Every classic car collector has his mission
The motivations of classic car collectors are manifold. Each collection reflects an individual approach with its own history and its own stories. During Masterpieces & Style this year, The Classic Car Trust convened a panel discussion to explore the different visions of some prominent classic car collectors. Following the discussion on Concours judging earlier the same weekend, this was a second forum organized by the The Classic Car Trust at the 2017 Masterpieces & Style event at Schloss Dyck.
Panel host Fritz Kaiser, founder of The Classic Car Trust, welcomed three renowned collectors to the stage. Christian Jenny is known as Switzerland’s “Mr. Jaguar”, while Martin Waltz made his mark on the classic car scene with his Volante museum and his collection of cars by coachbuilder Vanvooren. Duccio Lopresto, son of Italian collector Corrado Lopresto, is a prominent member of the new generation of collectors.
Dr. Christian Jenny: “A machine that pulls you in”
Swiss collector Christian Jenny has always focused on Jaguar cars. His obsession began in the early 1970s, when his wife wanted a British car rather than a BMW. The car in question, a 12-cylinder E-Type, started an irresistible process: in his own words, “it’s like a machine that pulls you in.” Describing how he found out about the Lister Jaguar on show at the 2017 Masterpieces Concours, he revealed the two symbiotic sides of his interest in cars. He loves uncovering the individual history of his cars, and happily invests a huge amount of time investigating this. But he also uses what he learns about the individual car to develop his overall collection.
Completeness as an incentive
At some point, Jenny realized that the cars in his collection documented something special. Together with classic car historian Urs-Paul Ramseier, he created a timeline of Jaguar’s saloon and sports cars. Looking at this chart, he realized that he already had cars from some of the key moments in the brand’s history. This gave him a goal: completeness. “If I do it right, I’ll have all the important sports cars that Jaguar ever made.” This explains why, for example, he decided to buy an early Jaguar model, a pre-war SS 100, as well as the Lister.
“A slight amount of craziness”
Jenny vividly recalled a couple of situations that appear to confirm that it sometimes takes a slight amount of craziness to be a collector. When he was thinking of buying the Lister Jaguar, the car he presented at Masterpieces & Style 2017, he had ten hours to make up his mind; just a few hours, but enough for him to do some basic research on this special version of the Jaguar D-Type. Some years before that, he felt compelled to divert a family holiday. The original plan was to go to Cornwall, but the family suddenly found themselves travelling north just to see a car that might be an interesting addition to the collection.
In pursuing his vision of completeness, Jenny has undoubtedly spent a lot of time with his nose in books and archives. But he has also met lots of interesting people along the way. Exchanges with like-minded people are what make this passion so worthwhile: “They’re the best people you can meet.” He certainly enjoys uncovering a car’s background, and he has shared the broad knowledge he has gained about Jaguar’s history in his book about his collection, “The Jaguar Sports Car Collection.” But he’s not just a bookworm; he loves time behind the wheel as well. In fact, he’s especially proud of the fact that all his cars get frequent runs on the road.
Martin Waltz: A passion for French coachbuilders
While Martin Waltz’s wife also favors Jaguars as daily driver, the German collector has developed a great interest in cars of various other brands. The link between all of them, however, is that they have bodies built by French coachbuilder Carrosserie Vanvooren. Waltz claims to own the biggest collection of Vanvooren’s in the world, with cars of eight different makes: Bugatti, Hispano-Suiza, Delahaye, Delage, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Voisin and Panhard
From car guy to collector
His family worked in the automotive industry and Martin Waltz has always been a car guy. When he was 18, he bought a 1950s Mercedes-Benz 220 limousine. Later on, while studying medicine, he became a specialist in repairing Renault R4s. It was far from obvious, however, that he would start collecting and fall in love with the classic elegance of Vanvooren.
While he was in a repair shop in Switzerland one day, a car wreck caught his attention. The dealer didn’t know anything about the car, apart from the fact that the owner had left it there years ago. Waltz was fascinated by the old heap, but it took him a year to finally buy it. He found the Vanvooren label, but internet research didn’t reveal any worthwhile information. This made things even more interesting. He finally established that the car was a Hispano-Suiza K6 with a Vanvooren body. Waltz found it incredibly difficult to find out more about cars with Vanvooren bodies. The biggest problem was that most records seemed to have been lost during World War II. Waltz has now built up his own museum, and he also runs a register and archive to preserve the information he has collected and share it with interested classic car aficionados and owners.
Imperfections as a sign of originality
All the Vanvooren cars in Waltz’s collection were challenging to bring back to life, partly because Waltz has a very specific approach to originality: “the craftsmanship of the thirties was what I was looking for.” But it is hard to find a restorer who can recreate the standards of the ‘30s – including the imperfections typical of the period. In the end, he managed to find a restorer near Berlin who shares his approach. Waltz believes that it’s absolutely necessary to have a partner that shares the vision. Because he can entrust the restorations to his partner, Waltz can concentrate on the histories and stories behind the cars which, he believes, is even more interesting than the cars themselves.
