Thursday, October 18, 2012

Babe Ruth's Lincoln - Bought by Baseball and Car-loving Texan

Lonnie Shelton, a baseball fan and car collector, poses
for photos with the 1948 Lincoln Continental he recently
bought in Amarillo, Texas. The car belonged to baseball
great Babe Ruth. (Photo: Roberto Rodriguez/AP)

October 18. 2012
USA Today & The Associated Press

Lonnie Shelton finally owns the car that hits it out of the park when it comes to fulfilling fantasies — a regal blue 1948 Lincoln Continental two-door hardtop coupe. It was Babe Ruth's last car.

"The first time I saw the car," Shelton said, "I fell in love with it. I bet I stayed there two hours looking at it, sitting in it, asking questions about it. There are several 1948 Lincoln Continentals out there, but none like this one."

George Herman Ruth owned the car before his death on Aug. 16, 1948. You couldn't get more famous than the Babe. Old Yankee Stadium was called "The House That Ruth Built."

Ford Motor presented Ruth, who retired from baseball in 1935, with a new Lincoln Continental in 1948 as a measure of its appreciation for his tireless devotion to Little Leaguers and baseball.

Before he died of cancer, Ruth spent many of his final days traveling across the country in his Lincoln, giving speeches and hitting lessons to Little Leaguers.

"The car has 81,000 miles on it," Shelton said. "That's not so many miles now, but back then that was a lot of miles for a car. So The Babe did some traveling. And then after he passed away the car was driven all over to county fairs and all kinds of places."

Shelton, 61, of Pampas, Texas, is semiretired, and his passions in life include grandchildren, wife, baseball and car-collecting. His love of cars mainly reaches out to mint-condition muscle cars from the 1960s and 1970s.

But when Shelton found out The Babe's last-known owned car was parked in the Texas Museum of Automotive History near the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, he had to see the beautifully maintained machine in person.

Shelton first saw Babe's car three years ago. Recently, he was looking for parts for some of his older cars on the Internet and found a Dallas-area man who had parts in stock.

"We got to talking and he was also the curator for the car museum," Shelton said.

Once in Dallas to pick up the car parts, Shelton learned the car's owner was serious about selling.

Shelton jumped at the chance to own a piece of baseball lore. Shelton said he signed a non-disclosure agreement with the man who previously owned the car and is not allowed to divulge his name. Shelton did say the man is a Texan.

Shelton said he has signed information from Ford Motor confirming the car was a gift to Babe Ruth in 1948. Shelton said he also has documentation from Claire Ruth, Babe's wife, writing about the car. Claire Ruth died in October 1976.

"Buying it had nothing to do with the car," Shelton said. "It had all to do with the love of baseball. And the history of baseball and that gentleman who was involved with it. There was nobody that rivaled Babe Ruth back then."

The car is in pristine shape with original interior and car color — "I call it Yankee blue," Shelton said.

The speedometer reaches 110 miles per hour. The radio works and takes about 15 minutes to warm up because of the glass vacuum tubes used in that era. The doors and windows work by hydraulics. The steering wheel is huge by today's standards. The license plates are black and feature the orange words: THE BABE.

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