Where do our treasures go when they retire?


Photos by Brian Rozar

American Express, in its Departures magazine for May/June 2019 has caught on to something automobile enthusiasts and collectors have known for perhaps fifty years. In a back-of-the-book feature titled “In High Gear” writer Brett Berk observes “Vintage cars have joined the art establishment with four-wheeled masterpieces being sold to the same collectors at the same big-ticket fairs as blue-chip paintings.”

Whether RM Sotheby’s clever media person Amy Christy or Bonhams’ equally creative (and book author) Jared Zaug, pitched this idea to the writer or Brett Berk discovered to this old news himself, it is nice to see it exposed (albeit in just six pages in their two-part issue.)

But nearly all of us know of The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard (that really treats automobiles in the manner writer Berk describes), or auto collections that may have been around longer than Berk (whom the magazine identifies as a journalist who “has been covering fine art and collectible cars for ten years.) This suggests Berk may have missed Ralph Lauren’s very private collection of autos as sculpture, or Dr. Fred Simeone’s public collection of automobiles as historic objects (and sculpture) or the Miles Collier’s semi-private collection as historic documents (and sculpture.). Or the Henry Ford Museum, or the Blackhawk Collection, or…

Berk, in his “author notes” at the front of the magazine admits “I loved uncovering the way in which the automobile’s rising presence in museums might be connected to its demise in relevance.” That’s certainly a good point, and not only are car-as-art museums such as the Petersen, the Mullin, the Musée Nationale de l’Automobile in Mulhouse, France, the extraordinary Louwman Museum in The Hague in the Netherlands, and the many auto makers’ own museums, and several other collections examining that, but so are some private collectors who open their buildings to like minded individuals.  

I should stop sniping at this AmEx publication. At least someone on their editorial staff discovered what we have known for, well, decades: These automobiles ARE sculpture, they are dynamic art. Watching the light move across a Typ 356 in northern California was enough to – on the spot – convert a confirmed non-car-guy into a Porsche enthusiast. Seeing an early 911 – or a modern 991.2 – in golden light, that time of day between sunset and dark, has stopped non car-people who have commented on its beauty. Pinin Farina’s Ferraris, Henri Chapron’s Delages, Jacques Saoutchick’s Delahayes, Nuccio Bertone’s Lamborghini Miura, these will stop non-car people in their tracks.

It’s wonderful that AmEx’s Departure magazine has featured this. But that pulls this note around to its original question: Where do our treasures go when they retire?

When your 356 pre-A loses its transmission, your 356B Carrera engine swallows a valve, your long-hood 911 succumbs to its hereditary problems, what do you do? Presumably you still love the car? But – if and only if you can afford this luxury – instead of selling it “as is where is,” you can put a fresh coat of wax on it, and hold on to it as the beautiful piece of sculpture it is.

You have an additional benefit very very few sculpture collectors can possess. You have intimate history with this piece. You have memories of great drives and great times; you have been inside it, and that is nothing the buyer of a Henry Moore or Salvador Dali or Pablo Picasso or Alberto Giacometti can claim.

You acquired it because it spoke to you in many ways. One of those was its appearance. IF something happens to you car, consider considering it as a piece of art. What it does for your blood pressure may just completely surprise you.

Just think of it as your own private Luftgekühlt.

With that as a segue, our May issue covers the Sixth annual air-cooled festival with Randy Wells’ photos and words. It was the biggest yet, and the most clever, with its location choice and its vehicle placement. Hats off to the three impresarios and their creativity!

Randy also gives us a look at racer Derek Bell who has a new book All My Porsche Races. Derek worked with co-author Richard Heseltine to produce a fascinating highly readable lavishly illustrated of his life behind the wheel of some of the Porsches we admire most.

Finally in this issue, regular contributor Sean Smith brings us his life behind the wheel. This continues a series we started some months back with our contributors sharing their passions and backgrounds. Some people know their parents brought them home in the family sports car. Sean’s first experience was event before that. Please read and enjoy.

Spring is pretty much on us everywhere (though I know Massachusetts received its last-gasp snow storm just days ago.) So pull out the car, check its necessary fluids and air pressures, and go enjoy it. Or push it into your living room or den or office and enjoy its beauty.

And as always, thanks for reading us.

Randy Leffingwell

Editor – Road Scholars Magazine

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