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Warehouse Wonders: Lyon's pride and joys

Click above image for huge high-res gallery of our visit to the Lyon collection.

A little while back, a very special invitation was dropped in our laps. As part of a celebration for one of our friends, the doors to the Lyon private collection were being swung wide open. The name might not be familiar to all of you, but here in Southern California, General William Lyon is a name that commands respect. General Lyon, as his title might imply, had a very distinguished military career that spanned more than 30 years from the onset of WWII through the Vietnam era. Fifty years ago, he also started building homes (originally for returning military personnel) in SoCal with his father and brother. William Lyon Homes, Inc. has gone on to be one of the largest builders in the area with nearly 100,000 homes built.

But all of that pales in comparison to the reason why we know him here at AB. The General owns one of the finest private collections of award-winning classics in the country. Some 60 of those vehicles are on display to the lucky few who get to visit his private estate and tour the small museum he had built to show them off. Perhaps calling this a "Warehouse" is a stretch, but it is a surprising find, and we consider ourselves very fortunate to have been allowed inside.

Follow the jump for more details about the collection, and don't forget to check out the huge gallery, as well.

Before we get too far into it, understand that General Lyon's collection is estimated to be valued at more than $200 million. While not every car is a Pebble-caliber vehicle, the 60 on display at his estate include many that are. While Southern California has quite a few museums and private collections that can surpass the number of cars or number of champions, very few collections have such quality from top to bottom. Going through the photos, you'll see everything from a custom Bugatti roadster from the '50s, to a former Hitler transport. A somewhat eclectic collection, there are motorcycles, automobilia, Air Force paraphernalia, and even big game trophies on display alongside the featured attractions -- the cars. And the car collection itself is quite varied as well. Classic American and European luxury cars dominate, but there are also European sports cars, and even American muscle on display. When you finally reach the Grand Salon, you'll find more than a dozen champions, each of which will stop you in your tracks.

The entry gallery has a bunch of beautiful Packards, Cords, Chryslers and Auburns, as well as a classic Mexican Presidential limo, complete with crystal bullfrog fender ornament. The other side of the entry hall houses a few more classics, but this is where you'll see the American muscle and sports cars too. A Shelby Mustang convertible sits besides a T-Bird Roadster. You'll find a special Bugatti next to a Mercer-Cobra that looks like it came straight from a '50s Hollywood fantasy. There's also the collection's only Ferrari, albeit a small-scale 308, sitting at the head of a row of Euro sports cars that includes a BMW 507 and a Porsche RSK. As cool as all of these cars are, it isn't until you enter the Grand Salon that you really appreciate the incredible quality of this assemblage.

Front and center sits "Willa Dean," the champion Mercedes 540K. While one of the most beautiful cars ever made, it isn't even the most beautiful car in the room here. Well, there is a 1931 Duesenberg J Weymann Speedster here, so you can see the dilemma. And those aren't the only great examples of each marque in there. Besides some other Duesies and Benzes, there are a few more Packards and a gorgeous Isotta-Fraschini among the 20 or so show winners. Quite spectacular. The best part of our visit was the personal tour by none other than The General himself, whose knowledge of and enthusiasm for these cars is captivating. Hearing him recount each car's history is like being walked through automotive lore by the world's greatest car enthusiast. Quite a remarkable visit and quite a remarkable man. Thanks for the hospitality.

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