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John J. Bartley Jr., 87; antique auto enthusiast, historian

John J. Bartley Jr. bought his 1937 Ford Tudor Deluxe from his mother for $2. He wrote about it in V8 Times magazine.

Mark Wilson/Globe Staff/File 2002

John J. Bartley Jr. bought his 1937 Ford Tudor Deluxe from his mother for $2. He wrote about it in V8 Times magazine.

Whenever John J. Bartley Jr. bought an antique car for his collection, he learned its story. Commissioned to write about his 1937 Ford Tudor Deluxe touring sedan for V8 Times magazine, he described his long history with the car, where it was built, and the care it required.

For Mr. Bartley, who over the years attended more than a thousand automobile shows in New England, his cars were not mere machines, but members of an extended family.

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“This is not a show car, and I have never had a desire to have it become one,” he wrote in the article, published in November 2010. “It is a family heirloom, having been part of my life for over 70 years.”

Mr. Bartley, an antique car enthusiast who was a civil engineer at Boston Edison for 33 years, died of stomach cancer April 3 in the Milton home of his daughter Anne Reddington. He was 87 and had lived in Watertown.

“He could identify whether a water pump was made for this car or that car,” said another daughter, Suzin of Milton. “His knowledge went deep into these machines.”

In a 2002 interview, Mr. Bartley told the Globe that he “had this interest very early in life. Amesbury, Mass., from about 1900 until 1932, was one of the largest [automobile] body-building locations in the United States.”

Mr. Bartley’s father, John Sr., fused metal car bodies together for a manufacturer in town. His mother, the former Mary Ellen Greeley, worked in the town treasurer’s office.

An only child, Mr. Bartley attended Amesbury High School, where he became most excited about his studies when he was asked to compile a history of the automobile industry in Amesbury for an English class. His research was exhaustive and has since been cited in a number of published articles.

The day after his high school graduation in 1944, Mr. Bartley took a train to Boston to join the US Navy. He was only 17, and his parents signed a waiver to allow him to serve during World War II. He fixed airplane engines for four years on Navy ships.

When Mr. Bartley returned home, he took advantage of the GI Bill to study civil engineering at Tufts University. After transferring to Northeastern University, he graduated in 1952.

After the war, Mr. Bartley received his first and favorite car: a black 1937 Ford Tudor Deluxe.

He bought the car from his mother for $2 in 1950 and kept it in working order until he died.

“He had a cover that went over it, but he always loved showing the car,” said his son, Jack of Watertown, who was given the Ford after his father’s death. “If I brought over a girlfriend or someone new, he would slowly take off the covering and the shiny black chrome would put them in awe.”

For a few years after Northeastern, Mr. Bartley rented a room in Brookline and worked at the Boston and Maine Railroad to pay off college bills.

He met Anne Colpoys on an MBTA train headed for Brighton.

They married in 1951 and were together for 62 years until her death in December.

“The devotion that he gave to her was unending,” Suzin said.

Mr. Bartley’s wife, who had been a dietitian at a middle school, participated in car club activities, too.

“You either have to enjoy them, or you’re miserable at home,” she told the Globe in 2002.

“You may as well get out and meet people and have fun.”

The couple rode in the ’37 Ford through Maine and into Canada on their honeymoon. A yellowed journal documenting expenses on this newlywed trip still rests in the Ford’s glove box.

Every year they took a trip in the Ford to a different destination.

When they first married, the Ford served as the main family car, except when snow coated the roads, including for the birth of their children. In 2002, Mr. Bartley told the Globe that one time his wife “was taken to the hospital in that old Ford and came back with a kid in the back seat.”

Over the years, he belonged to automobile organizations including Klaxon Antique Auto Club in Dracut, the Bay State Antique Auto Club, the Early Ford V8 Club of America, and the Veteran Motor Car Club of America.

The family moved to Watertown in 1958, shortly after Mr. Bartley began work at Boston Edison, where he headed up the real estate division. As part of his job, he helped acquire hundreds of tracts of land for Edison’s expansion into Eastern Massachusetts.

In addition to the ’37 Ford, Mr. Bartley tooled around in a number of other automobiles through the years, including a black 1923 Model T touring car, a 1929 Cadillac Town Car, a gray 1928 Nash, and a tan and black 1924 Cadillac Victoria. As he grew older, Mr. Bartley sold all the cars except the Ford, his favorite.

“He did a lot of studying, and he read a lot of books on old cars,” said Dick Griffith, who belonged to a car club with Mr. Bartley. “He was the man to talk to if you had an antique car. He knew the answers.”

A service has been held.

In addition to his children, Suzin, Anne, and Jack, he leaves seven grandchildren.

For more than 50 years, Mr. Bartley was an active church member and usher in Watertown, including at Sacred Heart Church.

As his car collection grew in Watertown, so did his participation in local politics. He served for nearly 50 years as a Town Meeting member and spent about 20 years on the Traffic Commission.

Mr. Bartley also was a permanent member of the School Building Committee and a founding member of the East Watertown Betterment Association.

“My father instilled in me the need to give back,” said Jack, who served four years as a state legislator, representing Watertown. “He taught us not to complain, but to do something about it.”

Jasper Craven can be reached at jasper.craven@globe.com.

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