Beyond the moneymakers, locally and nationally, there are the connoisseur collectors. Lyon for one, Ralph Lauren for another. Also cell phone billionaire John McCaw of Seattle, a regular customer of Symbolic Motor Car Co. of La Jolla who in the last two years has spent a reported $80 million on vintage race cars, principally Ferraris.
Now there's the new and precise focus of connoisseur collector Otis Chandler, retired publisher of the Los Angeles Times and founder of the Vintage Museum of Transportation in Oxnard. Despite the lofty, public nuance of its title, the facility is open just one day each month and primarily to automotive groups.
Through the years, this private collection-cum-conservatory has veered and shifted, grown and shrunk--from vintage autos and sports cars, American and European, to American muscle cars, including a perfect bloodline of specialist Corvettes. It recently settled into an exclusive, potentially priceless inventory of 125 motorcycles, a few muscle cars, several sports cars and three dozen classics. All are rare, memorable, custom cars.
"The classic cars are only American, entirely from the '30s and '40s and all custom," Chandler says. That means Packards, Cadillacs and Duesenbergs with bodies by Hibberd & Darrin, Dietrich, Bohman & Schwartz, Le Baron and Murphy. "I don't have anything they made more than 10 of, and mostly three or five.
"I like to think the motorcycles form one of the nicest and rarest collections in the world. Like the first Indian, the first year of the Harley Twin in 1911, the first bike with an electric starter, the first year of this, the first year of that."
Caretakers of Industrial History
So many collectors simply buy what they like, what their families drove or what they have long coveted. They see themselves as caretakers of industrial history. They are buyers, not sellers. They, like Leno, like Chandler, fell in lust with cars in their youth, rebuilt them to understand the mechanicals and now must drive their old cars and take them places. To show others, of course, but to impress the less-knowing with the natural grace and epochal designs of motorcars from days when there were no assembly lines, no plastic parts.
"Too many cars are never raced, never rallied and never shown," says Brentwood businessman Peter Mullin, collector of French cars he keeps mostly at home and considers the apex of design and performance in their time. "Sure, these cars are jewels of the world, pieces of art. But automobiles are meant to be driven, and it is criminal not to take them out and let them enjoy their original purpose."
So Mullin has driven his Type 57SC Bugatti, a 1937 Talbot-Lago Le Mans car and a V-12 Delahaye in Italy's Mille Miglia road race. Also a Hispano-Suiza K6 and a Talbot-Lago Record in the famed Monte Carlo Rally.
Ginni and Newt Withers of Fountain Valley are more than a 28-year amalgam of two souls in marriage. They are also bonded to old cars. Mr. Withers, owner of a Goodyear tire dealership, won the 1994 trans-American Great Race for vintage cars in a 1912 Oldsmobile Autocrat Roadster. Mrs. Withers won a trophy for the oldest vehicle to finish the 1985 event at the heavy, hand-cramping, ever-vibrating wheel of a 1906 Mitchell.
"Nowadays, you get in a car, roll up the windows, push a button, put it in gear and there is no art to driving," Ginni says. But in their 1907 Around-the-World Thomas Flyer--which in 1908 actually won the race from New York to Paris--one listens to the open exhaust and that old motor "because they are talking to you and will tell you what they are doing, and if you listen to what they are saying, you really don't have to use a clutch to shift gears.
"Motoring used to be a Sunday afternoon adventure. Driving the old cars continues that adventure, and so we must remain keepers of these older vehicles and make sure they don't get lost in the Ferrari-Corvette rush."
Bruce Meyer is former owner of Geary's of Beverly Hills and current custodian of a 30-car personal assortment that follows no particular pattern. His 1955 D-Type racing Jaguar is in the collection, he says, because it has been "a favorite of mine since Dinky Toys." He owns a '44 Ford for no better reason than "that was the car I lusted for in high school."
"So the only theme in my collection is me. Not hot rods. Not race cars. Not muscle cars. They are simply cars that mean a lot to me personally. Money is no incentive for me to collect. The only investment here is in life, and, by driving these cars, giving back to history."
And after Meyer has bought a car and restored it, his absolute satisfaction is to reunite the old classic with the builder, owner or racing driver who knew the vehicle when it was new.
KNBC-TV Channel 4 news anchor Paul Moyer ranks himself as a mini-collector, based on his ownership of cars ranging from a 1951 Ford painted by Earl Scheib to a 1967 Ferrari GTB, with a 1965 Shelby Mustang and a 1967 Corvette Sting Ray among a few others in between.