Last of the Luvernes

Despite these efforts, the final nail was driven into the Luverne coffin when the General Motors alliance was forged. With its standardized parts and pockets deep enough to buy everything from tire manufacturing plants to congressmen, GM drove small car manufacturers out of business everywhere. The Leicher brothers threw in the towel and turned their attention elsewhere--to outfitting fire trucks and to car repair. For years, there remained a handful of Luvernes in the basement of their old factory. But in 1936, according to Al Leicher's grandson, Jim, at the height of the Depression, a junk man bought all that was left. "I still have a vivid memory of the junk man pulling those cars out," he said in Great Cars, "and with a torch, cutting them in two, right out in front, and hauling them off."

Barring another depression, Sundgaard figures he can protect this last remnant from the junk man, although it's pricey keeping the old car running. A few years ago a main bearing went out, and Kip spent hundreds having it fixed: Replacement parts must be hand-made. And as he freely admits, he's no mechanic. Sundgaard can't even get the Luverne started with the hand crank, but tows it with his tractor until the engine coughs to life. His dad could start it with the flick of a wrist, he explains apologetically. "I never paid that much attention to it. My dad knew how to keep it going, and I guess all the secrets died with him."

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