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Saturday, August 25, 2012

there is no end to the unusual in the vehicle world, just things I've yet to learn of... like the Richard Petty riding lawn mower from Lowes, thanks to Jay Phillips!

if you know of any more of these Richard Petty mowers, or paperwork about them, Jay would like to hear from you J Phillips <mopar_superbird@yahoo.com>

is this the most far out lawn mower you've seen? Sure, racing mowers are incredible... but a real sponsored RP mower, that he takes time to sign, sit on, and with the owner? That is amazing.  Thanks to Jay Phillips who filled me in about his collecting these

I was a 5-year old kid sitting on a school bus with a friend checking out the newspaper sales ad of a Richard Petty riding mower.

I grew up watching Richard Petty race at both Dover, DE & Richmond, VA.

In 1986, I purchased my favorite car a 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird. Then a friend of mine purchased one for himself. He was (and still is) a Petty fanatic. One day, we were discussing our Richard Petty collections we've added to over the years. I asked him if he had ever stumbled onto a Petty Mower. He had never heard of one. This put me in gear to find one and prove I wasn't crazy.

Early 90's I finally found my first Petty Mower. Immediately I called Petty Enterprises asking for information. (This was before the Internet.) The woman that answered the phone told me that I would need to talk to Martha Jane, as she was the only one that would have worked for Richard during that time frame. Martha Jane was Richard's personal secretary. She was quick to inform me that she knew EVERYTHING about those little mowers as it was her husband that set up the meeting between Richard and those at Lowe's headquarters. WOW.....pay dirt!!! She also told me that it was the VERY first sponsorship in Richard's career.

Busy with work and drag racing, I packed the mower away for 11-years.

Finally, I decided it was time for a complete restoration. First things first, I again called Marthat Jane asking her if she remembered our conversation 11-years ago. She said sure I do, you're the only one that's ever called here asking about those mowers. I emailed her pics to show Richard and it was enough for him to confirm it to be an authentic Richard Petty Special. He signed a "Letter of Authenticity" with the model & serial numbers.

Now it's time to document, disassemble, restore or replace, and assemble. (I also spent nights at my local library going through microfiche newspapers, page by page, hoping to find the ad that I'd seen as a kid on the school bus. This is when I found the Richard Petty Special riding mowers were actually built in both 1971 & 1972. Mine was a 1972 and I gotta find a 1971 to complete the set.

I quickly found a second 1972 during the restoration of the first. So, I decided to restore them both side by side at the same time. All the best pieces went to the first, and the remaining parts to the second. (I also purchased 7 other similar, but non-Petty mowers that were used for parts donors.)

Since Martha Jane had a personal attachment to the mowers, and it was Richard's first promotional deal in his career, it was as simple as scheduling a meeting time, and place and an autograph session took place. Yes, Richard and those that work for him are the nicest people you'll ever meet. They're very down to earth people.

Since then I've found (3) 1971's and (3) 1972's, the original cardboard stand up of Richard Petty that was used for the promotion, the original roll of film of the commercial, and the prototype mower that was sent to Lowe's for approval.

Me and my much better half, Jeannie, display the RPS mowers along with many others at antique tractor shows. They've been featured in a MoPar magazine (Mopar Collector's Guide ~ Toys in the Attic), and were on the cover of Lawn & Garden Collector Magazine.

I don't know if Lowe's headquarters knows of their existence, as those that remember have long since retired.

Yes, many have offered to buy, making offers, and asking what it would take to let them go. I did not restore them with thoughts of resale.

Recently I was researching something automobile related, and my Google search took me to your site. I've been back every day for updates. So, thank YOU for that!

Not long after the restoration process, I uploaded images to the web showing before and after views. After seeing those pics, someone from Chattanooga, TN emailed me pics of their Richard Petty Special. Theirs was very different, and not at all consistent with the research that I had found on both the 1971 & 1972 models. I assumed it was a late '71 model that was never shown in the Lowe's ads. It was for sale, but the price was NOT cheap!!!

Fast forward to two years ago. A friend of mine calls me to tell me that he had just found (and picked up) a Richard Petty Special in Tennessee. My heart sank...I just knew it was the odd one that I'd only seen pics of. We talked about it's details, and thankfully I realized that it was not the same mower.

As soon as we hung up, I called the gentleman in Chattanooga. We came to a reasonable agreement, set a date & time for it's pick up, and off we went.

It's now loaded into the bed of my truck, and we're heading to Richard Petty's shop to pick up the other RPS. While making a fuel stop, I then had the time to check out the details of this odd RPS. And THAT was when I realized that the decals were without their part numbers! E.T. Rugg....the manufacturer always included part numbers with their decals. Then I noticed the hood stripe was wider and longer than what was used on the RPS. Then I noticed there were a couple of decals adhered in the wrong locations. Of course the "BY Petty" decals were all the way near the front of the hood, instead of aligned with the seam in the hood....where they were on all of the RPS's that have surfaced to date.

I called a friend that is very familiar with lawn & garden restorations. He explained that when a manufacturer consistently used part numbers on their decals, and they're NOT there....it's a pre-production unit, AKA PROTOTYPE!

Then a call was placed to a retired Lowe's employee, that was the actual buyer for the lawn & garden department. He explained that when a new product was to be sold at Lowe's, the manufacturer would first have to submit a prototype for approval. Sometimes it was acceptable as-is, and other times changes would have to be made. Prototypes were then sold, without warranty to Lowe's employees.

The Chattanooga find was a gold mine to a collector of Richard Petty Specials.....you know....ME! LOL

It was found in the early '80's, in a ditch on the side of the road, somewhere in Georgia. Thankfully the guy was smart enough to stash it away for all of those years.



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