Last updated on March 16, 2023
Today’s story is about Ron Di Salvo. Ron came into our automotive lives about eight years ago when he brought his 1938 Morgan 4/4 Le Mans TT Special Tribute to the Marina del Rey Cars and Coffee. He became one of us from the very beginning. Ron passed away peacefully last Sunday, April 10th, 2022 at the age of 87. He battled cancer for more than 3 years and I do mean battle. Through all the side affects of chemotherapy, radiation, and all the medications Ron would pull himself together and drive himself to Car and Coffee events. He was amazing. He even drove himself in his Mark VIII Jaguar to his 87th Birthday gathering we had for him at the Marina del Rey Cars and Coffee. That was the last time he drove. He had a great time socializing with his car family that morning. Ron was kind, smart, had a great sense of humor and just a pleasure to be around. Rest in Peace my friend! Thanks for riding along with us Ron, I miss you. Frank
The written interview below is how Ron became interested in cars and what brought him to buy his Morgan and Jaguar.
Frank: Ron, when did you become interested in cars?
Ron: Well, I’ve had an interest in vehicles that could get me around and since I was a youngster. Before I was big enough to peddle a two wheeler, I could probably name you every American made car on the road, something I couldn’t begin to do today with all of the look-alikes running around.
Anyway, to your question, I was a big kid who looked older than his age, so managed to get a paper route delivering the LA Herald-Express when I was nine years of age, by convincing them that I was twelve. I always saved money and bought my own vehicles.
The first motorized contraption that I got with my earnings was an old pre-WWII, ’38 or ’39 Salsbury Motor Glide motor scooter when I was twelve. I could manage to do some work on the engine myself, but the front end was so beat up that I couldn’t get anyone to work on it, and finally found a blacksmith who attempted to straighten it well enough to drive.
I didn’t know it then, but later found out that that model scooter had a then state-of-the-art automatic clutch and variable speed automatic transmission that no other scooter manufacture, including Vespas and Lambreattas had until some 10 or 15 years later. Anyway, my neighbor Pat Healey’s girl cousin, whose dad was a big wig at BF Goodrich, and who I wanted to impress, the girl not her dad, wanted to drive the scooter, mistook the gas feed for the break, smashed into the back end of a car, and not even the blacksmith could fix it after that. I lost on both accounts, didn’t impress the girl, and lost use of the scooter to boot. The girls farther do not pay for the damages either!
Then I got a hot-looking post-WWII Model “F” Whizzer Motorbike that had a 5-quart gas tank painted in British racing green, and a Weber racing head on the engine, or at least that’s what my friend Johnny Mitchell called it when I bought the bike from him so that he could raise enough money to run away from home. Which he did, and if he’s still alive and kicking, I hope he reads this article and gets in touch with me. By the way, both these vehicles were built right here in LA by aircraft companies, the Motor Glide’s at Northrup Aircraft, and the Whizzer’s at Breene-Taylor Engineering, an airplane parts manufacturer.
Frank: When did you get your first four-wheeler?
Ron: Early 1947, I’d just turned 14. You could get a Junior Operators License at that age then, and even before I took the drivers test, I bought a 1927 Model A Ford Roadster, with a 7” chopped windscreen and chopped folding top, modern wheels with wide tires, and an open sided hood that displayed an aluminum block engine. I loved that car.
Frank: Did they have Model A’s in 1927? I thought they first came out in ’28.
Ron: The first Model A’s were sold in December ’27, and, unlike today where they would have been registered as the next years model, in those days, as Red Skelton used to say they “called ‘em as they seed ‘em.” Other-words, if it was sold in December it was registered as such.
The “A” was a flat battle ship gray color when I bought it, and dumb me, I purchased a hand applied car paint that I found, I believe in Popular Mechanics Magazine, and hand smeared the entire boy in a kinda maroon color. I should have left well enough alone.
Bad paint job or not, I loved that car and would not have gotten rid of it, except for the fact that my parents, siblings and I moved from southern to northern California, and my folks weren’t about to let me drive that far with a Jr. Operator’s License, especially in a hot rod that had no side windows, no heater, and mechanical breaks.
As soon as we got up north, I purchased a 1940 Ford Standard Coupe that had a couple of side folding seats facing one another behind the front seat, a single upside down corporal’s stripe-looking stop light in the rear, and was tricked out with fender skirts. The ’40 Standard’s also had the ’39 Deluxe grill, which was better looking that the ’40 Deluxe grill.
I was in high school by this time, and signed up for a semester of auto shop hoping to learn something about how engines worked and to in turn work on them. While I could manage to change and gap a sparkplug on the “A”, this was the limit to my knowledge of mechanics. As luck would have it, instead of the teacher teaching us as a group, as a first semester student, I was paired up with a second semester student who had a penchant, and skill for welding. My first attempt at doing something he’d shown me how to do with a torch, resulted in my burning a hole in the hood of my car, and the only thing I learned in auto shop is to stay away from welding torches.
One night I went to a movie, drove up and caught the closest parking place to the front of the theater, I mean the very first space, with the marquees bright lights shining upon the car. I remember the ticket seller commenting on how nice it was. When the show was over, the ticket booth was closed, and my beloved finder skirts were gone.
