Showroom condition

Published 6:10 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A 1929 Duesenberg Murphy Roadster (right) and a 1930 Duesenberg J LaGrande Dual Cowl Phaeton hold pride of place in the collection of antique cars owned by Dwight and Jane Schaubach.

Dwight Schaubach’s garage pays homage to automotive art

Everything was fine right up until the garage caught on fire.

Actually, it was just the carburetor of a 1940 Mack pickup truck — one of only 123 built for Mack truck dealers more than 70 years ago. But as the flame licked up against the bottom of the immaculately detailed hood of the antique truck and folks scurried around the garage looking for a blanket and then an extinguisher to put out the fire, I found myself looking around the garage and wanting to shrink into a speck on the floor.

After all, the pickup truck was just one of nearly a dozen priceless automotive gems in this special garage in North Suffolk, part of an eclectic collection of transportation history owned by Dwight and Jane Schaubach and housed in a specially built garage on their estate off of Crittenden Road.


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With Dwight Schaubach and his mechanic, Roy Kingam — “Roy’s just one of those guys who can do it all,” Schaubach says — scurrying to put out the fire, my journalist’s instincts had me looking around to see what could be lost if the fire did, indeed, spread to the rest of the garage.

There was the Mack pickup, of course, which had flamed up from a blast of ether used to try to get it started so it could be moved into place for a photo. There were two Buick Skylarks, 1953 and 1954 models, the red ’53 one of only 168 that were built and showing just 18,000 original miles on the odometer, and the pale yellow ’54 boasting what was then an entirely new body style. Both were in showroom condition.

“The red Buick is a great car. It’s got great lines,” Schaubach says when asked to name a favorite from his fleet. “But I like them all, or I wouldn’t have them. We’ve had fun in all of them.”

Glancing around the garage as I noticed the blanket had been discarded when it wouldn’t extinguish the fire, I saw the 1948 Lincoln Continental Mark 1, the first car that Schaubach had restored when he discovered the passion in 1980. That car, with its bulbous wheel wells and a pinched hood covering a flathead V-12 engine, was the one that carried the Schaubachs’ first son to and from church for his wedding.

Parked in front of the Lincoln was a turquoise 1960 Impala, a restored version of the car that Dwight Schaubach owned when he married Jane, his wife of 49 years. The car was a gift to her for their 42nd anniversary.

Other gems in the now-threatened garage included a midget racecar that an uncle had built and driven when Dwight Schaubach was a boy. It’s one of the restoration projects currently in the works, along with a 1950s-era cream-colored Cadillac whose tailfins are a tangible reminder of the Space Age that had newly dawned at the time of its production.

There’s even an old motor scooter that someone once gave him to restore, now shiny in its spot between an already-restored Cadillac and a 1910 Alliance — one of three the short-lived company ever started and the only one ever completed — its heavy bronze parts ensuring that it will never win a race.

That old, slow car gives Schaubach inspiration for the next acquisition.

“A rumpty-rump,” he says, smiling. “Something with a big motor, something with a 550-horsepower engine — a hot rod. That way, I’d have the slowest car and the fastest car in the same garage.”

As I mused on the pricelessness of this collection, a burst of powder and foam from a fire extinguisher quenched the flame inside the old Mack pickup’s engine compartment. Roy Kingam, who has worked for Schaubach for 25 years, began to check the carburetor and engine for damage, hands trembling from the adrenaline infusion that took place when he first heard his boss shout “Fire!”

The carb would have to be replaced, and the engine cleaned completely, but damage had been minimal, and none of the other cars were involved.

Exhaling for what seemed the first time in many long minutes, I expected to be shown the garage door, but a gracious Schaubach smiled and soon turned the subject to the true gems of his collection, stored in a separate garage attached to the main house.

A 1923 Packard and a 1931 Franklin Victoria Brougham, made by an airplane company, hold two spaces in the garage, along with automotive collectibles of various types and even a small desk.

But prime placement belongs to the Duesenbergs.

There’s the black one — a 1929 Murphy Roadster, chassis No. J-112, originally bought by Humphrey Chadburn after he saw one at the New York Auto Show at the Commodore Hotel in New York — that belongs to Jane Schaubach.

“It’s got a 405-cubic-inch, 265-horsepower, dual-overhead cam straight-8,” she says, as her husband raises his eyebrows in surprise. Indeed, the engine is a piece of art on its own.

That’s her Duesy. His is a 1930 J LaGrande Dual Cowl Phaeton. It’s a two-tone red color and boasts a wheelbase nine inches longer than his wife’s version. Both cars have the smooth lines and platter-sized headlights that characterize the Duesy and make it such a head-turner.

Both cars have been driven to shows hundreds of miles from Suffolk, and Dwight Schaubach even drove his in a drag race with others at one of those shows. When it was first built, he said, the car would have done 120 miles per hour.

The Duesenbergs are the point where his hobby intersects with his wife’s interests.

“Dwight and I don’t have a lot of hobbies we do together,” Jane Schaubach says. “We both love history and antiques. But he liked the ‘50s cars, and I just think the cars from the age of ‘gracious and lovely’ will never be (made) again.”

The Duesenbergs, as well as the other antiques that I had so worried would be lost to fire earlier in the day, she said, had given them the opportunity to travel all over the East Coast — and even to Pebble Beach, Calif. — for auto shows.

And although he doesn’t mention them, many of the cars in both garages sport small metal medallions in their grilles that proclaim the awards they’ve won.

Dwight Schaubach’s interest, though, seems to be engaged at a more basic level.

“I like the part of building the cars,” he says. “I’ve been involved in everything that goes on with them.”

Which is a good thing, considering there’s an engine in a 1940 Mack pickup truck with minor fire damage that needs repairing and restoring.