College Days


The lucky ones have hills. They have wandering landscapes, foggy mornings with the murkiness lifting off the landscape as the sun rises. Amidst the cool mornings, there is the wafting noise of a sports car, up and down the revs, as the driver scoots around the corners, thankful the roads are still clear. You hear them long before you see them coming. You can see as they pass the dew streaming off the hood as if it were rain - but this is only early enthusiasm leaving its mark. From then on, each rain storm you go through will not be the same, as you remember this sight of the early morning driver.

At least this is how it seemed to a young midwesterner, growing up in the city in the middle of America where hills were three hours away. Those people from the east coast seemed to know something more, to have been somewhere different. They knew of history, sports cars, and hills. They had been to races at the special spots, Watkins Glen, Lime Rock, and even Thompson or Bridgehampton. They had stories of the country drives, disasters averted. Revisited as folk lore on wintry nights, my college friends were people who had been somewhere else, a different place than the ones I knew. Tell me more, please.

Those college years were full of times to spend on thoughtful pursuits, so one day we drove up from the south side of Chicago north to Bill Knauz' high end dealership in the swank suburb on the north shore of Lake Forest. This was a study in contrasts, as Hyde Park had the curious privilege of being home to Chicago's finest intellectual fabric, nestled in the midst of the south side, home to Chicago’s impoverished black population looking to make ends meet. Lake Forest, on the other hand, was home to Chicago's finest blue-bloods, the stuffiest and the largest estates in the area.

And Bill Knauz sold them their cars. He had been a dealer for years, an old-time Mercedes dealer from the 1950's. Bill also sold BMW's, the odd Ferrari and Chryslers to those that wanted the best service, an honest dealer, and were willing to pay for it. An affable and low profile sort, he had taken over his father's business in the 1950's and had grown it substantially by the mid-1970's.

With his moppish grey hair, clear plastic glasses and frumpy but elegant clothes, Bill would work his way up to his best line, "I'm just a country boy", and that would be the clinching argument. In the face of that, you'd have to hold onto your wallet, as it seemed to have grown small legs of its own. Rejecting your authority, your wallet would just start to meander across the table to Bill, as he twinkled his blue eyes amidst his good affable looks. It was all over, and you only hoped that when you woke up the next day, that you'd like whatever you had bought.

Of course, it was easier to think of Bill as ruthless and calculating, but that was only the half of it. There was this romantic streak in him, this caring for what he did that made it more difficult to get a handle on him. Oh sure, he'd buy someone's old car, think it was worth twice what the market would pay, and he wouldn't budge. Not at all. He'd sit there, with this car you wanted and some outrageous price, and he wouldn't budge. And you'd go home, look in the mirror and say "what's wrong with me? Maybe it is worth that kind of money.", and then calm would start to creep in and you'd roll over and go back to sleep realizing that he really did want way to much for that old car. This would go on for years, but maybe he was right. Someday, sooner or later, someone would pay what he wanted. So to keep things under control, I didn't go up there too much. Best to avoid trouble like this.

But on this wintry day, my friend Jack (from College) and I did go up and look around. There were some cars up there - usual sort. I remember still the Maserati Sebring covered in snow that we both still wish we had bought. I of course, didn't even know what it was, and years later, even now, still keep wondering how neat it would be. But Jack knew better, and he has only the midwestern winter cold to blame for his reluctance to take it home.

But that missed opportunity pales against our biggest mistake, the big fish that really did get away. Yes, Bill Knauz had that streak, and the funniest things would end up in his yard. Of course, the best ones, the most interesting things went into the "museum", a locked and secured building of its own that probably was the family retirement fund. And each time we went up here, we'd wander around, eating doughnuts and coffee until Bill would come over and bashfully tease us, wondering if we'd want to get into the museum. Or was it us who asked him? At any rate, we'd all indulge and off we'd go. It was across the car lot, and we wander to the far off building, away from watching eyes.

