A Four-Year Effort Produces A Unique Result
By: Christopher Kazarian
In his roller-coaster of a life Howard J. Redpath Sr. experienced the lowest of lows this year when he lost his wife of 69 years, Ingeborg Redpath, in May.
But he did not let that loss cast a deep shadow. Instead, Mr. Redpath turned his energy into something positive and in the process honored one of his wife’s last requests of him—to complete a car he had originally designed, developed, and built himself in 1962.
The request was made last December when Mr. Redpath was forced to put his ailing wife, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, into a nursing home. “When I took her there she turned around and said, ‘Finish it,’ ” he said.
And he did just that at the end of October, rehabbing a sports car unlike any other. It represented the culmination of a nearly foury-ear odyssey to return the vehicle to the road.
In the months following his wife’s death the mechanical work he did to make the car drivable again was cathartic for him. “It filled a need,” he said. “And it kept me busy.”
When he finally was able to put it on the road—a 30-minute jaunt leaving his home in Hatchville and traveling down Sandwich Road to Thomas B. Landers Road and back—he said, “All I could think of is her sitting next to me. There is a lot of sentiment attached to this.”
For him the initial test drive represented a Christmas gift come early or perhaps a late birthday gift to himself—he turned 90 in August and, unlike most his age, he is not confined to a bed, couch, or chair. Rather he is driven to maintain his health and do the most with the faculties he has. In the winter he gives private ski lessons to other elderly people at both Stratton Mountain and Mount Snow in Vermont.
At least fi ve times a day he can be found working out at the Falmouth Sports Center on Highfield Drive and in the summer he swims at least a half mile every other day. “I have too many things to do,” he said. “I have no interest in giving up my lifestyle until it is absolutely necessary. Whatever I can do to forestall, that I will do.”
Both mentally and technically he has kept those skills sharp in recent years by refurbishing a car that was once his pride and glory. Much of his attachment to the car lies in its uniqueness. “There has never been anything like it built before,” he said.
A native of Brockton, Mr. Redpath had a career as an aeronautical engineer. He entered that field toward the end of World War II after a short stint in the US Navy.
He and his wife raised their four children, Patricia, Elaine, Howard Jr. and Cheryl, in Westfield, during which time Mr. Redpath began taking an interest in motor vehicles.
That initially began in the late 1950s when he would accompany a friend who competed in midget auto racing as a crew member. Mr. Redpath was responsible for repairing the engines in the miniature cars.
He tapped into that knowledge in 1960 when he turned his dream of designing his own car into a reality. His vision? “I wanted to make a high performance car using a small engine,” he said.
So he modifi ed a 1960 Ford Falcon engine, increasing its 84 horsepower capacity to 254 horsepower. “That is a lot of horsepower,” he said, before adding that “I built the car to handle this engine safely.”
In his younger days he was able to top out the car at 148 miles per hour, speeds he drove under closely supervised conditions at a nearby airport. “The car was able to handle those speeds safely,” he said. “Even at high speeds it was very solid on the road.”
Speed was measured using a tachometer, registering the revolutions per minute of the engine, instead of a speedometer, which the car does not have.
The body is made entirely of fiberglass with an aluminum frame, and at its highest it sits roughly 27 inches off the ground. The car seats two in a tight open-air compartment that was perfect for Mr. Redpath’s 5-foot, 7-inch-frame and his wife’s 5-foot, 6-inch-frame.
“She rode in it, but she wasn’t very comfortable in it,” he said. “It is a very stiff car, so you feel all the bumps on the road.”
But for him and his son, who used it frequently as an attention-getter while in high school, driving the vehicle was the thrill of a lifetime.
The car bore the emblem “Speak Softly” after President Theodore Roosevelt’s oft-used phrase, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” However, the car did nothing of the sort, as it always drew a crowd.
Occasionally, he laughed, it got him into trouble as sometimes women leaning into the car would drop their lipstick or combs into it by mistake. “My wife would always ask, ‘What are you doing with this?' ” he said.
Although he built it for his own personal use, he said friends began to convince him to enter it into car shows, and it garnered first in the sports car class at the Springfield Rod and Custom Show and another top showing at the Boston Mass Autorama in the Prudential Center.
While at the Boston show, he said, one car collector continuously hounded his son, offering to purchase the vehicle several times. He instructed his son over the phone to explain that the car was not for sale.
At the end of the week when Mr. Redpath was about to leave, he said the man approached him one last time offering a blank check. “I told him, ‘You understand this is not for sale, no matter what?” Mr. Redpath said. “I asked him why he was so interested in buying the car. He said, ‘For the patentable features.’ [If he bought it], the car probably would have never gone on the highway again.”
Mr. Redpath said one of those features, rare in vehicles then, was an electrical fan in the engine compartment. “Now you see them all the time,” he said. While he, at one time, considered patenting some of those features himself, he admitted, “I didn’t have the money to do it, and the patents are expensive.”
But he did not make the car to become rich. “I just wanted to drive it,” he said, something he did for over a decade before placing the car in storage in 1975 because of the upkeep it required to maintain it.
By the time he retired and moved to Falmouth in 1989, he had long forgotten about the car. When he decided to refurbish it in 2006, he said, the car was in a state of disrepair. “It was so deteriorated I really had to start from the beginning,” he said.
Without the Internet, he said, there is no way he could have completed the project. As an example, the car required six sleeve valve carburetors that were common to motorcycles in the 1960s. Through a search on the web, he tracked down a gentleman from Maryland who was able to provide these parts.
That is also how he obtained the wheels, he said, which are rare British Minilite magnesium tires made in the 1980s. “They are a light, beautiful wheel and very strong,” he said.
There are some slight differences from the original piece to the rehabbed one, including the color, which is still red, but not as dark. “Speak Softly” is still on the exterior, but not as noticeably, only visible when the sun hits it just right. And the interior upholstery is now white instead of red.
As to how much he spent on the rehab, he would not divulge the cost, but said, “it didn’t come cheap, I will tell you that. But to me it was worth every penny.”
Never was that more apparent than when he was able to test drive the car on Falmouth streets. Outside of the first drive, he said the vehicle was the feature of a local photo shoot at the kite park at Falmouth Heights as well as at the end of Maravista Avenue. Much like it did four decades ago, it drew a crowd who “had never seen anything like it before,” Mr. Redpath said.
He plans on entering it in car shows, he said, and will one day bequeath it to his son, who now lives in Arizona.
As for his next project? It is fixing an electric organ he gave to his wife in the 1960s at the same time he first built the car. “When I started building it, I was in the garage all the time, every spare minute,” he said. “One day my wife said she was getting lonesome,” so he bought her a Heathkit organ that came with a 176-page manual which helped her in designing the instrument.
“She finished it at the same time I finished the car and she learned to play it,” he said, although today it is no longer working. “Things like this keep me young,” he said. “If you want to have some excitement in your life, you have to do things like this. You just can’t sit around and do nothing.”