As my photographer Javier and I waited anxiously outside of Collins Brothers Jeep for Dennis Collins to arrive, I couldn’t help but feel a flurry of nervousness. In my experience as a journalist I’ve been able to meet some incredible people and drive some incredible cars, but I’ve never had the experience of spending an afternoon with a true automotive icon. It’s always been about the cars rather than the owners. Knowing that you’re about to spend an afternoon with the Texan equivalent of Jay Leno tends to add a twinge of child-like giddiness to one’s mood.
For those readers whom don’t already know, Dennis Collins is an American automotive collector, restorer, and historian, co-founder and president of Collins Brothers Jeep and Black Mountain Jeep Products in Wylie Texas, frequent guest on the hit Discovery Channel T.V. series Fast N Loud, and most recently, a world-record setter at the 46th Annual Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction. Additional honorable mentions on Dennis’ portfolio include being the co-setter of the 2007 Cannonball Run transcontinental record during which he and the ever-rowdy Richard Rawlings rocketed from New York City to the City of Angels in 32 hours 51 minutes in a customized Ferrari 550 Maranello. As if all this wasn’t quite enough, Mr. Collins also happens to own one of the single most impressive collections of automotive jewelry and treasure in existence. In an afternoon that seemed to fly by, Mr. Collins was good enough to meet with me and Javier Herrera, to show us his breathtaking private collection, share with us some fantastic stories and perhaps most excitingly, allow me on behalf of The Hooniverse to be the first outside source to interview him about the recent sale of his collection of Fox Body and SN-95 Mustangs at Barrett-Jackson, six of which set world sale records.
Finally, Mr. Collins and his publicity manager Malcolm Carter emerge from CB Jeep’s office headquarters. Looking like yet another dumb-struck fanboy, I’m sure, I introduce Javier and myself and thank Mr. Collins for agreeing to meet with us. A few short handshakes and pleasantries later, Dennis is already leading us away on his pre-planned and self-guided tour of the impressive Collins Brothers Jeep facility. His energy is almost tangible as he walks and talks, and one gets the sense that this man truly is as enthusiastic about cars today as he was when he got behind the wheel of his first. As he leads us through the main office, we pass a white board which has been titled “unless you are Dennis or Richard, do not write on me” in two distinctly different hand writings. Dennis reaches a door leading to the restoration shop and opens it, at which point the afternoon transitioned from exciting to surreal. To our immediate right, we’re greeted by two gentlemen removing the interior of a 1972 Detomaso Pantera for re-vitalizing. To our immediate left, a 1936 Jaguar SS100 (green on green with green wheels) lies underneath a tarp, only it’s straight-six engine exposed, waiting for its turn to be brought back to life. Carrying on through the rest of the shop we pass a myriad of classic muscle cars, wagons and trucks in various states of restoration until we reach yet another door leading to the CB Jeep salvage yard.
Passing through the door, the fiberglass shell of a Renault Alpine A110 rally car sits bare awaiting its triumphant return to glory. Even more pressing than the A110, though, are the Jeeps: CJ’s, YJ’s, Wagoneers and the rest strewn as far as the eye can see in the most literal sense. Where there aren’t entire Jeeps, there are parts. Axles and frames, wheels and steering columns, drive shafts, doors, windows; all rust free and fully functional. Dennis leads us to the largest of the many warehouses as we pass a Ford T5 (a rare European Ford Mustang made primarily for German military officers in the mid to late 60’s). As we enter, we’re met by more parts, this time interior accessories and wiring harnesses, all kept out of the elements in the climate controlled warehouse. Dennis explains to us that these are all parts that are next to impossible to find these days. If a part for a classic Jeep exists that is currently unavailable, Dennis has 50 of them somewhere in his warehouses, in immaculate condition.
Moving along, we pass row upon row of boxes holding brand new Black Mountain off-road parts, which Dennis, of course, owns. For the record, if you buy a Jeep from Chrysler already equipped with off-road parts, those parts are made by Black Mountain. Hoods, winches, brush guards, wheels, bumper guards, lift-kits, gauge clusters and dashes; Black Mountain Jeep makes it all. Passing a row of Jeep Wranglers and Rubicon’s all showcasing Black Mountain parts and fully restored CJ’s, we finally arrive at the last building on our tour.
