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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

He found his dad’s 1930s car at an auction - and got it working again

By Daniel Wu Washington Post

At the heart of Jonathan Stern’s family lore was his grandfather’s vintage car. His father, Malcolm Stern, told the stories on repeat. Its model name, Talbot-Darracq, evoked the car’s stylish 1930s look, with an ornate chrome grille and long, sloping fenders. It stood out – in Malcolm’s memory at least, because family photos of the vehicle were all in black and white – for its bright yellow paint job.

Malcolm, now 94, recalled riding through London in the Talbot-Darracq during the 1930s with his father, Alec Stern. Years later, World War II broke out, and the British government evacuated the city’s children to the countryside. Jonathan recalled Malcolm describing how he’d looked out the bus window and seen a familiar flash of yellow: Alec was driving behind the bus, following them to their new home.

“That story has resonated,” Jonathan told the Washington Post. “My father, throughout the years, has probably told it a hundred times.”

Malcolm could only tell stories because he’d lost track of the car after his father sold it in 1942. The decades passed, and it became a family tale. Then in 2020, a 91-year-old Malcolm looked up the car online. In a few clicks, Jonathan said his father found a listing for a Talbot-Darracq – with a recent photo. It was still in one piece, and the license plate matched the one in their family photos. It was going on auction in a few weeks’ time.

Malcolm and Jonathan purchased the nearly century-old car for around $8,000 and began a refurbishment project that lasted three years. Last week, the Talbot-Darracq – complete with a new yellow paint job – hit the road again, capping the unlikely restoration of the Sterns’ family treasure.

“An amazing story of serendipity,” Jonathan said. “To find the car by just coincidence.”

Alec Stern worked in a central London garage parking cars and brought home the sleek Talbot-Darracq in 1935, Jonathan said. It went on its own journey, of which Jonathan and Malcolm know little, after Alec sold it. An article on a hobby website claims the car was lost in a bet during a high-stakes card game in 1948. It resurfaced briefly in 2005, when Malcolm was able to locate it in a private collection, but when he went to visit the Talbot-Darracq, he found it in disrepair.

“It was a rust bucket,” Jonathan recalled.

His father resigned the car to the past until 2020, when he searched for inspiration for a new hobby, Jonathan said. Malcolm had bought a 3D printer to make miniature plastic models. He thought about re-creating his father’s beloved car and searched for the Talbot-Darracq online to look up its dimensions.

He called Jonathan in excitement when the search led him to his father’s car, repaired and sitting in an auction lot.

“We were egging each other on,” Jonathan said, as he recalled telling Malcolm: “’Oh Dad, you’ve got to buy it. … You can’t let it go again.’”

Malcolm arranged to inspect the car a few days before the auction and was invited to a hangar where the car was being stored. Tucked in among roughly a hundred collectors’ items was Alec’s weathered Talbot-Darracq.

“Most of the cars were beautifully restored,” Jonathan said. “There were Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Jaguars … and then there was this car.”

Malcolm was hesitant, Jonathan said. Though the car’s owner had repaired it to a much better state than it had been in 2005, it was still in poor condition and far from roadworthy. Its online listing described it as a restoration project that “unashamedly requires further work.”

Malcolm, a mechanical engineer who’d served in the British Army’s engineer corps, was up to it, Jonathan said. But he was around the same age as the car. Unsure whether rescuing the Talbot-Darracq was too big of an undertaking, Malcolm slept on the decision.

“He woke up the next morning thinking, ‘This was my father’s car,’” Jonathan said.

The Talbot-Darracq ended up attracting little interest at the auction, and Jonathan purchased it for around $8,000. In his garage in Rickmansworth, a British town north of London, Malcolm steeled himself for a grueling engineering challenge. Jonathan, who lives in Pennsylvania, visited frequently and watched his father’s progress in awe.

Parts of the aging car, such as its motor and electronics, required Malcolm to hire a restoration company. But he rebuilt much of the Talbot-Darracq himself, Jonathan said, even using his 3D printer to fashion replacement parts.

“He’s always been this, ‘I can design it. I can build it. I can get it done,’ kind of incredibly resourceful guy,” Jonathan said. “… He’s probably put in 1,000 hours of work.”

Malcolm also ensured the car received a fresh coat of paint: a vibrant canary yellow that might be even brighter than the car’s original shade. Jonathan said he deferred to his father on the decision.

“It’s growing on me,” he said.

Malcolm still needs to restore parts of the car’s interior, including its seats and convertible hood, Jonathan said. But the father and son recently reached a joyous milestone. Last week, three years after purchasing the Talbot-Darracq, Malcolm and Jonathan took it on its first drive. The nonagenarian car creaked and groaned, and Jonathan struggled with its ancient gearbox and lack of power steering, but it rumbled for 15 miles to a local pub.

“The two of us, I think our faces hurt from smiling so much,” Jonathan said.

They drove to the pub to join a gathering of vintage car enthusiasts from a club that Malcolm had joined as he worked on the Talbot-Darracq. The other motorheads gathered in awe and took photos as Malcolm showed off his work.

“He was the star of the show,” Jonathan said. “Ninety-four years old, driving around this great big yellow car.”