The 1926 Ford Runabout featured last month is a classic because it epitomizes assembly line production: It was one of more than 15 million Model Ts that rolled out of plants between 1908 and 1927. 

The 1937 Bell House Car is a classic, but for the opposite reason: It is the only one ever built.

1937 Bell House Car

The Bell Aircraft Corp. in Buffalo was much better known for its flying machines, including the Bell X-1, in which Chuck Yeager became the first pilot to break the sound barrier. The company, which was purchased by Textron in 1960, also produced the P-39 fighter plane during World War II, the Bell Rocket Belt for short-distance individual propulsion, control systems for the Mercury spacecraft and helicopters. 

Adam Pataki, who lives in Newburgh, purchased the Bell House Car five years ago from a collector and friend in California. He declined to say what he paid and wouldn’t hazard a guess as to its value.

Pataki also owns a 1935 Motor Chief streamliner built by Bowlus; he notes that it was not unusual in the 1930s for aircraft companies to create motor homes and travel trailers. “They liked the challenge of coming up with the designs,” he says. “These guys were ahead of their times. Look how square today’s motor homes are. Back then they were much more aerodynamic.”  

Because the Bell House Car was stored inside for nearly 55 years, it was in remarkable condition. “The body was great, no dents,” Pataki says. “We just rebuilt the brake system, added new tires, a new battery and wiring.” 

He can take the Bell to 65 mph if he “puts the pedal down,” but says it cruises beautifully at 55 mph.

Powered by a Ford flathead V8 engine, the vehicle has an on-the-column three-speed manual transmission with a second shifter providing low and high gears for highway driving. “It’s so smooth you don’t even hear the motor,” Pataki says.

He’s driven it about 1,000 miles, including trips to Beacon and Cold Spring.

Pataki has no plans to restore the Bell to its original appearance. “I love the way it looks,” he says. “I think it was painted in the 1940s.”

The Specs

Manufacturer: Bell Aircraft Corp.
Assembly: Buffalo
Total Production: One
Engine: Ford flathead V8
Transmission: 3-speed manual on the column, plus low- and high-road gears
Chassis: Studebaker
Body: Aircraft aluminum
Length: 20 feet
Top speed: 65 mph
Fuel economy: “Decent”
Original price: Unknown

The couch, bed and other interior furnishings are long gone, with one exception: the wood-burning stove. There is no radio or air conditioning, but the front windshield opens, a feature Pataki uses often in summer. And how many vehicles have bullet-proof, 3/4-inch-thick rear windows designed for a fighter plane?

Pataki has taken the Bell to only a single car show, in Mahwah, New Jersey. “Everyone was in shock,” he says. “People would say they’d never seen anything like it, and I’d say: ‘Of course you haven’t because this is the only one!’ ”

Behind The Story

Type: Opinion

Opinion: Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

Turton, who has been a reporter for The Current since its founding in 2010, moved to Philipstown from his native Ontario in 1998. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Cold Spring government, features

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