Friday, January 27, 2012

The San Diego Auto Collection features beautiful cars for a beautiful city

As a lifelong Midwesterner, I really am awe-struck when I visit cities like San Diego. It really is beautiful there, with the vastness of the ocean to the west, and the rugged mountain ranges to the east. Things like palm trees and lemon trees are fascinating to me. Even the stucco and terra-cotta architecture stands as a reminder that you ain’t in Kansas anymore.

But then, you look out of the airplane window at all the congestion. From one end to the other, there are houses and buildings crammed in so tight that if they were any closer they’d be on top of each other. The traffic’ll suck the life out of ya’. And if my little Kansas City-area house was worth what it would be in San Diego, I could live in a mansion on Ward Parkway. There’s definitely a price to pay to be surrounded by all that beauty.

Some people can obviously afford it, though. Ferraris and Aston Martins are everywhere. And I swear, Porsche Panameras outnumber Chevy Impalas twelve-to-one. These people crave exotic cars. And for fans of vintage tin, there’s a nice place to shop on El Cajon Boulevard.

If you browse Hemmings or other prominent classic car ads, you’re bound to run across a full-page photo spread from the San Diego Auto Collection. While not a huge showroom, they do have some things that get the ol’ heart rate up.

1950s General Motors was well-represented in the San Diego Auto Collection showroom. Among the standouts was a pristine ’52 Oldsmobile Super 88 convertible. The bright turquoise paint and rich red leather was almost a mismatch, and yet, it just seemed so right. The unusual Olds was loaded with equipment, including a factory compass in the pod where the clock would normally be, and a clock in the steering wheel. Curiously, it had little hubcaps and trim rings instead of full wheel covers. I liked them, but a set of real ’53 Olds Fiesta flippers would look pretty sweet on those red wheels, too.

There was also a black-over-red leather ’54 Buick Skylark. I’ve always kind of liked the smaller ’54 better than the original ’53 Skylark. There’s just something about those long fender cutouts and chrome taillight pods that set those cars off. And the color scheme, and those Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels, mmm, mmm, mmm.

They also had an all-blue ’57 Eldorado convertible. That car was nice, and I’d love to have it, but the restoration wasn’t quite up to the standards of the Olds or Buick. You know, it was kind of too shiny, had too much dirt in too thick of paint, and the upholstery appeared to by vinyl instead of the correct soft leather. Still, it would absolutely be the star at the local car cruise.

In staying with the 1957 theme, their ’57 DeSoto Adventurer convertible was a pretty spectacular piece as well. They wanted $250,000 for it, but I think you could recoup that just by sending the shiny flecks in the carpet to the Cash-for-Gold people. I suppose the 345-hp Hemi doesn’t hurt the value either.

Another car that I found very interesting was their 1929 Essex Speedabout. This was a boat tail speedster that was sold through Hudson dealers. The museum claims that only five were built. The thing that piques my interest on this car is that my granddad (the guy in the car lot picture in the header of this blog) actually had one of these when it was new. My dad says my great grandparents made a lot of money owning oil fields, and his mother bought the Essex for my granddad and a big Hudson for herself on the same day. We have a certificate from the Pikes Peak Highway Association that says he drove the Essex to the top of Pikes Peak Highway, which was an accomplishment back then. I guess the fortune was lost during the depression (dammit!!), but it’s still an interesting bit of history.

Of course, if you’re looking for old Ferraris or Jaguars or Rolls Royces, there were plenty of them from which to choose. The owner, Chuck Swimmer, is a prominent fixture at high-profile Concours d’Elegance shows, so you certainly wouldn’t expect many beaters in the bunch.

If you’re in San Diego, and would like to check out the San Diego Auto Collection yourself, visit Or, if you just want to hang out at your computer, check out the slideshow below.


  1. Couldn't help but notice that 74 Buick model... ;)

  2. Haha--yeah, Kojak knew what was good!

  3. Craig:
    I visited some family friends in SD a while back, and the people living in the apartment next door had a PRISTINE 1955 Chevy BelAir in their and white...immaculate.
    And they were in their 70s!!!

    That is a very nice town to own a car if you want to KEEP it, but I agree that CA (overall) is not the place to drive (if you're the least bit queamish).
    Cabrillo Point is a wonderful place to stop by, as is Balboa Park.

    BTW, that's a neat color for that '53 Skylark...never saw red & black before today...very cool.

    Another great presentation.

    Happy Motoring!

  4. I wonder if that was the first factory compass, on that '52 Olds...

  5. I purchased a car from The San Diego Collection and David Young and Chuck Swimmer, the owner, treated me so well. It's a long story which included an invite to Pebble Beach the following year. Sadly, Chuck passed away in December of 2013, I'll miss him, as a friend whom I met in 2010. Rest in Peace Chuck.