Growing up in a small, blue collar town, Bill Rothermel’s mother shared stories about walking with him in the stroller when he was two- or three-years-old to the local shoe factory as the workers ended their day. Rothermel would amaze those around him by naming the make and model of cars that passed by.
“I was born with it,” Rothermel ’80, said of his automotive interests. “My friends could’ve cared less about cars, neither did anyone in my family.”
His lifelong hobby has turned into a more serious venture over the last fifteen years as he’s been asked to host auto events, emcee car contests, provide museum tours, and write for automobile magazines. Rothermel is the secretary of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Museum Board of Directors with an extensive background in automobile history. He also sits on the boards of the Rolls-Royce Foundation in Mechanicsburg and the Boyerstown Museum of Historic Vehicles.
“It’s always been a hobby for me from day one,” he said. Although he said it doesn’t pay the bills—he is a real estate broker by trade—it certainly feeds his auto obsession.
Rothermel’s interests lie in automobile history rather than in car collecting or mechanics. Over the years, he became close friends with the late Beverly Rae Kimes, a renowned automobile journalist and historian who was the first employee hired at Automobile Quarterly. “She was considered the foremost automobile historian on the planet,” he said. “She mentored me and said I was very good at storytelling.”
Kimes urged Rothermel to write. He got his first big break in Automobile Quarterly, “the book to be in,” he said. Since then, his work also has appeared in Antique Automobile, the Flying Lady, Old Cars Weekly, and Sports Car Market.
Ask Rothermel his favorite car and he responds that it’s impossible to pick one. His interests range from the cars of the Brass and Classic Eras to muscle cars to Post-war American cars to European sports cars, and everything in between. “Every car has a story, and it’s my job to tell it.”
Everything from the Mustang to the minivan has an extensive history, he said. It’s about learning the significance of that vehicle in history. He said the late 1920s to early 1930s was the greatest time in automobile history and the cars during that time frame divulge a lot about families and their lifestyles.
As a member of the AACA board, he helps to guide the director of the museum and make sure it’s financially solid. He occasionally gets involved in program planning and tours. Rothermel treated fellow Ship alumni to a special talk and tour of the AACA Museum during an event in January. Museum visitors bring a varied knowledge of cars with them, so Rothermel has learned to cater his talks to a broad audience.
“You have to play to five-year-olds and seventy-five-year-olds, which is a challenge to do,” he said.
The AACA Museum entertains their audience with a variety of exhibits and interactive displays that take visitors through automobile history by era. During the Ship alumni event, Rothermel provided a brief history of the museum, discussed the origin of cars, and provided a tour. The museum also designs rotating exhibits, which he said will soon feature an assembly line exhibit and a bus driving simulator.
From AACA in Hershey to Rolls-Royce in Mechanicsburg to the Swigart Museum in Huntingdon to the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing in York, there’s an expansive local automobile history that is sure to hook even the youngest car enthusiast. It’s a great place for Rothermel to explore and expand on his lifelong hobby.
“Central Pennsylvania is a mecca for automobile lovers."