1952 Spohn Palos
The 1952 Spohn Palos is a 1940 Ford chassis with a coach-built body by Spohn Carosserie in Ravensburg, Germany for an as-yet unidentified owner in 1952. It started life as a 1940 Ford, and as so popular with other '50s Spohn creations, the rear end and the fins on the car resembles the sensational 1951 GM LeSabre concept car. The Ford chassis was rebuilt stock, and the firewall was cut down and fitted with a dashboard that seems to be hand-formed. The Palos was ordered with a full leather interior and a euro-style cabriolet convertible top with a four-piece parade hard boot when the top was down that either allows use of, or covers the two-passenger rear seat. Most likely ordered by an American military officer on occupation duty in Germany, the car was brought to the United States in the 1950s. Wayne Graefen, as a child living in Palos Park, Illinois with an eye for car design, recalls seeing the Palos in 1957. Young Wayne and his family were on their way to church one bright Sunday morning when he saw a gleaming pink custom car sitting in front of a house atop a rising driveway. Wayne remembers that the styling was like absolutely nothing around. The old Spohn creation was to be noted at that location only on perfect days during years perhaps up to 1959 or 1960. After that it disappeared.
Wayne couldn't get the old custom car out of his head, and in the 1960s, while talking to a school friend Geary Vlk, Geary mentioned that his father owned some old cars. Geary was not interested in cars, and couldn't name all of his fathers' cars. In 1964 Wayne got his driver license, and could finally drive over to see Dr. Jerome Vlk's collection. Dr. Vlk owned a 1936 Ford bodied by Allegheny-Ludlum Corporation in stainless steel, a Fiat Topolino, and a half dozen other cars in and around the historic carriage house. In a garage attached to their house Wayne found the stylish Spohn custom car from his earlier days sitting. By then the car had been painted green. The car had apparently fallen into disrepair but still wore a 1963 Illinois registration. He knew that it had a Ford product motor under the hood, but could not further identify it at the time. Wayne expressed to Geary that he was really interested in buying the car if it ever came up for sale. On one of several follow-up visits to the Vlk home approximately 1976, Wayne took the last three photos on a 12-shot roll of film in his dad's Kodak Brownie camera. In 1987 after Dr. Vlk passed away, Geary sold the car without mentioning it to Wayne. The buyer was not revealed by Mrs. Vlk, and the car was lost again.
Destiny wanted something else, and one day in the early 1990s, Wayne was visiting classic car appraiser, broker and collector Dennis Mitosinka in Santa Ana, California. As Wayne and Dennis passed through a side room to get to the warehouse, familiar fins caught Wayne's eyes. Wayne exclaimed to Dennis his recognition of the Spohn from Palos Park, Illinois. Dennis confirmed this, and explained that it was merely in storage, and that they would come back to it later. As Wayne arrived late in the day, Mr. Mitosinka, had to leave before they came back to the Spohn creation. Due to serious illness, Wayne was heavily medicated during this part of his life, and the Spohn sighting did not stay mentally registered that day. It would be several years later that Wayne slapped his forehead and exclaimed "Mitosinka has the Palos Spohn!!!" A call was placed, and Wayne found out that the car had been sold two months earlier with buyer information privileged. The car was lost again.
After losing the car for the second time, Wayne made many inquiries with car collector contacts for several years asking if they recognized that car in his photos or if they had any idea where to look next. The internet expanded the search world-wide, and Wayne started exchanging research about Spohn with Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama. On Kustomrama Sondre had a list of 1951 GM LeSabre lookalikes containing some Spohns. Sondre added the car to his list of Spohn creations as the "Vlk Family Custom", and started to run a weekly column in his newsletter featuring different Spohn creations, in order to try to make some attention on these cars. A year later, in July, 2011 the Vlk Family Spohn roadster was offered for sale by Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, California at Live Auctioneers. It was listed as a "1953 Spohn Roadster", and the rare car was estimated to bring between $100,000 and $200,000. According to the auction listing, the car had been sitting for years, and it appeared complete. July 8, 2011 Wayne's rediscovery of the car came in a morning email from the Bring A Trailer website that included a link to a Bay Area, California auction with an inventory chock full of odd collector trucks and RV trailers and some cars. Wayne went through the list, and hit a thumbnail showing a green roadster. "Omigod, OMIGOD, OMIGOD" echoed through Wayne's office, he had finally found the Spohn from Palos Park. With help from two auction company workers he became registered for the auction and got the condition details on the car. July 12, 2011, Wayne won the bidding over the phone, and he had finally become the owner of the Palos Park Spohn. When Wayne got the car to his ranch in Kerville, Texas, it had 25,900 Km or 16,100 miles on its odometer. It was fitted with a VDO cluster, and individual Stewart Warner "Wings" gauges. According to the serial number on the transmission, Wayne's newly acquired custom started life as a 1940 Ford Deluxe with V8 60 HP. The chassis was still all 1940 Ford, but the stock engine had been replaced by a Ford Y-block. The 272" OHV Y-block was installed in Chicago, and Wayne may recall that the motor was frozen when he looked at it in 1964. The center back up light rim had been sourced from a 1950 or 1951 Ford, and the park lamp chrome frames and glass lenses came from 1947 - 1948 Kaiser. After buying it, Wayne named his car the "Spohn Palos". "Palos" is a village and former port in southwest Spain, from which Christopher Columbus embarked on his first voyage. As a model created for a new owner in Illinois, shipped from Europe to the United States and having spent its short driving years in Palos Park, before being stored there for a couple of decades, Wayne felt that his vehicle should be appropriately become known as the Spohn Palos.
What does the sighting of such a high-styled, coachbuilt special car do to a young man for the rest of his years? Looking in life’s rear-view mirror, Wayne can see that his interest in the wildly finned cars of Virgil Exner for Chrysler Corporation was an immediate influence as those cars were on the streets back in the day. Also an appreciation for customized cars was planted from this Spohn eventually maturing into research and knowledge of the coach building craft in the US and world wide. Wayne owned a small collector car mechanical restoration shop and managed a world class restoration facility during his life which surely has roots in the Spohn. And we would be remiss to not include that God created man with an instinct to hunt and with this story of the fifty four year hunt for this 1952 Spohn, that vocation was certainly filled.
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