By on May 12, 2007

rich.jpg“Hi. I’m Jerry Rich.”

As I shake the golf course owner’s hand through the window of our rented Mustang, Rich’s gaze falls on my wife’s jeans.

“You got a hole in your jeans,” he remarks, eyeing my wife’s strategically distressed apparel. 

“I paid good money for those holes,” Sam retorts.

Rich nods blankly. After introductions, we follow his ’71 Tahoe to our accommodations. The second we get out of the car, Rich says it again.

“My granddaughter’s jeans have fewer holes than that.”

At first I think the former intranet entrepreneur is asserting his alpha status. But Rich’s 6’5” frame is relaxed. His voice is as soft as the endless sheathes of silk hiding in the corn surrounding his estate. 

Rich’s automobiles live in a vaguely English barn-like structure just off the practice range. Mid-August sun pours through the skylights.

A 1956 Corvette convertible sits in the middle of the cavernous room, roped off and surrounded by plastic banquet tables. “Mint condition” doesn’t quite cover it.

“That’s a 100 point car,” Rich says, walking past the Corvette without a moment’s pause. “We won a lot of competitions with that car.”

Rich leads me to the back of the building, into a dark, vast, industrial space.

As the sodium lights warm-up, I realize I’m looking at the back end of an impossibly glamorous 1932 Auburn Speedster. A 1932 Cadillac V16 emerges from the murk; a car whose imperiousness defined the take-no-commoners extravagance of the Classic Era. Next to that, a 1934 Duesenberg Town Car; a vehicle that combines Hollywood glamour and arrogant authority.

Rich tells me the big Caddy once belonged to the Chairman of U.S. Steel (which goes some way to explaining the company’s fall from grace). Otherwise, he responds to my questions with minimal, often monosyllabic replies. 

Why did you buy seven Lamborghini Countaches when you can’t fit into one? "It was the most exotic automobile ever made." What’s it like to drive a Mercedes Gullwing? "Not as nice as the Roadster." Is there a common theme running through your collection? "They’re all cars I like." How often do you take your Ferraris for a spin? "My mechanic makes sure they’re in running condition." 

Rich's lack of enthusiasm deflates my own. Even worse, the collector is deaf to hints about which car we should exercise the following day. 

When we happen upon a brand new Ford GT, I recommend taking FoMoCo’s mad, bad supercar for an early morning thrash. “It’s too far from the back door,” Rich pronounces.

We enter the museum’s workshop. “That’s my son’s car,” he says, pointing at Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, resting on its laurels in bay two. “Jim used to help me with the collection before he went into the restaurant business. Now he’s in personal bankruptcy. We’ve got to sell it.”

Did Jim Rich’s departure from car collecting sour his famous father on the enterprise? Rich ignores the question. “Let’s take the Family Truckster out tomorrow,” he says, gesturing at the garish station wagon in bay one.

Is he kidding? The prospect of helming the comedic land yacht featured in National Lampoon’s Vacation– as opposed to caning the Ferrari GTO or cruising in the Auburn Speedster– makes me slightly nauseous.

As we head for the links, Rich’s mood improves. He scans the course like a tank commander surveying the battlefield.

Only there are no battles. It’s Sunday afternoon and the course is empty. Achingly beautiful, fiendishly spectacular, perfectly groomed, but empty. 

Rich make notes on a scorecard as he goes, detailing dozens of “issues." We stop to move some branches and pick-up a piece of trash. I get it. Rich is a perfectionist.

Everything in Jerry Rich's domain must be perfect, from the line of bushes framing a fairway to the condition of his Amphicar. He can’t understand why anyone would settle for anything less than perfection, like, say, a ripped pair of jeans. 

At the end of Rich Harvest Links, long shadows and a gaggle of geese cover the final green. Rich aims his golf cart straight at the birds and chases them into flight. The job requires four passes and several sharp turns, all taken at maximum speed. 

