For many in the industry, Bruce Meyer represents the ultimate car collector, but he prefers to be called a “Rabid Enthusiast.” Any reference to a car collection is quickly corrected; “Oh these things. They are just neat things,” he says. The real truth is that Meyer is a seriously elite collector. A premiere car collector that doesn’t just look for cars. He finds very special cars. Important cars that have been a part of history.
We managed to get invited to see part of Bruce’s collection at his garage in Beverly Hills, California. We were sworn to secrecy about the location, but we can tell you that no one would ever guess there was a car garage filled with one-of-a-kind cars that are driven often. We were joined for a small gathering that included some icons that we grew up with: Ed Pink, Roland “The Hawaiian” Leong, Ivan “Ironman” Stewart, Don “The Beachcomber” Johnson, Nick Arias Jr and Nick Arias III, Pete Chapouris, Albert Arciero, Lenny Emanuelson, and the wonderful Linda Vaughn. Sadly, we’ve lost Nick Arias Jr. and Pete Chapouris since that day. Both of these automotive giants passed away in January of 2017.
Bruce claims he started collecting cars in 1964, when he sold everything to buy a 300 Gullwing Mercedes. The Mercedes had a beefy 327 Chevy shoehorned in the engine bay. According to Bruce, “To me that was what it was all about, getting all that power under the hood.” Realizing that power wasn’t everything, he kept the car for slightly over a year before selling it to a fraternity brother.
“Every time I’d open the hood, people would say, ‘Oh no’. I thought they’d think it was so cool, like I did. When people realize that you you had a beautiful 300 Gullwing that didn’t have that beautiful German engineered engine, it wasn’t as cool to them.” Meyer smiled a painful grin before continuing. “It wasn’t so well-accepted, and then the more purer I got in my taste, I eventually had to sell it to buy a 300 SL Roadster with a stock engine in it.”
Meyer turned and addressed our entourage. “The story behind this building goes back to the candle shop I opened downstairs in 1968. I was 27 years old, and I say that your late-20s are about as smart as you’ll ever be in your life. That is because you think you know everything at that age. So, I opened a candle shop and actually it turned out to be something of a hit. I had it for 30 years. I opened it in ’68 and closed it in ’97, where it evolved from a candle shop to a bit of an art gallery. We sold candles to everyone, Elton John … Ozzy Osborne … practically everyone.”
Holding a microphone that fed hidden speakers on the wall, Meyer continued explaining how this became his garage. “In the early ’70s, I told the landlord here that if he was ever going to sell the building, he had to sell it to me. One day he came to me and he said somebody had made him an offer that he just couldn’t refuse, and he was going to sell the building, but if I wanted it, he’d sell it to me.”
Once again that Bruce Meyer grin covered his face. “I had no idea how I was going to pay for it, but I got it paid for. I borrowed money from the family, sold some stuff, and I got it done. And this was really kind of the start of my real estate career.”
From Real Estate Back To Cars
“I don’t even think of myself as a collector, I think of myself as an rabid enthusiast,” he said. “I think a collector is somebody that says ‘I’m going to collect sports cars’, so they start putting together a collection with some theme.” Taking his left hand and gesturing in a sweeping motion around the room, he continued. “I’m much more sporadic. Everything in here, we drive, everything, everything in here we race.”
When it comes to his “collection,” Bruce is very organized about his thoughts and the events. “I’ve been very careful about what I buy. My first car, that I still have today, is that 275 GTB, that yellow 4-cam in the back. I bought that in 1970. That was my only car at the time and it was two years old, I bought it from a friend of mine. I told him, if you ever sell that car, you got to let me know. He did and I bought it.”
“Then I bought a Model A roadster pickup truck in ’68 and I had it until ’97, so I had that for 30 years. Then I started getting into classics, I bought a ’32 Cadillac and bought a ’32 Buick, then a Pierce Arrow. I like the classics, but the only car I kept hold of all those years was that 4-cam.”
Once Bruce started his story, there was no interrupting. Masterfully, he went on with his audience watching his every move. “Then in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I started buying historic hot rods. I like the idea of buying old hot rods where the original builders were still around and restoring them. With their help, it is great that we are putting them back in the spotlight because they are from the early years of hot rodding. There isn’t a more important hot rod in the world than the Doane Spencer roadster.”
“That’s the oldest hot rod in the world. It won Pebble Beach. For years, I begged the committee there to let us show hot rods,” he said. He smiled again, paused for effect, then continued. “I’ve shown my Duesenbergs and classic cars at Pebble Beach, and I kept saying to the organizers, ‘You got to do hot rods,’ and they kept saying, ‘No way, we’re not dumbing down our show for hot rods, over our dead body.’ I think I just wore them out.”
“Ten years of begging and I think they did hot rods at Pebble Beach ’97, just to appease me, and it was such a huge success. They’ve done them every other year since.
About His Collection
“I’ve exceeded my expectations,” Bruce claimed. “Largely because cars have found their way to me. Like the Cobra, I was over in France and just bumped into that. The idea of getting the first Cobra ever made … I mean, come on, that was serendipity. We wanted a good race Corvette, so I was fortunate enough to be able to buy one of the Cunningham cars. We also bought the C6R that won Le Mans. Anything that connects to Le Mans is real important to me,” said Bruce as a couple of boos came from the gallery. “ I know that’s not popular in this crowd, but that’s the World Series, Olympic games, and Super Bowl of motorsports, Le Mans. We have five Le Mans winners and I just love that, that’s the race.”
Putting an exclamation point on his story, Bruce took a long breath and finished. “It’s not a collection, it’s not like I have one of every such-and-such car. I think they all need to be passed on to the next enthusiast, let them have some fun with it, I think it’s real important. None of them have to be kept together. I’m just the caretaker for these cars. I feel fortunate to have the luxury of enjoying them while I’m around, because we don’t hang out forever.”
That, dear friends, is what it takes to be a rabid enthusiast.