Man has a lifetime of passion for old cars

July 29, 2018

Most boys who grew up without cell phones and computers went through different phases than today’s kids. Yesterday’s generation went through building blocks, toys, board games, comic books, BB guns and bicycles. Somewhere along this growing stage most had mini bikes, mopeds and motorbikes, eventually they graduated to an automobile. Even then, the car was nothing more than having transportation at your disposal.

Then there were the Okey Napiers of that early generation who ignored those early stages and went right into bicycles, motorbikes and cars. It’s never good enough for this group to know something just works, they need to take it apart and find out how it works.

“The place where I was born has been underwater for years now,” said the 72-year-old Napier. “Once the dam for East Lynn Lake was built and the area began flooding, Stiltner, West Virginia went several feet under water and got swallowed up. That’s why our family moved to Wayne out on Lick Creek Road.”

Napier’s love of the American automobile occurred when most boys his age were riding bicycles. When his bike was stolen he began repairing and riding motorbikes. While his love of the motorcycle still exists today, it wasn’t too long after that motorbike that he was fixing things under the hood of his first automobile.

“That first car was a 1937 Oldsmobile Opera Coupe,” said Napier. “I kept it going for almost two years before the motor came apart internally. I traded it off for a Model 12 Winchester shotgun. After that, I bought an old Chevrolet half-ton pickup truck that I sold and used the money to buy a 1953 Ford 4 door sedan. I repaired it myself after the first wreck. When I wrecked it the second time it was totaled, so I just sold parts off it.”

Napier attended Wayne High School but admits his heart wasn’t in it. If they taught auto mechanics he may have stayed, but his love of the American automobile was too

much. He dropped out of school and began looking for work.

“During those younger years I went through quite a number of cars that were bought or traded/′ Napier said. “Most ran, some didn’t but they all needed work in one form or another. Besides that ’53 Ford; there was a 1958 Pontiac convertible, 1956 Chevrolet convertible and a 1961 Studebaker Hawk. I had a preference for convertibles then and still do today.”

To support his automotive obsession, Napier started working at the ABC Grocery market in Wayne after he dropped out of school. He stocked shelves and delivered orders that were phoned in. He said that because of distance, road conditions and lack of transportation, many families bought a month’s worth of groceries at a time. His next job was more to his liking, washing cars at Superior Cadillac and Oldsmobile dealership in Huntington. After a while he was moved to the paint and body shop as an apprentice. The pay was better and he says he really enjoyed the position; then the military draft notice showed up in the mailbox.

“I served in the United States Navy from 1965 to 1967,” Napier said. “I was bused to Ashland, Kentucky, where the induction center was located at the Ventura Hotel. After my physical I was sworn in, given a series of tests and shipped to Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Going to that training center in the winter with the wind blowing off Lake Michigan was a real bone chilling experience. It was especially miserable when I performed guard duty all night protecting a garbage dumpster.”

Napier’s Naval career took him briefly out to sea as a deck hand aboard the USS Henley. He never was exactly sure about the correct duty of a deck hand, but for him it was polishing anything that wasn’t painted and painting everything else. He finished his career at the naval shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia.

“After my hitch with the Navy I worked as a welder at Polan Industries for a couple of years and American Car & Foundry for about four years. I finally became an investigator for the prosecuting attorney with the Wayne County court system, a job that I retired from after 20 years.”

Napier says he cannot remember a time when he didn’t want another car. Even at the age of 14 he couldn’t wait until he got his driver’s license. If the truth were known — he probably drove the streets of Wayne long before reaching the legal age to drive.

“I have a big garage and a few storage sheds,” said Napier. “At present I have a 1968 Buick Skylark convertible that I don’t drive too much. My daily driver is a 1947 Ford sedan; the running gear is all Ford Mustang from the engine to the rear end. I’ve driven it to Myrtle Beach 10 times so far. My ongoing work project is a 1955 Packard, I’ve also got a 1967 Pontiac GTO that runs but needs a lot of work. There’s also my 1971 Chevrolet pickup but it doesn’t have an engine right now. I also have a Kawasaki motorcycle that runs real well. I have so many spare auto parts that I get lots of calls asking for hard-to-find items.”

There is one more car on the list and Napier smiles when he calls it the pride of his fleet, a 1937 Packard two door coupe that he says has only four original bolts left.

“I bought it at a swap meet in Bristol, Tennessee,” said Napier. “I bartered with the owner for two days before we came to terms; it was a sad looking all original car that looked like it had been painted with a roller. You couldn’t even drive it then because the steering was so loose.”

Napier’s pride now has a 327-cubic-inch Chevrolet engine with a 700R automatic transmission, a modern rear end, all new brakes; a complete new upgraded front end, new fuel tank, glass, wiring, radiator and a fresh coat of 2000 Ford green paint. His wife once asked him if he was aware that new cars could be bought for less money.

“I have a 14-year-old grandson who loves cars and getting his hands greasy,” said Napier. “I believe he has possibilities.”

“I have a 14-year-old grandson who loves cars and getting his hands greasy. I believe he has possibilities.”

Okey Napier

American automobile enthusiast

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