The next day, we take a short trip in Rich’s rolling Rosebud: his personally restored 1961 Mercedes Benz Roadster. I'll never forget the engine’s guttural growl and the smell of unburned gasoline mixing with the loamy countryside. But there was none of joy of the previous day’s duck-chasing.

Even before I leave Jerry Rich, Jerry Rich has left me. He’s looking out across his driving range where a dozen corporate guests are firing balls at distant greens so faultlessly designed and meticulously maintained that they hardly look real. At least, that’s how they see it. For Jerry Rich, somewhere out there, there’s work to be done.

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27 Comments on “Jerry Rich, Car Collector...”


  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Excellent story, Robert. It’s a powerful reminder of why everything around me is in a state of perpetual (mild) chaos and unfinished: our house, our garden, my projects. And they always will be.

    Our time is so fleeting, and the entropic forces of nature so unrelenting. Why fight it? The whole perfection thing with cars I really don’t get, if you can’t feel like you can go out and really run them. I saw a guy the other day driving a gently-battered and faded all-original 1941 Chevy Convertible, and it brought out so much more lust than some unusuable museum classic.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Family Truckster? This guy is right up my alley.

  • avatar

    IntRAnet Entrepreneur?? How does that work?

    –chuck

  • avatar
    esldude

    First, US Steel has not suffered demise. It became USX.

    My dad is like a less wealthy version of this guy. I can see the appeal, but I think in the end it drains joy and fun from it. Those guys get some satisfaction, it just isn’t what lots of others get. I have increasingly come to dislike it. Especially a fellow who hoards so many he can never, and probably doesn’t intend to use them. True such people may preserve them for future generations. But it just seems greedy and selfish to keep so much when others might own and really enjoy them.

    But they are his to do as he wishes, and if I had the money I would have a few. Funny I think if I had the money it would make it easier to enjoy them rather have to be so nervous about the rare expensive cars. Usually from what I have observed though it works out just the reverse.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    Jerry Rich is quite annoying. (he doesn’t keep plastic wrap on the sofas in his living room does he?) If he is going to have all these magical machines but keep them in some in pristine condition and never use them then he may as well give/donate/lend them back to the manufacturer where the history makes some sense rather than just as a reflection of his own self image

  • avatar
    Gottleib

    This story reminds me of Bill Harrah and his auto collection in Reno, Nevada. He had some of the rarest of the rare and it was a joy to be able to see them all in one place. I appreciate the fact that he did open his collection to the public. It was somewhat sad that after his death and the sale of the Harrahs properties to Holiday Inn Corp, the car collection was auctioned off. I don’t think there will ever again be as many rare cars all in one place ever again.

  • avatar

    The truth about some people.

    Paul’s comment about lust for the gently battered ’41 Chevy convertible (there couldn’t have been too many of those because of the war effort) reminded me how, when I was 9 or 10, some friend of my father’s was less than admiring of the women I was ogling in a Playboy. “They’re plastic,” he said. “They don’t sweat.”

    Jerry Rich needs to embrace the human condition. He’ll never buy his way out of it.

  • avatar
    Bill Wade

    I automatically dislike this guy. I have a 1967 Hemi GTX I purchased in high school in 1969. I still drive it on weekends and really don’t take magnificent care of it. What’s the fun of an immaculately restored vehicle that you can’t take out and run the heck out of?

