1931 Italian sports coupe, a piece of New London nostalgia, goes to auction
New London — Nathan Clark wasn't wrong several years ago when he called Shamrock Motor Co. and said his 1931 Isotta Fraschini might need new rubber.
"It needed a lot more than tires,'' said Simon Potter, owner of Shamrock, where the Italian sports car had been stored for the last 37 years in the window of the former Pontiac showroom on Montauk Avenue.
Clark, of Clarks shoes fame, came to New London once a year to attend the American Dance Festival at Connecticut College. He took dancers out for dinners and for drives in his classic ivory coupe.
When he died last year at age 94, he had not seen the car since 1976 when the dance festival moved to Durham, Mass.
The car is scheduled to be auction Oct. 8 by Bonhams in Philadelphia. It will be photographed for the British auction house and is expected to appear on the cover of its catalog.
Potter estimates the car could be worth around $250,000. He guesses it would cost just as much to restore it.
"There's not many of them around,'' said Potter, who has no doubt the car will be picked up a collector. "The rich are so rich they need a place to park their money.''
Clark was born in England and lived in New York City. He worked for the Clarks shoe company, which was founded by his great-grandfather. According to his obituary, he invented the Desert Boot, never married and had an extensive collection of shoes and antique cars. He also was a patron of dance.
For Marya Ursin, who was a 22-year-old dancer at the festival in New London in 1969, Clark, who was in his 50s at the time, and his Isotta Fraschini opened up a new world.
"I was thrilled to be in that car,'' said Ursin, who watched Thursday as the antique was pushed into a waiting truck.
"It's really sad. It's so emotional. I remember we all thought as we were driving around, 'This is right,'" Ursin said, "this is the way we should be traveling."
Over the years, Ursin kept in touch with Clark, who introduced her to the summer playwrights' conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford. It was part of the reason she moved to the area, she said. She is an adjunct professor at Connecticut College and the National Theater Institute at the O'Neill. She is also co-director of the Dragon's Egg and Mystic Paper Beasts.
Clark was special, she said.
"He was British, he was relaxed. He was proper, but he was also bawdy. He knew some bawdy jokes,'' she recalled. "He was lovely."
The living room of his brownstone house in New York City was replaced by a hot tub, she said, and she remembered happily soaking with friends while Clark prepared cheeses and wines.
"He was witty, kind, particular, and ever dedicated to modern dance, especially to dancers,'' she said. "Nathan was a sweet friend to me, to many."
Clark served on the board of the American Dance Festival, and last year, Ursin said, the faculty concert was dedicated to him.
On Thursday, the two-door coupe, whose style was a favorite of long-ago movie stars like Clara Bow and Rudolph Valentino, emerged from the showroom after the tires were inflated and winches were installed. The car has not been started since the 1980s.
Potter, a low-key mechanic who doesn't usually engage in small talk, said the car looked even better in daylight.
"This is the first time I've sat in the driver's seat,'' he beamed as he steered it toward the truck.
"He used to brag about going 100 miles per hour,'' Potter recalled of Clark. He said he spoke with Clark perhaps only four times over the years, but Clark faithfully paid his storage bill.
Potter said he was never worried about security for the car. Most people didn't realize its value, he said, and he rarely talked about it.
"The best security was anonymity,'' he said.
Now there's a big hole in the showroom window. Potter said he'll rearrange an old Volvo, a couple of BMWs and an MG in the showroom, but he not sure there ever will be a replacement for the Isotta Fraschini.
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