My next car was a chartreuse colored 1949 Packard Convertible, the kind that looked like an upside down bathtub on wheels. Not so very pretty, but I never saw myself going or coming when driving hither and thither, and it had all the bells and whistles on it. I drove the hell out of this car and never had a bit of trouble with it except for a stuck gas pedal when coming over a mountain pass driving from Santa Cruz back to San Jose which caused me to have to turn off the engine, to bring it to a halt, stick my head under the hood and unstuck the pedal.
Celebrating our graduation from high school, my buddy Rick and I drove the Packard down to Baja. Most of the roads beyond Tijuana were not paved, and the old girl stayed hale and hearty.
I did bring my chartreuse bathtub to the Packard agency to get the cause of the sticking gas pedal ferreted out. While there with this little old heavily accented but soft spoken German mechanic bent over and well under my car’s hood, a red faced fellow came blustering into the garage complaining about this and that always having to be fixed on his car, the mechanic never uttering a word or lifting himself from under the hood during the entire tirade. When the garrulous customer paused momentarily for breath, the mechanic’s voice could be heard from under the hood saying, “Sir, if one cannot afford to service a Packard, perhaps one should not be driving a Packard,” at which point the customer really blew his top, and stomped off yelling for the manager.
After two years at San Jose State, I returned to southern California to continue schooling and thought I’d better get a car that I could keep outdoors, and be less expensive to maintain, and so wound up with plain Jane, military green 1950 Chevy Coupe. For the next several years, while finishing school, getting married, and starting a family, it was pretty much blah cars, with my first brand new one being a 1960 VW, and some six years later, and shortly before being hired by a firm that provided me with company lease cars, I purchased a very nicely kept late 1958, 220 S Mercedes Sedan.
The years that I was in industry, the cars provided me were of my choice, and I always chose ones that were as different from the ordinary as I thought the company would likely tolerate, a 1971 Georgian Silver Coupe Deville, a 1974 Mercedes 240 C, a 1978 Fleetwood Brougham, all the while living on my boat here in the Marina where I had no indoor parking.
After leaving industry, and setting out on my own, I had a sweet 1980 Alfa Veloce Spider, which my second wife of 18 months got during our divorce, so I didn’t have it long enough to see how it might have held up un-garaged, and a 1984 Lincoln Mark VII Bill Blass Edition Continental.
I could go on and on, and am sure I’m missing any number of cars that I owned.
Frank: I’m sure you could, but when did you get interested in vintage cars, like those you own today?
Ron: Irina, the wife of a fellow vice president of the company I worked for during my “lease car period,” who is now dead, owns a pharmaceutical company in Germany. Irina and I became friends many years ago, and have remained so even though she resides Springs and Summers in Bavaria and Falls and Winters here in her beautiful cliff side home in San Clemente.
Irina, and her significant other, Zee, are real car people, and have here in the local garage two Lamborghini’s, an Aston Martin, a very nicely restored Silver Cloud Rolls Royce, an unbelievably tricked out Hummer, and a Porsche Cayenne as an everyday driver. They have other even more exotic cars in Bavaria.
Irina has had Jeane and me over as house guests every Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas for the past 25 years, and me the many years before that, where we happily stay for a few days, enjoying her wonderfully prepared home cooked meals, vintage wines, and cocktails while watching glorious sunsets, and Zee’s prerecorded car shows on TV.
While watching one of the car shows, and sensing my enthusiasm one evening Zee asked me, “Haven’t you ever wanted a vintage car just to clunk around in or play around with?” “Of course,” I replied. “I’ve always wanted an MG TC, and/or a Mark VII Jaguar.” “So what’s keeping you?” he asked. “I don’no, I pretty much work seven days a week, and wouldn’t have the time.” “When will you have that?” he asked. “Have what?” “The time.”
This conversation took place during our Christmas visit, and while driving home in my 1998 Navigator. I got to thinking, ‘I’m going to be 80 years old in two months’, I think I’ll buy myself a birthday present, and so I went in search of an MG TC.
It was while in search of a TC that I came across my ’1938 Morgan 4/4 Le Mans TT Special Tribute” and immediately fell in love. It had the right hand drive and oldie worldly look of a TC with modern car speed, synchronized 5 speed transmission, and up front disk brakes, and it, a much rarer albeit a much more expensive car, but what the hell, it was my birthday present to myself.
Some four and a half years later, when I was diagnosed with mesothelioma, I decided, that if ever I was going to get the other vintage car that I’d longed for, a Mark VII Jaguar, I’d better get one soon. The closest that I could find to the Mark Seven on short notice was a ’58 MKVIII, and so I purchased it sight unseen; probably not the wisest decision that I could have made under the circumstances, but then I’ve never been the brightest light in the firmament.
I apologize for talking so much of my earlier experience with vehicles, but advancing age, and especially old age brings back memories of one’s youth quite like hearing an old song, or seeing and owning cars that we first saw and desired when we were youngsters, but in most cases couldn’t then afford and may now own, also triggers such fond memories.
Frank: Well, Ron, you quoted Red Skelton earlier, so let me quote Bob Hope, by saying, “Thanks for the memories.”