The Lopresto Collection: A small niche turns into a vast field
At the panel discussion at Masterpieces & Style 2017, Duccio Lopresto represented the new generation of collectors. The young Italian shares his passion for rare Italian classic cars with his father, the famous collector Corrado Lopresto. Their mission is to bring limited editions and one-offs by Italian makers and coachbuilders back to life. Interestingly, the Lopresto Collection has become a shining light in the scene without having a single Ferrari or Lamborghini in its ranks. Despite this, they are big winners in the international Concours scene, with 55 best of shows, 83 best in class and 251 awards.
According to Duccio Lopresto, his father’s first car, a Fiat Balilla, turned out to be a special edition. Corrado restored it as a young man and since then has focused on collecting similarly rare Italian cars.
Cars as works of art
Both father and son are particularly in love with the beauty of design. They compare cars to paintings: “They have the same emotional, artistic and cultural value”, Duccio Lopresto told the panel. The Loprestos worship the craftsmanship and history behind the cars as well. Because most pieces in the collection are unique, research into their backgrounds is all the more important, and all the more difficult. Without understanding the history of these one-offs, it would be impossible to evaluate their historic relevance and ensure that the restorations are done in the true spirit of originality.
Duccio Lopresto provided a revealing insight into the detail with which each restoration is approached at Collezione Lopresto. Although remaking would be easier in many cases, the cars are often extensively cleaned instead. They believe this is often the best way to save the original substance of the car. It is an approach they applied spectacularly to half (yes half!) of an Alfa Romeo SZ Coda Tronca. The other side was left as it had been found a year before. The result was simply spectacular, and the car was presented at Villa d’Este 2016. “It was a sort of provocation by us,” admits Duccio Lopresto – but it was well received, and the car was awarded the FIVA Preservation Award. Later on, this spectacular and insightful restoration even received special recognition from UNESCO, making it the first car ever to be given such an honor by the international organization for culture, science and education.
During his presentation, Duccio Lopresto talked about restoring interiors, and highlighted some traditional methods for producing authentic rugs, for example, and repairing leather upholstery. The Loprestos apply equally intense research and treatments to the cars’ bodies. They use the skills of Politechnica in Milano to analyze the original colors, for example. The restorations themselves are inspired by techniques usually used for historic paintings. Having restored a painting himself many years ago, Corrado Lopresto decided to adapt the techniques used by Florence University, an institution that developed outstanding expertise in the field after a flood threatened its historical paintings in 1966. The core principle is to save what is left, even if it is just small chips of color, rather than going for a shiny new paint job.
Over the decades, the Lopresto Collection has become a specialist center for restoring classic cars, its reputation confirmed by countless awards from Concours events all around the world, as mentioned above.
Fritz Kaiser: Fascinated by shapes and sound
The last collector to present his insights was panel host Fritz Kaiser. His past work in motor sports provided an obvious impetus for his fascination with historic sports cars. He was involved in the early days of the German Saloon Car Championship and later became co-owner and chairman of Formula 1 team Red Bull Sauber Petronas. “I love designs and a good engine sound, and I have the greatest respect for outstanding craftmanship. I also enjoy learning about the life-stories of cars and their former owners.”
His affection for classic cars is focused on two aspects in particular, as reflected in his comments on his Aston Martin DB4GT, which he describes as British gentleman in a perfect Italian suit: “It’s a wonderful lightweight, short wheelbase sportscar to drive, and I am particularly excited about its Milan Touring body shape.” His enthusiasm for the visual aspect explains his love of car photography. “I try to get the best photographers for my cars.” Some of his photos were shot by car specialist René Staud. “René works on the car for several days,” Kaiser explained as he showed some of the photo artwork Staud has done for his collection – a BMW 507, a 300 SL Gullwing, a Jaguar E-type and a Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider America. “The lighting is especially important to create the right shape.”
Like the Loprestos, Kaiser compares car design to art. “I have collected modern contemporary art for a very long time and I love design.” His collection features sports cars from the 1950s and ‘60s, and he has assembled a group of cars with the most diverse concepts and shapes. From a minimalistic Porsche 550 Spyder to the Italian elegance of a Fiat 8V Rapi or the flamboyant form of a Pegaso Z-102 Saoutchik Cabriolet, his collection demonstrates that designers back then had more scope to create truly iconic shapes. To share the beauty of these cars with the public, Kaiser also participates in Concours events like Villa d’Este and Masterpieces.
Once he gets excited about a specific important car he sometimes spends years working with the best restoration workshops to bring it back to its original beauty. For example, it took five years of meticulous work to bring a Cisitalia SC 202 Berlinetta from barnfind back to a condition that allowed it to compete in the 2014 Mille Miglia. A Cisitalia 202 has been shown in the permanent exhibition of the New York Museum of Modern Art since 1951 as Pinin Farina’s ”Moving Sculpture”.
Kaiser sees himself as a proactive caretaker of important sportscars, and he enjoys driving them in rallies like the Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio and the Maroc Rally, as well as on trips with family and friends.
People have many different motivations for collecting classic cars. These are all individual, shaped by the personality and preferences of each collector, but all collectors have one thing in common. They enjoy sharing their passion with like-minded people. They treasure knowledge about the history or craftsmanship that lies behind their collections. They keep records of the cars and brands, and many of them like showing their gems in public. The development of classic car prices has turned these collectables into an alternative asset class over the last couple of years, but money has not yet become a notable driver for this particular part of the collector community.
All photos courtesy of Masterpieces, © Peter Singhof.