A Family Tradition: La Jollan’s old cars passed down to two generations

ONE FOR THE ROAD: In response to an invitation to classic car owners to share their vehicle love stories, more than a dozen car buffs contacted La Jolla Light to be interviewed about their prize possessions. In this series, we present their delightful roadster experiences.

For as long as he has been a driver, La Jolla resident Bob Estrada has driven older cars. In fact, he got his first “new” car in 2008. He got his license when he was 14 years old (in the 1940s) living in El Centro and at the time, drove a 1929 Ford pickup truck.

Now, he owns five vintage vehicles: a 1949 Plymouth deluxe station wagon, a 1949 Cadillac, a 1958 Ford ranch wagon, a 1956 Ford F150 pickup and a 1939 Chevy four-door. The cars are stored in a facility in the South Bay, but he brought the 1949 Plymouth to his home for the La Jolla Light interview.

“I’m wacko with cars,” Estrada said, laughing. “You get the bug and start buying this and buying that and trading up. I bought my first car in 1958 and it was an old Cadillac and I had that for a while. I got married in 1965, which brought some things to a halt. We settled in La Jolla in 1971 and been here ever since, and we had two sons.”

With one son grown (the other is deceased) — and a teenage grandson — Estrada is back collecting and restoring old cars.

“It’s fun bringing things back to their original state. Anyone can have a new car, but these old ones are special. You can’t replace them once they’re gone,” he said. “I try to keep everything you can see as close to original as possible, but some of the interior features I’ve changed to keep up with modern cars (for example, turn signals and radios). When it comes to the exterior, I only chrome what I have to.”

The 1949 Plymouth, for example, had a significant amount of work done to it, most of it by Estrada’s own hands. “I found this one on the street in Pacific Beach and traded a pickup truck for it. I had to find parts and upgrade the engine and transmission, but I finished restoring it four years ago.”

When he got it, the Plymouth was “an ugly pickle green” and Estrada had it painted an off-white color.

ONE FOR THE ROAD: In response to an invitation to classic car owners to share their vehicle love stories, more than a dozen car buffs contacted La Jolla Light to be interviewed about their prize possessions. In this series, we present their delightful roadster experiences.

“I picked the color because it (is consistent with other cars in that) year. You don’t see it a lot, but you would see it enough. It’s kind of like the car, it’s not real flashy but it draws a lot of attention,” he said.

Wife Diane added that she appreciates the work that went into it. “There are spots on the car that look old and rubbed out, but those were done deliberately. There were colors painted under the beige and it was rubbed down. People think it’s the original paint,” she said.

Each of the Estradas’ cars are as carefully and mindfully restored. The 1949 Cadillac was even shown at the San Diego Automotive Museum last year during an exhibit on fins. The 1958 Ford ranch wagon and 1956 Ford F150 pickup were worked on by their sons at some point, and brought to modern standards so they could be driven.

“When our sons each turned 16, they took over one of the cars. When one of our sons was very young, he took the car apart and put it back together. Our grandson is about to turn 16 and we still have a truck that we are saving for him. He was nervous and conscientious about it at first, but he has since changed his mind and is excited about it,” Diane said. “The truck needs new tires and over-the-shoulder seatbelts, but it is otherwise safe. These cars are heavy and made to last. I had a 1956 or 1957 Plymouth when I was younger and someone ran into me from the side. My car had a dent in the door and the other car looked like an accordion. It was not heavy steel — so there are some advantages and disadvantages.”

Among the disadvantages, he said cars without power brakes and power steering come with their share of challenges — and expenses. “Getting it up to modern standards is expensive, but once we get there, we’re OK. Plus, we have to store it and insure it,” he said.

Among the advantages, the Estradas said they appreciate the creative design of the older cars, the attention they bring and the “fun” of an ongoing project. “When you drive one, people gravitate toward you, it’s fun,” Bob said. “Maintaining these cars keeps you busy and there are a lot of books for every car and every part, which is helpful. We travel quite a bit and it’s nice to share the cars with people.”

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