Among the vehicles that attracted the most attention from those attending this year’s Concours d’Elegance of Texas was this remarkable 1911 Cadillac Touring Car owned by Mel and Jane McDonald.
“Wow, I’ve never seen a car like this!” was the often-repeated reaction as people approached Mel standing by his car. He confirms that he hears that all the time from folks wherever he takes it.
And he takes it everywhere and anywhere when the opportunity to do so presents itself – something that happens with increasing frequency.
Mel describes the vehicle’s purpose: “Ours is a touring car. While others of the era may be found in museums around the country, you can see ours as it was meant to be experienced – running down the road.”
For the past 29 years, his cars have been a major attraction in the Dallas Holiday Parade. They have also participated in MLK, Cotton Bowl and New Year’s Day parades, as well as appearances in holiday parades in Lancaster, Richardson and even in Little Rock and Malvern, Arkansas.
But it’s not just parades where the McDonalds take their cars. For the past three decades, they’ve joined two- and three-day driving tours, taking in scenic, historic and interesting sites across the country.
“We usually drive 75 to 125 miles each day,” Mel says. “It’s great family fun and it has provided over the years an historic perspective for our children that most kids don’t get.”
The most ambitious of all those experiences came in 2000, when Mel and Jane drove their Cadillac to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado. “It was cold and sleeting weather,” Mel recalls, “and I was thrilled that it made it up and back down without any problems.”
Mel’s passion for classic cars of the ilk that were on display at the Councours d’Elegance of Texas began early in his life. “I was fascinated by these cars as a kid and was building models of them by the time I was eight years old.”
That passion ultimately resulted in his acquisition of his first antique automobile in 1983 when he found his 1909 Maxwell Roadster. The following year, Mel bought the 1914 Buick two-seater that he used in courting Jane. She must have been impressed with both him and his Buick as they have now been married for 30 years.
“It was our primary tour car until daughter Elise and son Lyle came along,” Mel explains. “So when I saw the 1911 Cadillac advertised in 1993, we knew it would provide the space we needed, and it’s been our main touring car since.”
Their children were then along for the ride in all those parades and tours, including the climb up Pikes Peak. Today Elise is pursuing her MBA at Harvard and working as a summer intern in Vice President Mike Pence’s office. Lyle, a 2014 Annapolis graduate, is serving as a Navy officer aboard the submarine USS Boise stationed in Norfolk, Va.
The McDonalds’ fourth car is a six-passenger 1915 Packard with a V-12 engine that was a Father’s Day surprise gift from Jane. Its “twin six” motor, as Packard called it, was the basic design for the World War One Liberty aviation engine.
They drove it 620 miles last year from Texarkana to Odessa with about 40 other cars to commemorate the centennial of the Bankhead Highway. That trip brought them through Arlington with a stop at the infamous Top O’Hill Terrace.
They share their experiences with other owners of these amazing 100-plus-years-old automobiles through their participation in the North Texas Regional chapter of the Horseless Carriage Club of America.
There are many regional groups around the country and scattered around the world representing the dawning of the age of the automobile industry. This unique period of history witnessed the hand-crafted carriage coachwork, gas lights, hand cranking and amazing use of brass that still delivers that unique sparkle of the era.
Mel should return to Arlington for next year’s Concours d’Elegance. If you see him there, he probably will let you sit in the same seat that has been occupied by Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Dennis the Menace, Mrs. Claus, Madeline, McGruff the Crime-fighting Dog, Raggedy Ann and Andy, and Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys stars, among others.
It’ll be easy to find him – just look for the car unlike any you may have ever seen before.