- Associated Press - Sunday, January 22, 2017

HURRICANE, W.Va. (AP) - A 1920 Milburn Light electric car that had been stored in a flooded Philippi outbuilding before Putnam County antique car collector Carroll Hutton bought it during an estate sale in the 1990s and restored it to its former glory is now headed to Russia, where a Moscow-area company has bought the museum-quality vehicle for an undisclosed price.

“I’d rather have donated it to a local museum,” Hutton said Jan. 13, as he awaited the arrival of a shipping container that will carry the West Virginia car to its new owners. “I tried to generate some interest in getting people in Charleston to build an auto museum that people attending the annual Boulevard Rod Run and Doo Wop festival and other events could take advantage of, but that’s gone nowhere. So I got an agent, he contacted some people, and now the car is going to Moscow. I’m 85 years old. It’s time to start thinning out the herd.”

Hutton said his Milburn, one of only about 4,000 vehicles made by the company during its eight years of production and one of fewer than 30 surviving Model 27L Broughams built from 1919 to 1924, required a complete restoration when he bought it.

“It was in pitiful condition when I got it,” he said. “At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to undertake the job, but eventually I saw a future for it, and with a lot of help, we got it back in shape. I did part of the work at my (Teays Valley) house and farmed out the rest.”

The car came with nearly all the original parts needed, but Hutton had to order tires from a specialty shop in India and traveled to North Carolina for the fabric needed to reupholster its seats.

“The motor was completely gone, so we had to rewind it and bake it out,” Hutton said. “When we pulled out the windshield, a 1923 calendar fell out.”

The Milburn is unique in a number of ways, according to Hutton.

“You steer it with a tiller, like a boat,” rather than use a steering wheel, he said. Flower vases at the corners of the car’s cab are made from lignum vitae, the world’s strongest and densest wood, often used as propeller shaft bearings on ships due to its strength and resistance to salt and water. The car’s headlights come equipped with a green-shaded upper lens that effectively serves as a dimmer to oncoming traffic. “They kept horses from panicking,” Hutton said.

“These were the premiere cars of their time,” he said. “They were built in Toledo, but bought mainly by affluent people in the bigger cities of the East. They were particularly attractive to women, because you didn’t have to crank the engine to start it, or get gas on your frock, and you could pull down the curtains to adjust your makeup. You just plugged the car into an outlet, and then drove it.”

The car had a 50-mile range and could travel at speeds of 25-30 miles per hour with its three-horsepower electric motor. The Milburn served an upscale market, retailing for nearly $1,500 - or about three times as much as a Ford from the same year.

The car was built by British-born entrepreneur George Milburn, who arrived in Indiana in 1835, built a dam to supply water power to mills and factories in the town of Mishawaka, and later moved to Toledo, where his Milburn Wagon Works became the world’s largest wagon-maker. A daughter, Ann, married a Studebaker, a member of another prominent wagon-making and eventually car-building family.

The man who designed the first Milburn Light Electric cars was Point Pleasant native Karl Probst, who went on to design the Bantam Jeep, the first generation of the iconic four-wheel-drive vehicle originally built as a World War II go-anywhere transport for U.S. troops.

Although Milburns were considered elegant, reliable vehicles, owned by the likes of President Woodrow Wilson and used by his Secret Service entourage, they went out of production in 1924, after General Motors bought the company’s manufacturing plant.

The 1920 Milburn Hutton is selling to a Russian buyer is not his first international vintage car sale. Two years ago, he sold a 1970 Mercedes 280SL he had shown at the Boulevard Rod Run and Doo Wop show to a buyer in Dubai.

Hutton, a Stonewall Jackson High School graduate and Korean War Air Force veteran, turned his hobby of scuba diving into his own business, Underwater Services Limited, which installed and repaired utility river crossings and inland marine infrastructure, and helped maintain and test dam components. After retiring, he took up antique auto restoration.

“I’ve gone all across the state and into Virginia looking for cars to restore,” he said. “I’m the 85-year-old’s answer to ‘(American) Pickers.’ I love taking a piece of junk and making something out of it.”

Hutton said he has already bought what may be the last car he buys for a restoration project.

“I have in my shop now an original 1927 T-Model Ford roadster,” he said. “It’s painted and ready to assemble.”

But in Hutton’s case, it may be more prudent to never say never to yet another restoration job in the future.

“I get calls from people wanting me to take a look at grandpa’s car, and I’ll tell them ‘no way, I’ve had enough.’?” Hutton said. “But after I think about the car they’re talking about, I usually cave and call them back.”

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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