Every one of us has daydreamed about amassing a vast collection of cars that interest us. Today, we have an inspiring and cautionary tale of a man who did just that, several times over. It is an incredible story.
A little bit of background first: a couple of weeks ago, Tim Odell brought to our attention a Craigslist ad out of Miami in which a man was trying to sell his collection of 15 cars for $25,000. It had all of us scratching our heads, and yearning for more details. Make the jump for Bruce’s story, in his own words. Enjoy.
Here’s my story…
THE BEGINNING OF A LIFELONG LOVE AFFAIR
I have always been a car nut. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and when I was a kid in the sixties, my father would take me to all of the car dealerships to see the new cars in September or October of every year. I would collect the brochures and trade them with my best friend.
I begged my dad for a year to let me get a car. I had the money from working and he finally agreed. I was going through a Car and Driver magazine and I saw a picture of a car I had never seen before and I was in love. I found the car I wanted in the paper and we went to see it. It happened to be the son of a friend of his selling it so we got it. My first car was a 1960 MGA 1600. About three years ago, my father sent me the check he wrote to buy the car – he had kept it all these years, $500.00. My uncle helped me paint the car a deep red.
I soon learned why they called Lucas Electronics the “Prince of Darkness”. I soon learned how expensive it was to have a car when you are a teenager. I had the car for about six months and I spent every penny I had on it. The clutch went out. I couldn’t afford to fix it so I sold it for $500 for it. Over the next few years I bought many VW Beetles and Karmann Ghias for $50 to $75 and rode them until they dropped. I had a 1963 Pontiac LeMans which had a 195 cubic inch four cylinder (half of a 389) with a four speed.
BRUCE’S FIRST CAR COLLECTION
I finally had the opportunity to get a 1963 Coupe DeVille Copper Firemist with Bone Leather interior – that car was stunning. What a gas hog, but gas was 39 cents a gallon for premium. I managed a gas station while I attended Ohio State University and got a degree in finance. I drove the Caddy all through college. I graduated from college, bought a new house and started working for Merrill Lynch the same month, in August of 1980. I bought my first new car, a 1980 Renault LeCar, fire engine red with a rust colored cloth interior (I actually wanted a Fuego but couldn’t get approved for the loan). I loved that car. I had it for a year and was making a lot of money so I bought a 1981 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Coupe. A more fitting car for an up and coming stockbroker. But I wanted more. I bought an MGA and had it completely restored to concours condition. I bought a Jaguar XJ12C and re-did it. I got a Jensen Interceptor Convertible. I needed a warehouse because they wouldn’t all fit at my house with a four car garage. Then I began to make piles of money and soon I only wanted cars with names that ended in an “i”. My first was a 1977 Ferrari 400. I had the car sent to California and cut into a cabrio by R. Straman. I was out of control. I bought a collection of six Lamborghinis from an old collector: two 350GT’s with pigskin interior, a Miura P400GT, an Islero, an Urraco and an Espada. I was importing anywhere from 20 to 30 new cars a month from Europe, known at the time as “grey market” cars and making a fortune doing it. Soon I was making more money in the car business than the brokerage business.
A CRASH THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
It was January 14, 1987. Normally cold as hell in Columbus, Ohio, but that day by noon it was 70 degrees and stunning. I went home to change cars from the XJ12C I was driving for the Ferrari 400 Cabrio. I put the top down and went back to work at Merrill Lynch. I was cruising down a four lane highway and just entering an intersection and a one ton Chevy van made a left turn right in front of me. I never had a chance to hit the brakes. I t-boned the van at 60mph. The van was hurled 200 feet down the road. It knocked all four tires off the wheels of the van. I pushed so hard on the steering wheel that the Nardi wheel collapsed down to the dash of the Ferrari. I got out of the car and ran to the van to see if the guy was all right. He looked at me with a dazed look and said “I never saw you”.
The next thing I remember, I woke up four days later in the hospital. I had been in a coma. Over the next six months, I lost my wife, my job, my 6,300 square foot Frank Lloyd Wright house in Upper Arlington, and every car I had. I was on the street with no job and nowhere to live. I was driving a Ferrari Mondial Cabrio that I had on the arm to sell from one of my friends. I was living in an apartment that a friend’s dad had that he thought was empty. My friend kept telling his dad it just wouldn’t rent. His father finally figured it out and let me stay for several months.
