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Founders, fathers, friends, and firebrands: the men and women we mourned in 2015

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We wouldn’t note somebody’s passing in these pages if they didn’t somehow influence the old car hobby as we know it today, but this year in particular saw the deaths of many people who didn’t merely influence the hobby – they shaped it, kickstarted it, and breathed life into it. So in a way, none of these people truly died; instead, they live on through what they left behind.

Perhaps no more significant death in the old car hobby occurred this past year than that of Ernest Hemmings, pictured above, who died in February at the age of 89. While Ernest hadn’t been directly involved with the Hemmings Motor News group of magazines for many years, it was his vision – to create a marketplace for collector cars, parts, and services – that led so many people to enjoy the hobby of old cars over the last 60 years. For a closer look at his life and accomplishments, take a look at the May 2015 issue of Hemmings Motor News, in which we paid tribute to our founder.

Lord Montagu. It’s a vast oversimplification to describe Lord Montagu, who died in August at the age of 88, and Ernest Hemmings as trans-Atlantic counterparts, but they both began their work in old cars at about the same time, and they both founded institutions dedicated to the hobby. Like Hemmings Motor News, Montagu’s effort – what became England’s National Motor Museum – remains a respected cornerstone of the hobby today, and Montagu’s various publications – including the Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile – serve as invaluable references.

Leo Gephart. Where would the collector car scene be today without collector car auctions? And where would collector car auctions be today without Leo Gephart, who served as the catalyst for the creation of the Auburn Auction Park and for the creation of Barrett-Jackson. Gephart, described as “one of the three kings of the collector car trade,” also founded a number of other collector car-related businesses along the way and probably bought and sold more old cars than anybody could count. He died in April at the age of 85.

Tom Hoover. While he’s best known as the “godfather of the Street Hemi,” if it had to do with performance at Chrysler within the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s, Tom Hoover probably was behind it. He helped found the Ramchargers drag racing team, he helped put Chrysler products in NASCAR winner’s circles, and he even breathed on performance versions of the slant six and Dodge pickups. Tom died in May at the age of 85.

George Barris. Certainly the most memorable automotive customizer, Barris, who died in November at the age of 89, made his name in Hollywood both by customizing cars for TV and film stars and by customizing cars into TV and film stars. His most well-known accomplishment may be the Batmobile from the Sixties TV series, but he’s also known for the Munster Coach, the Banacek AMX 400, and the Super Van, as well as for a sea of model car kits that turned kids of the Sixties into car enthusiasts.

Erik Carlsson. Rally racing might have never developed into a sport of madmen pushing tiny cars with itty-bitty engines to their utmost limits and beyond were it not for driver Erik Carlsson, who drove (and usually won with) Saabs from the late 1950s into the early 1970s. He died in May at the age of 86.

Other 2015 deaths of note include racers Manfredo Lippman and Robert Manzon; Yutaka Katayama, father of the Datsun Z; race car designer Gerard Ducarouge; Eldora Speedway founder Earl Baltes; racing broadcaster Steve Byrnes; drag racer Elliott Platt; Oldsmobile drag racer George Berejik; journalist and racer Denise McCluggage; concours darling Margaret Dunning; collector Bob McDorman; Lowrider magazine co-founder Sonny Madrid; hot rodder Tex Smith; racer John Greenwood; author Michael Argetsinger; NASCAR driver Buddy Baker; hot rodder and catalog founder Ed Almquist; racer Guy Ligier; Hurst/Olds co-creator Doc Watson; Corvette tuner Dick Guldstrand; racers Bill Golden and Hubert Platt; artist Art Fitzpatrick; hot rodder Bill Burke; Formula 1 driver Jean-Pierre Beltoise; Mini designer John Sheppard; and automotive journalist Ronald Barker.