I'll admit it. I'm a neat freak. I prefer everything in order, no scrap or junk hanging around, all the spoons and forks lined up to the millimetre. Everything in my condo looks as though it was designed to be there, which in a way it was. I'm not a designer but in an earlier time of life I wanted to be and so I play at being one by organising (and endlessly reorganising) the furniture and accessories and by having fun with colour. What's more, I'm a total modernist where taste is concerned, one who prefers his environment to look brand new, one who is not easily impressed by the "patina" on unrestored collector cars.
So you can imagine my reaction when Nigel Matthews e-mailed a link to the Lee Roy Hartung collection, which will be auctioned off in early November by RM’s Auctions America. Some might see it as a giant barn find but I call it a giant mess of collector cars and automobilia of which nothing appears to have been restored or even catalogued. No doubt Mr. Hartung, who passed away earlier this year, knew every little item and could tell you exactly where everything was located but lock me in there for an hour and I'd go mad.
The collection – known as Hartung’s Auto Museum – near Chicago, was the result of more than five decades of collecting by Hartung, who claimed that the items all came from chance encounters and house clearances within 15 miles of Glenview, his hometown. He must have liked sports cars, for among the consignments are a Spohn-bodied BMW Veritas Convertible, a 1959 Fiat Spider, and an Edwards America that won Best of Class at the inaugural Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1950.
Other gems include a customised 1936 Lincoln V-12 and a 1926 Hertz (built for the car rental market), along with a 1937 Pontiac. Yet another highlight is a 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom I, which is believed to have been in storage since 1949 following an incident when a passenger was fatally ejected from a faulty suicide door. Those who like motorcycles will be fascinated to learn that Mr. Hartung's collection also includes a raft of rare early motorcycles, including an untouched 1911 Pope, a 1912 Sears Twin and a 1913 Flying Merkel Twin.
As the UK's Classic and Sports Car magazine reports, "all the cars and motorcycles are buried in a sea of motoring and aviation ephemera, from US licence plates (possibly the largest number in the world) to mascots, automotive instruments, and signs, as well as petroliana and gas pumps." Now there's something I could really enjoy, given that I'm fascinated by automobilia. Perhaps someone will buy the lot, then hire me to organise it into the world's first automobilia museum. With a totally modern facade, of course.
You may find it odd that with my preference for contemporary design, I remain a classic car enthusiast. (No... make that a classic car, train, boat, and plane enthusiast.) The answer to the mystery is simple enough. When it comes to transportation, vintage delivers a romance, an elegance, and a beauty that's lacking in today's ultra-efficient, computer-designed machines. No doubt Lee Roy Hartung would have agreed with me. If only he...