LAPORTE – A coupe is different from a coop, but for Dr. Peter C. Kesling, both figured in the purchase of his first classic car.
Seventy years ago, Kesling, then 14, found a 1925 Model T Ford in a widow’s garage that doubled as a chicken coop. Despite “the ear-shattering squawking and frantic beating of wings,” Kesling recalled, he bought the vehicle. That purchase started a love affair that has taken him around the world.
Addressing a benefit Wednesday at the LaPorte County Historical Society Museum, Kesling shared images and stories from some of the 40 vehicles he owns. Many of them are housed in the museum which he built for his cars and which now contains local history.
“Each car has a story and each one has a special meaning to me,” said Kesling, an orthodontist and former university professor. “People love to come here and see the cars, and that makes me happy.”
Kesling’s luncheon presentation was a benefit for the LaPorte County Symphony Orchestra. The museum houses not only many of the doctor’s vehicles but also the mementoes of the auto industry in Indiana. Hoosier automotive pioneers have contributed tilt steering, cruise control and hydraulic brakes.
None of those features was available in 1903, when two men completed the first transcontinental car drive. Dr. Horatio Crocker and his technician, Sewall Crocker, made the 6,000-mile drive in 63 days. Nearly three weeks of the journey were delayed for repairs, rest and waiting for spare parts.
Not to be undone, Kesling, 71, and his wife, Charlene, purchased a Winton of that same era and completed their own transcontinental drive in a two-cylinder, 20-horsepower engine.
“It was amazing,” Kesling said of the experience.
The doctor’s cars are in mint condition, but many of them did not come that way.
“We get them in terrible shape – no bumpers, seats, or tires,” said Kesling, who inherited his father’s love for cars and ability to work on them.
The museum features an electric car built by Dr. Harold D. Kesling. The vehicle, done in the late doctor’s favorite color of yellow, was built of Fiberglas and, for safety purposes, is pointed at both ends.
Peter Kesling, whose orthodontic career has taken him around the world, has also trekked the globe for vehicles. He’s even driven internationally, including a 1976 race that started in Istanbul and concluded in California. Kesling got as far as France, and two friends continued the race once the Model T was transported across the Atlantic.
Another vehicle of note is a 1948 Playboy, built in Buffalo, New York. The vehicle features the first retractable hard top, but the black beauty is better known for lending its name to a magazine. Seeking a name for his new men’s magazine, the late Hugh Hefner was turned down for Stag Party.
“Then he saw an ad for the car, and the rest is history,” Kesling said.