  • avatar

    As the article probably indicates, I have no more love for static automotive displays than plastic sushi. That said, I have a genuine appreciation for and love of the car designer's art. I am smitten with breathtaking sheet metal; my F355B's design thrilled me to the marrow. But a car is a machine. It only "comes alive" and reveales itself when it's in motion, doing what its creators built it to do. To drive a car, any car, is to commune with its essence. It's a multi-sensual experience: the smell of the materials and (with old cars) fuel, the action of the controls, the vibrations through the chassis, the engine– oh so much to take in with an engine! Anyway, I admire Mr. Rich. He is a highly moral man with a deep appreciation for engineering excellence and a profound understanding of systems. He fully deserves the success he achieved. I only wish he could feel the same pleasure he once did, caning his yellow GTO through a local tunnel, letting the engine's reverberations transport him to paradise.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    It has always seemed to me that vintage car enthusiasts, especially car collectors on the level of Bill Harrah, Otis Chandler or Harold LeMay, have what one might call “Dorian Grey disease,” wherein which they feel if the car or cars don’t age, they won’t. And when you talk to most of these guys – and for reasons that belong perhaps in another forum, all the major car collectors are, of have been male – they come alive when they talk about the cars in their collection; perhaps proving the truth of my theory.

    True enough, the cars should be driven. But I feel that many car collectors also have more than a little of obsessive-compulsiveness to their make-up, and they don’t want to get the cars too dirty or out of kilt.

    I never met either Bill Harrah or Otis Chandler. Reportedly, Mr. Chandler, whose collection of Classics, “muscle cars,” and motorcycles was mostly disposed of last fall, got interested in American muscle because he liked to drive them. I came across a copy of the July 17, 1989 issue of AutoWeek, when I was going through some things after moving, late last year, and there’s the late, one-time owner of the Los Angeles Times, on the cover, exercising a 1971 Plymouth Baracuda convertible.

    Both the Harrah and Chandler collections, were disposed of for the most part, through auctions. (What survived an auction in the early Eighties, of Bill Harrah’s collection, started the National Auto Museum in Reno, Nevada, which operates today to preserve automotive history.)

    I have the pleasure of knowing Harold LeMay and a more unprepossessing man you’d have had a hard time finding. Harold was such a consumate collector of interesting vintage cars – he favored American iron – that when a car which seemed right for him was on the docket at any northwest (America) car collector auction, the call went out, on microphone by the auctioneer, “Where’s Harold?”

    When he passed away in November, 2000, he had about 6,000 titles in his name, according to his grand-son, Eric. The LeMay family has brought in people and formed the LeMay Museum organization. There are still about 2,500 museum quality cars, trucks and a smattering of motorcycles, in about a number of buildings in Spanaway, Washington. It’s what constitutes the “museum” today and people can indeed tour them and see the cars. Look at http://www.lemaymuseum.org to find out how and learn of the family’s efforts to raise enough money to build a fantastic museum in the burg of Tacoma, not far from where the cars are now.

    It’s a big dream, maybe an impossible one; but as Robert Browning once said, “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Correction: meant to write in the last post, “had the pleasure of knowing Harold Lemay” since he is indeed, sadly, deceased; perhaps trying to figure out a way to get a Dusenberg into heaven.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    Rich older men collect cars and store them in warehouses to look at. Young poor men collect comic books and actions dolls, store them in their orginal packaging, to look at.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    For every Jay Leno or Rowan Atkinson who has an easygoing pleasure of using his cars, and a acute understanding of what they are for, there will be an anal-rententive Jerry Rich-guy who takes pride in perfectionism. That’s how people are. It takes more than boys&toys mania to make a person interesting.

    But what kind of guy comments on other people’s clothes? I would say that Jerry Rich may be many things, but he certainly doesn’t seem to act like a gentleman.

  • avatar

    Martin Schwoerer:

    Rich’s comments were unintentionally insensitive. He lives in a world of his own. Literally.

  • avatar
    Blunozer

    I don’t actually fault this guy that much.

    Yes, cars are machines that need to be driven. But I see nothing wrong with actually admiring the cars just simply for their design. And hey, it IS his money.

    Don’t get me wrong. This guy’s hobby is not exactly my thing… I’d rather drive a Kia then “admire” a Ferrari from behind a velvet rope.

    I view guys like this the same way I look at comic and toy collectors who refuse to take their prize trinkets out of the original packaging. I admire their self restraint, but always ask myself: Why bother?

