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Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, Australia
Legs Diamond's gem still sparkles 80 years on
Story by: Lawrence Money
Photos by: Michael Clayton-Jones
Rod Hokin's 1932 Imperial CH Sedan
There were two details among the papers for his newly purchased 1932 Chrysler Imperial sedan that caught Rod Hokin's eye. First, the paintwork - still the original - was listed as ''Grisette Brown Deep'', sending him to Google where he found that a ''grisette'' is a ''French working girl or salesgirl''. But then came the real jolt - the papers revealed that the original buyer in Florida in late 1931 had been Jack ''Legs'' Diamond, the New York and Philadelphia gangster. Amazingly, the elderly American who sold Hokin the car in Indiana, Monte Gillespie, had not mentioned it. ''But there's no doubt,'' says Hokin. ''This car was once in the famous Paul Stern Chrysler collection.''
Gillespie sold Hokin the car for the same price at which it had been valued back in 1994 - $US35,000 ($A34,000). ''It's probably worth twice that,'' says Hokin, who trucked it to Long Beach, California. It arrived on the Melbourne wharf in a container two months ago. That 1994 valuation - by Jim Woods Motors, of Mishawaka, Indiana - called it ''one of the nicest original cars like [this] in possibly the world''. It now has 37,500 miles on the clock. Hokin has since researched the mobster connection. ''Legs survived so many attempts to shoot him they called him the 'clay pigeon of the underworld','' says Hokin. ''They called him 'Legs' because of the number of times he ran away from trouble. But they got him in the end. Shot in December 1931, aged 34.'' The purchase brought Hokin's Chrysler collection at his Frankston home to five, a fact not entirely embraced by second wife Shirley. ''This is definitely the last,'' says Hokin, ''unless something comes up.'' Hokin bought his first vintage car, a 1926 Chrysler Imperial Roadster, in 1986 while living in Queensland with his first wife. He had been conscripted during the Vietnam War, was based in Townsville and stayed there more than 30 years after discharge, running a ceramic tile business. ''We had three children then,'' says Hokin, ''and my dad said if you want to get a vintage car, you want to get something that goes reasonably quickly and something that will stop. He said the only car that does that is a Chrysler. Ford didn't have hydraulic brakes until 1939.'' In 1991, Hokin flew down from Townsville, bought a 1938 Chrysler in Rosebud and drove it home in three days. In 2002, he paid $50,000 for the 1928 Chrysler Imperial, which in 1929 broke the speed record from Fremantle to Sydney. He attributes his enthusiasm for elderly four-wheelers to late father Ron, an RACV road-service mechanic whose ''little yellow van'' during Rod's childhood was a 1949 Prefect. ''We always had vintage cars in the family,'' says Hokin. ''In the 1960s when we were kids, my three sisters and I were driven around in a 1940 Chrysler before dad bought his first Holden, but until the 1970s he still had a 1929 Dodge and 1934 Vauxhall.'' Tomorrow 60-year-old Hokin is taking his 80-year-old Legs Diamond Imperial to the city to drive in the RACV Motorclassica parade from Albert Park to the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton. One hundred cars will take part, including the oldest Mercedes-Benz in Australia, a 1896 Velo, and the Torana in which Peter Brock won his first Australian Touring Car title in 1974. The collection will then be on display at the Exhibition Building on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But there are two last insights into the Legs Diamond saga. When Hokin got the car up on a hoist in August he found a secret box welded underneath. ''Don't know what was in it,'' he says. ''Customs got to it first.'' And can we speculate that, in the four brief weeks that the celebrity bootlegger owned it, Legs stopped over at the Hotel Seymour on West 45th Street, New York? On one of the three black cases that slot into a large box strapped on the back of the car, there is a yellowing ''Hotel Seymour'' luggage tag. Well, some of it. ''I had the car on display at the Caribbean Gardens last weekend,'' laments Hokin. ''Someone grabbed the tag and tore it in half!''
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