This weekend, car collectors will descend on Mandalay Bay for the Barrett-Jackson auto auction, a three-day display of curves and steel where everything is on sale for the right price. Jim Rogers won’t be buying. The owner of KSNV-TV Channel 3 and chancellor emeritus of the Nevada System of Higher Education has a car collection of 300 vehicles worth approximately $19 million. The Weekly took a tour of his “car barn” and checked out a few of his rarest rides.
How did your love of cars start?
You have to remember, I’m a Second World War baby, born in ’38. We grew up in an age where there wasn’t a hell of a lot of other things going on. So everybody loved cars and everybody waited until every September to see what their neighbor had bought. Cars in those days lasted about 20,000 miles. So everybody bought a new car every year or two. I fell in love with cars and it never went away.
What did your parents drive growing up?
Oh gosh, my father was as bad as I was. I remember one time we were driving through New Mexico, and he was driving a ’49 Roadmaster Buick. We went to a little town, Las Cruces, and my father said “Oh my god, that guy’s got a Chevrolet hard top and a Chevrolet station wagon.” So we stopped, and my dad traded the car we were driving for those two, and we took the other two back home. Right in the middle of the trip.
When did you personally start collecting?
Maybe in 1985. You always buy the first car that you had. I grew up in New Mexico, and you could get a driver’s license at 14, so my father bought me a 1940 Ford. And he should never have done it, but there was hardly anybody on the roads then. So I bought a ’40 Ford; it was the first car I bought. I think as of 1997 I had about 25 [cars]. There were some years there that we bought 50 cars. You know those big car haulers? We had one of those, and we had a full time driver. We just sold that car hauler last week, cause we don’t have any room to buy anything else.
Who picks out the cars? Do you have a wish list?
I have the wish list. And Mike [Pratt, director of transportation] has been here 11 years and every night we talk cars. Not most nights, every night. And we’ll be looking for something, and I’ll always say to Mike, “I hope we don’t find it too fast.” It’s more fun to chase it than it is to find it.
Do you buy them restored?
We like to buy them already restored because it costs a fortune to restore them. The interesting thing is there’s nothing you can’t find. There isn’t a part on an old car that we can’t find.
How many people work on your collection?
Right now we’re down to about nine. Usually we have 13. I’ll show you a ’49 Buick Roadmaster that we’re doing right now. We literally dismantled the car. We took all the fenders off, all the windows off, all the upholstery out. We have a full-time upholsterer. I said to him, “Gus, if you leave, we close the place.” He’s just a master.
What kind of reactions do the cars get when people first see them?
Tom Brokaw came out here to give a speech and when the speech was done I said, “What would you like to do?” He said, “I’d really like to go see the cars.” So we went down and the first car in the back of the convertibles is a ’32 Ford Roadster. He walked in and said, “Oh my god. This is exactly the same car that my father and I went fishing in.” He stood there for two hours.
Do you think people now have a different relationship to automobiles?
They do because they’re all alike. I can remember when getting a turn signal on a car was an extra. In 1940 getting a heater in a car was an extra. Nobody heard of an automatic transmission until ’49—’47, ’48, ’49. Air conditioning? You gotta be kidding me. I can remember someone saying to me, “There’s going to be a time when these cars are going to be air conditioned.” I said, “That’s bullshit.” They’re all alike now. They all do really good things; they’ll run forever.
What do you drive on a daily basis?
I have a fleet of cars that I drive that I exchange. I have one Rolls Royce convertible; I have three Bentleys; I drive a Ferrari, a Mercedes, an Aston Martin. I trade cars every day.
Does it depend on your mood?
I try to rotate, because if I don’t, I’ll get stuck with a car and end up driving the same car for two weeks. Then my guys call me up and say the battery’s dead on one of these others. You’ve got to drive them.
What’s the most fun car to drive?
The new ones. The old ones are not good to drive. In fact, most of those cars over there I’ve never driven. The way they’re parked, in order for me to take one car out you have to move 10 others. You can start every engine. They’re brand new cars. They’re worth a lot of money.
What’s still on your wish list? Is there something you really want right now?
No. We bought every car. We had a wish list, but we have nothing left.