Get to Know the 2019 Best in Show Winner
Michael O’Neill — 1935 Ford Model 48 Cabriolet
- Do you remember the first moment you fell in love with the car world?
Not really. The classic car world really isn’t my love, and neither is the car; it’s the thought of my brother—that’s why I keep doing this.
My mom bought my brother and I this car when we were young and living in New York on West 48th Street near Hell’s Kitchen. She thought we’d be so busy working on it that we’d stay out of trouble. We got it up and running, but it wasn’t looking that pretty back then.
- Were classic Fords your first love?
Really it could have been anything. My mom just happened to find this thing for nothing and brought it home from the junkyard.
- Do you remember a moment when you realized classic cars were going to be (or already were) a big part of your life?
When that tow truck rolled up to our house in the late 1950s with that hunk of junkyard Ford on it, and my mom said, “That’s your brother and yours.” We didn’t think much of it, but when my brother passed, it lit that fire under me to make it something special. So I brought it out here to fix it up and really make it something my brother would be proud of. I’ve been through a lot with that car, what feels like a lifetime of lawsuits with restoration swindlers, and really it’s all for my brother. I wish he could be here to see it.
- What is it about your classic 1935 Ford Model 48 that speaks to you as an enthusiast?
I do love the look, I really do. You feel like it’s a part of American cultural history. Like, the hood ornament is a greyhound which used to be a Rolls Royce emblem. But, Rolls gave it up in 1934 and Ford snagged it. They only used it for convertibles back then.
- Obviously you love your Ford (and rightfully so). But is there another car you’ve always had your eye on that you’d trade pink slips for if offered?
No way. This car is about more than the model or the year, it’s about my brother. When I think about that car, I think about my brother. That’s why I had an inlay installed in the dash to honor his memory.
- Cars this beautiful conjure up a lot of passion for not only the folks driving them but also the people who get to see them on the road. What do you hope people think about your car when they see you driving down the road?
Oh, people are always stopping me or waving me down when I’m driving—constantly! I get a lot of folks who love the old mob and copper stories, and I’m proud of having kept this thing so good looking. People notice, and it’s a good time.
- What is it that you love about the Tucson Classic Car Show?
I’ve been a part of a lot of shows, but I really love the wide variety of cars. You know, some shows only show off muscle cars or old high-end stuff, and we have that here. But there’s everyday classics, and I don’t know, I just like the people.
- In light of you winning 2019 Best in Show, do you consider your Ford a finished product, or are you already thinking of ways you can improve it for next year?
Heck no. I’ll always have to do maintenance. But I am done with all the extra stuff. I’ve had a lot of headaches and lawsuits over getting this thing into the shape my brother deserved. I’m proud of where it’s at—I just wish my brother was here to see it. It’s valued at over $100,000 now, not bad for something that came into my life on the back of a tow truck from a junkyard.