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Motoring through life in his Hupmobiles

Bill Van Dierendonck loves bringing these classic cars back to life

PRINCETON — Bill Van Dierendonck's love of Hupmobiles started early while growing up in Kewanee.

Van Dierendonck worked at a garage in Kewanee cleaning and fixing cars. One day, he was able to drive a Hupmobile and fell in love with the car. He told himself he would like to own one of these cars some day.

That day came many years later when he was living in Princeton and found a 1923 Hupmobile in Lacon that was restored in 1972. He also has spent almost 26 years to restore a 1940 Hupmobile, since he follows strict restoration standards.

The 1923 black and blue five-passenger touring Hupmobile is a unique car. Van Dierendonck was able to drive this car and take Virginia Halas McCaskey, the principal owner of the Chicago Bears and the eldest child of legendary Bears' owner George Halas, on Solider Field for the Chicago Bears' 75th anniversary in 1994, which was also the National Football League's 75th year.

He went to the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in his 1923 Hupmobile because the NFL was formed in a Hupmobile dealership in the 1920s. He also attended the 29th Super Bowl in 1995 in Miami, Fla., in Joe Robbie Stadium. Van Dierendonck hauled his car to Florida for the Super Bowl because it was too slow to drive all that way. 

At the XXIX Super Bowl, Van Dierendonck drove some NFL greats onto the field in his 1923 Hupmobile.

"It was quite a thrill to attend the Super Bowl," he said. "I drove Gale Sayers, a running back with the Chicago Bears; Otto Graham, a quarterback with the Cleveland Browns; "Mean" Joe Greene, a defensive lineman of the Pittsburgh Steelers; and Ray Nitschke, a linebacker with the Green Bay Packers."

Van Dierendonck and his son, Randy, restored the car in his garage in Princeton. It was painted with the patented Hupmobile blue paint.

"It has a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour," he said. "I normally run it 30 to 35 miles per hour, a nice speed for that (four-cylinder) car." 

He has owned the 1923 Hupmobile since 1972 and has driven it on tours lasting two to seven days in length in Canada, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Iowa with the Hupmobile Club.

Van Dierendonck said his 1923 Hupmobile still looks good today, some 40 years later, since he followed the strict standards of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) to restore it properly. That was evident when Vandierendonck won the national first prize in 1972 with the AACA.

There are only 17, 1923 Hupmobiles left in the country from the 5,000 that were produced from 1918 to 1924.

It took 26 years after buying the 1940 Hupmobile to totally restore it.

Van Dierendonck bought it in pieces. 

"The engine and transmission were bad," he remembers. "It was a ground up restoration, meaning everything was restored from the ground up. The interior is period original." 

Van Dierendonck owns the first 1940 Hupmobile Skylark of its kind off the line. An estimated 319 to 354, 1940 Skylarks were only produced that year. Production records were either incomplete or destroyed due to the manufacturer being in serious financial shape at the time.

The Rinshed Mason color used for the 1940 was produced by a business not in existence anymore, but the company that took it over still had the patented Hupmobile blue used to restore the original color of Van Dierendonck's 1923 model, which has won a national first prize with the AACA in 1972.

"It takes me so long to restore them because you need to find new old stock parts to meet the high level of authenticity needed to win awards," he explained.

The AACA has five meets a year at various locations around the country.

Van Dierendonck took the 1940 Hupmobile to the summer retreat at Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this year where he won its first junior award. He took it to another meet later in the year in Canyon, Texas, where it won the senior award. He is now eligible to take this car to the national meet next June in Moline to try to earn a national first-place recognition.

Van Dierendonck's 1940 Hupmobile has a shark nose, not a coffin nose, like some earlier models. His Hupmobile is the first one ever built with this design and has been documented through the Hupmobile Club.

He led a parade of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival in Auburn, Ind., in 2012.

"It was neat to lead a parade in Indiana," he said. "It was quite an honor because that is reserved for classic cars. We are just country bumpkins from Princeton. We really enjoy this car and enjoy local car shows."

Van Dierendonck was one of the founders of the car show held during the Homestead Festival and likes taking his Hupmobiles to VA hospitals every few years for the veterans to relive their memories of cars they saw growing up. He has also used the car in weddings and parades. 

"My grandchildren love throwing candy out of the 1923 Hupmobile," he said. "My wife also supports my hobby, which is very important. Many older people get excited seeing these kind of cars. Many people say the Skylark is more than a car."

Hupmobiles were made from 1909 to 1940 with the car company being the fifth largest car manufacturer in the 1920s.

Van Dierendonck bought the 1940 from Larry Kern of Princeton, who had bought it from a guy living in Lacon. He heard rumors of a 1940 Hupmobile, also in the Lacon area and talked to a guy who owned a store in town, thinking he may know the person who had owned this 1940 Hupmobile.

It turned out the store's owner also owned this car, which he had bought from a lady in Pontiac.

Van Dierendonck knows he is the fourth owner of 1940 car and the third owner of the 1923 Hupmobile, which also had ties to Lacon. He said there was a Hupmobile dealership in Peoria.

Van Dierendonck is not finished restoring Hupmobiles, as he has a 1911 roadster in his garage that he wants to get finished some day. 

"I tried to find a 1909, but couldn't," he said, referring to the first year that Hupmobiles were produced in Detroit, Mich.

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