There are few things as iconically American as the automobile. Sure, it represents the freedom of wide-open roads and the wanderlust spirit that moves us. And, yes, it’s a lasting testament to creative design and virtuoso engineering. But I believe that what really propels cars into the status of nostalgic heirlooms is how we link our key life events to them, such as the front seat of the early 1980s orange Chevy Chevelle station wagon where I first kissed a girl (August 1984), the silver 1992 Mazda pickup upon whose hood I sat and scanned the sky for Halley’s Comet (April 1986), and the seawater blue 1997 Toyota Camry I was driving en route to work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison when I heard 9/11 was happening.
Others feel the same way about it. Just ask my buddy Tony about any 1980s song, he recalls the first time he heard it and where he was driving at the time, since the only occasion he listened to the radio was, of course, in his sickly yellow-orange Dodge Omni that he drove all over, often shifting from Drive to Neutral while hauling along because he much preferred a stick shift versus the automatic that it was. Or ask one of the many celebrities who are well known for their distinctive cars or entire car collection.
Charlie Sheen and his (several!) black Mercedes S Class cars. Paris Hilton and her Bentley Continental GT Coupe that she had West Coast Customs turn pink in 2008. Brian Johnson (of AC/DC fame, who lives right here in Sarasota) and his 2007 Rolls Royce Phantom drophead coupe. Plus, there’s Jay Leno, whose 150-car collection is one of the most impressive in the world, including such beauties as a powder-blue 1954 Jaguar XK120M Coupe and a black 1994 McLaren F1(worth a cool $12 million).
Sarasota, too, has its fair share of collectors who’d give these car enthusiasts a run for their steering wheel when it comes to their passion for and commitment to vintage cars and modern classics.
Take Larry Fox, for example. He’s loved cars since he was a kid dreaming of that first car he’d own—a 1964 Pontiac GTO he got at age 15 so he could spend the year prior to getting his license fixing it up. He purchased a 1991 Ferrari Testarossa when his company, Symix Systems, went public. “An IPO present to myself,” he says. “But I was afraid to drive it at first.” Today, he’s got more than 20 vintage and modern vehicles, though his everyday use car is a Bentley Continental GT that he loves driving.
Collecting isn’t for everyone, though, he admits. If you’re doing it as an investment, he urges people to steer toward stocks and bonds which are typically far less volatile. If you’re doing it out of love for the cars, then you’re on the right road. He also adds that car collecting doesn’t have to be extraordinarily expensive, saying that “there are collector cars in every price range.”
Something Larry was surprised to discover was how differently old cars drive now versus how he remembered them. This first became clear when he bought a 1969 Camaro Z/28 that was identical to one he drove in high school. “I remember how fast it was, how well it handled and how great it ran,” he said. “After about ten minutes of driving the car 45 years later, I realized how poorly those old cars ran compared to today’s cars!”
He’s still on the hunt for his dream car, though—a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. “I’m not REALLY looking for one, but if I ever win the lottery, that will be my first purchase!” he says with a laugh.
Larry’s friend and fellow car collector, Jurgen Otto, was born into a family car dealership, so it was natural to make the move into collecting. “I started at the age of three, though the cars were appropriately small and from a single manufacturer: Matchbox!”
Jurgen’s first collector car? A 1954 Triumph TR2, bought at the age of eighteen. He followed that purchase with a 1959 Austin Healey 3000. “By the time I was twenty-one,” he explains, “I’d graduated into much more exclusive cars like a 1968 Aston Martin DBS formerly owned by no other than David Brown [the owner of Aston Martin & Lagonda, thus the DB in the model designation] himself. Countless dreams on wheels have come and gone since.”
For those interested in collecting cars, Jurgen has four tips based on hard-won knowledge and years of experience:
Never buy a car solely as an investment.
Only buy what you like and always buy the best car you can afford.
99% of time, the cheap car is the more expensive one in the end.
Pay for the best and enjoy the instant gratification.
