Soldier's antique car showstopper at auto show
February 7, 2013
By David Vergun
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 7, 2013) -- In a sea of Bentleys, BMWs, Chryslers, Cadillacs and other showroom autos, one car in particular stood out, garnering a lot of attention: a 1918 Dodge Brothers Model 30 touring car.
The proud owner of that car is Sgt. 1st Class Mark F. Ounan, an instructor at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., who took leave to attend the 2013 Washington Auto Show, Feb. 5, in the nation's capital.
About eight years ago, Ounan purchased the car on eBay for about $7,500. He said it was old and needed a total restoration and that the amount of time and money invested in the car far exceeded the initial sticker price.
But Ounan was up to the task, since he restores antique cars for a hobby -- he even has a barn for storage and work.
A lot of the bodywork he did himself and he said he enlisted the help of some friends to restore the engine, interior upholstery and rag top. He said the all-steel body, engine and everything else except the upholstery and top is original.
Visitors to the auto show came by to gawk at and touch the car.
"This is really soft," said a middle-aged man, stroking the seat.
"Genuine leather," Ounan replied. "It feels real cushy, just like a leather sofa."
Comfort is especially important for Ounan, for practical reasons. He said he drives the car in a lot in parades and to special events.
One of the longest trips he took was the 2009 Military Vehicle Preservation Association's transcontinental convoy from Washington, D.C., to California's Bay area. The 3,300-mile journey took 26-days.
The 2009 motor convoy retraced the route of the first major motorized expedition across the United States, back in 1919. That first expedition took place just a year after Ounan's car was built. The Army convoy was designed to examine the feasibility of rapidly moving troops and equipment across the country, and showcase the military's use of the latest motorized technology.
Following the newly opened Lincoln Highway, the 1919 convoy set a world record, traveling 3,251 miles in 62 days, at an average speed of six mph. Ninety years later, the 2009 convoy, which traced the original route, averaged 30 mph.
Another admirer stopped to gaze.
"Oh wow, this is amazing. Unbelievable," he said. "What kind of engine does it have?"
"A 35 horsepower, four-cylinder engine," Ounan replied. "It takes unleaded gas."
"They had unleaded gas then?" the guest asked.
"All the gas was unleaded then," Ounan said. "Leaded gas wasn't introduced until the late 1920s."
To start the car, Ounan said, the driver activates a button on the floor by foot and then turns on the ignition key. It's an improvement over some of the early hand-crank started engines.
Some complimented Ounan's World War I uniform. Ounan said he purchased the World War I-reenactment uniform because it went well with the car, which saw service during the "Great War."
Dodge Brothers cars were used in warfare even prior to World War I. Brig. Gen. John J. "Blackjack" Pershing, commander of the U.S. Expeditionary Force of 1916, used several hundred during his pursuit of the elusive Mexican bandit Pancho Villa on the Southwest border.
The general liked the vehicles so much he had them shipped, along with the Doughboys, to France during World War II.
By 1919, when the Lincoln Highway convoy took place, Dodge had become the fourth largest producer of cars, just behind Ford, Chevrolet and Buick.
Another group of admirers gazed at the car, asking a lot of questions.
"What was the biggest challenge in restoring it?" one asked.
"The paint," Ounan said.
Getting the color just right was very difficult, he said, because almost all World War I vehicles were repainted in the 1940s and 1950s with World War II green, which was readily available then.
Ounan said he canvased the country in his quest to get the paint job just right.
"I worked with a guy in Connecticut and California," he said. "The guy from Connecticut found original paint under a World War I vehicle hinge that had not been recoated and the guy from California had an unaltered fender. We compared the two and got a good color match."
The World War I "green" was actually an olive drab brown, he said.
Ounan, whose military occupational specialty is infantry, said he sometimes gets asked questions about Army life today, and he's more than happy "to tell it like it is."
With him was Staff Sgt. Eric Grant, a recruiter out of nearby Hyattesville, Md. He said the car is a "magnet" for old and young people alike, and he too is eager to tell the Army story to the American public and "hopefully get a few enlistments."