By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
A father’s passion for vintage vehicles transformed a ’35 Buick into a sweet ride and a showcase of memories for his four children
The presence of JT Moore fills the custom-built garage at his former property in Arlington. (His full name was James Thomas, but everyone called him JT.) The spacious metal building is filled with tool chests, car memorabilia and photographs; it’s also home to a restored 1935 Buick. The Series 50 Victoria Coupe was one of several restoration projects by JT It’s now a prized family heirloom carefully tended by his grown children: Angie Klutz, twins Steve and Tommy Moore, and Julie Sweeney.
JT was 73 when he died unexpectedly in his sleep in 2018. Angie contacted us recently about her father and a favorite vehicle that is still part of the family. When we meet with all the siblings — Tommy drove in from Boerne for the photo session — it is obvious how much JT is still missed. The brothers and sisters love sharing their father’s passion by swapping stories about him and the car.
An Ohio native, JT joined the Air Force when he was 17. He served the minimum enlistment time stationed in Fort Worth and afterward immediately talked his way into a job with LTV Aerospace in Grand Prairie. Having worked on cars while he was growing up, including a 1934 Plymouth he owned in high school, JT had hard and intuitive skills that he was able to put to use working on airplanes.
“Dad knew how to fix everything and had this incredible thought process for figuring out what he didn’t know. For us, he was Google before we knew how to Google,” says Steve. “But he also wanted us to think. One of his favorite expressions was to ‘get your brain out of neutral.’ ”
At the very least, each of the kids learned how to change the oil and fix a flat tire. “Dad taught us many things related to mechanics: troubleshooting skills, critical thinking, process of elimination, to name a few,” says Steve.
And while Dad did a little street racing on Fort Worth’s Camp Bowie Boulevard back in his day, he was a safe driver and stressed its importance to his family.
On weekends, JT was constantly tinkering. The kids played in the yard while he and his buddies worked in the garage. Among his projects was a pair of ’60s-era Mustangs, a
’37 Ford coupe and a 1971 El Camino.
He once sold the Plymouth to a nephew but bought it back 20 years later, driving to Ohio in 1985 to pick it up. After JT died, the family sold it to a good friend of their father; the car resides in Arlington today. But the Buick was JT’s favorite. Tommy thinks his dad spotted it in Hemmings Motor News, a popular trade publication, and bought it around 1997 after selling another project car.
When JT retired in 1999, he found more time for restoration work. (One of the farewell gifts from his co-workers was a mechanical lift for the garage, where it remains today.) The Buick underwent a full frame-off restoration, mixing original details with modern amenities. The car’s shapely body, all steel and originally painted black, now stands out thanks to a new paint job (JT let the kids weigh in on the color). The red spoke wheels, including the one on the fender-mounted spare, and whitewall tires add bold accents. Stainless steel and chrome accents, such as a pair of horns flanking the grille and bullet headlights, gleam.
Julie says her dad’s dream was to make the car a street rod. Instead, it became a comfortable cruiser. Under the bi-fold hood, JT modified the engine with a 454 Chevy V-8 and a turbo 400 transmission. New suspension, 4-wheel disc brakes, rack and pinion power steering, power windows and air conditioning made the car more drivable.
The interior also is a mix of old and new with an all-wood dash and new instruments in the original gauge layout. The banjo steering wheel also features wood accents.
The Buick’s restoration was completed in 2001, and Julie used it as the getaway vehicle at her wedding. After JT’s death, the siblings sold the other project vehicles but kept the Buick and all of JT’s tools, which they divided up among themselves.
“The car stays in the family,” says Steve. “It was part of Dad, and now it’s part of us.”