Car show offers getaway to a time of style and speed
Ever one to feel the need for speed, old Public Enemy No. 1 John Dillinger always called the Essex Terraplane his favorite getaway car, the old story goes.
But when Dillinger made his speedy exit from Greencastle on Oct. 23, 1933, he reportedly did it in a 1932 Studebaker Commander, carting off some $75,000 in cash and negotiable bonds from Central National Bank at the southeast corner of Jackson and Washington streets.
Saturday at the Putnam County Fairgrounds, Jim Batts of Lizton displayed a sleek black Terraplane with its distinctive and elaborate grillework at the fifth annual Children's Miracle Network Car Show.
Certainly it never belonged to Dillinger since it is a 1936 and Dillinger met his demise outside a Chicago theater in July 1934. However, it apparently did belong to a Greencastle man.
"It was sold here in Greencastle," Batts said as car enthusiasts around him used their phones to snap pictures of the stylish, low-slung vehicle, one of nearly 130 cars and trucks displayed at the fairgrounds despite a day-long threat of rain.
"I have the original title at home," Batts added, "It shows it was sold to a guy named Hendricks from Greencastle."
Batts, who drives a semi for Walmart out of the Greencastle transportation site, bought the car in Pittsboro. It's one of five Terraplanes he owns.
The grille itself sells for $1,500, he said, stopping short of saying how much the car is actually worth by noting, "I was offered a bunch for it before I even got it done."
When Batts took possession of it, someone had painted it red. Once he stripped it down though, the car, with less than 50,000 miles on it, was "in pretty good shape," he said.
Finishing up his restoration about six years ago, the car then took first place in its class five years ago at the World of Wheels event at Indianapolis.
"I kept trying to figure out what color to paint it and I kept coming back to black all the time," Batts said. "If I ever repaint it, I'll probably go to something else. I've gotta keep playing, you know?"
The speedometer on the 1936 Terraplane, the last year it offered suicide doors that open toward the rear of the car, goes to 140 mph. That's partly the reason Dillinger and his brethren were partial to the car that was called an Essex Terraplane through 1935, just plain Terraplane the following year and a Hudson Terraplane thereafter.
"I've never quite gotten it to 140," truck driver Batts smiled, noting that at 110 or 120 the front end tends to shimmy a bit.
"Guys say back in the day if a police officer saw one of these speeding through town, they didn't even bother to try and stop it," Batts said, adding to the legend. "They knew they could never catch it."
The car show, staged for the benefit of Riley Children's Hospital at Indianapolis, had a steady flow of people throughout the day with public attendance up by more than 20 percent over last year.
Awards were presented Saturday in 11 major categories:
-- Best in Show: Tom Harris, 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.
-- People's Choice: Greg Olin, 1966 Chevelle.
-- General Manager's Choice: Ron Frazier, 1965 GTO.
-- Best Import: Ken Wasulko, 1966 VW Beetle.
-- Best Late Model: Larry Earls, 2007 Ford Mustang.
-- Best GM: Brett Cooper, 1970 Chevelle.
-- Best MoPar: Darrell Keck, 1970 Road Runner.
-- Best Ford: Bob Leonard, 1932 Ford Coupe.
-- Best Truck: Johnny Barnes, 1931 Ford Model A pickup.
-- Best Rat Rod: Dave Birkla, 1947 Ford pickup.
-- Survivor Award: Mike Black, 1946 Chevrolet Stylemaster.
The annual show is sponsored by associates of the Walmart Distribution Center in Greencastle. Tentative date for next year's show is Aug. 8.