SELLING CARS FOR A LIVING
I needed to get back on my feet and I hated the brokerage business for the way I was thrown out so I turned to cars – the love of my life. Columbus, Ohio, was the highest grossing market for Mercedes and Jaguar so I decided to sell all my old buddies cars. I had a friend that wanted a Jaguar. I found one in the Sunday New York Times Classified. I called the owner. He was a wholesaler on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. He wanted $39,000 for the car. I had the car sold for $45,000. Problem was I had no money. I wouldn’t get paid until I delivered the car with the title. I told the guy I needed to pick the car up with the title on Sunday and I was going to drive it from the Bronx to Columbus and I would send him the money on Thursday. I told him we would split the profit 50/50. He would get $42,000 for his car and I would keep $3,000. He hung up on me! I called him back and he called me an idiot and hung up on me again. I called him again and he said that he just had to meet someone that had balls big enough to ask for something so outrageous. I felt emboldened so I then broke it to him that he needed to buy me a plane ticket too! Long story short – he did!
I picked the car up on Sunday evening. It was full of gas and he gave me a $100 bill and said that the plane ticket and the $100 came out of my end. I wired him his $42,000 on Tuesday afternoon. That was late September 1987. A month later the market tanked and clients got killed and brokers got rich. My man in New York and I did several more deals and he was impressed. He took me to all the wholesalers on Jerome Avenue and introduced me. He told them that I got whatever I wanted and to put it on his tab. I was so naive, who would have that kind of juice? I was in bed with the mob and never even knew it.
Fast forward three years, I had a beautiful condo at Muirfield in Dublin, Ohio, an oceanfront condo in Boca Raton, Florida, a lakefront condo in Toronto, a summer cottage on Lake Muskoka (four hours north of Toronto), and a condo at The Gant in Aspen, Colorado. I had a Lear 24D that cost me $1,900 per hour in fuel to operate. I had eight car dealerships in other states surrounding Ohio and a dealership in Columbus, Ohio. I was the largest Mercedes-Benz dealer in five states and I wasn’t a Mercedes-Benz dealer. I had 16 million in my company checking account and a collection of Ferraris that I turned down an offer of 19 million in 1989. I was living large! I was convinced it would never end.
Then I got the knock on the door. It was the Ohio Highway Patrol. They had an arrest warrant for me. 2,500 felony charges for selling cars without a title and 2,500 misdemeanor charges for offering a car for sale without a title. The state started prosecuting the cases one at a time. I was in court every day for nearly nine months trying case after case. I never lost a case and was found not guilty every time but I was going broke trying the cases one by one. I couldn’t work and the dealerships were collapsing. I had lost everything again.
SQUARE ONE, AGAIN
I borrowed and scraped together $900 to buy a Rangoon Red 1963 Falcon Convertible, hey I may have been down and out but a man needs a ride! I went to work as a salesman for a huge Honda dealership in Miami. I had a partner there and we became best friends. I was making good money there and soon I was living in a nice oceanfront condo on Bayshore Drive in Coconut Grove in Miami. I rented seven contiguous parking spaces there and had room to park nine cars. I was selling trade-in’s that I got from the dealership. The cars ranged from $1,000 to $3,000. Life was comfortable.
In 1995, I met my current wife and we got married. I wanted to open my own dealership. I opened my latest dealership in 2004 in Davie, Florida. Right next to the Manheim Auto Auction. The dealership was an instant success. My best friend from Honda needed a job so he came on board. We were making good money.
THE CURRENT COLLECTION, IN DETAIL
I collected this current collection of cars from those times. I was going to five or six auction a week. I would find cars I thought were neat and would buy them. I had more than enough guys working for me and had three or four warehouses full of cars. Soon I had gathered 35 or 40 cars. I had seven Rolls Royces, three Bentleys, Mercedes, Jaguar, Lotus, BMW and many old school muscle cars and classics from the late sixties and early seventies.
(Ed.: By 2008, Bruce’s dealership closed.)
I still had 35 to 40 collectible cars I had stored away for years. The market for collectible cars then was nonexistent. The nation was in the throes of the worst financial collapse in 80 years. I have sold off many of them over the years to cover rent and other expenses. Which gets me to my offer.
I think these cars offer a unique opportunity for an astute collector or collectors to pick up several cars for free. With very little work, these cars will make money for the new owner(s). The good, the bad, and the ugly… but mostly good.
The star of this collection is the 1988 Mercedes Benz 560SEC Convertible. This special coachbuilt edition. This car started as the only production car still hand built by Mercedes in the day. Then the car was shipped to Coach Builders Limited in High Springs, Florida. I was told it was bought new by a Palm Beach socialite and kept at their Palm Beach Estate. One owner awesome all original condition. I have driven this car about 3,000 miles since I bought it. Perfect? Of course not but I don’t think you could find a nicer one with 75,000 original miles. One of the best convertibles ever…you can have a civil conversation with your companion while driving 70 mph on the freeway. Nearly no wind noise – awesome. One look at you in this car and your friends will think you are a tycoon.
