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By Larry Edsall
Back to ClassicCars.com Community

Car collector sets wonderful example with his estate
By Larry Edsall

sincere passion for historic cars and decades of devotion to the family collection Please forgive me as I remove my cap of objectivity because this one is personal, but hopefully you'll agree that it's also too important for straightforward reporting.

On Saturday, August 18, a dozen vehicles from the classic car collection of the late William A.C. Pettit III will be sold at the Gooding & Company auction at Pebble Beach on northern California's Monterey Peninsula.

I was reading about Mr. Pettit in the auction program, how his father founded the Pettit Brothers Chrysler-Plymouth dealership and ran it for 55 years, until his death in 1990, and how William III took over thereafter, and about William III's passion for collecting and sharing classic cars. Whenever possible, he tried to buy them directly from their original owners and his mission was preservation, not restoration, that and sharing his collection. Once he'd collected 100 cars, he opened a museum -- the Museum of Motoring Memories -- in Natural Bridge, Virginia.

In 2002, Mr. Pettit retired and moved to Florida's Gulf Coast, where he died earlier this year at the age 0f 79.

The auction catalog notes that for "those who have admired Bill Pettit's sincere passion for historic cars and decades of devotion to the family collection, this is a prime opportunity to partake in the estate's legacy and acquire one of Mr. Pettit's beloved, renowned classics."

Oh, there's one other thing about the sale of these 12 vehicles I need to report: Before his death, Mr. Pettit requested that his cars be sold to benefit Shriners Hospitals for Children.

At this point, I lose my objectivity, and I encourage those of you bidding at the Gooding auction, whether in person, by telephone or via the Internet, to bid generously, even selflessly.

Pettit I know, while I regularly report on the amount of such sales, I really shouldn't care how much this or that car brings at auction. But this time it's different. This time it's personal. Because, you see, once upon time, I was a Shriners Hospital for Children child. In fact, I can walk because of the work done in these hospitals.

I had just started toddling when my Grandmother mentioned to my Mother than I seemed to have an unusual sort of gait. It turned out that I had been born with congenital bilateral dislocation of the hips, at the time something not commonly noticed until the child started to walk.

My parents, both World War II veterans and my Father just beginning his post-war career, were pointed to the Shriners Hospital just outside Chicago, where my care would be both the best and at no charge.

I spent several months in the hospital wearing what they called a "frog" cast -- a waist-down cast that held my hips in their sockets. Even after my hips learned to stay in place on their own, I'd go back to the hospital every few months for a checkup.

At one of those checkups, the X-rays showed the ball of my left hip no longer was curved but was nearly flat across. At age 11, I had Perthes disease.

(For those of you who are auto racing fans, Bruce McLaren had the same disease as a child, and I cherish the day when he and I, the racer and the reporter, sat on a couch during his Can-Am heyday and compared our childhood experiences. Not too many months later, I had tears in my eyes when the news report crossed my desk that McLaren had been killed in a crash while driving one of his racing cars).

Gooding & Company estimates that the Once again, the Shriners provided my treatment, which this time involved keeping all weight off my left leg by wearing a bent-knee brace and walking on crutches for nearly two years. The hip ball grew back and functioned just fine for more than 40 years until it finally had to be replaced by a ball-and-socket made from titanium and plastic.

But walking wasn't the only benefit I received from Shriners Hospital: Yes, I remember feeling very sorry for myself -- why me? why me? -- as a sixth grader who'd just been handed a leg brace and a pair of crutches. But such self-pity was brief. After all, I had two arms and two legs, but I'd spent a lot of time at the hospital with a lot of children who were born without or had lost such limbs and who did not let it slow them down.

Shriners kids -- there have been a million of us who have received free treatment since the first hospital was founded in 1922 -- learn to be grateful whatever their blessings, and to make the best of whatever they have.

So now, all these years later, I want to encourage those of you who collect classic cars to overspend on the Pettit Collection, and not just because these are fine cars, and they are, including a 1931 Stutz convertible, a Darwin-bodied 1940 Packard convertible, a pair of 1920s Rolls-Royces -- and a 1962 Silver Cloud II as well -- a 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial, and the collection's star car -- the 1920 Duesenberg Model J dual-cowl phaeton known as the "Blue J."

Gooding & Company estimates that the "Blue J" alone should sell for around $2.5 million.

Money from Mr. Pettit's cars will go to the Shriners Hospital in Tampa, Florida, one of the 22 such facilities across the country that specialize in burn and orthopedic health care for more than 120,000 children each year, and regardless of a family's ability to pay."

Oh, and for those of you who collect cars and someday will have to decide what to do with those vehicles after they're no longer yours, consider following Mr. Pettit's example. After all, there are 21 other Shriners Hospitals that could use your help to help kids who need it.

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