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    I also am a car collector, except that I do it one at a time, sequentially, like serial monogamy. And I take pride that they are not garage queens ( I dont have a garage). As a matter of fact, I use the cars for what they are intened – I drive them every day – only to shake the dust off, mind you.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    ~Shrug~ to each his own. At least the cars are being preserved. If he’d bought them to crush them, just because he can — then I’d hate him.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Today, there is so much hate speech concerning the automobile with it’s internal combustion motivation, that I applaud anyone who passionately preserves our automotive history in any form.

  • avatar
    rtz

    The situation(like everything), is purely psychological. Some people have kids. Some people have pets. Some people have cars in the place of those two things. All consuming items.

  • avatar

    Paul Russell, the guy who restores Ralph Lauren’s (among many others’) cars likes seeing his restorations driven and enjoyed, although he has some mixed feelings. He drove one of them in a race and told me wistfully that he’d put 10,000 miles worth of wear on the car in that one race. (I wrote about Russell in the Nov 2000 Atlantic, and anyone who wants a copy can find it on the Atlantic website if they subscribe, or email me at [email protected], and I will email a copy).

    I don’t have the dough to collect cars but the few fantasies I have about them involve driving them as a major motive.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Robert,
    Thanks for the well written piece — I had forgotten what a great writer you are when you aren’t lambasting Lutz or wailing against Wagoner!

    While Jerry Rich has the right to do as he pleases with his money, there’s a part of me that hates guys like this for bidding up the prices of collectible cars to the point where people who would truly enjoy them are priced out.

    Now I have to take a job with a private equity firm just to afford a used Boxster.

  • avatar
    DrivenG35

    To echo previous posters’ comments: good story! I love to see cars in great running condition, but even more than that–I love seeing them run in great running condition.

    I know intelligent people differ on this, but I hate seeing nauseous used instead of nauseated. I think the colloquial, “makes me…nauseous” is winning over “nauseates me” or “makes me nauseated.” I still think you ought to use a linking verb like feel or become if you insist on describing your physical condition as nauseous.

  • avatar
    streamliner

    Enlightening and relevant article on this topic appears today in the Wall Street Journal, titled the “Pursuit of Happiness”. The theme is that the pursuit itself, not the attaining of it, brings the most satisfaction. I think this is especially true for the collector mentality, where the chase to the next acquisition brings more excitement than the actual ownership once the thrill of the hunt and the victory of the “kill” is over. Auto museums usually leave me cold, unmoved, for reasons others above already expressed – a static display does little to make the heart beat faster, the blood pump stronger. I have been having fun finding videos on YouTube where people use old racing cars or new exotics as their builders intended: hard, fast, and risky.

  • avatar
    blautens

    My brother-in-law gets the pleasure of being a guest of Mr. Rich every year…(I’m not sure about the reason – if the connection is because of his former pro golf status or his current employ at Smith Barney). Every year he tells me about the car collection.

    The sad part is, my brother-in-law knows little about cars and enjoys them even less…merely feigning interest for courtesy’s sake.

    Life is cruel…

    But my understanding is that Mr. Rich is a very nice man, generous to a fault.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    # streamliner:

    Regarding the “pursuit of happiness,” Scientific America: Mind had a fairly analytical and professional analysis as to why some people are happy, others aren’t and how wealth doesn’t make a difference.

    I guess that’s why some people, even when they achieve what us dirt people call success, making millions or billions of dollars entreprenuring around, continue to work at something. It really is the hunt, and the pursuit of something that makes it enjoyable.

  • avatar
    i6

    Wow, so car collectors aren’t necessarily all the affable, generous, infectiously enthusiastic and engaging people that they are made out to be in other media.
    This is the kind of unvarnished reporting that puts the TTs in TTAC, and keeps me coming back for more. Thumbs up.

  • avatar
    scar

    chuckgoolsbee asked:

    “IntRAnet Entrepreneur?? How does that work?”

    An intranet is an internal computer network that uses the same technology as the Internet but is private. That’s what Jerry Rich developed for use on Wall Street.

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