The man was, in his words, “having a hard time with retirement. I just didn’t feel I was making a contribution,” he added. With time on his hands and a love of racing and automobiles in his heart, the retired Western Union vice president began working on old cars, acquiring a few along the way. He entered The History Channel’s Great American Race in 1988 with his “Green Dragon,” a 1917 Peerless. It would prove to be the start of a journey that, some fourteen years later, still shows no signs of a finish line.
The “trip” is punctuated with classic cars of all types: Buick, Plymouth, Pontiac, Jaguar, Studebaker, even a Messerschmidt, and dozens more spanning the last century from the 1917 Peerless to the collectibles of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Joining him on the journey are a high-powered crew of other men who, like him, had time and talents to burn. They all use those talents these days working on antique cars at a locale best described as part museum, part garage, part clubhouse, and above all, pit stop extraordinaire for owner John Hollansworth and the rest of the “Cabbage Heads,” immortalized in a painting by Chuck Bracke as the “Couldn’t-Find-A-Wrench Secret Organization.” The painting is proudly displayed at Holly Classics in Hot Springs Village, served by First Electric Cooperative.
The building’s exterior – tan metal frame in a secure area – belies the treasures inside. Even a visitor who identified vehicles by color rather than make, someone who thinks a pony car is a horse-drawn carriage and who believes a muscle car probably isn’t equipped with power steering, is awed by the beauty of these relics. They still have it – that certain appeal – these skillfully restored shiny, sexy convertibles, the pompous but playful rumble seat coupes, the sleek, exciting racers, and the stately roadsters. They still possess that ability to entice the imagination to come along on a trip to yesterday, to a time when, myth has it, life was less complicated and more spontaneous, infinitely and innocently more fun and exciting. Adding the nostalgia of the racing theme/museum ambience of the place is the mural depicting a 1940s era Mobil Station. It serves as a perfect frame for the 1957 Gold Hawk Studebaker, the antique dirt track McDowell Racer, or the sleek 1950 Jaguar. These are among the cars Hollansworth and his buddies locate around the country, cars “needing a little attention.”
Hollansworth defines his role at Holly Classics as primarily that of gopher, usually to go pick up parts. He also works to market the rebuilt and restored cars. “I’m definitely not the machinist or technician,” he said. The Cabbage Heads, who work on Hollansworth’s or on their own antique cars in his building or another such building adjacent to his, include an array of other retirees with diverse backgrounds: Jerry Stewart was an electrical engineer; Armour Titus a design engineer; Leland Kew an architect and landscaping engineer; Bob Simek a design engineer; Max Ermert owned an oil well servicing business; Norm Hanson a mechanic with Delta Airlines; Gil Frahm was with TWA; Richard Cook an official with Southwestern Bell; Paul Ridgeway a chiropractor; Jim Davis an executive with Chrysler, and Rick Budt a steel industry manager. The only rule around Holly Classics is that they “don’t tolerate anyone getting too uptight,” according to Hollansworth.
“For something to restore, we look for convertibles because they are usually worth more money.” That’s something to think about “if you have any hopes of getting your bait back,” Hollansworth said. “A lot of people think that just because something is old, this makes it worth something.” It is not the age, but the market which determines the worth of a car, he noted, “unless there’s a sentimental value – someone had a such and such car at one time in his life, and wants one again – that’s sentimental value. It’s not just the car, it’s the memory the car conjures up. Sort of that ‘The older I get the faster I went syndrome,”’ he joked. “Really though, memories are what makes the car important.” He has a few of those himself, dating to his own racing days in his youth. The years would bring many new experiences for the young man from Kansas City. His work on government systems with Western Union took him to the east coast, to New York and Boston before he chose early retirement in 1982. He then worked for a time in the cellular phone business in Dallas, and later moved back to the east coast to head up a company overhauling jet motors. Hollansworth returned briefly to his native mid-west home city before giving in to his fascination with Hot Springs and purchasing land there in 1985. At about the time he moved to his Lake Balboa home in 1988, Hollansworth and Armour Titus built the Green Dragon, joined the Great Race, and has pretty much stayed behind the wheel ever since.
As for his personal “wheels,” Hollansworth drives – why would this be a surprise? – a black Volkswagen Beetle. And, uh, yeah, there’s the Excursion. And a Harley when he wants to connect personally with the road.
He does come out from behind the wheel occasionally, though, countering that feeling of not “making a contribution” by supporting his community in many ways: serving as an elder in his church; a board member of Boys/Girls Club; a board member of the Friends of the Village; serving on the Government Affairs Committee; and assisting with Teen Challenge. The antique car enthusiast also makes time for serving on the Advisory Board of Hagerty Insurance and as a member of the Board of Trustees of McPherson College, the only college in the United States offering a liberal arts degree in automobile restoration.
As for Holly Classics, Hollansworth’s philosophy is simple: “If you break even and have a lot of fun….” He smiles and shrugs and leaves the rest unsaid. Another car is waiting, another road beckoning, another memory waiting to rev up.
Reprinted from RURAL ARKANSAS, April 2002, "Holly Clasics at Hot Springs Village" by Jan Fiedler Ziegler.