Jerry Rich, Car Collector

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
jerry rich car collector

“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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  • I6 I6 on May 22, 2007

    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.

  • Scar Scar on Jul 16, 2009

    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.

  • Aidian Holder I'm not interested in buying anything from a company that deliberately targets all their production in crappy union-busting states. Ford decided to build their EV manufaturing in Tennessee. The company built it there because of an anti-union legal environment. I won't buy another Ford because of that. I've owned four Fords to date -- three of them pickups. I'm shopping for a new one. It won't be a Ford Lightning. If you care about your fellow workers, you won't buy one either.
  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.
  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"