Cars of the Counterculture: Owners explain the allure

Cars of the counterculture come in all shapes and sizes, and so do their owners. Three California enthusiasts tell us about their favorite counterculture cars.

Paul Perry, 1966 Saab Two-Stroke Sedan

Paul Perry grew up working on Saabs, beginning his automotive career as an apprentice mechanic in 1961. He later worked at British Motors, but returned to the cars he knew best when he opened his own Saab service business, Swedish Auto Factory, in 1978.

Now 74, Perry enjoys his work so much that he has no intention of retiring.

“People retire from life when they retire from work,” he said. “I love what I do, plus I have capable people here.”

Perry races vintage Saabs like his 1967 Sonett and 1966 96 Sedan two stroke. But when it’s time to take a leisurely drive, it’s usually in his 1960 96 two-stroke. It’s his wife Sheila’s favorite.

“She always picks ‘Little Blue,’” Perry said. “I’ve got it over 25 years ago and restored it. It’s a really fun car.”

David Wallace, 1950 Ford F1 Pickup

David Wallace is among the minority of people who still own and drive the first vehicle they ever purchased. Rarer still, his 1950 Ford F1 pickup truck was already a classic when he bought it. And even more unusual, the truck remains almost completely original even though Wallace makes his living in the restoration business.

“I bought it for $900 in 1983,” said Wallace, 46. “I was a senior in high school, and it was sitting in a lot down the street from the school. That’s where it began.”

The “it” he’s referring to is a head-first dive into the world of historic vehicles and train locomotives. A former railroad switchman, Wallace now builds engines for classic motorsports vehicles at Phil Reilly and Company in Corte Madera, Calif.
“I work on 1920s and ’30s race cars, Bugattis – pre-war stuff,” Wallace said.

He also owns his own classic automobiles and motorcycles, as well as a railroad caboose.

“I’ve always enjoyed learning how things work,” Wallace said.

Mark Merrill, 1957 Volkswagen Beetle

Mark Merrill, 57, still owns his first car, a 1956 Volkswagens Beetle with a fabric sunroof. “I bought it at age 16 from a customer who came into the Union Oil service station where I worked,” he said. In the 41 years that have followed, Merrill’s VW collection has grown at a rate of about one every 16 months.

“I actually have more than 30 VWs, mostly bugs and busses and a few rare ’50s coach-built cars based on a VW chassis,” Merrill said. “I’ve always liked VWs because they offer a good value and I learned to work on them. And the non-pretentious nature of Volkswagen’s advertising appealed to me.”

His ’57 VW Beetle (pictured) has quite a history. The car has only 36,000 original miles, one exterior repaint and includes all of its original sales receipts and other paperwork. Merrill replaced some brake hoses, but other than that hasn’t had to do anything else.

He acquired the car from a couple whose son had been arrested for murder and needed the money for legal fees.

“Yes, it’s a pretty weird story,” Merrill said. “They called him the ‘Sausage King.’ He was convicted of shooting three meat inspectors and later died in prison.”

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