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.
More by Robert Farago
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