SAUGUS — Russell Tripp bluntly describes his obsession with antique cars — an interest he’s had since the earliest days of his childhood.
“It’s a sickness,” he said, “just like any other kind of sickness. Some people like airplanes and some people like boats. I like cars … and airplanes, and boats.
“I’ve loved cars ever since I was a little kid. (My interest in them) probably kept me out of a lot of trouble, unless I was racing them. Then, it probably got me into trouble.”
These days, Tripp likes nothing better than to immerse himself inside the body of a classic car and put it back together again. He has no fewer than 12 cars — all of them that would easily be classified as antique (defined by the American Antique Automobile Association as 25 years or older) — in the large garage at his home on Adams Court. The oldest is a 1928 Chevrolet. And by far the most striking is the cherry-red 1955 Chevy Nomad that he basically took apart and put back together again — repairs that included a plush interior whose seat covers he made himself.
“This can be a very expensive hobby if you don’t do the work yourself,” said Tripp. “I do all mine, except for some of the painting, and that’s only because I’m not set up to do it here.”
Tripp does not spend his time restoring antique cars for the money. He gets his joy out of showing them off to people who love them as much as he does. And he doesn’t care if people touch them, open doors, and look around them — inside and out.
“As far as I’m concerned,” he says, “they’re there to be enjoyed, not to be afraid of. I love taking them to car shows, and I love the people who go to car shows to look at them. If I see little kids who seem to be interested, I ask them if they want to get in. I don’t care if they get smudged or anything like that.”
One of the frequent visitors at his house is Guy Moley of Lynn, who grew up in Saugus, and who developed his interest in cars working at the Full of Bull Restaurant on Route 1 (where the McDonald’s on the Southbound side is now).
“My boss (Bill Pappas) used to have all kinds of pictures of old cars all over the place, and he was a real buff,” Moley said. “The place had a real old-car motif. I think I was only 14 when he took me on a ride in a 1955 Thunderbird. I went to my first car show with the Pappases, and from there I fell in love with antique cars.
“I feel like it’s a real privilege to own one,” said Moley, who works for the Saugus Housing Authority. His first classic car was a 1955 Mercury. These days, he owns a 1970 Pontiac Trans Am, but his prized possession is a 1986 Chevy Monte Carlo in which Tripp helped with the floorboards.
Moley has put his love of classic cars to good use. This year, his antique car show at Fuddruckers helped raise money for cancer research and to honor longtime volunteer Jim Perry, a former girls basketball coach for both Saugus and Lynnfield, who died of cancer earlier this year.
You may ask how this obsession began.
“I used to spend all my spare time building model cars, and reading about cars, until I got old enough to buy them,” said Tripp, who said he picked up his knowledge on how to tinker with them “as I went along.”
The mechanical aspect of restoring them, Tripp says, isn’t all that difficult. What separates the men from the boys in this field is the body work, as some of the cars he gets are in poor condition (“I don’t have to go out and look for them anymore,” he says. “They find me.”).
“For the Nomad, I had to take part of the roof off all around because of the rust,” he said. “I spent four years on the Nomad.”
Also, he said, “I find that just working on them, and restoring them, makes up three-fourths of the hobby. Not driving them. The challenge is in the work.”