By on June 24, 2012

Some of the greatest car collections are not public friendly for a very simple reason. You can’t trust the public. That’s why some guys keep their collection on a “need to know basis”.

This is one of those cases where you don’t seem to have it. Not to worry, we smuggled-in a camera.

Harold was the caretaker of this incredible collection. When he passed away recently, the hobby lost a true pioneer.  Harold’s last name is being withheld by his own request because he valued his privacy and the privacy of this collection.

Harold knew that the cost of armed guards or CIA-rated security to protect their treasures was just too much for many collectors for another simple reason. They’ve spent all their money on old cars.

This is a classic hidden collection – it’s the automotive equivalent of Shangri-La, but like that fabled city, the location was always a mystery, so the only clue is that these cars are definitely in the Western Hemisphere.

Here’s another clue. A Snopes search will turn up nothing because this isn’t one of those Internet myths like ghosts in pictures or “Family in Trouble” scams that separate concerned grandmothers from a ton of cash.

Harold was a hardcore car guy for over 50 years and he loved the old iron.

Harold’s late father in law was a pioneer in the vintage vehicle arena and many of these cars reflect the last vestiges of his personal collection. This is one of the most eclectic car collections short of Jay Leno’s because it spans nearly 100 years and 2 continents. In fact, Leno might even get car envy for the first time since he was a starving comedian.

The collection begins before the horseless carriage with a few horse drawn carriages.

Harold’s collection then moves into the earliest era of cars with a Holsman that was built before 1905. This car was actually used in a major parade in 1963 where it kept getting stuck in the streetcar tracks, but it made it through the miles long route without a problem.

Harold also owned a 1918 Model TT in mint condition. This truck looked like it could start work tomorrow because its current cargo is a 1966 Ski-Doo snowmobile.

Harold’s collection also included a 1922 Kissel Speedster, and that’s not something you’ll see at any local cruise night. This is a museum quality example of an extremely rare vehicle from the Great Gatsby era.

The Pierce Arrow was purportedly owned by legendary silent screen star Mary Pickford. Harold was a very careful guy and like most car guys, he’s a detail guy, so he was reluctant to add a 100 per cent confirmation on the Hollywood connection to the Pierce Arrow. But simply looking at this rare car in person confirmed that it was a big part of 1920s luxury.

This1928 Essex epitomized Roaring 20s upper echelon society because even without a movie star connection, this beauty carries its own glamour.

The 1930 Ford Town Sedan was not quite as upscale but every bit as important. In person, this old Ford looked right at home as a museum piece.

One of Harold’s prized vehicles was a 1931 Stutz 8 (DOHC straight 8). This car sports engine technology that is still being used in the 21st Century.

The collection also had a few classics from the 1940s including a Lincoln convertible that was the ultimate touring open vehicle of the time. A pristine Ford sedan from the same era represented a more mainstream, but no less glowing example of 1940s automotive styling.

Fittingly, a 1948 Willy’s Jeep reflected the proximity of the late 40s to the industry standard. This was clearly a military vehicle that was the workhorse of World War Two before its role as the 1st Generation SUV.

The 1950s are represented by a mix of classic British racing style with classic 50s North American style because an MGA (title picture) is only a few feet away from a 1959 Cadillac.

This finned icon of the era defined the late 50s styling Space Race in North America.

There was another Cadillac a few feet away. This convertible picked up the torch for the 1960s era. The underlying theme is luxury in the collection and this immaculate white Caddy is a fine representative of any era.

The 1970s continued the upscale theme with a one owner 1978 Diamond Jubilee Lincoln. This car is so complete it still has the factory issued umbrella and the case containing the factory issue garage opener.

Clearly,  late 1970s Lincoln owners didn’t like getting wet and Ford accommodated them.

Harold remembered another facet of this Lincoln – he tried to clean the gold color-coded “white”-walls.

Like most car guys, Harold was a philosopher. He reflected on the Essex with the comment; “the 50s, 60s and 70s cars are going for big bucks, but old classic stuff isn’t worth as much. 20 years ago the Essex was worth more than it is now”.

He added that the Lincoln convertible is “the ultimate car” but looking after these cars “has become a chore.” This classic fleet was a full-time job for Harold. There’s a never-ending battle to change the fluids, upgrade the gas, start them periodically, maintain the tires and keep the batteries up to full charge. He also had a horse that’s so friendly it thinks it’s a Golden Retriever. Everything was labor intensive for Harold.

The building that housed them was also historical and that added to Harold’s workload.  It’s an old dance hall that was moved to the site after many decades of service back in an era when many of the cars inside were brand new. Harold steadfastly refused to replace the original labor-intensive wooden dance floor so it was a constant battle to protect the old timber from the ravages of leaking old cars.

