Follow by Email

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How a teacher spent 50 years finding a car for every letter of the alphabet


A-to-Z Collection of John Moir
Some car collectors like to think crazy thoughts. What if all my cars were purple? What if I they all had under 100 miles? What if they’re all bought from new?And then there’s John Moir.
For more than half a century, the New Hampshire high-school teacher with a passion and unspecified funding for automobiles set about amassing four-wheeled machines that spanned the letters of the alphabet, from A to Z.
 Moir did it, and now after great deliberation is undoing his masterwork, selling these cars plus an assortment of others at RM Auctions’ Hershey event Oct. 9-10.
Starting with the first car Moir ever bought — a 1950 AC 2-Litre Sports Tourer by Buckland (estimated to bring $150,000 to $200,000 and like all the cars in this auction is being offered with no reserve) - and book-ending with a 1910 Zebra Type A Runabout ($20,000-$30,000), the group may be the only such abecedarian trip through the history of automobiles ever assembled.
“John is so proud of this collection, and it’s only because his heirs weren’t as keen about keeping them together that he’s decided to sell,” says RM’s Don Rose, who befriended Moir and his wife Heather in 2007 and took the reins of the sale when the couple decided it was time to move on.
Rose says Moir kept his mechanical babies “in a place he called the Car Barn, but as a true New Englander he spelled it Ca’a Bahn.” Although the locale was never designed as a formal museum, Moir would welcome the occasional visitor who proved resourceful enough to find his lair.
“It became sort of an underground legend more than anything,” says Rose with a laugh. “Nothing delighted John more than showing them off to people if they did come. Because every car had some sort of story for him.”
1900 De-Dion Bouton Vis-a-Vis
1900 De-Dion Bouton Vis-a-Vis
The oldest car in the group is a 1900 De Dion Bouton Vis-a-Vis ($40,000-$60,000). Vis-a-vis is a French expression meaning face-to-face, and in this instance refers to the fact that the bench seats on this modest early automobile face each other.
Moir loved this car because it boasted the company’s fabled and at that time very advanced De Dion rear axle. The vehicle also delivered power to its wheels through flexible half shafts.
 “The whole idea was to reduce the unsprung weight to the rear wheels,” an impressed Moir writes in the A to Z catalog. “I have always left the cover off the differential so that visitors can see the design.”
1999 Xanthos 23B
1999 Xanthos 23B
The newest car in the grouping rounds out the century and is Moir’s letter X: a 1999 Xanthos 23B ($20,000-$30,000). The slippery low-slung missile of a racer was the brainchild of three Englishmen who in 1997 decided the world needed a modernized version of the mid-’60s Lotus 23 racer. They copied the body and shoehorned in either a Toyota or Lotus engine. Moir took the latter.
“The car arrived as you see it, with turn signals and horn and all but no windshield wipers,” writes Moir. “The car looks fast just sitting there.”
Among other standouts in the A to Z list are:
C: 1930 Cadillac V-16 Roadster by Fleetwood
($450,000-$650,000). If you can believe it, this was Moir’s personal car while at Harvard. Not surprisingly this glamorous Depression Era behemoth proved a bit too hard to park around campus. Moir’s father bought the car in 1933, and it’s been in the family ever since.
F: 1933 Ford V8 Station Wagon
($70,000-$100,000). Call it simply the mother of all Woodies. This unrestored Ford harks back to the stagecoach era - the station in station wagon hinted at stops made to pick up passengers with luggage. In its day it was owned largely by the wealthy since, much like their nautical counterparts, these Woodies had panels that had to be stripped and revarnished annually to prevent rot.
L: 1934 Lancia Augusta Special Tourer by March
 ($300,000-$400,000). Although the car’s shocking green color might not win over every enthusiast, everything else about this early Lancia is impressive, from its Art Deco design to its V-4 engine and independent front suspension.
1930 Cadillac V-16 Roadster by Fleetwood
1930 Cadillac V-16 Roadster by Fleetwood
“There are so many great cars in this collection, but if I had to single out the star it would have to be the Caddy,” says Rose, adding that the cover of the auction brochure is a period shot of the car from 1933 with a seven-year-old John Moir standing nearby.

“What distinguishes this group overall however is that car collecting is really a relatively young phenomenon, but John Moir was there at the beginning and had a passion not just for quality but also for the offbeat approach to it,” says Rose. “In fact, I once had an Austrian client who said to me, ‘I think I’ll start a collection that spans the alphabet, what do you think?’ I said, ‘Sorry, it’s been done.’ John got there first.”
Moir will be at the auction in Hershey, Penn., to see his fleet get dispersed, says Rose.
“It’ll be a bittersweet moment for him, since it was at Hershey that he would show his cars over the decades,” he says. “But while John may be in a wheelchair, his mind is still sharp. This is his way of managing his collection until the very end.”