James Synodinos

Electrical contractor who collected and restored antique autos was active in local classic-car clubs

March 05, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

James Synodinos, a retired electrical contractor who enjoyed collecting and driving vintage automobiles, died of cancer Sunday at Franklin Square Hospital Center. He was 68.

Mr. Synodinos was born in Baltimore and raised on Pelham Avenue in Mayfield. He was a 1958 graduate of Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, where he studied aviation mechanics.

Trained as an electrician, Mr. Synodinos was a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 24. He established Synodinos and Associates, a commercial electrical contracting firm, in 1980.

Mr. Synodinos worked on commercial buildings in downtown Baltimore, at city-owned facilities and at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport until closing the business and retiring in 2005.

Throughout his life, Mr. Synodinos maintained an affection for classic American automobiles that rolled off Detroit production lines during the 1930s and early 1940s.

"He still owned and drove his first car, a 1933 green Plymouth coupe that he had bought when he was 16," said his wife of 24 years, the former Ruth Meinecke, who also shared her husband's enthusiasm for antique cars.

Mrs. Synodinos said that other cars in his collection, which he housed in a six-bay garage behind his home in the Hampton section of Baltimore County, included a 1932 straight-8 tan Buick club sedan; a 1933 12-cylinder, five- passenger, tan-and-orange Cadillac town coupe; a 1941 8-cylinder black Packard touring sedan; and a 1947 8-cylinder blue-and-gray Packard touring sedan, all of which he restored, including doing all the engine work.

"He liked to tinker. The last car in his collection, which were not production models but had been specially ordered, was a green 1972 Pontiac Grand Prix," said Mrs. Synodinos.

Mr. Synodinos was a member of the Antique Auto Club of America, Packard Club, Buick Club, Cadillac & LaSalle Club, and the Classic Car Club of America.

He had been a board member and chairman of the membership committee of the Chesapeake Bay Region chapter of the Classic Car Club of America.

The couple joined other car owners on cross-country journeys, often stopping at historical sites along the way.

"That was one of Jim's favorite activities. We've been to Alaska, Seattle and throughout the West," Mrs. Synodinos said. "Our first trip was in 1995, when we left from Rhode Island and it took us three weeks to reach San Francisco, then it took us two weeks to return back home. You meet a lot of nice people on these trips."

The caravan of vintage autos avoided main roads and interstate highways.

"We traveled on back roads using map guides that the auto clubs had prepared," she said.

Mrs. Synodinos said that they carried along spare parts in case of mechanical emergencies.

Richard E. Marrs, a member of the Classic Car Club of America and owner of a 1935 Packard formal sedan and a 1947 Cadillac limousine, was a longtime friend.

"He had the biggest heart of any guy I've known. He was always picking up things at auto shows that he thought you needed or would like to have. I remember him picking up a bunch of miniature automobile jacks and giving them to us," Mr. Marrs said.

"And if he saw someone stranded on the side of the road, he'd pull his car over and take over. Jim did what needed to be done. He knew what he was doing. He was an excellent mechanic and got them back on their way," he said.

David G. Benson, who lives in Hunt Valley, drives a 1937 Palm Beach tan-colored Cord.

"I hated going on tours if Jim weren't along because he always had a huge amount of spare parts that could fix any car," he said. "He was also a very humorous man that everyone looked to for comments."

Last May, Mr. Synodinos and his wife joined 30 other classic-car enthusiasts when they loaded their 1941 Packard aboard a container ship at Dundalk Marine Terminal for shipment to Amsterdam. They were reunited with their car in Basel, Switzerland, and then trekked through Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria and Italy, Mrs. Synodinos said.

Mr. Marrs said that plans to honor their friend with a funeral procession of vintage autos and a period Packard hearse today had to be postponed because of the snow this week.

"Salt is bad for classic cars," Mr. Marrs said. "We'll do something to honor Jim's life in the near future."

Services will be held at 10 a.m. today at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.

Also surviving are two stepsons, Warren W. Dodge III of Parkville and David W. Dodge of Dundalk; four grandsons; and two great-granddaughters.

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