And there were the treasures. They really were. Yes, they changed from time to time, sometimes new stuff would show up, and some of the old would move on, but the aura was that of a big wine cellar. Kind of musty and aged, but very sweet and rich. The smell of good old cars and leather. At one point, Bill Knauz had found the first Mercedes 220 he ever sold for MB. It took him a while to track it down and pry it loose, but he got it back. What a dealer.

And nearby was the Alfa GTA, and the Duetto with less than 10,000 miles on it, the odd Ferrari or two, a Lancia and the one. That one. It was a hulk of a car that made no sense – it wasn’t even running, and he'd have let go for $10k. Back in the early 1970's we looked at this big old car, red with big fenders. I didn't know too much, but I knew that much money for something that big meant bigger trouble than I wanted. And the engine block was cracked and a new one would have to be cast. It didn't have its interior in place, and I don't even know what it had or didn't have. But it was big, it was red, and it said Alfa Romeo somewhere. And the block had eight cylinders, looked like two of the four cylinder ones put together. Built in the 1930's. Boy was I glad we passed on that one. We made the right move then. Yessir. No doubt about it.

Success came in little ways with Bill. I had bought a rat of a Flaminia sedan from my friend Walt (in Pittsburgh) for $300 and sold it to Bill for $600, doubling my money. Of course he then sold it for $1200 to a guy in St. Louis, who sold it to Japan for $2,400. So one day, all four of us sat down and had a doughnut in honor of the sedan, and each of us dreamed of getting it back someday. Must have been a chilly morning.

But that day when Jack and I were visiting, we had more ground to cover – we then spotted the Lancia Aurelia Bill had, a B20 from the Shakespeare collection. Shakespeare was a strange man, a farmer in southern Illinois who had collected Bugattis years ago. The story is well known, how the Schlumpf brothers wanted to buy all of them from Skaespeare, but were shocked to find the Bugattis were tucked amidst barns, on dirt floors and just kind of cars on the farm. The story was well told some years ago in an issue of Automobile Quarterly by Bob Shaw, a Chicago car. He acted as an in-between guy and photographed the cars being shipped from the farm on a railroad train. That was after two years of negotiation and all the appropriate name calling between the parties involved. Its a great story ofstrong personalities, culture clash and a shared love of Bugattis amidst real personal dislikes.

Yes, amidst all those Bugattis that were shipped off to those French collectors, Bill Shakespeare had an Aurelia. A man of taste, to be sure. His B20 was a fourth series car painted in two-tone green, an odd combination that looked extremely nice. It was a good car, one with charm and an aura of distinction, and I remember hoping someday to be able to have one. It seemed a bit big and a bit too far away from me then, but maybe Bill had just put one of his high prices on the car.

On the floor nearby were some parts that came with the car, odd Aurelia bits, a spare engine and transmission, a fan and a generator. These were off some Spider or convertible that had been wrecked years earlier but the details were unknown. There wasn't anything in the pile worth trying to pry away from Bill. I spotted the number plate from the wrecked spider, and Bill didn't care if I had it or not.

Somehow, about a year later, I learned of an Aurelia spider for sale in Chicago. It turned out that a fast talking guy on the west side of town said he had a spider, but had never had the money to fix it up. Possible? Very unlikely - the guy didn’t looklike he had beer money, much less a B24 Spider. But you never know - and I agreed to help him sell it, sight unseen. So one wintry day, in a storyland that seems like magic, on this broken down old wooden trailer comes this car – a real Spider on four wheels. Yes, it was full of rust and bondo, but it was a  complete one, with side curtains and a parts book. My friend Walt Spak came to get the car,. So with Walt in town, we run up to Bill Knauz's, and look at the B20 for fun as well.

Well, Walt was impressed, but being an old parts guy, he never forgot about the parts on the floor.. About five years later, in the early 1980's , he came back to Chicago, went up to Knauz and bought the engine and transmission. I guess I had heard something about that, but the B20 had gone away, as had the Alfa and a bunch of things. I had bought a new Alfa from Bill, and stayed out of the museum at that time.