Admittedly, the run down, overgrown, musty 1970’s ranch style house Dennis has brought us to seems unimposing to say the least. Inside are yet more parts- gauge clusters and dash’s specifically. More importantly, though, this is the original office that brought CB Jeep into fruition. That row of Jeeps outside is where Dennis and his brother Jaime began showcasing their Jeep restorations back in 1984. Dennis takes a pause, drinking in 33 years of memories and success, and we all wait in silence admiring the humble beginnings from which this automotive hero built what truly can be called his empire.
Dennis: “Well alright, what do you say I drive us over to my storage facilities and we can start checking out my private collection and you can pick my brain on whatever you’d like?”
Finally, the green light I’ve been waiting for.
With that, we pile into Dennis’ Ram 3500 flatbed pick up and embark on our journey into automotive perfection. Recorder in hand, I begin what must have seemed to Dennis to be my unending stream of questions, beginning with the world record setting sales of his Mustang collection this year at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale.
So Dennis, you’ve always seemed to be successful at auctions, but this year in particular you really struck gold when you sold your infamous collection of Fox Body and SN-95 Mustangs. Can you tell me a little bit about your collection and why you chose those particular cars?
Dennis: “Here’s my theory on the fox body mustangs. In high school, a lot of us had them. A lot of them got torn up, but they ran and drove great. So, I’m looking around thinking ‘you know, I’d sure like to have a nice one’. There aren’t enough reproduction parts to make one or restore one, so I’ve always had the theory that you should buy the best car that you can find. I was really wanting to put ten together but I was only able to do eight. Some of my buddies, whom I won’t mention, were ragging me pretty hard over the prices I was paying for these cars, but they were the best in the world. Most of them came from Ford execs, I’m not allowed to say who had them, but that’s how I got into them. Most of them had not gone through dealer prep and the majority of them still had the window stickers on them. Six of the eight cars did set world records and there’s a reason why; because they really are some of the best Fox Bodies in the world and some of the rarest in the world. One had seven miles on it (1985 SVO Hatchback Turbo), one had 16 miles on it, one had 150 miles on it, so there was a reason that they brought what they brought. However, I still think that those cars from the 1970’s and 1980’s, even the cars with 15,000, 20,000, even 50,000 miles on them are still way undervalued for how much fun they are, so I put those cars together. I had several personal bets with my best friends about what they would sell for and I won all the bets.”
You definitely did very, very well at the auction, and you had some very unique Mustangs there as well. In particular, you sold a 1990 7-UP Special Edition car which fetched a healthy $82,500. Can you tell me a little bit about that car?
Dennis: “Yeah, the 7-Up car was built for the NBA. What you would do is you would bring a cap from a 7-Up bottle to an NBA game. If your cap number got picked you got to shoot a half-court shot, and if you made the basket you won the car! So that’s how you won it. My 7-Up car was a Ford exec’s car that got picked up at the factory on a trailer, it never went to a dealership it went straight to the exec’s house. When I got the car it had all the plastic on the seats, all the chalk marks, all the shipping stuff, and it was just something most people would never see unless you were a Ford exec in 1990. It had 16 miles on it, so it was arguably the best in the world. Something else that was neat about that car is that it had the largest collection of 7-Up memorabilia that was attached to that program. What a lot of people don’t know is that program never came to fruition, it got canceled. So, finding that memorabilia from a program that never happened is insanely difficult. There were several big Mustang collectors who wanted the car not only for what it was, but also for all the memorabilia in the trunk that they’d never seen before. I don’t know that another 7-Up car will ever bring more than that at auction. So, that’s why that car set such a healthy world record.”
Now, this collection you had had been quite a while in the making, correct?
Dennis: “It took many years to hunt down those cars.”
Was this collection all pre-meditated? Did you have any foresight that the popularity of the Fox Bodies was going to increase again like it has over the last few years?
