Candace Paulino was 3 years old when she caught the bug. Tim Ming was 10. Decades later, they remain infected by the collector car disease, and they displayed its impact this past weekend at the inaugural Las Vegas Concours d’Elegance, where Paulino showed two cars and where Ming arrived driving perhaps the most unexpected vehicle for a such a showcase.
And they were not alone in their display of what collecting cars can do as other owners brought nearly 150 additional cars to the event staged on not one but on two fairways of the DragonRidge Country Club at MacDonald Highlands, up on a slope of Black Mountain high above and overlooking The Strip.
Paulino recalled being 3 years old and “plopped down in front of one of those big black-and-white television consoles” and watching a show or movie and being impacted as a car unlike any she’d seen was driven across the screen.
“I said someday I’m going to own one just like that,” she proclaimed.
It was 28 years later that she saw a very similar car. But it was a car that she somehow knew wasn’t quite like the one she’d seen as a child. Someone suggested the car she’d wanted all those years was probably an Auburn.
That person was right, and eight years later Paulino not only found her dream car, a 1935 Auburn 85 boattail speedster, but she bought it.
I couldn’t sell the dream.”
As she towed the car back to her home in Seattle, another car fell in behind her and when she got home, the person in that car offered to buy the Auburn, and offered her $50,000 more than she’d paid.
She declined the offer.
“I couldn’t sell the dream,” she said.
As it turned out, the Auburn needed a lot of restoration work. Paulino undertook much of that work herself, calling in her husband, Mike, or a male friend only when her muscles weren’t strong enough to lifting a heavy part or to hold it in place while attaching it.
But once she finished the chassis, she displayed it at the Forest Grove concours in Oregon, which is where she met renowned restoration specialist Randy Ema, who in turn introduced her to the Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg collecting community and, long story shortened, to a 5½-week gig helping sort parts when rights to the ACD brands were being sold along with a supply of spare parts.
Paulino’s pay for such service was first pick of the parts she needed to complete her car’s restoration.
The car finished, she liked driving it so much that she and Mike moved from Seattle to Las Vegas, in part because of better weather for driving such a car, which she said she drove 600 miles in the three months leading up to the concours.
The other car she showed at the concours was a 1954 Chevrolet Corvette, a car, she noted, that was built in 1953 but titled as a ’54 because that’s when it originally was sold. She also noted that the concours was the first time since 1991 — and perhaps the last time — that they’d put up the convertible top on the Corvette roadster.
While Mike was off getting the Corvette ready for the concours judges, Paulino said her husband is a reluctant participant in her automotive passion.
“The cars are my children,” she said. “Mike is their stepdad.”
Which brings us to Tim Ming, who was one of four children and which, he said, explains why his father couldn’t afford a new car but would buy used vehicles and fix them up. What Ming’s father would buy were used Hondas, frequently trade-ins at the Honda dealership where Ming’s uncle worked.
Tim Ming helped his father with his cars and, since he was 10 years old, has been restoring old Hondas, primarily the early 600s, the first cars Honda offered in the United States, from 1960 to 1972, when it introduced the Civic.
Tim Ming’s Merciless Mings garage in Duarte, California, would become the go-to place for Honda 600 work. Even American Honda went there when it wanted to have the N600 serial No. 1 car restored. Ming figures he’s worked on thousands of 600s through the years.
The one he showed at the Las Vegas concours looked like it had been headed to a Concours d’Lemons show but made a wrong turn and found itself at exclusive DragonRidge instead of some mundane parking lot.
The car was a noisy and ratty-looking 1970 Honda N600 that turns out to be the very first car raced in North American by American Honda, and a car that for many years was thought to have been no longer in existence.
The car that would become the Baja 1000 Honda N600 was modified for racing by Baja motorcycle racers (and key figures in the event’s history) Bill Robertson Jr. and Dave Ekins. Robertson’s father was a motorcycle dealer and the family had lots of experience riding in Mexico.
Ekins is the brother of the late Bud Ekins, famed off-road racer and Hollywood stunt driver. So Robertson Jr. and Ekins souped up the Honda 600’s engine, boosted its power to the point that the car could fly off the bumps on the hilly Baja course.
Problem was, when the car returned to the trail, the CV joint hub snap rings would fail and Robertson would have to get out of the car and push the front wheels back into place — and then would have to repeat that process on the next and every subsequent jump.
By 2 a.m. the first night, the repeated exercise had Robertson exhausted and the car was withdrawn from the race. But while Robertson flew home, the car was left abandoned in Mexico.
At some point, however, the car turned up back at American Honda offices, only to disappear yet again, this time seemingly gone and forgotten.
But three years ago, a small independent repair shop in Seattle was closing and Ming heard that not only did it have a lot of Honda 600 parts, but an old 600 with a roll cage.
That’s right, Ming was able to verify that the car was, indeed, the original American Honda Baja 1000. So, he drove to Seattle, put the 600 into the cargo bay of his Ford Transit van, packed the rest of the van with assorted spare parts, and drove back to the Los Angeles area.
The exterior remains in as-found condition, although you can still make out the outline of its 278 Baja racing number, a tribute to the Ekins’ close friend Steve McQueen, who carried that number when he raced endurance motorcycles. But Ming got the car mechanically sound and drove it to an all-Honda show, “where everything stopped” as the car, still wearing its original California plates, arrived.
Ming also has displayed the car at the annual Japanese Classic Car Show in Long Beach, and because Vance Walker, brother of Ming’s wife Kathleen is a friend of Las Vegas concours founder Stuart Sobek, the car, unsightly as some classic collectors might think it to be, was invited to be among those displayed on the 10th fairway this past weekend.
It didn’t get a Best of Show trophy, but it may well have deserved best of story recognition.