Ray Livingston

The dry, witty sense of humor hasn’t left Ray Livingston.

It’s still as sharp as ever.

Even at age 84.

Need proof? Check out the sticker message that he has on the back window of his 1951 Mercury — one of the four antique vehicles in his garage: ‘The Kid That Has This Car is 84.’

Livingston, as one discovers while spending even an hour with the only living original member of the Yankton Antique Auto Association, is a man who enjoys showing off his collection.

“My dad said I was the world’s worst show-off,” he said, while walking around one of his two garages adjacent to his home near downtown Yankton. “He always hoped I’d grow out of it.

“But I hope I never do,” Livingston added, with a smile.

And he hasn’t.

No, far from it. Livingston, who spent 65 years in the auto repair business (he still co-owns Modern Body Shop), regularly shows family, friends and visitors — basically anyone who asks — his collection.

It’s not that he wants to boast or anything, Livingston pointed out, it’s that he’s proud with how much work he put into his four antique vehicles: A 1951 Mercury, a 1925 Model T Ford Roadster, a 1940 Chevrolet pickup and another 1925 Model T steel cap pickup.

“I’m sure not ashamed,” Livingston said. “They’re not perfect cars, but it ain’t a perfect world.”

Nor has it been a perfect life for Livingston.

He was born in Gregory County, but his family then moved to the West Coast (Oregon and California) for 11 years — “Drought and starvation” was the reason they left South Dakota, Livingston said.

Livingston’s family returned to South Dakota in 1948, but it was shortly after that he contracted polio. As he looks back now, Livingston said he is certain the health scare altered the course of his life.

“That completely changed my future,” he said.

Instead of eventually getting in the world of farming, Livingston followed in his father’s footsteps: His father was a mechanic.

“I used to hang around the garage while dad worked,” Livingston said. “And I guess I’ve always liked nice and clean cars.

“That’s where it came from.”

Livingston was 19 when he returned to Yankton and had a job waiting for him at a local garage, where he stayed for seven years. The job afforded him the chance to put his own touch on the vehicles he worked on — he specifically remembers his first paint job.

While at a workshop in Omaha, Nebraska, one of Livingston’s instructors made the comment, “We better leave him alone. He knows what he’s doing.”

“He told me I was a Rembrandt with the welding torch,” Livingston said, with a smile.

As the years and decades have passed, Livingston’s passion for cars has never wavered.

The garage — he calls it his “man cave” — behind his home is lined

with license plates from every year since 1915 (minus 1944, which Livingston said used paper plates). He also has, he added, a box filled with license plates in the garage next door — behind a home that his son used to live in.

It’s in the garage next door where Livingston stores his restored vehicles.

The most noticeable of the three in his main stall is the 1951 red Mercury, which Livingston said he bought in 2000.

“This was one of the ugliest cars you could’ve picked to fix up,” he said. “It was a rust bucket from one end to the other.”

Livingston’s son Darrell did the painting on the Mercury, but Livingston said he worked on the rest of it. The car features a 350 Chevy engine, and has a new dash console and seats from a Buick Park Avenue.

“It does run,” Livingston pointed out. He drove the car through the Danish Days parade — along with other members of the Yankton Antique Auto Association — on July 21 in Viborg.

It’s the other car in this garage that has the most intriguing story, though, Livingston said.

The 1925 Model T Ford Roadster, in the corner of the garage, was built by Livingston in 1962 from pieces he tracked down from many different locations.

The body still has all the original wood. The fenders don’t match. Livingston said he found the motor and transmission in a grain pile in someone’s farm, and found other pieces in salvage yards.

“It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than not having one,” he said, with a smile.

Next to the Model T Roadster is a 1940 Chevrolet pickup with 47,000 miles — that vehicle isn’t driven much, Livingston said.

In an adjacent stall in the garage, Livingston proudly shows off a 1925 Model-T with a steel cab. It has a Volkswagen chassis, he added, that would allow the car to reach 80 miles per hour.

“But I’ll never get it done,” Livingston said.

The tour isn’t complete, Livingston added, without a look through his photo album over in his “man cave.” He flipped through the album and had a story for each photo: Him with cars he rebuilt. Him with trucks he restored. Him with his wife, Mary Jo. Him working in the garage or in the body shop.

It’s all part of his story, Livingston said.

It’s all part of his life-long affinity for restoring antique cars.