The 19-foot-long Imperial Town Car, hand-built and monogrammed for Walter P. Chrysler's daughter Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, was gathering dust -- the museum unable to afford its restoration.
"Out of the corner of my eye I see this black, strange-looking car and thought 'What is that?' " Kroplick, an East Hills automotive historian and collector, recalled Monday . "I'd never seen anything like it."
More than a year later, Kroplick, 62, is poised to become the one-of-a-kind vehicle's new owner. Museum trustees recently authorized its $275,000 sale, and the county legislature is expected to do the same by early March. Kroplick's bid was chosen in January, and proceeds will go to an endowment for museum archives and exhibits.
"When selling an asset, it's important to use those funds for the same purpose," said Vanderbilt's interim executive director, Lance Reinheimer. "This will allow us to care for our collection." The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point was founded in 1943 on the former Chrysler estate.
Huntington resident Harry Gilbert donated the striking, Art Deco-style car in 1959, and after a stint at the Long Island Automotive Museum, it has been with the Vanderbilt since 1992. It mostly sat out of public view, its paint peeling and its leather interior torn.
Kroplick, a retired chairman of a medical sales firm, has been a volunteer researcher for the museum for years. His current prized collectible is the 1909 Alco-6 "Black Beast" racer that won several of Long Island's famed Vanderbilt Cup Races in the early 1900s. That came mostly restored. The Chrysler is another story.
"This is going to be a bit of a project, to say the least," he said. "With a car neglected for many years, the question is, 'How do you bring it back to life?' But this is really about being able to give back to the Vanderbilt Museum."