The 1991 Lotus Elan M100 is also a very nice car. The nicest body I have ever seen on one. Another Palm Beach car. Only 500 of these cars were made for the US. Turbocharged Isuzu engine in a car that weighs 2,200 pounds. Lightning fast and corners better than a 911. Needs the seats redone, interior freshened up, new top, new battery and has bad fuel. $1,200 in work and this car brings $11,000 to $12,000 on eBay in a heart beat.
The 1990 BMW 750iL is a star too. Alpine White with Pearl Beige full leather interior. No paintwork and all original. The interior is awesome. As far as I know a South Florida one owner car. Low miles around 110,000, I think. Needs an alternator, battery and driven.
The sister car is a 1989 BMW 750iL, Cirrus Blue with Pearl Beige full leather interior. All original and the interior is awesome. I bought this one owner Palm Beach car after the hurricane. Minor damage to the hood and right front fender. New hood goes with the car. Needs fuel pumps, a new battery and twisted drivers seat (easy fix).
Don’t make the mistake of thinking a 750iL is a 735iL with a twelve cylinder. It is way more than that. These cars were $30 to $40,000 more than a 735iL for a reason. These cars are being junked and parted out and will be worth a fortune in the future.
The 1987 Mercedes 420SEL is a terrific daily driver. 040 Jet Black with a Palomino leather interior. Looks like a car from the Godfather series. In my opinion and many others this is the best Mercedes ever made. W126s rule and this was the best one ever built. Runs and drives.
The Alfa Romeo 164L is stunning. Classic Racing Green with an Italian Tan leather interior. This car looks new in and out. The interior looks like a Rolls-Royce. This one has the most desired 5 speed manual transmission. I have $7,000 worth of receipts on this car. 98% of the cars that came to the US were automatics and dogs. This is the first front wheel drive Alfa Romeo. This car is fast and nimble. More expensive than a BMW or Mercedes in the day. A true driver’s car. The name is crap in the US. But just look at that opening scene in “Quantum of Solace”…Aston Martin vs. Alfa Romeo…if that doesn’t get you going you are already dead!
The Buick Riviera is the only USA car I have left. Charcoal Grey Metallic with a grey cloth interior. This car was an icon in its day. If you were a big swinging %ick in the day you drove a Riv or a Toro or an Eldo, period. The Riviera was the car for the sportier guy. The Eldo was for old men. This one is all original and I was told the car came from a barn in Kansas with one family owning it forever. Original miles in the mid seventies. I spent $3,000 on this one making it mechanically perfect. Complete new braking system with silicone brake fluid. Top is good. Needs paint on the upper surfaces of the car. Runs and drives. I see some T fluid leaking so maybe the seals need freshened up. They have trans sealer that should do that.
The 1980 Mercedes 450SEL is a movie car. It was featured in the 2008 Film “Bart Got A Room” shot locally here in Fort Lauderdale. I was told this was actually a very nice car that came off Miami Beach from an old codger. The director had the car covered with a mixture of floor wax and dust to make it look old. They painted “rust” marks on the car too. This car runs like a tank. The W116 body was awesome. Not many survivors left and this car is the right one. Yellow with Tobacco leather. The car needs a fuel pump, a battery and a new back seat bottom. The film crew crouched on the back seat filming parts of the movie. I would get this car running and leave it alone. The thing this car has going for it is the movie tie.
The 1980 Mercedes 450SLC is also a watershed car. The predecessor to the SEC, the SLC was the sporting man’s driver. The classic W107 lines in an all weather coupe. This was the one you got when your wife said no way to the 450SL! I feel this car is incredibly undervalued and will be much higher at a later date. Rugged cast iron V8 that goes forever. This one is Alpine White with Tobacco. The interior is just right…soft “worn in” patina and looks great. The outside is nice with a few problems. These cars get rust around the rear window and the sunroof. Some idiot tried to fix the rear window with fiberglass and made it worse. Great car to start with…mileage just over 100k, good mechanics and needs to be painted and freshened up. Runs great.
The 1983 Mercedes 300CD was the car for the up and comer who couldn’t afford the SLC. Mercedes coupes are much rarer and more sought after than the four-doors. 040 Jet Black with Palomino MB tex. Nice interior with the exception of the panels in the rear seats. Body is good with some clear coat peeling. I drove this car to pick up many others. Turbo diesel that flies and has turned into kind of a cult car now. Super low miles for a diesel at around 165K. Runs good and needs a battery.
The 1994 Jaguar XJ12 was also a magnificent car. Very expensive and the top of the line Jag in the day. The only year that Jaguar offered the V12 in the XJ40 body. Silky smooth quiet luxury. Nothing rides like a Jag! This one is Classic Black with Magnolia leather and Coffee piping. Awesome sumptuous leathers and burl wood everywhere. This one runs good, has a front end issue with bushings, needs paint and the interior seating surfaces done. I have two NOS seat backs for the front seats. What a car!
