Ron Cherry: An eighty-eight horse Shay
December 15, 2017
When Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. wrote his poem in 1858 about a one-horse (one-hoss) shay, a buggy that lasted a hundred years, it was about a different sort of vehicle than the car of that name produced 120 years later. However, both were meant to be durable.
When Harry J. Shay brought out his Model A reproduction Shay in 1978, he planned to have his limited-production (no more than 10,000 units to avoid onerous Federal regulations) car built by small, trained teams rather than on an assembly line.
Although he found it impossible to keep up a reasonable rate of production that way, he did push for quality. It had a custom frame with a Pinto running gear, a 140 cubic inch overhead-cam four-cylinder engine that produced 88 horses and either a 4-speed manual trans or an automatic.
It used a Pinto rear end and front disc brakes as well as suspension. The body was made of fiberglass.
Fiberglass reproduction cars were in their heyday in the 1980s, but the Shay had an advantage.
They were not kit cars, but fully assembled models with a factory-warrantied drive train that were sold by Ford dealers, with one car to be sent to each dealership in the U.S. Ford even allowed Shay to use its patented styling, hoping the draw of the Model A appearance would bring in customers for their own cars.
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People lined up at dealerships to see the first ones delivered in 1979. That had not happened since the first 1964 1/2 Mustangs hit the showroom floors.
It was when he was working as a body man at Fiesta Ford in Indio that Danny Weger first saw the Shay.
"They were quite expensive for their day," he remembered. "You could buy a loaded LTD (top of the line Ford) for what they cost. Probably that's why they didn't go off too well."
It did not particularly impress him.
"I was young at the time, so I was more into hot rods," said Danny. "I wasn't that excited about it."
He'd been into cars all his life.
"I was into hot cars back then, but didn't think of them as hot rods," he said of his youth.
By the time the Shay came out, his life had changed when it came to performance cars.
"I'd look at them, but couldn't afford them. I was more into making a living then. When I got older, I got back into them," he said.
He moved here from the Indio/Palm Springs area in 1980 and really got back into hot and classic cars in 1985. He's had quite a few since then.
"I still have most of them," he said. "My wife, Donna, says I've got too many. I've got a lot of projects going."
He's currently working on a '49 Chevy pickup, but his wife wants him to start on a '57 Chevy 210 2-door station wagon. He can often be seen driving a '53 Studebaker with a '51 "spinner" grill and a souped-up Chevy 350 cubic inch engine.
Painted bright yellow with red flames, it's hard to miss. He also likes stock ones and has gone on long runs in his Model T with the local club.
A Christmas opportunity
It was his love of cars that connected Danny with the Shay in 2005.
"I was down at my wife's parents' house for Christmas, talking over the fence to the neighbor. He needed to get rid of the car and I was dumb enough to buy it," he joked.
The original owner had won it at a church raffle with a one dollar ticket. After driving it for a few years, he sold it to his brother for $500. The brother drove it some, but mainly to get it smogged every two years.
The rest of the time it was parked in the garage and the man's wife wanted the space for her car. So it had to go. The price was right, so Danny bought it.
The Shay was in good condition, with only 2700 miles on the odometer. The only options on this Standard Roadster were an auto trans and an AM/FM radio. The title stated that it was originally sold in 1981, a year before Shay went bankrupt in 1982.
Perhaps the dealership had trouble selling it and that's why they donated it to a church to raffle off. Whatever the case, Danny and Donna have enjoyed the roadster. They drove it home from SoCal up Highway 1, taking two days to make the trip.
"It'll run 55 down the road all day, 65 if you want, but it gets windy inside," he said. "It doesn't have a heater, which would have been nice."
He has taken it on local trips, such as around Lake Tahoe, where a heater would be missed. He also takes it to Cars and Coffee, which happens from 8-10 a.m. every Saturday at the K-mart parking lot off McKnight.
Since buying it, he and Donna have put 2300 miles on their Shay.
"It's something you can throw in a corner, then hop into and drive when you want," he said.
Whether Danny's 88-horse Shay will last as long as Oliver's one-horse shay, only time will tell.
Ron Cherry's books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His new book, "The St. Nicholas Murders," is a Christmas mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills that is remarkably similar to Nevada City and is now out in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.
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