A Show Of Antique Cars Many Hold Dear

Posted: September 19, 1991

Americans have long had a romance with the automobile. But for some, there is one special car.

For Fred Hoch, that car is a 1911 Mercer Type 35 Raceabout - a sleek, no- nonsense driving machine guaranteed to do a mile in 51 seconds. It can be converted from street to track use by removing the lamps and mudwings.

Last year, Barnsboro resident Hoch won a prize for his mechanical sweetheart at the Haddonfield Antique Auto Show, an annual event that is scheduled this year for Saturday in downtown Haddonfield.

There will be 300 antique cars in the show, including Hoch's '11 Mercer.

The Mercer Automobile Co., named for Mercer County, was owned by F.W. and Washington A. Roebling 2d, sons of John A. Roebling of Trenton, whose firm built the Brooklyn Bridge.

In 1910 the Roeblings hired a young engineer, Finlay Robertson Porter, whose innovative design and mix of power, extraordinary suspension and balance, and quality gave birth to a true road legend.

"The cars were produced from 1910 to about 1924 or '25," Hoch said, "but the company really began to die when Washington Roebling went down with the Titanic in 1912."

Although Mercers are no longer in production, according to Hoch, there are more than 125 in existence, still providing exciting highway outings for their owners.

Hoch restores and repairs them, along with other memorable makes and models, at his business on Davis Road in Magnolia.

He loves the cars so much that he acquired what was left of the Mercer Automobile Co. from the estate of Roger Ellis of Reno, Nev., a friend and business associate, who owned it until his death from lung cancer in the early 1980s. The business had been neglected, and Ellis' widow, Martha, was relieved to have Hoch assume responsibility.

Why do antique cars have such allure?

"Some are considered artworks," said Hoch, 53, who built hot rods until, at school in Colorado in 1955, he met some fellows who owned an antique. Two years later, he acquired his first - a 1915 Chevrolet - at a Wyoming junkyard.

"The first motorcars were made by putting motors in carriages," Hoch said. "The carriages were very beautiful, very elegant, with leather seats and polished brass and fittings. Driving an antique car is akin to riding a motorcycle, with the feeling of freedom it produces. . . . You feel you can fly, you can do anything, you're invincible, you're king of the road."

Hoch said some antique car owners loved to tinker with their cars. Others like to drive or to show them, and others just want to collect them and do nothing with them.

"It's like a man and a woman," he said. "For some, it's the thrill of conquest they're after."

Any antique car lover can check out Haddonfield's fifth annual show, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is sponsored by the Haddonfield Business and Professional Association and the Ankokas Antique Auto Club.

Each vehicle is placed in one of about 20 groups, from early manufactured cars produced shortly after the turn of the century to exhibition-class cars

from the mid-1970s.

First-, second- and third-place awards will be given around 3 p.m. A Mayor's Trophy and a Best of Show Trophy will also be awarded, and there will be dash plaques for all entries.

Kings Highway will be blocked off from the PATCO High-Speed Line station to Haddon Avenue to allow the vintage vehicles to be displayed.

Local merchants are planning a variety of sales and promotions to please show-going shoppers. Strolling entertainers and musicians will add to the atmosphere. There is no admission charge; exhibitors each paid a $7 entrance fee. The rain date is Sept. 28.

For additional information, call 429-8372 or 234-6715.

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