Last week, I got a call from PBMUG (Palm Beach Macintosh User Group) El Jefe Brian Bahe, who received an invitation from one of his clients to attend a gathering of old car people. Knowing I was a car nut (well, maybe just a nut), he invited me to accompany him. I had no idea what the deal was, and I don't think he did, either, as he really isn't a "car guy." He told me to meet him at the Panera Bread restaurant on Northlake. I went to the web and according to Panera's own website, there was no Panera Bread restaurant on Northlake, but there was one on PGA, which is where I went. By about 7:20, no Brian, so I decided to go to Northlake and see if there was indeed a Panera Bread restaurant there. Imagine my surprise to find it right where he said it was. He was almost ready to leave, so luckily I caught up with him just in time. We hopped in my car and drove east on Northlake to US1 and took a right. Just about a block south of Northlake, there was an old department store of some kind or another on the west side of US1 but instead of a name like K-Mart, WalMart, or whatever, the modest sign said "Cars of Dreams." We parked and walked a red carpet where we were met by several lovely young ladies barely clad in interesting (read skimpy) outfits with wings. They were there promoting a new brand of vodka. I really hated to break myself away from these lovelies, but Brian got us registered, we got our specially-printed wristbands, and it was in to the building.
At this point, all I could say was "WOW". Displayed in the lobby were two nearly priceless cars--a 1966 Ford/Shelby 427 Cobra that was originally Carrol Shelby's personal car (and signed by Shelby, one of autodom's great characters), and an incredibly red 1960 Dodge Polara convertible, with the extremely rare D500 engine option (two four-barrel carburetors attached to long ram tubes--providing a supercharging effect at specific RPM ranges without the power-robbing supercharging device). According to the placard, this was one of only three known to survive. To say it was drop-dead gorgeous is to understate the impression this enormous hunk of Detroit iron had on me.
Then we walked inside. Again, all I could say was "WOW". As I wiped the drool off my face and picked my jaw off the floor, the first car I noticed in my state of tunnel vision was a 1956 Chrysler 300-B two door hardtop. This was part of a legendary series of "lettercars" produced in very limited numbers by Chrysler from 1955 to 1965. They were one of the first purpose-built factory hot rods, that got the name "banker's hot rods," due to their high cost. A top-end Chrysler New Yorker in 1956 probably cost somewhere around $4000 (remember that gas was 25 cents a gallon in those days), while the 300-B was closer to $6,000. The annual production with few exceptions measured in the hundreds. Chrysler probably didn't make a whole lot of money on these, but they earned millions of dollars in enhancing Chrysler's image with the public. The original C-300 and the 300-B models were raced extensively (and successfully) by Carl Kiekhaefer, owner of the Mercury outboard motor company. The 300s were hand-built, using heavy duty components, hemi power (through 1958) with twin four barrel carburetors (please refer to the note above about gas prices...), and according to those who owned them, drove like trucks because of the heavy duty suspension--designed to keep the car relatively safe at speeds approaching 140 MPH. But I digress...
Next to the 300-B was a 1957 Chrysler 300-C, and down the aisle to a 1962 300-H. I have never seen this many 300s in one place in my life. I remember as a teen, I could have bought a rather tired '57 300-C two door hardtop for about $500, but then I thought about the insurance costs and the gas (I was working for a small radio station in Fort Lauderdale making the princely sum of $2.00/hr) and instead bought a 1952 Willys Aero Ace. As my eyes refocused on this huge open room, I saw at least 50 pristine examples of the best chrome barges of the 50s, and muscle cars of the 60s. As a lover of these cars, I knew the history of most of them, and gave Brian a blow-by-blow description of these wonderful objects of art.
Interspersed among these lovely cars were the beautiful people of Palm Beach and Jupiter, all here to welcome Craig Jackson and the Barrett-Jackson classic car auction being held that weekend at the Palm Beach Fairgrounds. Barrett-Jackson is the top-end class act of the old car auction circuit. They get some of the best cars and command some of the highest prices in auctiondom. I came to realize that I had been invited to the E-ticket ride of my life. Not only was I walking among my most favored cars on the planet, but I was doing so among the top movers and shakers in Palm Beach County. The food was exquisite, as were the many bars stocked with top-shelf libations set up around the room.
I'm not going say a lot about the owner of this museum and host of this affair, auto dealer John Staluppi, because before that evening, I didn't know him. His private museum and the excellent website, www.carsofdreams.com speak volumes all by themselves. As Brian and I continued walking around, we saw a bevy of Corvettes, a gaggle of "Tri-Chevys" (1955-1957 models), Cadillacs, Buicks (including two of my favorites, a 1957 Roadmaster convertible, and an extremely rare 1958 Limited convertible). Then there was the 1958 Oldsmobile, which had a special meaning for me, as that was the last new car my father bought before he died far too young at 52 (when I was four). There was the over-the-top 1955 GMC pickup with what looked like the largest (and heaviest) hunk of chrome ever put on a pickup truck. Oh, did I mention the 1959 Imperial convertible? How about the wild and wacky Plymouth Superbird with that huge wing at the back?
This museum is not just a big open area with cars scattered about. The interior is decorated to resemble a small town street from the 50s, with a soda shop, a small drug store, and the corner gas station with the pumps permanently set at 25 cents a gallon. Many of the beautiful people at this party were customers of Brian, who is a masseuse and personal trainer. From the number of people Brian knew in that room, it seems like he has a pretty good business for himself. I was even able to add some value to my presence by fixing the cellphone belonging to one of his customers, a lovely former Ford model.
There was entertainment, too, with a doo-wop singing group. Brian and I wandered into the spotless garage in the back, which is the restoration shop for these wonderful cars. There, you could see two huge Class C motor coaches, a Desoto, an early 1950s Chevy pickup, a late 60s Dodge Dart with some enormous motor crammed into its tiny engine compartment, and two hyper-realistic car racing video games. After seeing several of the guests doing really good jobs on the game, I begged off, not wanting to embarrass myself too much. As I understand it, each of the museum's cars is run and driven at least once a month to keep things loose and lubricated. Oh to be on that crew! Mr. Staluppi, I am available--just call. Finally, it was after 10PM. We had our final ice cream sundaes, made our respectful goodbyes, and went out into the night.
My thanks to Brian Bahe for inviting me, and to John Staluppi for preserving these wonderful cars, and making them available for this event.
This story originally appeared on the Palm Beach Macintosh User Group website blog page in 2008.