By Justin Houston
Once in a lifetime there comes an event that cannot be told until enough time has passed that the participants are deceased or otherwise no longer at risk of being outted, prosecuted or hunted down for bounty. Hit and Run Reward is one such event.
Stuart Grover was one of my car buddies from high school and we always had this undeclared competition to find the rarest, most desirable cars. Once I mentioned I’d like to find an Edsel convertible with a manual transmission. Stuart readily agreed that was a noble, if lofty, goal.
One day Stuart called and said he’d found a red 1958 Edsel convertible with a manual transmission. He said it was sitting on the back of a used car lot in Midway City. In barely running condition with bad brakes, he bought the car and used it as his daily transportation.
After he’d had the car a year he managed to scrape together the money to replace the top. He waxed and polished the car and it looked great. He went everywhere with the top down.
On a trip to Hollywood one afternoon he spotted several Edsels sitting in the back of a Union 76 gas station on Fountain Avenue. After chatting with the owner Stuart pulled out of the station. An onramp to the Hollywood Freeway ran past the station. As he cleared the station’s driveway the brakes on the Edsel failed. The car proceeded across Fountain Avenue and broadsided a 1966 Dodge Coronet driven by an elderly man. The Dodge went out of control and plowed into a storefront. No one was killed but the Dodge was totaled and there were major injuries to the driver and people in the store.
Having no insurance, Stuart decided there was no point in hanging around so he jumped on the freeway and drove straight to his home in Long Beach, an hour away. Witnesses later described the hit-and-run as a “red Edsel convertible being driven by a young, tall, blond male with a slim build”.
I received a phone call from Stuart, saying something had happened to his Edsel and he needed a center grille and a pair of front bumpers. I didn’t have the bumpers but I did have a grille, and said he could have it next time he was in the area. That wasn’t good enough: he needed it now and persuaded me to drop everything, get on the freeway and make the hour trip to Long Beach at rush hour with the grille. He wouldn’t tell me what had happened and it would be years before I learned why.
Cosmetically, the damage to the Edsel was minimal and replacing the grille made the front end look, well, like it hadn’t been in any recent accident. Stuart went on with life and never gave the incident another thought.
One day I got a phone call from Erna Adams, the treasurer of the local Edsel Owners Club. I was a member but had never been able to persuade Stuart to join, although he did attend one meet with his car. Erna wanted to know about my tall, blond friend who owned the red 1958 convertible and had attended a meet once. I indicated I knew the car but (truthfully) had no idea where he was presently living, except somewhere in the LA area. She told me that Hollywood police had contacted the club and were looking for a red Edsel convertible with a license plate number ending with 437. They weren’t sure what year it was, but knew it wasn’t a 1960. I advised her Stuart’s plates ended with 502.
At that time, the club put out an annual membership roster which listed the name, address, telephone, make, year, model, color, license number, and VIN of every Edsel in the club. She consulted the roster and, coincidentally, found one red convertible with a plate ending in 437: it belonged to a 1959 owned by Bill Gose, the club’s president. The police contacted Bill, examined his car and ruled it one hell of a coincidence, but he was not a suspect.
Nothing more was heard on the matter until a year later, when a classified ad appeared in a midwest Edsel club newsletter. A Los Angeles insurance company was offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person driving a red Edsel convertible in Hollywood, California, causing major injury and property damage. The driver was wanted on a felony charge of hit and run and the wanted car’s license plate ended with 437.
After seeing the ad I located Stuart and he admitted his part in the caper. He also said the cops got the plate number wrong: 437 was the plate on the Dodge. He even told me he was pulled over one night in Hollywood, because he and his car matched the wanted description. Since his plate ended in 502 and didn’t match, he wasn’t held, although he was detained for several hours.
It’s often asked whether life imitates art or art imitates life. The 1960s Dick Van Dyke Show sit-com aired an episode in which Dick had witnessed a bank robbery. He told his wife he “remembers nothing. I didn’t even get the license number of his red Edsel!”