1971, 1922 autos remain in same families

Published 2:36 pm Friday, November 10, 2017

Classic automobiles are popular throughout Beaufort County, and shows like Smoke on the Water in Washington and Spring Heat in Chocowinity give fans up close and personal views of these rare relics of the past.

Even rarer are cars that have remained in the same family since they rolled off the showroom floor brand new. Kyle Cox and Ernest Harding Cutler can both lay claim to possessing such mementos.



Kyle Cox was 11 years old when his “Nan” gifted him with her 1971 Chevrolet Nova in 1995.

She most likely wouldn’t recognize her car today.

Alice Cox Wallace purchased the car from Lee Chevrolet when it was located at 301 Bridge Street in Washington (her grandson has the original invoice, framed and hanging in his shop). She paid $2,768.85, sweetening the deal by trading in her 1965 Volkswagen.

The car was tan with a bench seat, and the carpet-less floorboards were covered with rubber mats.

Wallace drove the car for years before passing it on to her grandson.

“We restored it for the first time when I was 11 or 12,” Cox recalled. “We put a V-8 in it, a 4-speed manual transmission … and we painted it red.”

Cox made the Nova his main car for about three years, then it sat in storage for a while. He made another go at a second restoration, this time making it an even sportier model. He souped it up, putting in a 6.0-liter LSI motor and adding bigger tires and a race style suspension.

Cox even used it to race at tracks in New Bern, Kinston and Hertford.

Nan’s basic car is now painted a rich Indy green; it’s black pearl base coat makes the car appear much darker when viewed in photos or from a distance.

The restoration process wasn’t an easy one, Cox admitted.

“In redoing the car this time, I had a lot of problems with it,” he said. “The only reason I didn’t get rid of it was the sentimental value. That’s what makes it important.”

Perseverance paid off and Cox put the car back on the road in August. Aside from the satisfaction of a job well done, he was pleased to see the Nova named to the Top 50 during this year’s Smoke on the Water car show.

FILL HER UP: Cox’s classic ride reminds folks of the days when gas tanks were filled by folding down the license plate.


Ernest Harding Cutler of Blounts Creek took a different approach while putting life back into the 1922 Ford Model T touring car that has now been in his family for nearly a century. He painted it with black spray paint, a move that makes touch ups easier and more economical.

Aside from the painting, there were a few basic repairs and reupholstering to be done. Not bad for a car that sat in a barn for decades.

“It didn’t require a whole lot of stuff,” Cutler shared. “I spray painted it and replaced the seat coverings and top. I don’t mind children crawling all over it.”

The young and the young-at-heart have enjoyed sitting in the car during annual shows hosted by the Eastern Antique Power Association, of which Cutler is a member. The car has also been a feature during the Chocowinity Christmas parade, but Cutler said he most likely won’t have it running for this year’s event.

Cutler’s great-grandfather Stephen Harding, and Harding’s son N.T. Harding, purchased the car new from Washington Motorcar Company, located on Market Street in the same building that now houses the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office. In fact, when the lighting is just right, a painted billboard advertising the car company can still be seen on the building’s brick work today.

The Hardings paid for the car together, using a check signed by N.T. Harding. They were apparently a family of pack rats since Cutler still has the check, along with other original paperwork pertaining to the car. At the farm show, he displays these items along with a walking stick owned by his great-grandfather. Stephen didn’t use the stick to steady his walk, Cutler said with a laugh. Instead, he kept it handy to discipline his children during road trips. Cutler found the walking stick under the back seat while restoring the car.

The car was used by the Harding family for a number of years, eventually passing to N.T.’s son Clyde Harding sometime in the 1940s. Clyde, athletic coach and teacher at Chocowinity High School for 42 years, used the Model T as one of his personal vehicles for a time but it later ended up stored in a barn. Cutler would visit Harding frequently, starting the car and keeping it in good running condition. Harding bequeathed the car to Cutler, his cousin, when he died.

Cutler’s hope is that one day Beaufort County will have its own museum, and he said he’d gladly donate the car for display as a memorial to the Harding and Cutler families.

NO FRILLS: Cutler’s Model T is of a no-nonsense design, when cars were more utilitarian and less show pieces.