A 1938 Ford with Shelby roots named 'Elizabeth' being researced by North Carolina man

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A North Carolina man is looking for information about a 1938 Ford first owned and named by Shelby native Ruth Davis.

By Todd Martin

Joel Kaufman is dying to know just who Elizabeth is.

“That’s my main question; Just who was Elizabeth and how did she get this name?” he said.

Elizabeth is a 1938 Ford that resided in Shelby County, originally purchased by Ruth Davis and later given to Don Turner.

Kaufman, 60, lives in Hickory, N.C., and purchased the car online, and now he wants to tell its story along with returning it to the road.

“A lot of people try to make them look perfect and then won’t drive them,” he said. “There are a lot of people out there now that are not just restoring cars but preserving them. This car is original. We’re not going to do anything to it but make it ready for the road. I want to keep it like it is, make it safe and drivable so people can see it, enjoy it. It’s different than cars today, the sounds it makes, it backfires, it smokes. But that’s what cars did then.”

Preserving this piece of history for others to see is what led Kaufman to want to preserve the car’s history as well.

“She [Ruth Davis] was quite good about saving papers on the car,” he said. “She had several service documents, and it was always referred to as Elizabeth’s papers or Elizabeth’s documents. She had obviously named the car, but why? There aren’t many people out there that name their cars.”

Through research, Kaufman has found that the car was purchased at Shelbyville Motors, which stood on Washington Street, in the area that is now the Shelbyville Courthouse Annex. And he knows that Davis gave the car to Don Turner at one point, and it was sold a couple of times after that.

“She [Davis] died in 1992 and didn’t have any children,” he said.

He found that Davis attended Clayvillage Baptist and taught at the Finchville school.

The car itself is as original as its name, said Kaufman, who grew up in Detroit and has a fondness for cars from the city’s golden age.


Fairly rare model

“It’s a ‘38 model, and because of a recession, as they were coming out of the Great Depression, Ford only made about eleven thousand of these,” he said. “But they became very popular as race cars [as hotrods] and moonshiners really liked them.”

Although it’s safe to say that Davis never ran her through the backwoods on a moonshine run, Kaufman said that because of Ford’s changes, the car is kind of mix between a ‘37 and a ’38.

“Once we got inside, we found that it’s a thirty-eight model with a thirty-seven engine,” he said. “And underneath it’s a thirty-seven color on a thirty-eight frame. So it’s been interesting.”

The paint job is another question on which Kaufman would like to shine some light.

As he was working with a mild citrus-based degreaser, he found that some of the black paint was rubbing off.

“It looks like she painted it black a couple times and not necessarily with automotive paint,” he said. “It comes off pretty easy, and underneath it’s a deep maroon color. I’d really like to know why it was brush painted?”


Work to do

The car was nearly restored two other times, and Kaufman feels like that’s one of the reasons he was led to this car.

“One owner was told it wasn’t worth what the restoration would cost,” he said. “And another owner was interested in restoring it, picked it up on a trailer and took it home. He later lost his business, and the car was never driven.”

Time like that has left the car in some disrepair and left some interesting challenges for Kaufman.

“The wheels are off, the glass is out, and the seats, and the door panels are being cleaned,” he said. “Right now we’re waiting on a fuel pump. We did find that a squirrel had lived in the trunk at one time. There were about nine black walnut husks and then some bones.”

He hopes to have Elizabeth up and running by the spring and perhaps to drive her home to Shelby County at some point.

“Who is Elizabeth? That’s something we may never know,” he said. “It could be the biggest unsolved mystery with the car.

“Some people will say, ‘It’s just a car.’ But it’s not. It’s a piece of art that someone put a lot of time into designing. And, with this case, someone took the time to name.”

Have info to share?

To contact Kaufman with any information on Ruth Davis or Elizabeth, E-mail him at jkaufman@paramountauto.com.