Another ancient relic in Cape Henlopen park piques the curiosity

January 22, 2021

I’m writing this while waiting in a line of about 1,000 cars at the Division of Motor Vehicles in Dover. Hoping for a coronavirus vaccination.

It’s Monday, Jan. 18. By the time you’re reading this, Joe Biden will have been inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States, I will have received the vaccine, and thousands more will also have received their first dose of protection. Knock on wood.

Meanwhile, I’m reflecting on a hike last week with Professor Pat in the ancient, piney, backwood dunes of Cape Henlopen State Park.

The middle of January is an exceptionally fine time for a hike in the park. No mosquitoes or ticks. Cool, oxygen-rich air charging the lungs, reddening the blood, boosting optimism in the brain. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

Pat rights an overturned, plastic, five-gallon bucket. It was napping in a soft bed of browned shats at the base of a rough-barked, green-needled pine. His eco-conservationist ethos kicked in quickly; a double opportunity to make this world a better place laid graciously before us.

The Lord doth provide.

The bucket proved convenient for carrying out a half-dozen or so faded beer and soda cans littered here and there, but not large enough for the long-abandoned roadster we came upon.

Most of its paint long ago sandblasted away by winter’s strong northeast winds off the Atlantic, the hulk hunkered there, rusting away on its flattened tires and metal rims near an overgrown and soggy old road bed. The unsurfaced road may have once have been part of the Lewes dump complex now buried beneath the sand, and hidden by the pines and briars.

Abandoned long ago

The abandoned roadster – a two-seater – is one of three motorcars left in that remote part of the park decades ago.

Several months back, Cliff the car man and I came across another of the three, in a thicker part of the woods. He found enough evidence – especially on the chrome bumpers – to positively identify it as a 1956 Chevy sedan. It’s amazing how well chrome holds up against the elements.

The roadster, however, proved stingier with its clues.

The discovery of an identification number stamped into a thin piece of metal and attached on the side of the engine block lifted my hopes: 15-U-H 167616. The closest number to that I found on the internet led me to a 1958 Austin-Healy Sprite. The headlights aren’t right, but I think it’s in that class of vehicles. Maybe even one of the early Datsun roadsters.

Not much more than a ghost, its former self may have been used as a dune buggy, probably a lot of fun on a full-moon night until it mired impossibly in the sand.

Like an oyster forming a pearl around an irritating grain of sand, nature has softened the sharp edges of what had become little more than just trash in that municipal dumping ground. Now these things are relics, destinations for some of those pilgriming to that natural cathedral; objects of speculation, reminiscence, conjecture, mystery, reflection, and subjects of occasional columns.

If anyone has any further clues as to the identity of this particular vehicle, please don’t hesitate to call or write. It’s always good to hear from you and join in the pursuit of happiness. 

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