Local Man Restores Classic Car...and History

By Eric Olson

January 1, 2011 Updated Jan 1, 2011 at 4:40 PM EDT

NEW HAVEN, Indiana (Indiana's NewsCenter)--His name was Erwin Baker, Cannonball Baker to history, a Crawfordsville, Indiana farm boy who loved fast machines. On May 6th 1915 Baker and a newspaper reporter climbed in to a brand new Stutz Bearcat and drove, non-stop, from San Diego to New York City in eleven days…no interstates, very few roads…mostly cattle trails when there was a trail at all. It was a remarkable feat, even more so since Baker’s Stutz, a four cylinder runabout built in Indianapolis, didn’t break down once the entire trip. A chapter in automotive history worthy of admiration…even emulation.

Paul: I think you got a 1915 car that will go 80 mph that’s pretty amazing in itself.

In a little shop in New Haven one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Stutz Bearcat, Paul Freehill, is building a tribute to Cannonball Baker and his cross-country run. Paul’s restoring this 1915 Bearcat so its owner, a guy in Switzerland, can recreate Cannonball’s historic marathon next summer.

Paul: His ultimate goal he and his friend is to drive the car around the world and just have the adventure of a lifetime I guess. And this will make it? I think it will, yeh.

Paul’s meticulously restored the Bearcat. He’s added modern disc breaks and an alternator for the owner’s convenience, but they’re updates that pained him to make.

Paul: I don’t like doing that because it goes against everything I’ve done all my life I’ve prided myself on authentic restorations of everything down to what it was like 75 or 100 years ago even down to the correct nuts and bolts so, it was tough for me to do it.

Paul’s shop is full of other projects awaiting his attention…cars whose owners want nothing but the best, and know they’ll get it from this self-effacing perfectionist. But they’ll all have to wait until the current project is done, a mechanical marvel coaxed back to life by a mechanical genius…that next summer will follow in the tire tracks laid down nearly a century ago by a kid from Indiana, and the Hoosier buggy that carried him into history. Eric Olson reporting, out in Your Country.

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