If Cars Could Talk...
Marin collector's vintage vehicles have stories to tell
Grillwork and headlamps of Price’s supercharged 1932 Alfa Romeo, which won the 1,000-mile Mille Miglia the year it was built.
Photos by Tim Porter
Many successful men collect classic cars. Possibly it’s their way of connecting with the past, or reconnecting with their past. Some collections — especially of those burly so-called “muscle car” Fords, Dodges and Plymouths of the late ’60s and early ’70s — might be a way of affirming the collector’s, shall we say, manhood.
Marin’s Tom Price has a showroom full of more than two dozen beautiful vintage (and expensive) cars for another reason. “I love cars for the stories they have to tell,” he says, a grin crossing his boyish 64-year-old face. As examples, he points proudly to an exact version of the 1960 Ferrari V-12 California Spider that Matthew Broderick drove in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and to the same Aston Martin DB2 convertible that Tippi Hedren cruised along Bodega Bay in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
“The fact is, I just love cars,” Price says. “I worked my way through University of Colorado selling cars; I was with Ford Motor Company for eight years and bought my first dealership in 1976.” Today, his company Price Family Dealerships owns the Aston Martin, Infiniti, Jaguar, Land Rover, Toyota and Volvo outlets in Marin County, as well as two dealerships in Sacramento and another in Sunnyvale. Price and his wife of 36 years, Gwen, have lived in Belvedere for 32 years, where they raised their two sons, Greg and Nick.
The Belvedere resident’s infatuation with the automobile goes beyond collecting them—he also loves driving them. “I began racing vintage cars 25 years ago,” he says, “and since then I’ve competed in probably 600 races and rallies.” Price has never suffered a serious car-related injury or accident in all that time. “But I’ve had several close calls,” he says, looking for a wooden table to knock on. “Let’s hope it continues that way.”
A high point, so to speak, came in 2006 when Price hit 160 mph in his 1960 Ferrari GTO in the famed four-mile, 14-turn Road America race at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Last month, Price brought three cars—including his beloved 76-year-old Alfa Romeo 8C Supercharged 2300—to the Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races in Laguna Seca.
Here are of five of Tom Price’s favorite vintage vehicles and their stories:
1941 Packard 120 Station Wagon, “The Logs.” “There were only 68 of this particular model ever built,” says Price. “And this one has spent most of its nearly 70 years in California, primarily in and around Lake Tahoe.” The engine is a 120-horsepower straight-8, the buttercup yellow paint is the same color the car had coming off the Packard assembly line in early 1941 (original price: $1,466), and the interior’s highly varnished overhead looks like the interior of a handcrafted wooded boat that never came close to water. “‘The Logs’ was a lodge on the lake,” Price says. “I bought the car seven years ago from Dave Olson of Tiburon.” Price drives the car regularly. “Most of the time, it’s to picnics in West Marin and the wine country.”
1932 Alfa Romeo 8C Supercharged 2300. Pressed to name his favorite car, Price doesn’t hide behind the old “that’s like naming my favorite child” cliché. “That’s easy,” he says. “It’s my 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300.” Price tells this story about his prized Alfa Romeo: “From 1952 through 1989, this particular car was owned by an English gentleman named Denis Richardson, and he personally raced it numerous times.”
But Richardson had a unique tradition when it came to the famed Mille Miglia retrospective rally. According to Price, the original Mille Miglia was a daring road race that started near Brescia, a midsize Italian city south of Milan, and twisted 1,000 miles through the Tuscan countryside and various town squares before returning to Brescia. “The first race was in 1927,” he says, “and, save for a few years in the late 1930s, continued through World War II until a disastrous crash in 1957 killed two racers and 11 spectators.” The race was revived three years later as a noncompetitive rally.
“Richardson drove this car over the same Mille Miglia course three times, starting in 1982,” says Price. ”Each time he and his wife would leave their London home in this 50-year-old car, journey to Southampton, where it was loaded on a ferry, then drive over 600 miles to Brescia, compete in the 1,000-mile rally, then pack up their things and motor back to London.” Even in the 1980s, Price points out, most participants trailered their vintage cars to the starting line. “But not Denis Richardson,” he says.
Price bought his Alfa Romeo (one of 200 built, most of which are still around) from Richardson in 1989. It had won the Mille Miglia road race in 1932 and in 1995 Price drove it in the Mille Miglia Retrospective. He’s also driven it three times in Martin Swig’s 1,000-mile tour of Northern California known as the California Mille.
1948 Jaguar Three-Position Drophead Convertible. “Sometime after World War II,” Price says, “the story goes that the actor Clark Gable and Sir William Lyons, the founder of [what became] Jaguar Cars Ltd., were looking at the European version of this beautiful car.” He pauses. “Then Gable rubbed his chin and said something like, ‘I’d love to see an American version of this beauty, one with the steering wheel on the left-hand side.” Soon thereafter, 125 similar Jaguars were handcrafted and Gable became the proud owner of the first one to reach America (not the one Price now owns).
“Note that it has a classic chrome landau bar supporting the convertible top and ‘suicide doors,’” says Price. “These open from the front, into the wind if you’re driving.” The overall look is reminiscent of the high style of the 1930s: “Following the war, England was anxious to get something into production, to rev up its war-torn economy, so design-wise they pretty much picked up where they left off.”
One innovation this car includes is a Trafficator, a bar-like precursor of the turn signal that was activated electrically from a switch on the steering wheel. The “Three-Position” moniker reflects the three control settings for the car’s convertible top—fully closed; sheltering the rear seat passengers only; and fully open.
This Jaguar was first purchased in Paris for the equivalent of $1,200. Price bought it in 1988 sight unseen through a classified ad in the Los Angeles Times.
1965 Aston Martin DB-5 Convertible. “This car may look innocent,” says Price, “but it’s the convertible version of the customized car James Bond drove in Goldfinger, the one with saws whirling out of the wheels and machine guns poking out from the parking lights.”
This model’s six-cylinder overhead cam engine is similarly ferocious—300 horsepower, with a top speed of 180 mph. It was custom-built at an Aston Martin factory outside London for Charline Humphreys Breeden, granddaughter of Charles Boettcher and an heiress to the Great Western Sugar fortune. “She was living in Denver, where the Boettcher name is on several landmarks,” says Price, “but she died at 43, just a few years after buying this car.”
At first glance the car’s color looks black, but it’s actually a rich, dark green. “It’s ‘Goodwood Green,’ says Price, “named for a famous English estate where, over the years, many sport car rallies and races have occurred.”
The 43-year-old car has less than 25,000 actual miles on its odometer and the leather interior, in perfect condition, is original (the exterior has been repainted once). “Only 19 of these were built with left-hand drive,” Price says. While he’s reluctant to discuss the value of his cars, sources familiar with this model say it’s worth between $255,000 and $425,000.
1995 McLaren V-12 Three Seater. With 627 horsepower, this car is widely known to be capable of 231 mph and of reaching 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. “For over 10 years, from 1994 to 2005, this was the fastest street-legal car in the world,” says Price.
Price’s McLaren is the street version of the famous English race car that won Le Mans in ’96 and ’97. “It has the bones of a race car. Only 64 of these cars were ever built,” says Price, and their owners, according to him, have totaled four of them.
The seating configuration in the car is unusual. The driver sits in the middle, with seats for passengers on each side—not only providing the ultimate steering prospective but making it easy to drive on either side of the road. “The engine is made by BMW, the body is of carbon fiber and the engine compartment is lined with gold foil, similar to what was used on the Moon Lander,” says Price. “It’s a super car; I love it.”
Price does acknowledge that this McLaren is worth “just under” $3 million.