Topeka R.R. Anderson believes the antique and unusual automobiles in his collection need to be driven regularly for their own good.
But one, he believes, really should be in a museum, preferably the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene.
In 2007, he was attending the annual Collector Cars of Fort Lauderdale auction in Florida, hoping to buy a yellow Morgan automobile, when up popped information on a big screen about a Continental Mark II once used by Dwight Eisenhower.
That needs to be in Kansas, the boyhood home of the famous World War II general and U.S. president, Anderson decided. So he bought it.
“I couldn’t turn it down,” he said.
At the same show, he bought an automobile transporter formerly used to haul the Batmobile from the “Batman” movies.
He loaded Ike’s car onto the Batmobile trailer — an odd combination, he admits — and brought it back to his showroom at Anderson Enterprises Recreational Vehicles in south Topeka.
Experts at the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene and at Eisenhower’s farm near Gettysburg can find no records of the car ever being used by Eisenhower but say that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t true.
At 75, Anderson is downsizing his operation and planning to spend more time in Florida. So his car collection needs to be downsized, too.
As for the Eisenhower car, he is hoping someone will make him a decent offer for it and donate it to the Eisenhower Museum.
“We don’t know whether it’s worth $500,000 or $5 million,” he said.
According to the records of RM Auctions, which runs the Fort Lauderdale auction, the owner had estimated its value at between $80,000 and $100,000, but Anderson bought it for $39,600. Anderson, though, says he paid more than $39,600 for it but won’t say how much.
Aside from the fact it apparently was once used by Eisenhower, the Continental is of interest to collectors because of its rarity. That and its power. It wasn’t mass produced. In fact, except for the trademark spare tire cover molded into the trunk lid — a Continental tradition — it looks more like an oversized Ford Thunderbird of the time.
It has a 300-horsepower, 368-cubic-inch V8 engine and a three-speed automatic transmission.
It has such unique design features as exhaust pipes that protrude through the rear bumper and a gas-filler tube hidden behind a tail light.
Mostly hand-made, the paint was wet sanded, double-lacquered and more highly polished than cars manufactured to common industrial standards.
It does show some wear and tear now, with some scratches in the paint and some cracking in the white and maroon leather upholstery.
According to information supplied to Anderson at the auction, only 3,000 Mark IIs were made. The first was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show of 1955, even before serious production was begun.
Its price put it in league with such luxury automobiles as the Rolls-Royce. Among buyers of the Mark II were Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Nelson Rockefeller.
Valoise Armstrong, archivist at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library in Abilene, said she could find no record of the car being leased or used by Eisenhower, but she couldn’t rule out the possibility.
“We do get fairly frequent requests for information about cars owned or used by President Eisenhower,” she said. “The 1957 Continental is not on the list of cars owned by him.”
Carol Hegeman, a historian at the Eisenhower National Historic Site at Gettysburg said, “I’m not saying it’s not possible, but I don’t know anything.”
She did say, though, it is unlikely Eisenhower ever drove the car, adding: “He did not drive until he retired. The Secret Service were his drivers.”