At the venerable age of 103, classic car rock star and Packard aficionada Margaret Dunning took part last year in no fewer than 14 major car events across North America. Accompanying Miss Margaret to these, while managing all matters logistic, is a caring husband-and-wife team, handlers Dan and JoAnne Clements. Along with lady-in-waiting Rachel, JoAnne's mom and lifetime Margaret friend, the trio has emerged as the “Belle of the Concours’” permanent entourage. But the Clements have a remarkable automotive story of their own, which spans three generations and begins, literally, by accident.
In 1974, the year the U.S. imposed the 55 mph speed limit to save gas, 17-year-old Dan Clements became the proud owner of a loaded ’69 Cougar XR-7. While he was heading home one day, a distracted driver ran a red light and broadsided the XR-7 at full throttle. As Dan describes his battered beauty: “It proved a major blow; the right side of the vehicle had joined the left one.” Miraculously, his pal in the passenger seat came out of the collision unharmed, as did the other driver, though the beloved Cougar was deemed a complete write-off.
News of the smash spread like gun powder across the small town of Redford, Mich. That night, while the muscle car was spending its final resting hours in Dan's driveway before being carted away to the scrap pile, neighbors flocked over to witness the sad-looking wreck. Among them was a young lady living a few streets down, along with her schoolmate, JoAnne, whom she introduced to Dan. “Such a beautiful automobile, so badly damaged,” sighed JoAnne, in front of the mangled cat. “And I just adore that animal emblem,” she added. Moved by this warm expression of sympathy, Dan rushed toward his garage, grabbed a screwdriver and popped off the insignia, which he offered to his newfound female friend.
The two soon discovered they had much in common, especially a distinct interest in cars. Ironically, JoAnne got a job shortly after at the Krug Lincoln Mercury dealership nearby, all of which converged to lead to bigger and better things for the pair. At age 20, the lovebirds sealed their alliance and got married. Dan eventually bought himself another hot-looking Cougar. Over time, many more wheels would roll into his life, including: a whimsical 1975 Pinto Wagon, a 1923 Roadster built entirely by hand, a 1940 Ford Sedan hot rod, a rare 1940 Packard Model 120 Club Sedan, and an all-original 1941 Cadillac Series 6319 that has earned several prestige awards.
JoAnne and Dan were already active with local car groups, including the Road Knights Club of Michigan, when daughter Jennifer was born in 1985. Then came son Jonathan in 1990. Every weekend, the toddlers would travel in mom and dad's vintage vehicles to various car fests, where they quickly became the darlings of the show. One can only imagine what impressions formed in their budding minds from so many external elements tickling the senses: the sounds of roaring engines; the images of countless shapes and colors; the awareness of fun, laughter and camaraderie. “Folks would love to walk over and meet my babies lodging in their playpens,” says JoAnne.
When Jennifer turned 14, her heart was set on a Mustang, but not just any kind: It had to be an antique, and one she could restore herself. So off she went on a wild eBay chase for a 1965 model she had singled out, nearly lost, won back by a nose and, ultimately, managed to acquire within budget. Under dad's watchful eye and expert coaching, the pony underwent a thorough rotisserie restoration. Jennifer learned to chop, grind, weld and paint, picking baby blue as her tint of choice. After an intensive labor of love involving nearly four nights a week over a two-year period, the Mustang was driven to a major local expo at the Novi Showplace and received Best-in-Class honors among 300 contestants. Not surprisingly, all of that in-house schooling landed Jennifer an instant gig with Pratt & Miller Corvette Racing.
As for her brother Jonathan, his initial claim to fame happened after a Hot Wheels race at the Annual Livonia Barn Show, involving a gang of fiercely competitive bambini. There, aged four, he received his first trophy, as high as he was tall, marking one of those life-defining moments that shape the mind forever. When his turn came to buy a car, he too wanted a project of his own. Much like his sister, Jonathan had clear intentions: in his case, it was to be a 1942 Ford pickup in need of much TLC, which he had spotted in someone's backyard. As it turns out, the coveted truck, one of the last to be built before WWII, was an all-original of only 500 produced over a four-year period during the ’40s. Thanks once again to some serious fatherly help, the end product of this patient restomod effort yielded a show piece that brought instant glory to its young owner. In its inaugural showing at Detroit's prestigious Autorama in 2007, the shining blue hot rod was displayed alongside the other family members' machines—a premiere for the clan of four. The17-year-old captured second prize in his Class and received personal accolades from the legendary Chip Foose, one of the attending guests of honor. Now 23, Jonathan is a Technical Specialist with Grote Industries of Madison, Ind.
But beyond the automotive flame that unites his family, Dan Clements is a believer in the importance of passing on the torch of knowledge. During both siblings' restoration projects, kids from the neighborhood were routinely invited to his shop, not only as observers of work in progress, but as hands-on participants learning varied skills and often bringing home samples of things made that day.
As for JoAnne, the blissful owner of a 1969 ruby red Corvette Sting Ray, she's been the proudest of grandmothers since August 2012. That's when Caleb, Jennifer's son, came into this world to charm all who cross his path, and this includes the very first word he uttered: “car”! When the boy visits grandma and grandpa's place, he makes a regular beeline for his yellow cab pedal car parked in the living room and never wants to leave its seat.
Whether through the natural forces of DNA or the power of a contagious passion, the Clements create more than just gorgeous winning wheels: They generate, in their own discreet way, a new following of antique car lovers. Their story has of yet touched many lives. For it is one filled with untiring devotion, boundless energy and a sense of legacy which, happily, shows no sign of slowing down.