Howard G. Singer grew up racing through Schenley Park; his first car was the family Cadillac — a 1947 model — that was passed to him in 1957. It’s a car “I wish I owned today,” said Singer, sitting in a lawn chair last Saturday at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix.
That Cadillac wouldn’t be out of place in Singer’s garage; his collection includes 20 collector cars, including his entry into the Grand Prix, held in the park of his first driving memories. White with painted logos, names and numbers all over its body, Singer’s car may not have been the sleekest, but it was likely the most historically significant: a 1954 lightweight Ford race car, one of only 30 of its kind, that raced in that year’s Pan-American Road Race in Mexico.
At the Grand Prix, the racer drew a crowd and Singer was more than happy to oblige them with a story.
“This car was sponsored by the Argentinean dictator Juan Peron, who was both loved and hated in Argentina. We all know his wife,” said Singer, referencing Eva Peron, made famous by the movie “Evita.”
The car placed 71st out of over 300 in the 1954 Road Race, held 1950-54 and largely considered one of the most perilous races in the world at that time because it traversed rural highways stretching over 2,000 miles through Mexico.
Singer, a Squirrel Hill native, left Pittsburgh in 1974 after discovering what he called “the American Riviera,” or Southern California.
“I knew I always wanted to live where other people vacationed,” he said.
Sixty-nine-year-old Singer purchased the car in 2002, quickly placing it in a museum in Indiana. His return trip to Pittsburgh from La Jolla for the Grand Prix presented the proud owner his first chance to hit the road with the car.
“It runs beautifully,” he said.
Singer was quick to point out the car’s many idiosyncrasies, like its “enormous fuel tank behind the front seat,” he said. “If the drivers were smokers, I’m sure they didn’t smoke during the race.”
This year marked the 28th Vintage Grand Prix in Schenley Park, and the usually green space was packed with chrome: hundreds of cars and thousands of car fans. Singer spent most of the event looking at his rare auto like a proud father.
“I don’t want to degrade the owner of any car here, but I like vehicles that are different,” said Singer. “I don’ like bellybuttons — to me a bellybutton is a car that everybody has. And there’s only one Pan-American Road Race car here.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Check out an interview with Singer below, done by the folks at the Grand Prix, and check out our extensive coverage in this week’s Chronicle.