After 60 years, car lover is reunited with the coupe that got away

CLEARVIEW — He loved that car.

Oh, man, he loved that car.

In his youth, Jim Watson bought and fixed up a 1933 Ford Coupe.

He drove it cross-country after he got drafted into the U.S. Army. He took his girlfriend, Patricia, on dates in the coupe before they married.

When it was time to buy a house and have a family, Watson knew he had to sell his beloved Ford.

He always hoped to get it back.

He retired about 25 years ago. He always tried to persuade Wayne Caldwell — who bought the car from him in 1954 — to sell it back.

Then, in 1999, the coupe was stolen from a garage in Seattle.

The coupe finally resurfaced in 2013, when it showed up in Stanwood. It had been sold so many times since the theft that the new owner didn’t know it’d been stolen.

Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force detectives got the car back to Caldwell.

A few months ago, Caldwell called Watson. He was ready to sell.

“He said, ‘You got first crack at it,’ and he’s a man of his word,” said Watson, who turns 87 in July.

Rob Matter, Watson’s son-in-law and a car buff, offered to buy it for him. The price was about $10,000.

“(He) said whatever it takes, we’ll get it done, which was very nice,” Watson said.

He paid $35 in 1947

The coupe was built during the Great Depression.

Watson first bought the car in 1947 — when a quarter could buy more than a gallon of gas. He’s pretty sure he was the second owner. He paid about $35, but put a lot of work into the 14-year-old car after that.

Watson installed hydraulic brakes. A friend lowered the roofline and added a steel top. Watson built a new engine.

After Watson was drafted, he drove the coupe to Fort Lee, Virginia, and then back to Seattle before he shipped out to Korea.

In those days, one drove mostly two-lane roads to get cross-country, he said.

Watson was pulled from the infantry shortly after basic training. A doctor noticed he had flat feet.

So he put in a request to become a diesel mechanic. Instead, the Army made him an office machine repairman. He learned to fix typewriters.

“They never give you what you want,” he said.

Watson got to the troop replacement depot in Incheon, Korea. The officer who interviewed him saw he had machine repair credentials. The depot had plenty of typewriters.

“He says, ‘We could sure use you here unless you really want to go on up to the front lines,’ ” Watson said.

“I said, ‘Well, where do I park my gear?’ ”

Watson served 15 months in Korea. He saw some of the countryside on Jeep trips, salvaging typewriter parts.

Before and after the service, he worked for an auto-wrecking company in Seattle. He made a little money on the side buying beat-up cars and fixing them up to sell. In the 1950s, he worked as a manager for the company’s site in south Everett.

After they married, the Watsons needed money for a down payment on a house in Edmonds, where they raised four kids.

Watson sold the coupe to Caldwell, who raced it at the drag strip in Arlington.

Caldwell, who lives in Sequim, got the coupe back from the cops last year, and it needed some work.

Caldwell knew only one man he trusted to do the restoration. But that man couldn’t start until 2015.

Caldwell didn’t want to wait. He thought of Watson.

“I decided there was only one person I wanted to give it back to, and Jim wanted it,” he said. “It couldn’t have went to a better guy. I really think a lot of Jim.”

Earlier this year, Caldwell brought the coupe over on a covered trailer to Watson’s house in Clearview. Watson’s grandkids snapped pictures of the two men talking.

“It was so nice of him to deliver the car, too, on top of selling it back to me,” Watson said.

He’ll restore it to glory

Now the coupe is disassembled in Watson’s garage. Some parts will go back on the frame. Some will be replaced.

Watson plans to get the coupe ready to drive and maybe take it to car shows.

“It’s got all the go-fast goodies,” he said.

A part of the floor is missing, so he has to find another piece to weld on. Caldwell found him a firewall to put in, too.

Some of the body panels will need to be replaced because of rust-outs. Replacement parts wait in bubble wrap. More are ordered.

“It won’t be an every-day driver,” Watson said. “I’d like to have it like it was.”

The car still is the same combination of regency blue and midnight blue that Watson painted it around the time he got out of the Army. He’s undecided on keeping that color.

Caldwell had put in a thick, plastic, blue-tinted windshield and windows. Those will probably go. Watson likes the plain glass better.

The coupe didn’t have windshield wipers when he owned it as a young man.

In those days, he’d rub the windshield down with a Bull Durham loose tobacco bag, he said. The tobacco residue would help the rain bounce off the glass.

Tinkering keeps him young

The Watsons’ kids often heard him talk about the car as they were growing up.

“It’s the only car we ever heard about, pretty much,” said daughter Becky Matter, 59, whose husband, Rob, made the purchase.

Rob Matter also has an early 1930s Ford Model A. Watson chopped the roof and made it into a hot rod.

Matter and Watson painted it Seahawks colors and call it “The Hawk Rod.”

“Since we were little kids, he’s talked about this car, the Roadster that got away,” she said. “It’s just amazing that it came back around.”

One of her sisters was so excited, she cried.

Becky Matter looked at her dad in his garage.

“This is what keeps you young,” she told him.

A love passed down

In January, Jim and Patricia Watson celebrated 60 years of marriage.

They have four kids, eight grandkids, four great-grandkids and a Yorkshire-poodle mix named Buttons. They watch TV, and sometimes go to the casino for an hour or two.

One of the kids in the family just bought a sprint car to race at the Skagit Speedway near Mount Vernon.

Every few weeks, Patricia Watson has manicure dates with daughter Jan Schemenauer.

“I was down there the other day, and it is so hard to believe that 60 years ago, Dad was courting Mom in that car,” Schemenauer said. Meanwhile, Watson tinkers away in his garage.

Outside, in the driveway, great-grandson Ryder Stevens, 2, rides by on a miniature toy John Deere tractor.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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