Years go by. Jack and I decide in 1990 to get back into cars, and we buy an E type together. That lasted about a week, but I still have the car and the friendship, so I’d consider that a success.

After another ten years, I get back into Lancias again, and of course, hook up with Walt again. I had a B20 and wanted to take a trip with the car. He convinced me that I should go to the East Coast reunion, in the land of hills, somewhere in  New Jersey (a 15 hour drive). Drunk with the image of rolling landscapes, I am easy pickings for him, as he convinces me the most direct way was to come to Pittsburgh (a city in the midst of hills, what could be better?)  and pick him up.

So a few weeks later, I arrive and stop at his house. Of course we go to the garage, and look over the Aurelia on the side, and some parts he has. We get to the engine and transmission he had gotten 20 years earlier from Knauz - and find they were peculiar, The transmission looked to be brand new, with no wear whatsoever. But the engine was a much used B20 engine - and what was it doing with a brand new B24 trans? These were the mysteries of old cars and we just puzzled over it for a while and went in and had dinner.

So a few weeks later I’m back home, still happy from a long road trip, and the phone rings. A man says "Hello, my name is Steve Katzman and I'm kind of into Lancias", and we start talking. He is in California and a big buff of the older Lancias, and I like his call because it is just the kind of thing I like to do – talk to someone else who is interested in this stuff. In the middle of our talk, his wife comes home with dinner, so we adjourn the conversation for a half hour, and pick it back up like old friends. He is thinking of Flaminias, and knows of a couple of coupes tucked away in the east that he’s dreaming of. I'm still into Aurelias but we are both talking about how much charm can you get on a limited budget, a familiar Lancia chorus.

The conversation takes a wandering path, we touch on cars found and lost, bits of technical insight, each better than before, and our shared hopes for combining family, finance and more garage space for one more special Italian car. And in the middle of this journey, conversation then turns to a big show in the Bay Area called Concourso Italiano that he just went to. He tells of a model maker he met there, a guy who knows a lot about old Italian motorcycles. The guy runs a small shop for rebuilding old Moto Guzzi singles in San Francisco and has been a fan of Italian stuff for years. Mind you, this is pretty rare stuff in the US – a bit of Italy nurtured in San Francisco. My eyes are watery with envy by this point, but then it gets better.

This guy had an Aurelia years back, in the 1950’s when he had lived in Indianapolis. He had bought his Aurelia spyder new in 1955, and had had it for just 37 days, when someone ran a stop light and wrecked his car. Sadly he had sold it to some guy in Illinois who had a B20 and was struggling to rebuild his engine. The guy in Illinois wanted a hot setup and had figured that the Spyder had a hotter engine.

On the story goes - a deal was done in 1955. The parts from the wrecked spider went from Indiana to the guy in Illinois, who was of course Bill Shakespeare, the farmer with the Bugattis. Shakespeare put the hot B24 engine in his B20 and kept the transmission, with its 37 days of use, sat on the side. Year later, the car and the parts arrived in the Bill Knauz museum, and now finally the transmission and the original B20 sits in Walt's garage. And the number plate for the car sits in my room upstairs. The mystery is finally solved.

A couple of years ago, the green B20 comes up for sale again. It is now repainted just the one shade of green but still has its original interior, and looks lovely. Of course, it still has the B24 engine in it, and Walt and I still chuckle over that.

And as to the image of hills,  the sun in the morning, shining over dew drops on the hood? Those days have moved on, but nearby are found memories of the people you meet, and the things you learn. And the circles get larger and smaller, both, overlapping amidst deeper and richer experiences.

Geoff Goldberg

(from 1998, rev’d 2007)


the Shakespeare B20 for sale in 2004, repainted

Why does this B20 have a Spider engine?