What's in a name?
For Terry Cole, it's one of the largest collections of an extremely rare specimen of automobiles in the country.
"I just like the name," said Cole, 71. "I've always wanted one, but it took me forever to find one on the market."
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The Holbrook, Greene County, resident is speaking of his collection of classic cars made by the Cole Motor Co., an early automobile manufacturer that produced high-quality vehicles from 1908 until it went out of business in 1925. Among them is a 1916 Cole Model 860, a seven-passenger touring vehicle that was a premier status symbol during the early 20th century.
The manufacturer made some important leaps in the development of the modern automobile.
"This is a V-8 engine," Cole said. "But it's 20 years before Henry (Ford) put a V-8 in his car."
In 1916, only Cole, Cadillac and Packard had internal-combustion engines with that kind of power.
"You'd be surprised," Cole said. "Most people think Henry Ford made the first flathead engine. But he didn't. He just made it popular."
Because Cole automobiles were never mass-produced, few of the vehicles survive today. Most collectors interested in the time period focus on automakers like Ford or Cadillac. Cole estimated there are only about 60 Cole automobiles left, which meant he had quite a hard time finding his first classic car.
After years of searching for one, Cole finally found his Model 860 in 2007 in a garage in Steubenville, Ohio.
"I'd been looking for one for 25 years," Cole said. "It was only driven until 1929 before it was put in a building that later got torn apart. It was in two different garages before I bought it."
Since then, Cole has accumulated four classic automobiles made by Cole Motors. Two of them, both Model 860s, are fully restored and operational, while a later-model touring vehicle and an even rarer "gentleman's coupe" are in various states of repair.
For Cole, a retired Waynesburg physical education teacher, this passion hasn't been cheap. He said he paid about $50,000 to purchase his first Model 860 and have it restored.
"I'm not a mechanic," Cole said. "I just like to play with them."
With some help he received from a local repairman, he was able to restore much of the engine and much of the body by himself. Because the automobiles are so rare — and so old — many missing parts had to be fabricated by hand.
The Model 860 carried seven passengers, a phenomenal feat for its day. All those seats made for quite a bit of internal upholstery.
"The original Cole had 100 percent leather," Terry Cole said. "So, that's what we did. I think there's four cowhides in there."
Cole said he took meticulous care to restore his automobiles as authentically as possible. That wasn't easy, considering the sheer number of high-end luxury items the vehicles employed. A dashboard lamp, a built-in air compressor and tire gauge, convertible canvas roof, suicide doors, engine thermostat, folding seats — the Cole company was really leaps and bounds ahead of its time.
A history buff, Cole has dutifully researched the automobile company that shares his name. He said he believes he very well may be a distant relative of Joseph J. Cole, the founder of the car brand, and has traced their respective ancestors to a single street in Baltimore, Md.
Cole also is a member of numerous historical societies, including a Cole enthusiasts club, the Greene County Historical Society and the local chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America. In fact, Cole was preparing his fleet for the upcoming AACA Classics on Main Car Show to be held from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday on Main Street in Washington.
To date, only he and one other person own as many classic Cole vehicles. He said his love of history is what stirs him to restore nearly century-old automobiles.
"The antique cars don't show up at the show like they used to," Cole said. "The younger guys are more into muscle cars from the '60s. These cars are going to become rarer and rarer because people ain't going to maintain 'em."
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