And the future of the automotive past
By his own admission, Tim Stentiford is a “born car guy,” the sort who collected Matchbox cars as a kid and never left the rumpus room, even as he got older and his toys got more expensive. As a college student, Stentiford motored around Boston in a 1963 Lincoln Continental, a “big boat” equipped with suicide doors.
“I had no business having that big, old car,” he says. “And it broke down one time right in the middle of Main Street, right downtown Boston, so I soon parted ways with that. About 10 years after that, I got a 1961 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, and I haven’t stopped since.”
Indeed, what Stentiford and company have going at Motorland in Arundel looks very much like a giant kid’s toy box spilling out onto Route 1, with boats and cars and trucks strewn all over the place. Motorland offers a broad selection of classic and not-so-classic cars, from a ’29 Ford Model A ($32,000), to a ’99 Chevy Tahoe ($9,995). But the mundane ones are clearly outnumbered by historically significant cars with familiar names (Dodge, BMW, Toyota, Mercedes), as well as cars with names you might not have heard before, such Morris, Volga or Moskvitch.
There were 92 cars on the lot the day we visited, and while they were spread out in terms of time period and brand name, there did seem to be a number of Corvairs on the lot.
“We love our Corvairs,” says Stentiford. “I think they kind of got a bad rap. There was a legitimate problem in 1960, but Ralph Nader had other ideas—kind of doomed what was actually, and is still, a very nice car. The Corvair has more smiles to the mile and value than most collector cars.”
Motorland does more than just sell automotive history, however. The company works with a number of senior centers, particularly with those specializing in the care of Alzheimer’s patients, who come in and reconnect with lost portions of their past, through the look, feel and smell of the cars they loved as young men and women. The company also partners with local schools, teaching students engine and body work, while exposing them to the hobby of classic cars. But the future of that hobby, says Stentiford, is far from assured.
“Fewer younger people are getting into our hobby of older cars,” he says. “They have a whole digital world that generations before them didn’t have to spend their free time.
“And we also look at, what’s the next generation of collector cars? What can we be doing today to preserve and protect them? I’ve got two teenage boys, so I kind of look at, when they’re adults, and they’re looking back to kind of re-buy their childhood and youth, what are the cars that are going to be still on the road?”
And this is harder than it sounds, says Stentiford, in part because the evolution of body styles seems to be slowing down.
“We had a 1976 Chrysler, and (a client) had a 1926 Chrysler, so we did a trade,” he says. “Fifty years difference. Now, if you look at 2017 versus 1967, the evolution of automotive design has been kind of shrinking. The 1926 and 1976 are miles apart. But today’s 2017 Toyota Camry and a 1987 Toyota Camry aren’t all that far apart.”
In other words, how “collectable” is a car that looks pretty much like what’s currently on the road? And there’s an even bigger hurdle looming for those who would collect classic cars, one that few people would think of in this context: computer technology.
“Probably one of the biggest challenges for the collector of the future will be obsolete software,” says Stentiford. “How do we keep cars that are run by computers on the road 30, 50, 100 years from now? That actually might be the single biggest challenge. Because you can find and make parts, but no one is dealing with obsolete software. It’s an issue that we’re already seeing in the hobby.”
All of that aside, Stentiford is having a great time working his hobby. He’s got a favorite car on the lot, a 1957 Nash Ambassador, and he gets to drive eye-popping iconic cars to work every day, like the red ’59 Thunderbird parked out front. Nice work if you can get it.
“You know, it’s a business that’s a hobby, it’s a hobby that’s a business,” says Stentiford. “I enjoy it every day, I learn something new every day, so I’m going to keep on driving.”
Where Tim Rides
If you live in Southern Maine and are looking for a great place to drive your classic car, Tim Stentiford says you’re already in the right place.
“Southern Maine is really ideal, and it’s maybe one of the reasons we have the second-highest classic car ownership in the nation,” he says. “I love just cruising the back roads of Kennebunkport, Cape Porpoise. There’s no mountains or hills, when you’ve got three on the tree (i.e. a column-mounted stick shift), drum brakes and a six-volt battery, those are some of those things you worry about.
“We really don’t have much traffic here,” he says. “Southern Maine is nice cruising, and you can take it all the way up the coast. A couple of summers ago, we took our kids in a 1953 Cadillac. We drove it all the way to St. John, New Brunswick. And we took it to the top of Cadillac Mountain in Bar Harbor, and then on the ferries to New Brunswick. Driving in an old car like that, it’s very much about the journey, not the destination. That’s what the experience is all about.”
Will Cutlip drives a 2001 Honda Civic to and from his home in Bath, Maine.