We got the email invite and it piqued our curiosity. Open house, good food, classic cars, live music...free...how could we say no to that? Like so many nondescript buildings around Southern California, the beige warehouse could have housed anything from a furniture restor shop to a surfboard shaper. There are literally thousands of these metal structures lining the streets in the industrial centers of virtually every city in the Southland. Heck, anywhere in America for that matter. This particular night we were about to see what can happen when the doors are suddenly thrown open and the welcome mat unfurled.
Follow the jump for the rest of the story and make sure to check out the high-res gallery, too.
Related GalleryChmara and Simon Automotive Collections
Stefan Chmara and David and June Simon share a building in Gardena, California. They also share a passion for automobiles. They were our hosts for the night and helped open our eyes to what might be behind those big warehouse doors we would normally just drive past. Part dealership, part museum, part bookstore, and one hundred percent fun, the building gives very little clue as to what's inside. As the gallery will show you, the collection was quite ecclectic. Chmara's cars include mostly European sports cars. Porsches, Alfas and Benzes, plus the odd Lotus, Corvette and T-Bird thrown in for good measure. Among the treasures, he has a beautiful unrestored 1958 Alfa Giulietta Spider Veloce that was a Road & Track cover car back in the day (see above). R&T even reprised the cover shot with a centerfold of the car in their anniversary issue in 1997. The cars are tightly packed in a room festooned with Alfa Romeo signs and little else.
The Simons' part of the building is a bit more wild. Every square inch of the walls is covered with automobila or airplane collectibles. Lots of piloting stuff over here. There are even complete aircraft hanging from the ceiling. You can stare at any one of the walls or corners of the shop for hours and keep seeing new bits and pieces. And every item tells a story. Helmets, scooters, gas pumps, signs, magazines, hubcaps, hood ornaments and the like everywhere you look. It's actually part of the Cornwell & Sheridan Motor Cars operation, so everything is for sale, too. The vehicles themselves almost disappear into the scenery, but when you stop to admire them, you see some real gems. American and European classics from the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s. Celebrity cars, calendar cars and everyday drivers, each with supporting props or published materials. You can find Professor Fate's vehicle from The Great Race just down the row from a Van Vooren 4-1/4 liter Bentley and a WWII Willys near a 1952 Rolls featured in an Anna Nicole Smith movie. What a trip.
There are hundreds of these small collections/museums/dealerships around the country. Maybe thousands. Our hosts pointed out that on New Year's Day alone, they visited 15 of them within less than 50 miles, including this particular collection. It's amazing what we can pass every day without realizing. We were grateful for the invitation and the opportunity to walk through automotive history. We hope to make this a regular feature on Autoblog if there's interest in sharing some of the various collections and museums we visit in our travels. A little different from our everyday news, but hopefully something you'll enjoy nonetheless. If you know of any such collections in your area, please feel free to share by dropping us a line via the tips.