Les Horn is, by his count, the only antique car collector with a movie credit.
That's one of the little benefits of his more than six decades enjoying his hobby. The other, the Perry Hall resident says, is being able to share his passion with others.
He'll be sharing one of his cars and many others in Towson this weekend as part of the Towsontown Spring Festival, where he has run an antique car exhibit since 1978.
Though he doesn't quite recall how he got involved in the festival, his exhibit and his presence are a favorite of organizers.
"He's like the solid grandfather of the group," said Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce. "He's really the monarch of the group. Everybody has so much respect for Les because he's lived for so long, he's gone through so much and he's always a positive person. If Les was like what a typical senior was like, nobody would ever say 'grumpy old man.' There's not a grumpy, cranky bone in his body."
Horn is about as Perry Haller as they come. A lifelong resident, his home sits on Walter Avenue, a street named after his grandfather, and on a piece of former farmland once owned by his family. He can step outside of his home just off Belair Road and point down toward the house where he was born.
Though he's long since retired, you'll often find the 84-year-old Horn out back in his garages or behind the wheel of one of his decades-old beauties, one of which dates back 96 years.
Horn, a longtime member of various local antique car associations and a founder of the Antique Motor Club of Greater Baltimore, first fell in love with classic cars as a teen, when his father let him behind the wheel of his 1916 Model-T.
"When I'd get on these farm roads... he'd let me drive it from the time that we got off the roads on these backroads, and I got interested in them," he said.
At 16, he overhauled his first car. As he completed his studies at Kenwood High School, Horn thought he'd go into machine work and took an apprenticeship at the steel mill in Sparrows Point.
But an illness ended that career. A doctor suggested he find a hobby. When Horn was 20, he bought himself a 1916 Model-T and worked on it on the weekends "to build myself up."
"I had something to take my mind off of daily living and it grew on me," he said. "I ended up going into the automotive business on the side."
Meanwhile, he built up his own contracting business, doing road construction and waterproofing. He sold that business 32 years ago and has been basically retired ever since. That gave him more time to focus on what he loves. That includes taking his cars to weddings, proms, nursing homes and events like the Towsontown Spring Festival.
Walking into one of Horn's garages is like stepping into a time machine, in more ways than one.
Some boxes of motor oil are stacked by the garage door, but little more than blankets, shade and "tender love and care," Horn said, are what keep his four cars in tip-top shape
Horn's enthusiasm and spirit belie his 84 years as he shows off one car, a 1931 Chevrolet. He gleefully gets behind the wheel and shows off his favorite gimmick: A musical horn.
He can play "Anything I want," he said, with a smile, before tapping out "Merrily We Roll Along."
The horn came with the car—the only extras Horn has added to his cars are vases for special occasions.
Horn prides himself on an eye and ear for quality. Several times he's been asked to travel to appraise cars, only to save the would-be client some money with one phone call and a couple of questions to a would-be seller, which the seller couldn't honestly answer.
Another one of his cars, he bought at an auction before it was scheduled to go on sale.
"I went to the official, found out who owned it and they radioed him to be here," he said.
He bought it, as a friend said at the time, "like I was going to buy a candy bar." But Horn said he knew exactly what he wanted. The decades-old car was a Buick "Straight-8."
"That's when they made automobiles," Horn said.
Horn's eye for quality has also been used in films, most recently in the Renee Zellweger film, "My One and Only." But his best memory is spending five days in Berlin, MD working on the 2002 film "Tuck Everlasting," which gave him his only screen credit—a rarity for an antique car collector—behind the wheel of his 1916 Model-T.
"There were some things in the movie that [star William Hurt] couldn't do with the car, so that put me right up there with him," Horn said.
But his favorite event each year, he said, is the Towsontown Spring Festival where he alternates the cars he takes along. There, he often runs into people whose "Just Married" car he drove or event he attended. And festival-goers love him back.
"Grandparents take their grandkids and parents take their teenage kids and say these were the cars they drove when they were teenagers, without the GPS and the power steering and the automatic windows," said Hafford. "It's sort of like a little museum coming to Towson."