For The Love Of Classic Cars

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    Ron and Betsy Thomas of southeast Ohio are seen with their 1932 Auburn.

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    This is the hood ornament on Ron and Betsy Thomas' 1932 Auburn.

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    The 1932 Auburn included a newly developed Columbia 2-speed rear-end, effectively giving the car six forward speeds, as well as cockpit adjustable shock absorbers.

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    The Auburn had wooden artillery wheels with radiating spokes made of oak with a steel outer rim.

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    The original Chief Pontiac hood ornaments were a die-cast zinc head of a Native American colored red by copper plating.

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    The 1929 Pontiac Big Six sported a chrome split radiator. The chrome front and rear bumper were optional add-ons at the time.

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    Heavy 10-spoke wooden wheels replaced the 12-spoke versions on earlier models.

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    Ron and Betty Thomas have collected numerous car show awards.

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    The Thomas Collection includes many Greiner Dairy Co. items as a tribute to Betsy's family.

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    This vintage neon Pontiac V-8 signs hangs in its original packing crate.

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    Ron Thomas stands next to the 1967 Pontiac Firebird, which was the start of their collection.

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    1937 Model 812 Supercharged Phaeton Cord.

Couple shares a passion for classics

Story by Joe Higgins • Photos by John Halley

There are many types of loves in the world but the best ones are those that can be shared with someone you love. For Betsy and Ron Thomas, their love for each other is bolstered by their love of classic cars.

The couple have 11 of the finest, most beautiful original classics one can hope to see. That number had been as high as 15 but with the passage of time, some of the cars have come and gone. The cars mean so much to the couple that when they built their home, they built the garage for the cars first.

Betsy doesn’t describe herself as a “typical wife” in the sense that she says she’d much rather spend her time in the garage than in the kitchen.

“Some women think I’m nuts,” she said with a laugh. “Some guys say, ‘I wish my wife would do that.’ But then I tell them ‘When you come home, does your wife have a nice meal ready for you? I don’t!’”

In fact, Betsy is just as much to blame for the craze as Ron. The Thomases started their collection as Betsy went on a search in the late ‘80s to find an original 1967 Pontiac Firebird — the very same her husband owned. They found it but couldn’t get the owner to part with it. Nonetheless, the Thomases bought a similar version and went to work restoring it to its original state.

“We just had so much fun doing that first one,” said Betsy. “It’s a wonder it ever got it back together because we didn’t label anything we took apart, we just took it apart. We learned quickly to label and take pictures of everything!”

Typically, Ron and Betsy will take around a year from scratch to restore a vehicle, depending on the love and care it needs when it rolls into their garage. Their collection currently boasts a 1937 Model 812 Supercharged Phaeton Cord, an Auburn 1932 Model 160-A and a 1939 Fleetwood Series Cadillac, and of course the ’67 Firebird, just to name a few. Some of their classic beauties have earned honors from the Antique Automobile Club of America and the Classic Car Club of America.

The best part of the collection? Ron and Betsy drive them all.

“On a nice day, we might take the Cadillac to the grocery store,” said Betsy.

“You gotta drive them or they’ll deteriorate,” added Ron.

Ron and Betsy enjoy the chase; trying to find all those original parts, doing the research and learning about the history of a particular vehicle. Who drove it? Where has that car been in the world? Those are the stories the Thomases thrive upon.

It’s more than that though. As part of the club shows, Ron and Betsy select a car to drive along a tour, sometimes lasting as much as 12 days. The two stay at various hotels along the trek and take in the sights.

“That’s vacation for us,” said Betsy. “We load up a car and away we go. It’s usually a really nice location and we’ve been all around the country.”

The reactions they garner from both the public and other car aficionados vary but the consensus is that the cars make a remarkable impression.

Although the cars all have quite the monetary value, Ron and Betsy remember that they are still cars. At shows (sometimes when it’s against the rules), they allow children of all ages to take pictures in the cars. It’s part of continuing the passion for these vehicles in hopes that the next generation will take on the responsibility.

This year will mark 50 years that Ron and Betsy have been married. They still ballroom dance together once a week and they work on their cars together. They do just about everything together, even avoid questions. When asked which of their collection is their favorite, they both respond, “The one we’re driving when you ask the question.”