By John Gunnell
In Oct. 2015, we purchased an old building in Waupaca, Wis., that was erected in 1909 and has been an automotive building since at least 1917. In that year, a man purchased the building with the intent of partnering with a second man who held franchises to sell Oakland and Oldsmobile automobiles.
All car enthusiasts are familiar with Oldsmobile, which was one of the pioneer makes. Oakland is less well known. The company grew out of the Oakland Buggy Co. and became part of General Motors in 1908. In the 1920s, Oakland was the first automaker to paint cars with nitrous cellulose lacquer. In 1926, Oakland introduced a companion car called to Pontiac. It sold so well that Oakland Motor Car Co. became the Pontiac Motor Div. of GM in 1932.
We have been a member of the Pontiac Oakland Club International (www.poci.org) since 1972. Our collection contains four Pontiacs, but we never owned an Oakland. However, we helped start the club's All American Oakland Chapter and have always wanted to own one of those cars.
Shortly after taking possession of the building, we drove to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, making a few stops along the way that stretched the trip out to 4,200 miles. During the ride, our son Jesse was playing with his "intelligent" cell phone, so we asked him to look for Oaklands for sale.
We had a vision of displaying an Oakland in the tiny showroom in the old building. Little did we know then that we would find and purchase a 1917 Oakland Model 34 Touring Car to put in the showroom area.
Jesse first ran across a man named Wayne Koffel who lives in Pennsylvania and had several Oaklands listed online for sale. It turned out that Wayne is a restorer who only restores Oaklands and rebuilds Oakland engines. He is a member of the Oakland Pontiac Worldwide Website and is well-known to Oakland collectors. The cars Wayne was trying to sell didn't belong to him. They had been listed for other Oakland owners who Wayne did work for.
After chatting with Wayne on the Internet, we went away with a realistic view of the Oakland market. Wayne said that the early Brass Era Oakland and the 1930-1931 models with a V-8 engine were the most valuable. He said that the prices for these cars curve down and curve back up again. The Oaklands in the middle of the curve are harder to sell and generally worth less money.
Shortly after encountering Wayne's offerings, Jesse discovered a 1917 Oakland listed on Craigslist in the Moline, Ill., area. The asking price was in our budget and we sent the seller an email. Long story short, we made arrangements to see the car, made an offer that was accepted and put a deposit on it. Then, we made plans to pick up the car in a week or two.
According to Map Quest, the shortest mileage from the new shop to the car was 270 miles, but we planned a route that was a bit longer for two reasons. We would be towing the car home on a 20-ft. long open trailer so we wanted to avoid Interstate highways where the speed limit was 70 mph. We also had to pickup another son, Tommy, to help us load the car on the trailer.
The car was in pretty nice "garage find" shape-but not a "barn find" jalopy by any means. The man selling the car had bought it in the 1990s and used it in a few parades, before parking it for years. The battery was old and dead and we assumed the car was not going to run—at least not without some work at a later date. That meant we had to have a way to winch the car up onto the trailer.
The 1917 Oakland Model 34 65-passenger touring was a garage find, but we figured we were not going to be driving it onto our trailer anytime soon.
We have towed home a number of cars including a couple of MG TDs, a Triumph or two, a 1948 Chrysler coupe body on a dolly and a non-running 1949 Studebaker. In most cases we drove the car on the trailer. The sports cars fit in our 14-ft. enclosed trailer, which had its own challenges. The Oakland was not going to enjoy some of the advantages of an enclosed trailer.