Peugots to-go

Published 4:04 pm Friday, July 2, 2010

Nancy Altstatt calls her dad a practical man.

That’s because Walter Barton never paid more than $150 for the Peugeots he acquired over the years. At one time, Barton owned 31 of the French-made cars.

“I didn’t need personal tags. I had personal cars,” he said.

A near-death experience about a year ago prompted the Sedley man to sell his remaining 17 Peugeots and the parts and pieces he accumulated over the years. It was the end of an era for the town.

“I didn’t realize what an impact they had on the whole community,” said Alstatt, who grew up around the cars. “One person said ‘Sedley won’t be the same without Peugeots.’ It’s been a staple in the community.”

Dave Klemencic of Ellenboro, W.Va., purchased the 35-year collection of mostly disabled cars and parts, including 30 doors, hoods, windshields and fenders. When Klemencic arrived in Sedley in mid-April with a tractor-trailer and trucks to haul the cars away, the town turned out.

“I never seen as much traffic as we (did that day),” said Phyllis Barton, who is Walter’s wife.

Klemencic learned about Barton’s Peugeots through the auction website eBay. At the time, he was redoing a 1966 Peugeot he acquired 33 years earlier as a teen.

“I called him to see if he wanted to sell any parts, and he said, ‘It’s all or nothing,’ ” Klemencic said.

He traveled to Sedley a few times and negotiated a price with Barton, but he had troubles with shipping. The 50-year-old set aside the purchase for two years while building a home for his mother.

Klemencic came across Barton’s phone number on his desk and wondered if he’d gotten rid of the Peugeots and their parts. Barton had not.

So Klemencic coordinated a 400-mile moving effort, using a car hauler and his friends’ vehicles.

“The trucking company (with the car hauler) made three trips,” he said.

Klemencic’s attempting to store and dismantle as many cars as possible before the “weather destroys them.”

“I’ve actually cleaned the better cars and got them running,” he said. “There’s eight that are in an acceptable position to sell. My hope is to sell enough cars to recoup my money and get all of my parts for free.”

Walter Barton has no regrets about selling his Peugeots.

“When I was done, I was done,” he said.

“I’ve been over with it since No. 2 hit the yard,” his wife added.

The Peugeots Barton owned were built between 1962 and 1969. They were stored at Barton’s Museum in Sedley, in the Bartons’ yard and a warehouse. The cars all looked alike.

“They had little differences, but I’d have to point them out,” he said.

The owner of Barton’s Auto Service in Sedley, the 65-year-old was introduced to Peugeots when his dad purchased a new one in 1963 from Empire Renault Peugeot in Portsmouth. At that time, Peugeot was considered the seventh-best automobile in the world, Barton said.

“The ’63 got wrecked and dad bought another one,” he said. “He had several, except he didn’t get as wild as I did.”

Barton’s collection began in 1975, after he spotted a Peugeot with its hood up in Martinsville.

“I bought it for $150,” he said. “That was the most expensive one I ever bought. We drove that car all over the country.”

Barton drove that car 200,000 miles during his 15-year ownership.

Among Barton’s Peugeots was a 1962 model he found in Holland for $40.

“It didn’t take a whole lot” to get it going, he said.

Barton sold that car to Keith Barrett, who resold it.

“When it broke down, I bought it back for $25 and sold it for $400,” Barton said.

Featured in a newspaper, Barton’s collection grew — as did his reputation. When Peugeot owners couldn’t afford the expensive parts and repairs, they gave the cars to Barton.

“I had a man who worked for a Peugeot distribution warehouse in Norfolk, and he couldn’t find a taillight lens,” said Barton, who sold him one.

Phyllis Barton also drove Peugeots.

“I had one I drove as a family car, she said.

Altstatt remembers being embarrassed when her mom would pick her up from school in a Peugeot.

“I didn’t appreciate it,” she said. “When Mom picked me up from school, I waited until all the buses pulled in.”

“After the buses came, she would bend down and try to hide,” Phyllis Barton added.

Alstatt concedes that her friends thought the cars “were great.”

“It’s we just had so many of them,” said the now 35-year-old, who lives in Hunterdale.

Walter Barton’s favorite was a Peugeot car he turned into a truck.

“It cut it right in half,” he said. “Someone gave me a wrecked Datsun (pickup), and I used the Datsun on the back of the Peugeot.”

Barton drove the canary-yellow contraption for 20 years.

“Everybody knew me by that truck,” he said.

And when the Bartons’ 29-year-old son, Phillip, wrecked one of the Peugeots after driving too fast around a bend, there were two good things: Phillip Barton wasn’t hurt, and his dad had the parts to fix the car.

The Bartons for the most part drove Peugeots until the mid-1990s.

“When I got an ’86 LTD in 1994, I thought I died and went to heaven,” Phyllis Barton said.

Today, the Bartons owned a 2008 Nissan Sentra and a 1999 Chevrolet S-10 pickup.

As for Klemencic’s plans for the remaining Peugeots . . .

“That’s for me and my therapist to work out,” he said. ←