One could say that all cars were built for a purpose, usually to motor someone from point A to B. But no other car rolled off the assembly line with the sole intent to benefit children as did “The Babe,” a 1948 Blue Lincoln Continental made by Ford and given to an American baseball legend to inspire kids to take up the sport.
Babe Ruth had retired from playing baseball in 1935 when throat cancer had affected his left pitching arm and left lung, leaving him uncertain of how to utilize his time. But he loved baseball, and he loved children.
By 1946, Ford had sponsored over 3600 little league baseball teams and sought out Babe Ruth to travel to different games to inspire more kids to play.
Ruth traveled from game to game in “The Babe,” until he died in August 1948.
“He was given the car by Ford to go around and encourage children to play baseball,” explained Lonnie Shelton, semi-retired owner of the classic car, during in an interview at Wilmes Ford-Lincoln Superstore on Thursday.
Some time later, Ruth’s wife sold the vehicle to a NY museum. It then passed through a few private owners until one day Shelton was walking with his grand kids around the Museum of Automotive Transportation in Dallas, Tx., and was awestruck by “The Babe,” the last car that Ruth had ever owned.
Shelton, a car collector of Amarillo, Tx., who bought his first car at age 11, began to do research on the high-dollar Ruth memorabilia.
Shelton befriended the museum’s curator over time and months later learned that the owner was selling it. After a three day meeting in Dallas, Shelton became the new owner of the very last car ever owned by Babe Ruth, all original parts and paint, still in pristine condition.
When asked how much the car is worth, Shelton simply pointed out that a Babe Ruth original jersey was priced at $4,000,000 in 2012.
“When I learned the history of this car and who it belonged to and began to dig-in to who he was as a man, it became quite obvious to me that this car had a purpose,” said Shelton. “What had it done the last 64 years? Nothing. It hadn’t helped anybody.”
Shelton explained that when he bought the car he decided he wanted to use it in a similar way as Ruth had.
So, just last summer Shelton and his wife Marilyn decided to drive over 8,000 miles with “The Babe” in tow to many car shows, baseball games, hot air balloon festivals and colleges to raise money for two children’s hospitals: St. Jude Children’s Hospital and the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. All donations collected in Altus will go to St. Jude.
Shelton will often talks about Babe Ruth’s life and how he started out as an abandoned child forced to live in a boys orphanage, how Ruth learned so much about life through his love of baseball, and about being a team. Shelton also reminds that Babe Ruth was a much better man than how Hollywood has depicted him in movies.
Shelton will have the car available to view at Wilmes all day on Friday, and plans to have “The Babe” parked somewhere along Commerce with the rest of the cars being showcased at this year’s Main Street Altus “Rock and Rumble” on Saturday.