Char knows cars

Canton Classic Car museum director lives her passion. Don’t let her feminine appearance fool you: Char Lautzenheiser is a “car guy.” No one loves automobiles more than the executive director of the Canton Classic Car Museum.

Canton Classic Car museum director lives her passion. Don’t let her feminine appearance fool you: Char Lautzenheiser is a “car guy.” No one loves automobiles more than the executive director of the Canton Classic Car Museum.

Her encyclopedic knowledge of engines and the little-known details behind each vehicle in the museum’s 45-car collection would leave Richard Petty speechless.

“I have been a car guy my whole life,” the outgoing Lautzenheiser said with a laugh. “I learned cooking from mom and cars from my dad. I got the best of both worlds … I ingest autos. It’s my passion.”

How many people can tell you the engine size and wheelbase of a 1969 Pontiac LeMans, or that the front grille of the Rolls Royce was patterned after the Pantheon in Rome, or that a preliminary design for the Mustang logo was, shall we say, anatomically correct? How many women do you know who would be thrilled to receive a gift subscription to Motor Trend?

An only child, Lautzenheiser attended her first car race with her father when she was 3.

“I remember sitting on a metal Coke cooler in Bristol, Tennessee,” she said. “Just feeling those engines in your chest, I was mesmerized … We’d go to car lots on Sundays, where Daddy would explain to me about the different engines and wheelbases. My mother would quiz us on the motor magazines we read.”

Cyril Dawkins was a Georgia-born salesman who piloted B-25s in World War II. He loved anything with an engine, said his daughter, who earned her own pilot’s license at 16. Lautzenheiser confessed that she sometimes “flew” by way of a car, too.

“My nickname was ‘Barney,’ as in (the racer) Oldfield,” she said, laughing. “And not because he lollygagged.”

Not a job, a passion A member of the Society of Automotive Historians, Lautzenheiser oversaw marketing and advertising at the museum for 22 years. She assumed the director’s post three years ago.

“I saw a ‘help wanted’ in The Repository for a ‘retired man’ for the front desk,” she said, recalling her start at the museum. “It took a little convincing … I’ve been blessed to be able to work at this. This is not a job for me, this is a passion. I get to meet people from around the world.”

Home to such automobiles as the Jewell and the Packard, Northeast Ohio, Lautzenheiser said, was an early hotbed for auto manufacturing because of the rubber industry and railroads. It drew Henry Timken, a successful carriage and roller-bearing maker from St. Louis.

The museum has on display an extremely rare 1904 “St. Louis” restored by the Timken Co. in 1999. Only eight exist.

More than cars

The Canton Classic Car Museum is one of the most eclectic museums in the area. Lautzenheiser, who is constantly on the hunt for Canton artifacts, said it has something for everyone.

There’s plenty to see, from vintage clothing and Oriental rugs, to photographs of Canton spanning the centuries, to election memorabilia and kitschy advertisements, to an armor-plated 1920s Canton police car — a nod to the city’s “Little Chicago” heyday.

“We’re so much more than cars,” she said. “It’s a stroll down memory lane. It brings a lot of smiles. I’ve had women come here and say, ‘Oh, I’ll just wait out front for my husband.’ But I’ll convince them to walk around, and they’re amazed. … I love for people to show up with stuff, especially Canton stuff.”

A sizable portion of artifacts come from the personal collection of the late preservationist Marshall Belden Sr. and his widow, Florence.

“He was a huge car enthusiast,” Lautzenheiser said.

The museum itself housed the Monnot & Sacher Ford dealership from 1914 to 1931, a stone’s throw from the Lincoln Highway. Model T’s were assembled on the second floor.

Lautzenheiser said her favorite automotive era is the 1930s. One of the museum’s prized possessions is a 1937 Cord, one of only 195 built.

“They had a grace and elegance,” she said. “The 16-cyclinder engine was introduced in 1931. It’s just a great era of history.”

Her wish list for the museum includes a Duesenberg and a 1955 Mercedes Benz “gull wing.”

Though husband Gene is not a car guy, Lautzenheiser said, he inadvertently named their two sons, Cole, 14, and Chase, 10, after brands of cars.

Never heard of them? Coles, Lautzenheiser said, were built in Indianapolis. The Chase was made in Syracuse.

“Over the last 100 years, there have been 5,000 different makers of American automobiles,” she noted.

Any more questions?