Passionate collectors find their thrills behind the wheels of their rare and vintage cars
“I love being able to re-create ‘Old Palm Springs’ living in an enormous, mid-’50s convertible with the top down at night." — John Boccardo
Car culture is as embedded as sunshine in the soul of Southern California. It would be hard to imagine driving around the Coachella Valley without seeing vintage cars. Desert residents own a full spectrum of collector cars — from sports cars and racers to hot rods and custom cars, from expensive classic cars of the 1920s and ’30s and their humble family-car counterparts to giant chromed cruisers from the ’50s. Palm Springs Life visited five classic-car enthusiasts to see their vehicles and learn why they own them and how they use them. We were moved by the emotional bond they have with their cars.
JOHN BOCCARDO’s Palm Springs roots run to the 1950s and ’60s, when his parents vacationed here and bought the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway. His collection of 20 cars reflects his preservationist spirit, ranging from a rakish and sleek 1960 Maserati 3500 Spider, the essence of top-down Italian playboy “la dolce vita” style, to a stately and elegant 1940 Lincoln Zephyr convertible. The 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz Convertible, an example of postwar General Motors, sits next to a 1973 Citroën SM, a strange but wonderful French sporting luxury coupe with a Maserati engine.
Two themes drive Boccardo’s curatorial efforts: visual impact and driving characteristics. He uses every vehicle. If a car feels less than desirable on the road, it’s probably not long for the collection. “I had a 1965 Jaguar XKE about 10 years ago, and it didn’t fit me very well,” he says. “So I graduated to the Maserati 3500 Spider I have now. It is much more comfortable to drive.”
Boccardo drives in at least two 1,000-mile vintage rally events each year — always with a different car, from his finned 1960 Chrysler 300F convertible to a fast and powerful Maserati Bora.
His father, while not a vintage-car collector, enjoyed interesting vehicles. The younger Boccardo ties his interest to the cars that passed through the household as he was growing up — including the 1956 Continental Mark II his father bought new and in which he took his driving test as a teenager. It remains in pristine condition in his garage; he would never consider selling it. He feels “very fulfilled” with his collection, but he is always on the lookout for “something interesting I’ve never had, such as a late-’50s or early-’60s Corvette.”
In addition to his home here, Boccardo, an architect born and raised in Northern California, has residences in the Bay Area, Monterey Peninsula, and Arizona. The desert affects his collecting. “I love being able to re-create ‘Old Palm Springs’ living in an enormous, mid-’50s convertible with the top down at night, the sweet smell of the air, a bright moon and stars above, and the shadow of the mountains in the distance. It’s the quintessence of that era of desert living — a magical time.”
JUDY HEMLEY tools around Palm Springs in a 1960 Mercedes-Benz 220SE Cabriolet — her dark gray convertible example of the hand-built luxury car the brand once built. The chrome trim, deep leather seats, and rich wood dashboard trim seem akin to a stylish European salon on wheels or perhaps a chic miniature motor yacht for the road.
A friend purchased the Mercedes new, and Hemley — a retired public relations executive and Palm Springs resident since 1996 — recalls admiring it every time he drove it to her home in Atherton. During a 1964 visit, she recalls, “He announced that he was bored with the car and asked if I might want to buy it.” Without a moment’s hesitation, the deal was done. Forty-seven years later, the car still quickens her pulse. By the late ’80s, she put the tired-looking vehicle into a four-year restoration. Twenty years on, it appears to be an original, nicely maintained, and well-loved car.
When Hemley’s daughter, Darcy, was born, Hemley took her home from the hospital in the 220SE. Darcy has since bonded with the car and forbids her mother to sell it. “My daughter doesn’t like for anyone else to drive the car,” Hemley says. “She considers it hers and the most important part of any inheritance she might receive.”
A native Angelino, Hemley has always understood car culture. She became a collector at the age of 22, when she first married. They owned Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwings to classic Packards. Their Packard Boat Tail Speedster won Best in Show at the Silverado Concours in Napa. When they divorced 10 years later, Hemley became involved with Newport Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Her current husband, Rogue, shares her enthusiasm and was also a collector. A photo taken at their Maryland home shows a 1948 Packard Woody station wagon and a 1934 Packard Convertible Coupe alongside Rogue’s Mercedes-Benz 250SE coupe and her 220SE Cabriolet. The couple also has a home at Lake Tahoe, Nev., where they keep a 1963 Cadillac convertible.
Although driving for its own sake might seem the natural use for her car, Hemley will likely drive Rogue’s Mercedes coupe when visiting Newport Beach. “I prefer to be safe with [the 220SE] now,” she says, adding that she steers clear of rallies and shows. “Showing cars can be a rather ‘my car’s better or rarer than your car’ kind of thing, and who cares? I have what I have and I love what I have, and that’s why I don’t show cars anymore. It’s just for me and those who appreciate it when I drive by.”
CARL BOMSTEAD was 14 when he bought his first car, a 1948 Plymouth, with his earnings from caddying and delivering newspapers. His father forbade him to drive it off the family property — and held the title and threatened to sell the car if he disobeyed. Bomstead washed it almost daily and drove it to the end of the driveway and back until he was old enough for his license. He then began customizing the Plymouth, lowering it, fitting ’53 Buick taillights “frenched” into the fenders, and in general being a part of ’50s West Coast car culture. Through high school, Bomstead bought, modified, and sold cars. When he left for college, it “wasn’t cool” to have cars like those on campus.
