Vasek Polak, a Czech emigre who opened the first exclusive Porsche dealership in the United States and built it into a South Bay-based auto empire, has died. He was 82.
Polak, who was recovering from injuries he sustained last month in Germany in the 110-mph crash of a Porsche prototype, died Thursday of a heart attack.
Flying home from Germany in a Lear jet whose cabin had been turned into an intensive-care unit, Polak suffered a "massive coronary" while the plane was on the ground in Great Falls, Mont., said Paul Myers, a good friend.
"He could not be saved," said Myers, vice president of the Torrance Memorial Medical Center's health care foundation. He added that Polak, who lived in Palos Verdes Estates, had a history of heart trouble.
Polak's life was filled with exuberance and passion--especially for cars, and in particular cars that went fast.
He collected cars. He drove cars. He sold cars. And he raced cars.
He was injured March 11 when he lost control while driving a 1997 Porsche 911 Turbo S on a German autobahn.
"It was a car capable of driving at great speeds and Vasek was capable of driving it at great speeds," Myers said. "He drove with a passion, just as he did everything in life."
Born in Prague in 1914, wounded while fighting Nazis in 1945, Polak fled his native land in 1948, walking to what was then West Germany. There he landed a job as a U.S. Army motor pool mechanic.
A brilliant mechanic, he moved to the United States in 1951, opening a repair shop in New York. In 1958, he moved to Hermosa Beach. Soon after, he opened his Porsche dealership there.
His base stayed in Hermosa Beach as his business grew to include Subaru, Saab, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen dealerships. "For years and years, Hermosa Beach has been synonymous with Vasek Polak," City Councilman John Bowler said Friday.
"He was representative of what Hermosa represents, a place where people come to start over and build lives in a new area," Bowler said. "He was probably the best example of that."
In the crash last month, Polak suffered broken bones but no internal injuries. He insisted on returning to doctors at Torrance Memorial, Myers said. Doctors in Germany had cleared him for the flight home.