Air Museum car show attracts rare, historical makes

By Calla Vassilopoulos - Staff Writer
WIndsor Locks - posted Thu., Jun. 6, 2013
Lee Ryder stands with his great-grandfather's 1933 Ford pickup truck on exhibit at the car show. Photos by Calla Vassilopoulos.
Lee Ryder stands with his great-grandfather's 1933 Ford pickup truck on exhibit at the car show. Photos by Calla Vassilopoulos.

The 27 Annual 4C’s Auto Show and Aircraft Exhibit was the first stop of the Freedom Road Rally’s five-and-a-half-day spring tour. The rally brought one of the rarest cars found in the U.S., with a rich history behind its maker and owner, to the New England Air Museum on June 2.

The Czechoslovakia native and owner of the 1966 Tatra model T603, Ivo Slezak, imported the car from Czechoslovakia to Hubbarston, Mass., in 1989. The first owner of the car was a minister of agriculture in Prague, according to Slezak.

“There are plenty of American cars, so my father and I figured we would bring something from home, because it’s different, it’s unique, it’s got a totally different design,” said Slezak. "There are so many '55 or '57 Chevys around here, so we imported one of these things. Now I am up to four different models.”

Slezak left Czechoslovakia in the late '60s to come to Massachusetts after the invasion of the Warsaw Pact Armies. When asked why he loved antique cars, Slezak said, “I think I was born that way. I really don’t remember. As a little kid I used to always draw cars and I was always mechanically inclined.” This rally was the third of six Slezak has participated in with this car.

Tatra, one of the world’s oldest auto manufacturers still in existence, made three generations of the T603 and manufactured a total of 20,422 cars over the course of 19 years. The T603 was a well-known race car in Europe during the '60s. It was also known for its V8 air-cooled engine that was stored in the trunk of the car, according to information provided with the car at the show.

“I have never ever seen a car like this before. I have never heard of this car before, and I have been to car shows all my life,” said 69-year-old John Hoben as he read the information on the 1966 Tatra model 603 rear window at the show.

The Connecticut Council of Car Clubs puts on the event each year featuring many of its members' cars. Aside from the Tatra, some of the other cars at the show were TR3s, Chevys, Ford trucks and an antique bus and fire truck.

One particular half-ton Ford pickup truck from 1933 stuck out above the rest with a large writing pad sitting by the front driver side wheel detailing its history. The owners are both members of the Connecticut Council of Car Clubs, as well as brothers. The truck belonged to their great-grandfather and was later driven by their father.

“My dad took my mom on their first date in the truck, and he used to drive it to high school,” said Lee Ryder. The truck was bought by Ryder’s great-grandfather in 1947 from a plumber in Maine who used it as a work truck. When the plumbing business was slow the plumber would work on a Maine potato farm with Ryder’s father. In 1947 the plumber decided to buy a new work truck and sold the 1933 half-ton for $5 to Ryder’s great-grandfather, who was retiring from work at the time. He wanted to use it for mowing lawns and home maintenance.

Ryder’s great-grandfather passed in the early '80s, at 100 years old. After his death, Ryder and his family fought to obtain the truck. Now the truck has shared ownership between Ryder, his brother and all the nieces and nephews.

“When I was a kid we would go to Maine to see my grandparents, and this was the next stop,” said Ryder. “We had to go check on the truck. We called my great-grandfather 'Pa,' so we had to go check on Pa’s truck.”

The truck was unused for many years before Ryder and his brother become owners. After receiving ownership, Ryder and his brother decided to get the truck up and running again. To start, they replaced the motor with an original one they found made for the Ford half-ton pickup. The truck currently resides at Ryder’s brother’s home in Windsor Locks.

The NEAM joined with the Blue Star Museum program offering free admission to active-duty military personnel and their families through Labor Day. The Blue Star Museum program has collaborated with the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and the Department of Defense in providing this program to NEAM and more than 1,800 other museums across America.

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