When he met his wife, Christine, the collecting bug bit again. Her father was the founder of the Pacific Northwest Region of the Classic Car Club of America, a vintage-car collecting organization that Bomstead has supported for more than 40 years, having served as a director for three terms and a board member for longer than 20.
“The fun we have with cars is using them,” he says. “Showing a car is not my passion.” The longtime Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance judge and vintage Packard specialist relishes meeting a variety of people, from mail carriers to CEOs. Living in Southern California enhances his enjoyment, especially with the Copperstate 1000 rally in Arizona and monthly events with Los Angeles’ Petersen Automotive Museum Chequered Flag 200 group.
“It’s amazing how many old cars there are here,” says Bomstead, who bought a home in the desert in 2006 after retiring from the computer industry in the Seattle, Wash., area.
His taste reflects all aspects of his automotive life: a 1947 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible, a CCCA Full Classic; a 1967 Intermeccanica Italia, an Italian-designed and –built, two-seat sports car with a big, powerful American Ford V-8 engine; a classic midcentury ’63 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster; a thoroughbred Italian exotic ’61 Maserati 3500 GT; and a wacky 1939 Whizzer motorized bicycle.
The desert affords year-round good weather to enjoy old cars, but Bomstead cautions that it’s important to stay alert when driving during “season,” when roads are most crowded. “Many don’t have an idea of the capabilities of older cars, especially their brakes,” he says. “You don’t stop a vintage car the way you can a 2011 Cadillac.”
In the desert, he says, “I’d certainly choose the Italia for a fast drive on our local twisty mountain roads; but to go out to dinner on El Paseo, the Cadillac would probably be the ride of choice.”
CURT PINDLER was drawn to the Coachella Valley for its quiet beauty and dramatic topography, as well as golf, which dominated his leisure time. He and an old friend and neighbor in their La Quinta community got together to plan jaunts in the desert, exploring their favorite local roads. The friend introduced Pindler to the Chequered Flag 200, the top donor group of Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The diversity of personalities and backgrounds among the collectors appealed to him. “You meet five people with Ford Model As, and you can go over and chat with them,” he says. “They’re as enthusiastic about their cars as someone with a $28 million Ferrari 250 GTO.” It’s the same at the Grand National Roadster Show, where Pindler can spend time with the “rat rod” guys who love a primer finish as much as modern high-end enthusiasts covet sleek shiny billet aluminum parts. “It’s the opposite of an exclusive club, and I just love it,” he says.
He sees the same variety in the Coachella Valley, with events ranging from the Rancho Mirage Desert Classic Concours d’Elegance to the weekly “drive in” at Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs — a way for enthusiasts of all tastes to gather and enjoy their toys. Pindler has participated in a few U.S. and European old-car rallies and intends to do more.
His interest traces to his family. “Dad was a car guy,” he says. “I spent most Sundays with him washing cars and handing him wrenches. He never collected anything old, but he had the first
’55 T-Bird on the West Coast. As I became more interested, I bought myself a Porsche.”
German sports cars remain special to Pindler, who in 1968 paid $2,300 for the first of several Speedster models he has owned. He sold that car in 1982 for $18,000. “I thought I had hit the lottery!” he recalls. He then began to collect vintage and newer cars in earnest. A Ferrari 328 GTS joined his 1960 Corvette, and Pindler’s aesthetic focus expanded to include sports cars, muscle cars, and hot rods. But he must get a thrill out of driving the car as well. He says, “1950s Alfa Romeos are beautiful, but they just don’t do it for me behind the wheel.”
The motocross racing days of his youth led to the inclusion of vintage British motorcycles, the star of which is a Vincent Black Shadow. These hand-built, two-wheeled rockets were technically advanced and a close relative to the Vincent Black Lightning that set a world speed record at 150 mph at Bonneville in 1948.
The head of a family-owned decorative fabric manufacturing business also has a home in Thousand Oaks. “We’ve worked hard and done our thing in life. Now it’s time to enjoy what we have — that’s what most of this is about [in the desert].” Pindler has a collection of more than 20 cars that are stored year-round in Thousand Oaks. He brings different cars here each year.
HAROLD MEYERMAN, a former international banker and current chairman of the Palm Springs Art Museum board of trustees, is a detail guy — an attribute that came in handy as he restored a rare 1939 Maybach SW38 Spohn Sport Roadster.
Maybachs of the 1930s were finely engineered ultra-luxury cars whose bare chassis were “clothed” by the leading coach builders of the day for wealthy clients — those who thought the offerings of Mercedes-Benz, Bugatti, or Isotta Fraschini were too obvious or common and for whom 12- or 16-cylinder engines were frivolous.
Meyerman hardly considers himself “a car guy, as such.” His stepfather purchased the Maybach in 1981. Records indicate the original owner purchased it new in May 1939 through Wilhelm Freudenstein & Co. of Hamburg, Germany.
While the Maybach was in running condition in 1981, Meyerman’s stepfather, a nuclear engineer, restored its power plant to perfect condition. But he died in 1991 before completing the cosmetic restoration. In 1992, Meyerman and his wife, Dorothy, purchased the Maybach from his mother and began exhaustive research before turning a wrench, lifting a paint gun, or raising a needle to the upholstery. The payoff was a Best in Class award at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1997 and subsequent Best in Class and Best in Show awards.
The Meyermans recently sold the Maybach to an acquaintance who works in the collector-car field — someone whom they knew would give it a good home. Meyerman had accomplished all he had set out to do with the car. But it seems that his collecting career may have only begun. He now has his eyes on the 12-cylinder Packards of the 1930s.