Dennis: “Well, the videos we did for me and my social media, which is not very big, went absolutely viral. We were at almost 3 million views, and for somebody who only has 100,000 followers to get 3 million views shows that people are interested in the cars. But there are other Fox Body Mustangs out there that are as desirable if not more desirable than the ones that I had that I wasn’t able to find OR I wasn’t able to get the people to sell them. So, if somebody is out there hunting for one, finding a 5.0 liter 5-speed notchback with low miles on it, that’s a super rare car. But the one that I REALLY wanted to bring, and I only found one and I just could not get the guy to sell it, and he knows who he is, it was a 1979 pace car. It was a 5.0 liter 5-speed car with 12 miles on it. Now, how much is that car worth? I don’t really know but in my opinion I think it’s worth HUGE money. But there hasn’t really been one like that sold. I found myself a bit disappointed at the tail end of putting these cars together because I really wanted to get ten, but the last 11 months I was searching for them I wasn’t able to find even one. They’re just not out there. If somebody thinks that they can just go out and get a big collection together, maybe if they’ve got 5-10 years they might be able to do it but I wish‘em luck.”
Now, you also had a few SN-95 cars in the collection as well, which was interesting to me considering the SN-95 model cars may just be the least popular series in the Mustang’s history. It just goes to show that if you’ve got the right car in the right condition with the right mileage and documentation, even the least popular cars can fetch big money at these concords and auctions like Barrett-Jackson. It’s all in the details, and you had some SN-95s that sold for very impressive prices.
Dennis: “I did but I also had one that sold for a very unimpressive price, and that’s the one that should’ve brought the most!”
Was that the 1994 Indy 500 pace car?
Dennis: “Yes, that pace car was a one-off car that had two options on it that no other pace car had ever received and was built specifically for a Ford exec. For some reason, it rolled across the block and just fell on deaf ears. That guy absolutely stole that car. But the other two SN-95 cars were very impressively priced and I think the one that made people freak out the most was the 1994 GT (red with red interior and white top), but you’ve got to realize that the car had just 500 miles on it. Before and after that car I had searched around, and there are just no SN-95 cars that haven’t been driven. I had the three lowest mileage cars I was able to find, period. They’re seen as a lot less collectible than even the Fox Body cars, so people didn’t see a reason to hold onto them and take care of them, so the guys who really appreciate the SN-95 cars really got excited when they saw my GT. I mean, the car brought $44,000, which is huge money for a base SN-95 car. It wasn’t a Cobra, it wasn’t a pace car, it was a 5.0 liter car but it was an automatic for crying-out-loud. In my opinion the SN-95 cars still drive really well, love’em or hate’em they’re going to start coming up in value. But again, those are cars that you can’t restore. Let’s just say that you wanted to duplicate that car at $45,000 and you went and bought one for $5,000 intending to put $40,000 into it; you’d never get there. You’d just never get that quality and you’d never get the parts, so I think that’s another reason why that car did well. Even though they paid world record prices for those cars, the guys who bought them know that those cars aren’t going to back down in value from there and they definitely wouldn’t sell them for less than the prices they paid.”
Now, you also brought some Z/28s with you as well, a 1967 a 1968 and a 1969. Let’s talk about those cars for a bit now.
Dennis: “I did, I wanted the sequential collection of a ’67, a ’68 and a ’69, all matching number cars, all certified by Jerry Mcnish cars. Those are the cars that the collectors will buy. The hardest car to find by a lightyear was the ’67. That was a numbers matching car that had documented ownership, and it was an RS Z/28. They only made 602 1967 Z/28s, and out of those cars only an estimated 100-200 were RS Z/28s which makes that car super rare. Something else that was really rare on that car which you could, which can never really be documented, is that it was a cowl plenum header car. On top of that, it was also a rare color combination, white with turquoise interior. That car fell way short of what I thought it was worth. I usually go to Barrett-Jackson with 15-20 cars and I typically average out, so if one car doesn’t do so well I’m not too disappointed. For instance, this year I made things up on the Fox Bodies. But in my opinion, that car should have brought somewhere between $160,000-$180,000; it sold for $100,000. Finding that ’67 took me eight years, so that was kind of a tough pill to swallow. I also had a 1968 that was unrestored but was a rare color, copper. It’s a really neat car with only 1000 real miles on it. That car did quite well. I also had a 1969, which I really liked because it was a fold-down rear seat car. I had it fully restored and won some major shows with it. It had been judged by some big judges, and I felt like that car fell short as well because the restoration was simply unbelievable on it. All three people who bought those cars got them for under market value in my opinion, so that plan of mine didn’t work.”