Despite the workload, Harold was still extremely proud of his eclectic fleet, so he continued to baby these classics from the past to his final days.

He did it as a labor of love, but as he said, “If I got somebody else to look after them I’d have to tell him where the cars are.”

For more of J Sutherland’s work go to mystarcollectorcar.com

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20 Comments on “Car Collector’s Corner: Hidden Treasure – A Great Classic Car Museum At An Undisclosed Location...”


  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    A wonderful find; thank you very much for giving us a look, however brief it is, into this collection.

    I am also nostalgic for all the wonderful COLORS on display; this further strengthens my resolve to not purchase new unless the automaker will give me a color from its current lineup without restrictions.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I could say that these private collections are a bit greedy, but then again if I had a car collection I wouldn’t want kids climbing on everything, teens marking it up, nor people stealing stuff.

    I can understand why these guys tend to keep it private.

  • avatar

    I have to say, those 1920s cars are much more beautiful than the most recent ones. Trouble is, people collect cars because they tie them to an incident in their earlier life, so I can understand why they are worth less today.

    The combination of the shiny hardwood floor and gleaming cars is just beautiful! Seems to me it was worth the effort to keep it up, even though it must have been prodigious.

    D

  • avatar
    olddavid

    To understand this man, attend a freebie car-show-display at a local county fair. The great unwashed will touch, attempt to sit in them and generally behave as though they have the “right” to treat the rolling sculptures as their own. I blame him not. He’s earned the right to appreciate them however he deems appropriate.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      For the live of me, I’ll never understand why people treat other peoples cars at shows so poorly, but then again maybe the average Joes used to kids climbing on his cars.

      • 0 avatar
        daveainchina

        I think it has to do with respect, or lack of it. I remember my father yelling at me to not touch “if it’s not yours you ask permission, if the owner isn’t there you don’t touch” He taught me how to stand so that my zipper didn’t scratch peoples paint etc.

        But more than that, he taught me to respect other peoples property and that if it didn’t belong to me to leave it alone. Whether you are talking cars, houses, furniture, toys, etc etc.

        I see very few parents teaching their kids this these days. Also I find very few parents teaching their children to respect and take care of the things they have much less other peoples stuff.

        He was meticulous about treating other poeples property better than he treated his own property.

      • 0 avatar
        galanwilliams

        “He was meticulous about treating other poeples property better than he treated his own property.”

        Exactly, if you borrow a friend’s truck, bring it back washed and filled up with gas. If you borrow a tool, make sure it’s clean when you PROMPTLY return it, etc. Today, I’m hesitant to even lend a hammer to most people — they can manage to tear even that up — which you will discover only if they bring it back after the tenth time you ask if they are done with it yet.

        Beautiful car collection – and I too understand why Harold kept these under wraps. It is truly the only way any vintage automobiles will survive for future generations to enjoy.

  • avatar
    W.

    As a museum professional, I understand the impetus behind having a restricted private collection. At the same time, it also strikes me as a bit elitist to say that “the public is incapable of properly enjoying this collection”. It’s that kind of conceit that will do nothing, repeat nothing, to help foster the next generation being interested in automobiles and automobile history. By keeping this collection private and hidden, it is simply ensuring that it will be passed off to a big auction house in the future and sold piecemeal off. Why not open the doors to clubs, groups, school kids, what have you? Believe me when I say I understand how difficult the general public can be…

    All that being said, it is a private collection and they have every right to do with it what they please. I just don’t embrace the attitude that these objects have to be saved from the general public, the public they were originally designed to serve as a machine.

    • 0 avatar
      Slab

      I agree. I attended a woodie show in San Diego a few months back, and everyone there was respectful of the ropes. The kids took their cues from the adults around them. There were a few cars that we were allowed to sit in and have our pictures taken. It was great.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Very nice collection of cars and I would agree, I would love to see some more colorful offerings on today’s cars. Maybe that’ll happen before long.

    Nice to see history being preserved for all to enjoy what once was.

  • avatar

    This is why I love participating in car events, and even just traveling in my old car. I’ve had many private tours of amazing collections in conjunction with vintage car rallies and tours. I’ve also had completely chance encounters with collectors while on the road in my ’65 E-type. For example – one my way back to Central Oregon from SW Colorado after the Southwest Oil Leak 50th Anniversary E-type Tour I stopped for lunch in a small town in Utah. A nice older gentleman came up and asked if I was driving the Jaguar, and after I confirmed sat and chatted for a while. He said he had some nice old cars nearby and asked if I wanted to have a look. I agreed and followed him to a nearby warehouse that contained an AMAZING and eclectic collection of cars from every era, including a few Pebble Beach Concours winners. Yes, there was even a Kissel Speedster!

    If I had been roadtripping in my Jetta this encounter would have NEVER happened. If you have a vintage car GET OUT AND DRIVE IT – you’ll never know who you’ll meet, or what you’ll see!

