Judy Rae

Forward into the past with Glenn Streeter and the PV Concours d’Elegance

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Glenn Streeter owns jukebox manufacturer Rock-ola and favors cars from the art deco era. Photo by Tony LaBruno

by Dexter Ford

1936 was a big year for Louis Zamperini. The Torrance born-and-raised long-distance runner, who had fine-tuned his legs running from the Torrance Police in his rebellious youth, and later, in a more legal setting, for Torrance High School, was picked to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, a teammate of the legendary sprinter and long jumper Jesse Owens.  

Adolf Hitler was in the stands, scowling as Owens, a proud and very rapid African American, shattered Hitler’s twisted ideas of Aryan racial superiority by winning four gold medals. The dictator refused to shake hands with Owens, but insisted on meeting Louis Zamperini after his blistering final lap in the 5000-meter race.


The Boy With the Fast Finish

“Ah,” said Mr. Hitler. “You’re the boy with the fast finish,”.

Zamperini had a fast final sprint, but he is better known for his impossible endurance. He was scheduled to compete again in the 1940 Olympics, but when they were canceled at the onset of World War II, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and wound up as a bombardier, flying in huge B-24 bombers over the Pacific. When his plane crashed into the sea, killing 8 of the 11 crewmen, he and the two other survivors found themselves alone, with little food and no water, in two leaking life rafts, in Japanese-held territory, hundreds of miles from any land.  One of his fellow castaways died at sea, but he and his injured pilot lasted 47 days at sea, living off captured rainwater, unfortunate birds, and fish they caught using bits of those birds as bait.

Zamperini was captured, and spent the next two years being starved, tortured and beaten in brutal Japanese prison camps. Through it all, he remained unbroken — which just happens to be the title of the 2014 feature film, directed by his friend Angelina Jolie, that chronicles his amazing life.

Glenn Streeter. Photo by Tony LaBruno

A Field of His Own

The City of Torrance had recognized Louis Zamperini’s superhuman fortitude long before that. In 1946 its city fathers named Torrance Airport—now known on aeronautical charts all over the world as Zamperini Field.

The 25th annual Palos Verdes Concours d’Elegance—a fancy French name for “ritzy car show”—will take place on September 30. The PV Concours has been held in various, beautiful places over the years, including the seaside Trump National Golf Club and the Terranea Resort.  

Planes, planes and automobiles

This year, the organizers of this charity event—the PV Concours has donated over $700,000 to various deserving causes—have decided, as they did last year, to add the exciting element of spectacular vintage airplanes to its extensive array of beautiful, painstakingly restored historic autos and motorcycles. And because it’s hard to land a roaring, flashing Lockheed P-38 fighter on a golf course or hotel lawn, the 2018 PV Concours will take place at Louis Zamperini’s own home airport.

1936 was also a big year for Glenn Streeter, though he was decades from being born at the time. It was the year his dignified, rare and spectacular Packard V-12 Roadster was built. The 2018 PV Concours features native Californian Coachbuilders — in that era, high-end automakers often built just the rolling chassis, and left the bodywork and interiors to be custom-made for wealthy customers by independent body specialists. Bohman and Schwartz, of Pasadena, was one of the premier California coachworks in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and Glenn Streeter’s Roadster was one of the few Packard-based cars the firm crafted.

“My car is the only Packard Bohman and Schwartz did in 1936,” said Glenn Streeter from his office in Torrance. “It’s truly one of a kind.”

Rock-Ola Around the Clock-Ola

Streeter is also involved in another enterprise that involving antique objects: he is the owner of the Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corporation, the Torrance-based builder of legendary Rock-Ola jukeboxes. The company was founded in 1927 by David Rockola, a pioneer in coin-based entertainment machines, and has been creating jukeboxes continually since 1935 – the year before Glenn Streter’s Packard was built. Now designed using the latest in digital musical technology, Rock-Ola jukeboxes still feature the same colorful art-deco style and rich handcrafted wood construction as the legendary Rock-Ola model 1428, a 78-rpm record-playing machine introduced soon after the end of World War II.

Streeter’s Packard Roadster is almost as well-travelled as Louis Zamperini was. “It was originally a California car, and it was bought by the head of the Australian Packard Club.” said Glenn Streeter. “He took it to Australia to restore it, and when he passed away his widow sold it back to another guy in the Southern California club — he bought it back to the States after it was finished — it took about a year for them to finish the upholstery. So it’s in mint condition. It’s a show car. I don’t think it’s got enough miles on the motor to even break it in.

The Art of the Wheel

“I like the classic American cars of the 30s, the art-deco-influenced designs,” continued Streeter. “I think that’s the height of American car design.

“I also have a 1942 Packard that’s very rare. It was built in 1941, in September. But when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, all production of automobiles stopped in America, in February or March. Packard took back all the cars from the dealers when they went to the war effort. During the war, Packard played a big role — they manufactured the legendary Packard Merlin engines that powered the P-51 Mustang, one of the most famous and capable fighter planes of the war. That car wasn’t actually sold until 1942.”

Packard is not the only Glenn Streeter-related company to contribute to the war effort. Rock-Ola stopped making jukeboxes and pinball machines, and diverted its factory to making M1 carbine rifles for the U.S. Army, carbines. They are prized by gun collectors for their quality and rarity.

Where does the Palos Verdes Concours fit into the rarefied world of too-perfect exotic cars and well-financed car owners? “I’ve been showing and going to the PV Concours for years,” continued Streeter. “I had a 1935 Cadillac that actually won the very first preservation award they gave, just a few years back, when the Concours was held at Trump’s golf course. I thought there were going to be first, second and third trophies, but they only awarded one. I actually beat out a $500,000 Duesenberg that somebody had just hauled out of a barn.

“I’ve had classic cars all my life, practically. I had a 1934 Rolls Royce that I wish I still had. It had a great history—a real famous car. It was a custom Rolls, with the big engine, the 4050 engine in it. The body was made by Thrupp and Maberly in Paris, for a lady called Elsie de Wolfe. She had the car shipped out right before the war, right before the Germans invaded France. She was one of the first famous interior designers. She is given credit for bringing Art Deco to America and her advice “Never complain, never explain,” which she had embroidered on her taffeta pillows She did decorating for the Kennedys, and all the big families around New York City. The body she had built for the Rolls had very fluid lines, at a time when most of the bodies were pretty upright and square.

“It was a big, long car, a Sedanca de Ville (a ritzy French term for “the chauffeur rides in front, in the rain”). When I was looking at it, I asked the gentleman to start the car for me. He said: ‘It’s already running’. Elsie de Wolfe ended up working for Warner Brothers, designing sets, and the car was sold to Warner Brothers as a part of their collection of prop cars to use in movies. So when all the studios began to sell off their prop departments, and started to rent from independent prop companies, the car came out onto the market.

What Would Louis Do?

“I think the move from the Trump Golf Course to Zamperini field is a great idea, bringing in some wonderful airplanes from the same era as a lot of the classic, Art-Deco automobiles. I know some of the guys who fly out of Zamperini, some of the guys who do the aerobatic shows, and it’s a great combination of design and machinery. And it’s in late September, the best time of the year out here.

“It should be quite spectacular.”

We don’t know how Louis Zamperini felt about classic cars, or classic airplanes. He may have had mixed feelings about the B-24, for instance, that lost power and dumped him into the shark-infested Pacific so many years ago. But we can imagine Louis, himself an American legend of speed and endurance, standing on the field that bears his name, hearing the car engines purr and the airplane engines roar, letting the memories of those times, and those machines, flow through him once more.


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