One of the things he likes most about being part of the car collecting community is that “you’ll always find someone else with oil and gasoline running through their veins. There’s such a great sense of camaraderie, no matter if you own a Fiat 500 or a Rolls Royce Phantom.”
When it comes to dream cars, Jurgen says that he’s very content with his current collection of German and Italian performance cars and classics. “But tomorrow is another day!”
Car lover Chris Cogan grew up in Louisville, KY with eight siblings who all appreciated their father’s love for things mechanical—he owned a mechanical engineering firm, after all—but none shared his passion like Chris. “From the time I was four or five,” he explains, “I would get up early on weekends while everyone else was asleep to join my father in the garage for the latest modification or upgrade project. One of his favorite cars, and mine, was a heavily-modified Corvette with Chevrolet’s legendary 427 L-88 engine.”
To put it plainly, Chris had the car bug from his earliest memories. While his father never allowed himself the luxury of joining car clubs because they’d take him away from the family for too long, he let Chris join the Falls City Corvette Club at age 11. It didn’t seem right to Chris that he’d be part of a Corvette club and not have one himself, so “after considerable pestering,” his father allowed him to use grass cutting money to buy an old Corvette “in a million pieces” that they kept in boxes in the back of a barn. “That project kept me busy for several years and, in the end, became a respectable ’64 Corvette Roadster,” Chris says. “My next project, a ’63 Split-window Coupe Corvette, took three years to restore and eventually became a bona fide 100-point show car.”
Chris wasn’t just building cars, though. He was driving them too, thanks to his father letting him practice on their private road at age thirteen. By fifteen, Chris began racing solo events and Gymkhana. By age 20, he was collecting cars on his own and racing most weekends.
The thing he likes most about collecting is that it’s not one-size-fits all. While Chris enjoys the thrill of driving them and learning the different mechanical characteristics of each type and model, he’s got an older brother who has a collection of museum-quality cars, mostly 50s and 60s Ferraris, but he never drives any of them.” Instead, Chris’ brother loves reading about and studying them. “Every car he touches seems to turn to gold,” Chris admits, “but I’m certain I have more fun! It’s great though because we travel the world together attending various events and now our children are getting involved and they enjoy participating with us.”
Like Larry, Chris believes you don’t have to have millions to collect cars. “I own Renn Haus, a top European Auto Service Center right here in Sarasota,” he says, “and I recently purchased a Honda Type R for the guys in the shop to take to auto cross and solo track events. We’ve all had a blast with that car and it’s very, very affordable.” Almost any era of car has models which can be affordably collected—it all depends on what your tastes are. Sure, you might have to look a little harder or perhaps use your imagination a bit more, but you’ll find something, Chris believes. And he points out that for many, the chase is half the fun!
At the end of each day, when Chris has tucked his wife and daughter safely into bed, he always thinks and dreams about cars. Since he was a boy, there was never a time he DIDN’T dream about cars, he admits.
“Although I always have a car I’d like to drive or get to experience in some way,” Chris says, “I’ve never let my desire to own any car ruin my enjoyment of all cars. I know there will always be ones I can’t afford or shouldn’t invest my money in. I don’t let that bother me. That said, I’m fortunate to be partnered with Jim Glickenhaus of Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, a company based in NY which builds bespoke Hypercars for the road and racetrack costing up to $2.5 million. When you work with cars like that on a daily basis, you don’t have to go too far to find inspiration for big dreams.”
I get it. When I was in college, a neighbor lady wanted to sell off her recently-deceased husband’s 1950 Nash four-door—you’d know one if you saw one because they look like upside-down bathtubs. I had the money she wanted for it, but I figured if I wanted a car like hers, I could get one some other time. Wrong. To this date, I haven’t seen one that wasn’t three times the price.
Hearing the passion with which Larry, Jurgen, and Chris have for this engaging hobby has me certain that the next time I have the chance at landing a collector car at a bargain price, I’ll consider how it’s far more than simply about the money.