Of all the cars you brought to Barrett-Jackson this year, was there one that was just painful to let go? Or harder than the others?
Dennis: “Oh the ’67 Z/28 without a doubt. That was tough to let go. Out of the Fox Body cars I hated letting go of the triple white LX convertible car, that was just a really neat car. But that’s all just part of the business; you can’t be a very good car dealer if you aren’t willing to let them go.”
Now you brought this collection of cars to auction and sold them all in one day, what was your thinking behind that?
Dennis: “Well I heard a lot of theories on how I should sell these cars from a lot of people. I spoke with some of the Barrett-Jackson guys and they thought I should break them up and sell a couple per day. I thought that was too many cars to do that with. My theory was that if there was a serious guy on the Fox body and SN-95 Mustangs, he’s going to show up regardless of what day they run. I also sold them all on a Wednesday, which a lot of people thought ‘wow that’s risky!’ because the bulk of the people are there on Friday and Saturday. My thinking was this; everybody at Barrett-Jackson can afford to buy these cars, whether they bring $25,000 or $75,000. I wanted to run them in sequence according to what I thought their value was, which is not exactly how it worked. Never-the-less they did very well and the Mustang guys definitely showed up. The most excitement that happened that day was when my eight cars rolled across the block. Several people told me that I was making a mistake and that I should roll two on Tuesday, two on Wednesday etc. and that I should save the best two for Saturday. I said ‘Nope, I’m just going to roll them all when I think I should.’ I knew that the only time they were going to be able to give me a big enough spot was on a Tuesday or a Wednesday because the cars weren’t expensive enough to run on Friday or Saturday. What’s really crazy is that the Z/28s I had ran during prime-time on a Friday because everybody thought those cars were all gonna bust $100,000-$200,000 a piece, yet some of the Mustangs brought as much as they did; and on a Wednesday.”
I asked you earlier if you ever regret selling cars, and I know that there’s at least one car you’ve been vocal about in the past with regards to selling it; tell us about the Lawman Mustang.
Dennis: “Well, this will definitely be my best Mustang story. I used to own the Lawman, technically known as the Super Boss. It’s arguably, and most of the Mustang community agrees, the most expensive Mustang in the world. It was the blown, injected, Boss 429 that toured Vietnam during the war. I sold that car at Barrett-Jackson roughly ten years ago for $116,000. The current owner now, Mr. Bill Goldberg, has turned down $2,000,000. So, that’s the Mustang I should’ve kept and never let go!”
Were there any cars at Barrett-Jackson that went across the block that you wish you would have bought?
Dennis: “You know, I was so busy this year that I wasn’t really thinking about buying and I typically don’t buy many of my cars at auction anyways. That being said, I’m about to show you two that I did. I bought these as Scottsdale (Barrett-Jackson) and I was thrilled to get them!”
At this point, we’ve pulled into the driveway of the first of Mr. Collins’ private storage buildings, which happens to be in his own back yard. As we approach the building, I can’t help but notice the series of security cameras monitoring both entrances as well as the driveway. Two separate locks secure the door closed, and a gated fence surrounds the entire complex. There are companies that manufacture explosives with more lax security than Dennis Collins’ private collection storage facility.
To attempt to cover every car and every story that Dennis shared with me that afternoon would be an injustice to the collection as a whole, which contains the single largest number of one-off, serial number: one, serial number: two and ultra-rare vehicles that I have ever seen with my own two eyes. I consider myself to be a relatively knowledgeable automotive enthusiast and journalist; I know a thing or two about the obscurities and unique creations within the automotive world. Touring Dennis’ collection and hearing the history, specs, facts, and stories behind each vehicle made me feel like a young Deitsh on my automotive Rumspringa. An entire article could be devoted to each individual car in Dennis’ collection, and over the next few weeks a series of articles focusing on 2-3 cars in the Dennis Collins collection will be released right here on The Hooniverse. Just to make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the next article, the list of cars starts with Dennis’ 2013 Lamborghini Super Trofeo, which has been modified for street use.