Carl Gordon Kirwan Jr., vintage auto collector, dies

The vintage auto collector's restoration of a 1910 Model T earned an award from Ford Motor Co.

  • Carl Gordon Kirwan Jr.
Carl Gordon Kirwan Jr.
February 15, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Carl Gordon Kirwan Jr., a retired businessman who enjoyed restoring and driving vintage automobiles and riding to hounds in Howard County, died Feb. 8 of cancer at the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt Home in Washington.

The longtime resident of Woodbine, Howard County, was 84.

Mr. Kirwan, whose father was vice president of the Cumberland Coal Co. and mother was a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on Brightwood Road in Howard Park. He attended the McDonogh School and the University of Maryland, College Park.

He served with the Army Air Forces during World War II, and after the war, joined the Marine Corps Reserves.

He worked for the Baltimore Convention Bureau and U.S. Industrial Chemicals Co. before moving in 1960 to Intercoastal Paint Co., where he was a marine specialist.

In 1972, he established ADCOA — Adhesive and Coating Associates — in Woodbine, which specialized in manufacturing marine and industrial paints and adhesives. He retired and closed the business in 2000.

Mr. Kirwan married Mary Vaeth in 1952 and lived in Rodgers Forge for many years.

The couple, avid collectors of timbers, architectural woodwork, mantels, floors and bricks salvaged from buildings that were torn down, incorporated the material into Square Woods, the Woodbine home and horse farm they had constructed in 1972 on Jenning's Chapel Road.

Their home, which they decorated with antiques they had collected, was modeled after Sotterley, the historic St. Mary's County plantation home of George Plater III, a Revolutionary War veteran and the sixth governor of Maryland.

"My parents began married life in Rodgers Forge and they had a number of garages where they stored their material," said a daughter, Jennifer Kirwan Casasco of Washington.

Mr. Kirwan, who became an authority on early Fords, found his first car, a Brewster Green 1910 Model T two-door touring car, in a Milton, Del., barn. He fully and accurately restored it to its original splendor, in a three-car garage and restoration facility that he had erected on his farm.

His restoration work earned him the Henry Ford II Trophy that was presented by the Ford Motor Co. in 1973.

"He was only the car's second owner," said Ms. Casasco.

Mr. Kirwan didn't stop with the Model T. He went on to restore a 1910 Peerless Model 27, a 1909 Packard, a 1911 blue Ford Roadster Torpedo, and several American La France fire engines, including one dating to 1917.

In the late 1980s, Mr. Kirwan began restoring a number of 1965-era convertible Ford Mustangs, one of which was purchased by a collector in Australia.

The antithesis of the "no touch" fussy car collector, Mr. Kirwan believed that his cars should be seen, enjoyed and driven.

Family members said Mr. Kirwan, who doted on his cars and considered them his "fourth daughter," enjoyed driving to vintage auto rallies.

"We three daughters would be in the back seat," said Ms. Casasco. "He also loved giving kids rides on one of his antique fire engines."

When Mr. Kirwan and his wife went "automobiling," they dressed in vintage dusters and goggles that would have been worn by a motorist of that era.

He toured with the Glidden Auto Tours and was a founding member of the Friends of Ancient Road Transportation Society, which also criss-crossed the country on vintage motor car tours.

The couple traveled from Maine to Key West, Fla., and made several transcontinental trips. In 1985, they were invited by the Rover Car Co. of Coventry, England, to help celebrate the company's 100th anniversary. They shipped one of their cars overseas and began touring England, Scotland and Wales.

"In the early 1990s, they drove the 1909 Packard from Ellsworth, Maine, to Gander, Newfoundland," Ms. Casasco said.

"Gordon was an expert in early Model T Fords and was one of the early Model T experts," said Warren G. Kraft, also a vintage car enthusiast, who lives in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.

"He has been in the hobby a long time and is very well-known by the Model T people," Mr. Kraft said. "He was a charming guy and always had a good time. He was a great friend of mine."

Mr. Kraft said Mr. Kirwan enjoyed the tours they had taken together.

"Gordon was also a first-class mechanic who took apart his cars, replaced worn parts and, if he had to, would make new parts," he said.

Bob Robinson of Schwenksville, Pa., who collects and restores 1910 Fords and owns a Maxwell, has been a friend of Mr. Kirwan's for more than 25 years.

"I'm a professional automobile restorer and had the opportunity to meet Gordon on tours, and we developed a wonderful friendship," said Mr. Robinson. "He loved driving his cars and did two transcontinental trips in his 1909 Packard. He was an excellent mechanic who knew the limits of his cars."

Mr. Kirwan had been a member of the Antique Automobile Club of America for 50 years.

Mr. Kirwan, who enjoyed fox hunting on his horse Jacob Beck, named after a Revolutionary War ancestor, was a member of the Howard County Iron Bridge Hounds and the Goshen Hunt Club.

"He loved horses and was a wonderful gentleman of the field," said Ms. Casasco, who often rode with her father.

He was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, American Legion and Propeller Club.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Feb. 23 at St. Stephen's Traditional Episcopal Church,11856 Mays Chapel Road, Timonium.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Kirwan is survived by two other daughters, Barbara Clifton of Manchester and Carol Anne Schwartz of Santa Fe, N.M.; two sisters, Patricia K. Krehnbrink of Chestertown and Jackie Linderman of Louisville, Ky.; and seven grandchildren.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.