For the Love of Cars

Dale Critz Jr. at the wheel. Photo by Mike Schalk

Dale Critz Jr. and Richard Papy on vintage cars, friendship and a passion for collecting.

Dale Critz Jr. and Richard Papy. Photo by Mike Schalk

Richard Papy calls it a sickness, but a better word might be passion. We’re at Critz BMW where Dale Critz Jr. and Papy are showing off a few vintage gems — including Critz’s newly acquired 1935 Frazer-Nash BMW Willis Special and his 1911 E-M-F Model 30 Racer. When Papy describes polishing the myriad brass fittings on the E-M-F late into the night — in his pajamas — before a vintage show or race, his faces lights up. Same goes for Critz. As a third-generation auto dealer, he may think about bottom lines for a living, but when he gets behind the wheel of the BMW, turns his baseball cap backwards and guns it, he’s just a guy having fun.

It’s not hard to figure out that Critz and Papy make a great team. They have been friends since childhood. Eight years ago, the two teamed up as adults when Papy, a vintage Porsche collector himself, started working as the vintage car specialist in Critz’s dealerships. “Dale always liked vintage cars,” says Papy, “but he didn’t have time for it. So he brought me along.” 

1958 Buick Limited Convertible. Photo by Mike Schalk

Papy calls it a dream job: he travels to car shows, seeks out interesting vintage cars and presents them to Critz. Once they buy a car, Papy keeps it show-and-race ready.

Critz’s most recent acquisition, the 1935 BMW, was actually an accident of sorts. “We went to the auction not planning to buy it,” says Critz, and even as he raised his paddle at the auction, he never imagined his bid would get him the car. When it did, he was dumfounded. 

Papy chimes in, “Dale goes, did I just buy that?” 

Ready to race. Photo by Mike Schalk

“The second thing I said is, ‘I hope I can fit in it’,” says Critz. That’s because the two plan to take the car to Europe in 2020, racing it on some historic courses there. It’s a car with a well-documented and rich racing history, Critz explains, which is important to honor. “If you acquire one of these cars, you’re just a steward of it,” he says, “You’re going to have it for however long, but not forever, and the car’s history belongs to the car.”

What belonged to the BMW, Critz and Papy explain, was a pallet full of trophies, magazines, articles and books from the 1940s onward. So much documentation, in fact, that it took a forklift to load it into their trailer. 

This paper trail stands in stark contrast to the E-M-F Critz bought a few years ago at the same auction — Bonhams at Amelia Island — though he actually meant to buy the E-M-F. It’s a true Savannah gem, having raced here in the early 20th century, and won its class at the Hilton Head Concours d’Elegance three years ago. The E-M-F came only with a small notebook, and the previous owner asked for that back. Critz and Papy have since pieced together much of the car’s history, but doing so took some diligence and patience. 

1911 E-M-F Model 30 Racer. Photo by Mike Schalk

When Critz explains how he got into collecting vintage cars, three reasons surface. First, it’s easy to admire the craftsmanship of a vintage car. “So many of these cars were hand built,” he explains. “No two are exactly the same.” 

Second, he says with a chuckle, was the reunion with Papy, someone with a passion and propensity for finding vintage autos, and third was the E-M-F, a car that raced in Savannah in the early days of racing. Critz explains, “When that car came up, my feeling was that it needed to be back in Savannah,” and Papy agrees, “Of all the cars that raced here in the early 20th century, only six or seven are still around. The rest of them are in museums.”

Caring for a classic. Photo by Mike Schalk

While neither car will race this year, both the E-M-F and the BMW will make their appearances at the Savannah Speed Classic, October 26-28 — and they’ll take laps around the Hutchinson Island track with a few lucky passengers. Critz’s turquoise 1958 Buick Limited Convertible, manufactured for just one year, will show at the Classic’s sister event, the Hilton Head Concours d’Elegance.

When Critz offered me a ride in the BMW, I jumped at the chance. Turns out, there’s nothing quite as invigorating as zooming down Habersham in a 1935 racecar. We may have been going the speed limit — or not — but either way, the wind-in-your-hair rush and the rumbling exhaust felt like a day at the races.

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