California Automobile Museum hosts birthday celebration for man and his 100-year-old Cadillac

07/05/2012 12:00 AM

07/11/2012 9:05 AM

Friends, family members and car enthusiasts gathered at the California Automobile Museum on Wednesday morning to celebrate the birthdays of a Sacramento veteran and his ancient automobile.

Martin Palmer, a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, turned 86 Wednesday. Joining him during his birthday celebration was his 100-year-old Cadillac Model 30 Torpedo.

The 1912 Cadillac was the first car with an electric self-starter, as opposed to the traditional hand crank that had been a leading cause of injury for automobile owners. The car also has full electric lights.

"(Palmer's car) is one of the more historically significant pieces in the museum," said Nathan Smith, curator for the California Automobile Museum. "We use it to talk about the transition in technology that was happening during the 1910s and the technologies that were making driving easier."

Palmer paid about five times the original list price of $1,900 when he purchased the car from Dr. Orland Wiseman in 1963. According to Terry Palmer, Martin's son and organizer of the event, his father's Torpedo is now the only original of its kind left in the United States. The car's original light gray exterior has been painted over with a light blue shade, but it still contains all of its original parts in working condition.

"Other people who are trying to fix up broken down Torpedos actually come visit to take measurements from this one so that they can make new parts for themselves," Terry Palmer said.

The car, manufactured so the driver sits on the right, has fewer than 30,000 miles on it and was last driven by Martin Palmer in 1997, when he brought it down to the museum.

The license plate reads "I(heart)PB4Y2," an homage to the naval patrol bomber that Palmer deployed with during the Korean War.

In the 15 years that the car has been on display, "only one person knew what the license plate was all about when he read it," said Palmer. "Between the license plate and the car, there is a lot of history for people to see here."

The museum is also home to other famous cars, such as Clara Ford's 1940 Lincoln-Zephyr Town Car and Malcolm Forbes' custom 1987 Lamborghini Countach 5000SQV, whose dark green exterior and gold interior was specially designed to reflect the late publisher's riches. The museum advertises its mission as to "educate and entertain while promoting and preserving the automobile and its influence on our lives."

"(Other car museums) present cars as art," said Bob Daloia, one of the museum's volunteer docents. "We present them as history."

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