My Classic Car: Al’s 1934 REO Flying Cloud coupe

The REO joins the family
The REO joins the family

Returning from World War II, my father did what most returning veterans did: get a job and start a family, both of which he did with gusto, finishing his engineering degree at the University of Michigan and starting on with a small firm and marrying my mother.

Along the way he bought a new Buick and put a down payment on the family’s first home in Oxford, Michigan.

In 1949 my older brother was born, in 1950 my older sister was born and then along came myself in 1951.

Shortly before I was born, Dad’s living expenses were overpowering his income and he realized that the Buick was too expensive for a growing family. One day, he spotted a young fellow in town driving an old 1934 REO which he had purchased from an estate sale from a doctor who had recently passed away.

Dad had always liked the REO brand. They had a solid reputation and were bargains since the company had ceased producing cars at the end of 1936. He offered the Buick and remaining payments due on it for the REO and the deal was made.

The REO, having just one seat, was a bit tight with Dad, Mom, and the three of us kids. Although I don’t remember it, I was told that I usually was placed on my mother’s or my older brother’s lap during trips.

The REO sitting next to the garage.
The REO sitting next to the garage.

In 1953, the Michigan winter got the best of Dad and he slid the REO into a ditch, smashing the front bumper and fenders pretty badly.

Still fond of he, he didn’t junk it, just left it in the drive and bought a replacement car to drive.

Then, whenever we moved, the “Old Brown REO” was towed along, once to a farm where it was put in the barn where pigeons used it for target practice and us kids with the help of a rope dangling from the barn roof would run up the running board and fenders and swing into the hay pile.

Fast forward to 1974. I was 24, working at my first job (getting a steady paycheck which to me seemed huge) and the REO was languishing alongside the garage facing the back alley in our then home in the city of Ann Arbor. With the help of brothers and local neighbors, we pushed the old car into the back yard, filled the tank with fresh gas, put new spark plugs in it, bought a new 6-volt battery, cranked it over, and low and behold it started up engulfing the yard in a massive cloud of white smoke.

The REO today
The REO today

With Dad’s permission — he eventually just signed the title over to me — I embarked on getting the car restored. The biggest of the projects was the banging out of the fenders and repairing the front end. Other than the accident scars, the car was in relatively good shape having logged just 32,000 miles on the odometer. The 268-cubic-inch straight six chrome-nickel block and “shelf-shifter” 2-speed transmission worked as fine as during its heyday.

Again, another fast forward. My British wife (long story) and I are living in England and our REO is tagging along now on the tail end of a second frame-off restoration looking as good as new. It truly is a beautiful car and I’m honored to have had the privilege of keeping it alive and well.

— Al Parkes, Ann Arbor MI

12 thoughts on “My Classic Car: Al’s 1934 REO Flying Cloud coupe”

  1. Al your story is very touching, that is so awesome! When I was a boy my Dad told me about the Reo cars. He said they were a good car. They stopped the automobile production, and stayed with the trucks. I never really looked at a Reo, but yours is Beautiful! Thank you for sharing,

    Anthony C

  2. Thanks for sharing a piece of your family & those wonderful memories
    Glad the REO is still in the family , It looks amazing

  3. Great article, Al! The REO has been a joy simply to take the family for a spin, or be in a parade, or carry the new bride & groom in the rumble seat. You have restored it (twice) and kept it as a treasure for all of us to enjoy.

  4. I see from the early picture that the car had twin horns and for lights. Did you decide against keeping them? You did a great job and your Dad is smiling from up there.
    George

  5. Had to source 2 rebuilt horns for it as the originals went missing somewhere but have delayed putting them and the running lights back as I like the clean looks it now has.

  6. Great story and history. I can remember the Old RE Tractor trailers, and the dump trucks. I never knew that they made a smaller version such as the beautiful looking coupe. It looks terrific. I like the color of the paint on it, it just brings out the chrome and the wheels. Guess you turn alot of heads driving it in England. How often do you drive it? Do you do any kind of prep for storage or do you just run it for awhile every week to keep the oil lubricating on the parts? Thanks for sharing.

  7. Wonderful that a car like that can survive. We have a Nash Metropolitan convertible (not nearly as grand as a Reo).. that has experienced similar bouts of languishing… things like that tie families together in time

  8. Yes, it is definitely a head turner. According to the REO Club, it is the only REO car in England. There is nothing on the road that compares to it over here. The paint is not the original, I used some artistic license on this last restoration. It is GM (Buick) Mocha Bronze- a color used on some 2012 models. As mentioned in the article, I’m on the “tail end” of the restoration. Right now it is up on blocks, we’re upgrading the front end- steering, braking and suspension. The original steering was ‘agricultural’ grade- you could turn the steering wheel half way around before the wheels started turning. And the original drum brakes are too weak for safe driving. I intend to drive the REO as much as possible. But the roads over here are narrow and twisty. We’ve got to adapt the old girl to her new enviornment! I know that the originality is lost, but I will be able to enjoy driving her more often rather than just having her on display in shows. Thank you for your comments.

  9. Amazingly beautiful. The color scheme perfect. This sweetheart will be here for the future real people to see the real deal. Good show

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