Celebrity Car: Clive Cussler - East Valley Tribune: Business

Celebrity Car: Clive Cussler

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Posted: Friday, September 28, 2007 12:00 am | Updated: 8:05 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Quality versus quantity, the simple philosophy most automobile aficionados adhere to when assembling their collections. However, in the case of best-selling author Clive Cussler, no stranger to excellence or lofty num bers with more 100 million copies of his books sold, his car collection is the absolute embodiment of an oft-quoted Deion Sanders statement: “Both.”

Quality versus quantity, the simple philosophy most automobile aficionados adhere to when assembling their collections. However, in the case of best-selling author Clive Cussler, no stranger to excellence or lofty num bers with more 100 million copies of his books sold, his car collection is the absolute embodiment of an oft-quoted Deion Sanders statement: “Both.”

Cussler’s vehicular amassment numbering hovering around 90 at last count, contains a wide variety of marques and models. Housed in a climate-controlled warehouse in semi-secret location on the outskirts of Denver, Colo., a number of his immaculate autos have been immor talized in the pages of his adventure novels, driven by Dirk Pitt, his heroic leading character.

While Cussler won’t single out one specific car in the bunch as his all time favorite, liking them all for dif ferent reasons, he does however have a story for many of them. And when the grandmaster of adventure fiction tells you he has a story, you can bet the farm that it’s a good one.

Take his 1952 Allard J2X for exam ple. It’s a beautifully designed Cadil lac-powered speed machine, of which extremely limited numbers were built The Allard is one of Cussler’s favorite cars to drive.

A close friend of Cussler, a fierce negotiator, handled the Allard’s pur chase in Washington and made ship ping arrangements. Six weeks went by and still no Allard. A phone call to his friend resulted in a good-news bad-news scenario. The bad news: the car was missing. It had been loaded on a large auto transport truck with about $2-million worth of vehicles and nobody had seen it since. The good news: Cussler paid $30,000 for the car and his friend had insured it for $50,000. But the truck was eventu ally found-after being deserted by the driver in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Cussler got his car.

But that’s just part of the Allard’ lore. Toward the end of its restora tion, a photographer was dispatched to snap Cussler for People Magazine. While the lensman was setting up, Cussler decided to take the Allard for a spin. Unfortunately, the hood wasn’t properly strapped down. Four blocks into the drive, the hood flew up, breaking the car’s two small racing windshields and nailing Cussler on the head.

When he returned, everyone was horrified to see the hugely successful novelist covered in blood. Especially the photographer, who had an assignment to complete. But thanks to an old racing helmet and goggles that Cussler kept in a 1918 Cadillacconcealing the bandages perfectly, the photo shoot went off without a hitch.

When asked what ignited his passion for collecting desirable automobiles, Cussler recalls three specific instances.

“When I was a kid in Alhambra, California . . . a town car went by, the kind where the liveried chauffeur sat out in front. I was blown away by it, never seen anything like it. I don’t know what it was, but if I had to guess today it might have been a Packard. That stuck with me.

One of the first cars Cussler owned was a black 1925 Auburn Limousine, which he purchased for about $20. He and his buddies would dress up like gangsters, wearing overcoats and smoking cigars.

But the car that sparked his collection, before Cussler struck gold with his writing, was purchased while out for a drive.

“We passed a farm with a car sitting out front and I didn’t really pay any attention to it. But my wife, Barbara, said, ‘Oh, look, there’s a 1946 Ford Club Coupe like I had in high school,’ so I turned around and, since it was for sale, I bought it.” That car, originally restored by Cussler and his son until he could afford a more proper restoration, is still in the collection today.

Having never purchased a car for investment purposes, Cussler has always bought only those vehicles he liked. But one solid example of vehicular shrewdness concerns the racy yellow-on-tan Jaguar XK120 he bought at the end of his tour in the U.S. Air Force in 1954. At the time, only Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and a few of their contemporaries drove such a car. Cussler used the Jag to court his wife.

Since the automobile collection has been gifted to his children, Cussler spends much of his free time pursuing his other passion, searching for items of historical significance.

With non-profit group, National Underwater & Marine Agency (NUMA), Cussler has discovered more than 60 shipwrecks, including the Confederate submarine, Hunley, and, more recently, LaSalle’s ship L’Aimable, near Galveston, TX.

What’s next for one of the greatest action-adventure writers the world has ever known? Your guess is as good as ours, but rest assured it won’t be lacking the twists and turns of the road.

Celebrity Car is produced by Wheelbase Communications in conjunction with quarterly publication Celebrity Car Magazine and the duPont Registry.

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