    • 0 avatar
      Unlimited Headroom

      Hello Chuck.
      You are so right. Just drive it! We meet many nice people in our LBC and enjoy the looks of the passers by and neighborhood children pointing to the car as we drive past. Somehow, there is an understanding and awareness that these old relicks are different than the new cars even to toddlers. I consider myself not as an owner but a simple caretaker, within my means, of these cars.
      A rolling museum of style, engineering design, manufacturing, social history and a smitten of historical politics, too. All rolled up into a nice shiny neat package just waiting to be explored by a young fresh mind.
      John

    • 0 avatar
      CRConrad

      I think you just narrowed down the location of “Harold’s” collection.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    What a wonderful story!

    I can certainly see both sides of this issue.

    Nevertheless, just go to an old car show and look the number of signs and stickers on cars that say “Look But Do Not Touch”, as owners sit in the back on sagging lawn-chairs under beach umbrellas cringing in fear of something more destructive than touch. We do live in a brave new world in which common courtesy and sensitivities in public events have been replaced by “I didn’t do anything wrong”; “I have my rights”; “So what’s the big deal?”; “Hey, he’s only a kid”. Yes, I have heard all of this myself. Kind of parallels the lack of courtesy, good will, or forethought that many drivers show on the roads nowadays….

    For museum-worthy cars housed inside, there may be a (somewhat expensive) compromise: GLASS. Just as art and jewelry museums use “unbreakable” glass enclosures to prevent mischief (much less theft), it should not be impossible to build 8-foot high, open-topped glass boxes around valuable cars. That should stop the scratches, “keying”, chewing gum adhesions, candy-bar wrappers, etc. One end of the glass box could, of course, be a locked “door” that opens to allow maintenance or removal of the vehicle by the staff after hours. Ironically, the upper rail at the top of the glass box, and corner posts, make excellent mounting frames for small intense local spotlights to accentuate vehicle design characteristics in ways that general overhead flood lighting never could do. Little lights like that can also be used to cast shadows that emphasize form and structure.

    This way, the cars can still be safe and secure but open-for-view to the public as well. And, of course, a stiff fee MUST be charged. That may serve as more than just making money to support museum upkeep: it would serve to encourage only those who are genuinely interested in these cars to be admitted, and not the idly and often irresponsibly curious. It may also be helpful to be open on a restricted schedule, and NOT evenings. The whole building, of course, would have be hot-wired to a security firm or local police. Given these precautions, a large security staff may not be needed, especially if the vehicles are all in one giant room, such as the dance hall described above.

    Nowadays, it is also possible to install small security cameras with audio pickups on top of the glass box rails. When monitored at a remote location with multiple monitors, it may give even better security, both visually and audibly.

    —————–

    • 0 avatar

      Have you ever tried to shoot a halfway decent picture of something in a glass case?

      I take a lot of photos in museums (I was at the Walter P. Chrysler museum today because there was a Shelby Dodge club meet there) and a pet peeve of mine is that museums don’t do a good job of displaying cars to be seen and photographed. If I recall correctly, none of the cars at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg museum in Auburn are roped off and that museum has damn near priceless cars in its collection and on loan for display.

      At the same time, one of the curators of the GM Heritage Center told me that every time the public is in their building (they rent it out for events) cars on display get damaged.

  • avatar

    We were very glad that we had an opportunity to meet Harold before he passed away. The man loved his cars and looked after them even as his own health became an major issue for him. He will always be a legend to the car guys in his club who knew him over the many decades he spent in the car hobby.

  • avatar
    MZ3AUTOXR

    http://www.collingsfoundation.org/cf_autos.htm

    The Collings Foundation does it right. The foundation primarily is responsible for keeping a lot of old warbirds flying, but they also have a decent auto collection.

    Every Father’s Day weekend they have an open house at their headquarters in Massachusetts. You get to see the planes that they have stored in their small hanger as well the car collection.

    Bonus is that they also have a Stearman PT-17 and AT-6 Texan flying flying off of the grass landing strip.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    I met a guy a while back that had his own little collection in a storage place in South Houston , Texas . I seem to recall that he had a Kissel , also from the twenties but I think it was a touring car and it was original but not this nice . I seem to recall the brand logo was a swastika . Am I correct about this ? It probably was 15 years ago .

  • avatar
    28-cars-later

    Its nice to know the contents of my imagination physically exists somewhere.

  • avatar
    CRConrad

    “This [DOHC -equipped 1931 Stutz 8] car sports engine technology that is still being used in the 21st Century.”

    Yeah, well, so does any old Ford model T or Opel Laubfrosch: Regardless of where they keep and how they turn their camshafts, all cars (save the RX8) still have their crankshafts down at the bottom, connected to pistons by rods.


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