The 1983 XJ6 Series III is my favorite car of all times. This one is extremely rare Black with Black. Most Jags in the day had Biscuit color or maybe Doeskin, or Mulberry or Navy but you rarely ever saw black. This came out of Palm Beach and ran like a Swiss watch… I know, it’s British so how is that possible, but this is a story… right… OK in my mind it did. I started restoring this one and detailed the engine compartment. All S3 Jags have rusty cowls and usually some around the rear window. This one does…not as bad as most. Needs paint and the seats redone. Great car to start with…no rusty dog legs or sills. I know a drummer for a rock bank that spent of $100,000 restoring his S3 to pristine condition! The cornerstone of any modern collection. There is a 1984 parts car that goes with this one…the head is in the trunk and the inside is filled with new parts for the XJ6…manuals and all kinds of stuff. What a terrific find for the host car!
The 1991 Jaguar XJS Convertible. What a masterpiece. Stunning Black with Magnolia leather and a black canvas top. This year had a special edition called the “classic collection” and this is one of them. 39k all original car out of Palm Beach. I had this car for several days and was driving it on US 441 when some ^sshole in a truck “didn’t see me” and ran up the side of the car with those giant lug nuts on the front wheels of a truck. It damaged the driver’s quarter and the door. He pinned me up against a fire truck for god’s sake. The fireman walked across the hood to “rescue” me. Most of the hard work is done. Awesome work by Paul’s Jaguar in Fort Lauderdale. I traded Paul an XJS coupe for all the parts to fix the convertible so that goes with the car. Easy completion and paint will make this cat run again. The damage was cosmetic and the car runs good. The title is clean with no damage history. The interior needs some TLC. The top is good.
Last one! I had a 1989 Mercedes 560SEC Coupe in the package but I can’t find the title so I am substituting a 1998 Jaguar XJ8L in its place. This car is Beige Metallic with Doeskin inside. Classic X300 body but the longer lengthened car. Runs good. I was going to use this one as my driver. But what the hay…This car has some clear coat problems on the top and trunk. But overall looks nice. The interior is really nice. Someone dyed the driver’s seat and did a shlocky job so it needs to be redone and the interior is really nice.
That’s it for the collection for sale. 15 real cars $25,000!
WHAT BRUCE IS KEEPING
I know someone will ask – are there any more? The answer is yes. I have a 14 year old and a 15 year old and if I didn’t save cars for them, I would be sent out on the ice pack to die! I have a 1995 BMW 318iA Convertible Triple Black. One owner from Fort Lauderdale. 152K miles and a really nice car. I also saved a 1991 Mercedes 300SL White with Palomino and 120K miles. The girls both seem to be happy with the choices (well except maybe my youngest who laid claim to the Lotus the day I got it).
FYI: I drive a 1995 Volvo 850GLT wagon. Great daily driver; no turbo, no AWD. The car is Black with Black leather and really nice. I get lots of laughs about it but I love it; comfortable; reliable and always ready to please. My wife drives a Toyota Highlander Limited. I know, I know, I bought it for my mother-in-law but she let someone tell her it wasn’t reliable – go figure. I kept it and was driving it. My wife totaled a 1999 Mercedes CLK320 and needed a car so I gave her the Yoto. I actually liked the way it drove and the interior was like a Lexus. I bought the Volvo wagon for my father-in law after he totaled a Volvo 850 Turbo he was driving but he decided to call it quits on driving so I started driving it and liked it.
I have always loved cars. I think without a doubt they have revolutionized our lives in so many ways. They are ingrained in our total ability to get around and make us infinitely mobile. I thought every boy dreamed about cars when he was young. The joy that I get from looking at cars is unbelievable. I love the stories behind every one. Some good, some bad, but all interesting.
I truly wish I could keep the collection but I haven’t worked since I closed my dealership in 2008. Nothing I thought would happen in the last five years has happened. The collection has become a burden rather than a source of pleasure. I love to go in and tinker and work on the cars but it is costing me too much for the therapy. I seem to be selling off cars to pay the rent and just need to bring this chapter in this life to a close.
It’s funny after having the incredible wealth I have had in the past I find myself more at peace and happier today than I ever have been in my entire life. My family is my central focus and I am determined to make sure my two girls get the best education possible. The collection is a burden to them too because it syphons off money I could be using on them. Time to release the burden and move on. As much as I want to keep it, I have come to peace with letting it go. I thought selling it together might keep it together. As I have learned all too well in my life, all good things come to an end. But don’t count me out just yet. I will be back on top in no time, I would never give up the ups and downs for average. I don’t regret a single thing I have ever done in my life and I have made some stupid moves. We learn and get stronger!
Images source: Bruce
Bruce sold the entire collection to a hoon in LA.
Big thanks to mzs zsm msz esq for helping make this post happen.
I edited Bruce’s story for length.