Monday, August 1, 2011

Chrysler man Rich Suhr lets go of some of his treasures. We take one last look at his collection during the Lincoln auction

“Leave it to you to make this into a car trip.”

We were in Lincoln, Neb., this weekend to visit some of my wife’s family, so before we took off, I got on the old Googler and searched for a cool car thing to do there. Isn’t that how everyone prepares for travel? Anyway, I’m glad I did, because it took us to Rich Suhr’s house in southeastern rural Lincoln, on the day he was auctioning off a huge collection of 42 old cars and a whole bunch of parts.

When I first got there and started looking around, I have to admit that I felt a little sad. I’ve mentioned here before that I hate to see lifetime collections broken up and sold off. As I walked through the neat rows of cars, many buried in the dirt to their axles, I imagined what it would be like to own this collection. I could picture myself coming out here on a spring day, putzing around with this old stuff; opening the doors, fiddling under the hoods, and just hanging out with something that I loved. Or maybe looking out there in the winter, the cars buried in blankets of Nebraska snow amid the peaceful backdrop of tangled trees and rustic barns. It seemed very cathartic.

But then I talked to the owner. For a guy that ended up with such an irrational collection, he had a pretty rational take on the day’s festivities. When I asked him why he decided to sell, he just said, “I figured I was 70 years old and still in decent health, so I decided to do this before I might not be able to.”

Rich is a Chrysler man, and has an obvious penchant for the big, late-‘40s cruisers. In fact, when I asked him if there were any he felt sad to see leave, he immediately went to his 1947 New Yorker Highlander four-door sedan. This car was definitely not one that lived outside. The Highlander option is an interesting and unusual feature of this car, as it added plaid inserts to the interior. In the context of the typical grey broadcloth of the era, this was a pretty flashy way to travel. And the red plaid in this gleaming black beauty was excellent. It’s easy to see why someone would be reluctant to let something like that go.

Another really rare piece was a 1948 Town & Country four-door. Among Chrysler aficionados, these wood-bodied beauties are at the top of the food chain. Well, termites were one level higher in this case, as there was nothing left of the wooden doors or trunk on this car. Rich said he actually bought it because he was restoring a Town & Country convertible, and he needed the taillights from this parts car. But before he could get the taillights off, damned if someone didn’t steal them. You just can’t have anything nice. At any rate, at one time, this deteriorating hulk was a very beautiful machine. It was fun to imagine what it was like back when it was new.

There were several other notable Chryslers out there. I noticed a ’52 with a Hemi lurking under the hood, a ’47 Windsor Limousine with a fancy divider window, a pretty nice ’68 300 four-door hardtop with an exceptionally nice interior, several stately Imperials, and two—count ‘em—two ’37 Airflows.

There were also no less than five 1955 Cadillacs tucked away in the lineup, including what was once a yellow-over-red Deville convertible. I tried to get Rich to open up on why he had so many of this particular car, as it didn’t really mesh with the Chrysler collection, but his only rationale was that, “the price was right.”

Not everything was a typical old car, either. There was a Fairmont railroad hand car that seemed to get a lot of attention. There was an early ‘80s Airstream Excella motorhome and several airstream trailers on the lot. And there were lots of neat old radios, both the kind that came out of dashboards, and the kind that went in the living room. I was also drawn to the shell of a ’31 Ford hot rod, complete with ’59 Impala steering wheel, that had obviously been built in the traditional style when traditional was contemporary.

As we were walking through there looking at all these cars, parts, owner’s manuals, and so on, I suspected that Rich may have worked for Chrysler back in the day. Turns out, I was mistaken. “We just always drove Chryslers on the farm,” he said. “They’ve always treated me well.”

Don’t feel sorry for Rich for liquidating his collection, though. He isn’t out of the game by any means. He still has a Town & Country convertible, s 1910 Maxwell, a 1910 Cadillac, and a 1912 Imperial that he’s working on. Plus, he has a whole bunch of parts cars in the back-forty that somehow didn’t make it to the auction.

“When you get older, you have to accept that your treasures will eventually go to someone else that can appreciate them,” said Rich philosophically as we ended our conversation. Hopefully, they will foster a similar passion to the new owners of this once impressive collection.

The slideshow below contains just shy of 200 pictures from the Fowlkes Realty Auction of Rich Suhr’s cars and parts collection. I really enjoyed looking at all this stuff, and I think you will too.


  1. I never cease to be amazed at how many people can manage to collect such a mass of stuff over so many years. It sure makes for interesting perusing.
    - Anonybeau

  2. I told my wife when we got there that this guy was livin' the life. She just rolled her eyes.

  3. "I really enjoyed looking at all this stuff, and I think you will too." You're right... Almost as good as being there (and a lot less expensive!).

    -JD in KC