Does history matter? My thesis statement more refined is, does the history of an inanimate object matter?
On a macro level clearly the answer is yes. Museums are filled with with inanimate objects, left by the ancients in the dirt, in the dusty corners of time, passed on or stolen through the ages. The objects have intrinsic value, beloved by all races, faiths and peoples, such as Tutankhamun’s burial mask, or for less ancient, Abe Lincoln’s hat. Even this weekend, one of the only authenticated pieces of James Dean’s 1955 Porsche Spyder will sell for six figures to someone who clearly values this object from the past and as a tie to the man who owned it.
While no one is paying you or I to see our artifacts, we all have them. We are in possession of family pictures, trinkets and keepsakes. My wife and I each have a corner of our dining room cabinet that holds objects from our fathers lives. This is the Carmen J. corner of the curio. He carried that Special Deputy badge from the early eighties on. He owned that ring from the sixties. Those identifications were his affiliation, and affiliation was important to him. Military, Union Labor, Credit Union, University at Buffalo Transportation and Ticket Offices and Family. A flawed man (like the rest of us non-hypocrites) who found redemption through his countless acts of kindness and thoughtfulness.
In my workshop sits a 1974 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000. Only 37,500 LHD units were manufactured. You don’t pass them on the road. Ashes to ashes, rust to dust, these cars are mostly returning to the earth that born them. God willing, my rusted out survivor will carry me on long endurance historic and vintage auto rallies. My stated goal is to participate in the Peking to Paris rally. First run in 1907 and rekindled after the fall of communism, the rally in its current incarnation is about 9,000 miles spread over 30 days. Should I care about its history?
The car isn’t just a car to me. Readers of Satori! know that this is my capstone project, the one where I bring all the skills acquired over decades of mechanical, electrical and project management experiences. It won’t be sold, not in my lifetime. It won’t be traded in for a new shiny object. I was telling my friend just the other day I could have bought a vintage car, put some upgrades into it, and started to compete sooner, but that cheap thrill of using money resources to try and satisfy something that’s in your soul doesn’t work. It’s akin to the moment when an addictive vice can no longer be fed adequately and you know you have to do something different to survive.
So to answer the thesis statement, on a personal level, the history of this inanimate object is important to me. Let’s dive in.
You can’t just CARFAX a pre 1981 vehicle. The DOT had yet to mandate the standard 19 digit VIN or Vehicle Identification Number system that the database depends upon. Primary source documentation might be found by writing the factory and determining the import location, but most likely your trail would go cold at a long since closed importer shop. The first known owner of the Alfa is identified by the service records as Robert Plumb Jr. of Princeton, NJ. In August of 1977 at 45,000 Mr. Plumb took the vehicle to Z&W Enterprises on US Route 206 in Princeton for service. For those unfamiliar, Route 206 goes right past the university moving north and west as US 1 moves east and north. I found references to a Z&W Enterprises as a future Alfa and Mazda Dealership but it appears closed since 2006. I’ve reached out to a former employee from the early 1980’s and hope to hear more about this place.
The car was clearly loved by Mr. Plumb. I count no less than 25 trips to the repair shop between August 1977 and 45,000 miles and June 1982 and 86,293 miles. He started bringing the vehicle to Alfa Performance Center, 225 State Highway, Yardville N.J. It still looks the part of a 70’s era aftermarket import repair garage.
Mr. Plumb was the “…treasurer of Asarco Inc., a metals and mining concern in New York” which is a $2.0 Billion dollar publicly traded company, well over 120 years old, The American Smelting and Refining Co. The family lived in a house built in 1970 on a bucolic tree lined street and lot and has a current market value of $1.2 MM. This was an expensive car at the time driven by people of wealth.
Mr. Plumb sadly died before his time at age 50 on May 29, 1979, announced in the NY Times. I did not plan this, but the day I am writing this is 42 years to the date since he passed away. Mr. Plumb had brought the Alfa into the shop on April 23, 1979 for a muffler replacement and less than a month later he left his family, the car and life behind. Mrs. Plumb’s name appears on the next few invoices and sometime in late 1981 it appears the vehicle began to be driven by Anne Plumb, who I believe to be, at the time, the 21 year old daughter of Mr. Plumb. Ms. Plumb was married in October 1991 as announced in the NY Times but she also sadly passed away young like her father at age 43 of cancer. She was an accomplished business woman and mother. I’ve sent some messages to people who I believe may be relatives of the late Anne. H. Plumb (Root) and hopefully they are able or willing to share some memories or pictures of the car and their loved ones. Mrs. Plumb, Robert’s widow, remarried but she is widowed again and I believe in her 90’s, so I did not reach out to her for comments.
The car appears to have been purchased in 1983 by Marvin and Diane H. (name withheld as they are all living as far as I can tell) of Hopatcong, New Jersey, about 48 miles to the north of Princeton. I think I have found them on social media and hope to have some feedback in the future.
In July 1983, Marvin joined the Alfa Romeo Owners Club in Escondido, CA. The former location of the national owners club appears to be a house on a dusty road.
He also appears to have made contact with Ed Gellar, who at the time appears to have been the New Jersey Chapter of the Alfa Owners Club representative. A search of Mr. Gellar found him at an Italian Automobile event in November 2016 with a beautiful Alfa Romeo Montreal.
Marvin purchased $250 in parts from what was International Autoparts of Charlottesville, Virginia in November 1983. International Autoparts was sold in the last several years and is now part of Centerline International, one of the go-to US domestic Alfa parts suppliers.
The trail goes cold there. My title, issued August 4, 1983 shows 91,800 Miles and was signed over the the Beverly Hills Car Club of Los Angeles, CA who most likely acquired it in New Jersey and then shipped it to Los Angeles only to ship it to me in April 2021.
I think its safe to assume the car’s odometer stopped working at 118,323 miles, 26,000 Miles or so after Marvin purchased it. In my opinion it sat in the cold wet environment of Northern New Jersey, loved but unrestored until purchased by a classic car marketer and then sold to me. It has dents, but they are storage dents. It’s all there, a silent sentinel to the past.
The history of the car does matter to me. I will take with me Richard, Anne, and Marvin on the restoration journey, I will take the car to New Jersey, and I will take their memories with me on the long adventures ahead.