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Classic cars are perfect guests at Spomer’s museum

A 1937 Willys Americar (from left), 1914 Overland Model 79, 1930 Willys-Overland Whippet and 1924 Overland touring vehicle sit Wednesday morning in the Spomer Classics parking lot in Worthington. (Ryan McGaughey/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — David Ellrich has been a regular at Spomer Classics the last few years for its annual Show ‘n Shine event on Memorial Day weekend.

That’s part of the reason why Ellrich and his wife, Marlene, were happy to host fellow members of the Willys-Overland-Knight Registry’s Upper Mississippi Valley Chapter during their visit to the Iowa Great Lakes this past week. The Ellriches, who reside in George, Iowa, scheduled a visit to Spomer Classics on Wednesday morning, and the car clubbers listened with rapt attention as Worthington’s Marv Spomer spun tales of his classic automobiles and signs.

Ellirch, as he has on past occasions, brought his 1914 Overland Model 79 to town on Wednesday. It’s a vehicle that has been passed within his family for generations.

“My grandfather bought it new in 1914,” he said. “Later on, my dad got it … and I got it from him.”

The 1914 Overland is notable, Ellrich said, because it was the last year the company had vehicles with “right-hand drive,” or the steering wheel on the right side. It was also the first year of electrical lights for that model.

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The car’s history in the Ellrich family is notable in its own right, too. Ellrich’s dad painted the car white as a youth — it has since been restored to its original brewster green color. The auto later sat in a machine shed for 35 years before Ellrich began a full restoration that included upholstery, paint and mechanical work. That labor, which Ellrich pointed out that he didn’t do himself, started in 2011 and finished in 2015.

Four years later after its restoration — earlier this month — the Ellriches completed a memorable journey.

“In 1954, my grandfather drove this car to the (Iowa) State Fair from Newell, Iowa,” Ellrich said. “It was the oldest car there that traveled the furthest distance under its own power.

“In 2019 — fast forward 65 years — the car’s now 105, and we did the same thing; we drove it from Newell to the state fair. It was 150 miles, and we averaged 28 miles per hour. It was an eight-hour trip.

“My chest puffs up every time I say it.”

Lynn Miller, a Willys-Overland-Knight Registry member from Wadena, shared Ellrich’s enthusiasm for not just the 1914 Overland, but the other classic vehicles parked on Spomer’s property Wednesday morning. One car Miller happily discussed was a yellow 1928 Willys Knight sedan.

“This was a high-end luxury car at the time for Willys and has a very special engine,” said Miller, explaining its Knight Sleeve Valve Engine that eliminated such parts as lifters, push rods, valves and valve springs. Mark (Young, of Moorhead) did a restoration on this and then did the Great Race with it.”

The Great Race is an antique, vintage and collector car competitive controlled-speed endurance road rally on public highways.

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Among the other vehicles in the lot were a 1924 Overland touring car (“a four-cylinder engine, three-speed transmission,” Miller said) that was brought up from Florida on a trailer, a 1937 Willys Americar, and a 1924 Willis-Overland Model 91 Roadster that was a top competitor of the Ford Model A “until about 1929 or 1930,” Miller noted. There was also a 1930 Willys-Overland Whippet, a name with a bit of a backstory.

“John North Willys needed a new car to compete with the Model A,” Miller said. “They decided to call it the Whippet, because they were going to whip the Model A Ford.”

In addition to the Willys-Overland club visit, Spomer’s Classics hosts multiple out-of-town visitors each year and hosts various other tours by appointment. Call Spomer at 376-9557 for more information.

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Marv Spomer (center back, pointing to right) gives a tour of Spomer Classics to members of the Willys-Overland-Knight Registry Upper Mississippi Valley Chapter on Wednesday morning. (Ryan McGaughey/The Globe)

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Marv Spomer (center back, pointing to right) gives a tour of Spomer Classics to members of the Willys-Overland-Knight Registry Upper Mississippi Valley Chapter on Wednesday morning. (Ryan McGaughey/The Globe)

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