the TV series was a 1953 Nash-Healey Convertible and is a favorite of mine as far as a 1950’s car designs go.
Your ‘31 Dodge Al Capone article inspired me to ask you about these TV show cars. Currently, I also spend time with old stock car drivers that raced at Wall Stadium in New Jersey and other tracks.
I am a member of the “Vintage Automobile Museum of New Jersey” and we have a website that you can check us on. The stock car owner and driver members also have a small museum and club and they take over our museum every January to display their old stock cars and memorabilia. We are located at 1800 Bay Ave., Building 13, Point Pleasant, N.J. 08742 (Vintageautomuseum.org).
I own a 1931 Ford, 5 -window coupe that was turned into a Street Rod. It is all Ford and all steel and sits on a boxed 1931 Ford frame. I included a couple of pictures of my car. I love showing it to people and driving it around.
Thank you Greg for you time and interest in the older cars. Stash Serzan, Point Pleasant, N.J.
A: Stash thanks for your letter and congrats on your beautiful 1931 Ford 5-window street rod. It’s a beauty, and that small block Ford Cobra V8 under the hood makes it extra special.
Let’s start with Robert Stack, the late, great actor who starred in The Untouchables series that ran from 1959 to 1963. Readers may not know he was quite the racer in his own right and drove many high-speed hot rods on the dry lakes like Muroc out in California in the early days of hot rodding. He also hung around with people like Ed Winfield, the original inventor of the high performance camshaft (he taught Ed “Isky” Iskenderian about grinding and sold him his very first cam grinder).
Stack was a close friend with Pete Petersen, founder of Hot Rod Magazine and noted car magazine publisher. I had the opportunity to interview Petersen along my way and spoke with him at length several times. I recall he mentioned Stack as a competent high-speed driver and told me Stack also raced on the water in hydroplanes and loved owning Mercedes-Benz SL two-seaters. Stack’s 1957 300SL, a gift from producer Desi Arnaz after Stack won an Emmy, was displayed at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles prior to going to auction in 2013 and selling for $805,000. Stack passed away in 2003 and Petersen in 2007.
During my correspondence with Serzan leading up to this column, we both came across a list of cars used in the filming of The Untouchables, although some of the info is vague and sketchy at best. It seems like Stack and his crew used three cars regularly, including a 1929 Graham-Paige, a 1931 Chrysler Six and a few times a 1931 Buick Series 50. There were also many other TV cars, especially Ford Fordors, Willys-Knights, Cadillac’s and Ford pickups for use as parked vehicles in many scenes.
Moving on to the Superman TV series, which is another personal favorite of mine, many of the cars used in that show came from Nash-Kelvinator, including the Nash-Healey you note that Clark Kent aka Superman drove. Nash was far ahead of others in the marketing game thanks to its CEO George Mason. Mason understood that consumer branding could be accomplished not just by purchasing a 60-second advertisement, but by supplying his fleet of Nash cars for the Superman series free of charge. It ultimately ended up as free advertising.
Mason also was the first to have a 4-door sedan pace the Indy 500 when he talked Indy 500 management into allowing his Nash Ambassador to lead the 33 drivers to the green flag in 1947 instead of the usual convertible pace cars. Additionally, Nash is respected as NASCAR’s first ever car manufacturer sponsor thanks to a Curtis Turner driven, factory supplied 1950 Nash Ambassador. (I’ve written several times about Mason’s influence in the car business and the columns are all online in one of the Gannett newspapers websites with a quick Google search).
We’ll end with your Vintage Automobile Museum of New Jersey and Garden State Vintage Stock Car Club (www.gsvscc.org/), which I am well aware of as I grew up in south Jersey and went to the race tracks starting in 1958 every weekend. Many of the cars on display I saw race in person and the memories are still top of mind. It’s a worthwhile Internet visit and highly recommended for those who want to re-live the glory days of motor racing in person.
Thanks for your letters Stash and keep your ‘31 5-window looking good.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader questions / comments of collector cars, auto nostalgia and motorsports at email@example.com or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840.)