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Historic car owned by Chrysler family has new home

The one-of-a-kind 1937 Chrysler Imperial C-15 Town Car,

The one-of-a-kind 1937 Chrysler Imperial C-15 Town Car, built for Walter P. Chrysler's wife Della, found a new home on April 4 with Howard Kroplick, of East Hills, in his garage in Roslyn after over 50 years in storage. (April 12, 2012) Photo Credit: Brittany Wait

The Waterfront at Roslyn is the new home of a 1937 Chrysler Imperial C-15 Town Car previously owned by the Chrysler family.

Its new owner recently extended his garage, filled with antique cars, just to fit the new addition to his collection.

Howard Kroplick, 62, purchased the 19-foot-long Town Car, custom-built in 1937 for Walter P. Chrysler’s wife, Della, and then later inherited by his daughter, Bernice Chrysler Garbisch.

“There’s not another car in the world that looks like this,” said the local historian from East Hills. “It was a totally customized limo of its day.”

Huntington resident Harry Gilbert donated the car in 1959, and it has been in storage at the Long Island Automotive Museum and at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum since then, mostly kept away from public view, collecting dust, with its paint peeling and leather interior torn, according to Kroplick.

Now, he allows the public to come to his antique car garage in the back of The Waterfront at Roslyn.

His wife Rosalind, 61, said jokingly that when the Town Car’s engine is running and the car is fully restored, she wants a chauffeur to drive them around town one day.

“I’m not into cars, but my enjoyment is very much in seeing how much he enjoys it,” she said. “It’ll be a project, but having an interest and a passion and something to work on is pretty cool.”

Because the Vanderbilt Museum was unable to afford to restore the Town Car, the longtime car enthusiast stepped in. Vanderbilt Museum trustees authorized its $275,000 sale, and the county legislature also approved the sale recently after Kroplick’s bid was chosen in January.

Before the auction to buy the car, the couple discussed how much they would be willing to spend on it.

“I thought it was a good purchase,” Rosalind Kroplick said. “It would need work, but it also opens up a whole new area of history, particularly Long Island history. We’re very lucky that we can afford to do this.”

Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum, was happy that Kroplick became the car’s new owner.

“He’s looking to enjoy the car and bring it back to its former glory,” Reinheimer said. “We’re thrilled to have the funds for our collections and thrilled that the car is going to get taken care of. It’s one of those rare times when everyone walks away happy.”

Reinheimer said the museum didn’t have the means to restore it or the space to exhibit it and it wasn’t relevant to the collections, so “we felt the best thing to do was find it a good home.”

The proceeds from the car will go to an endowment fund for the care and maintenance of the Vanderbilt museum’s historic archives, collections and exhibits, said Reinheimer.

“Now, I’m having experts come in to tell me how much to preserve and how much to restore,” Kroplick said. “In the end, you want to keep its integrity and not for it to look like it just came out of the factory. It should still look like it’s 75 years old.”

He estimates the restoration will cost between $100,000 to $200,000 and will involve replacing the gas tank, aligning the car doors, fixing a cracked window, repainting the exterior and attaching the wheel skirts.

Kroplick, a retired chairman of a medical sales firm, has been a volunteer researcher for the Vanderbilt museum for years. He remembers putting archives together on the Vanderbilt Cup races when he saw the seven-person car for the first time. From that moment, he wanted to learn more about the history of it.

Now, he examines photos of what the car looked like when it was manufactured in Detroit in 1937 to help him figure out how to restore it to its original likeness.

His other well-known prized collectible is the 1909 Alco-6 “Black Beast” racer, which he had already mostly restored and now runs. The antique car won Long Island’s Vanderbilt Cup races in 1909 and 1910.

Once Kroplick got the Town Car to his auto garage last week he noticed that it only had 25,501 miles on it.

“There are things you just don’t notice until you get in there and look around,” he said. “It’s like going back in the thirties.”

Kroplick opened a cigarette tray in the backseat of the Town Car to show aged and discolored cigarettes still inside.

“We’ll have to do a DNA test to see they are Walter Chrysler’s,” he said jokingly.

He also noticed a privacy shade in the back window, dial clocks in the front and back seats and a mini bar made of wood in the back of the car.

“I spent the money not because I think it’s an investment, but because it’s a piece of artwork and it’s going to be a fun project,” Kroplick said. “In my lifetime, this car will never be sold.”

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