prepare to drool with envy

The Man Who Owns the Vintage Car Collection at the Heart of ‘Ford v Ferrari’

November 17, 2019 Cars By
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Pictures 1, 2: 1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB. Pictures 3, 4: 1957 Ferrari 625 250 Testa Rossa. Pictures 5, 6: 1962 Shelby Cobra.

Bruce Meyer is closer than most to the story at the heart of the new film Ford v Ferrari. Carroll Shelby, the famous automotive entrepreneur who (unsurprisingly) created the Shelby Cobra and (more surprisingly) helped make the Ford GT40 that crushed Enzo Ferrari’s race cars at the 24 Hours of Le Mans? Meyer was friends with him, and owns the first Shelby Cobra ever made. Ken Miles, the racing driver who helped Shelby and Ford develop the GT40? He owns the Ferrari 625 250 Testa Rossa Miles drove in 1962 for the delightfully named Otto Zipper.

To be fair, Meyer owns a lot of cars. He’s been collecting them since the ’60s, when he first took home a Chevy-engined Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing and caught a bug that would last for decades. As founding chairman of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, he’s helped nurture and promote car culture in America; indeed, his aforementioned Cobra and Testa Rossa (seen above) are currently featured in the museum’s exhibit dedicated to the film. (His silver 1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB seen above is also featured in the flick, and appears in the exhibit as well.) That’s on top of “Never Lift,” the entire other exhibit of his cars on display at the Petersen right now, which focuses on racing rides he’s picked up over the years.

Meyer is well-known enough in the classic car world that when the crew of Ford v Ferrari started looking for cars to populate their sets with, they came to him. It was a change of pace for Meyer, who used to loan cars to movie studios often but stopped doing so around two decades ago. “Just because they always come back a little less than when they left,” he says by way of explanation. “With these cars…you exercise a little caution.”

(For context: A Ferrari 250GT SWB in great condition sold for $8.2 million this year at Monterey Car Week, while a 250 Testa Rossa sold for $39 million back in 2014.)

Still, he was willing to do it for James Mangold’s new film, which sees Christian Bale playing Ken Miles and Matt Damon playing his old friend Carroll Shelby.

“He really [was] a great automotive hero, and a great American hero, and worthy of praise,” Meyer says of Shelby, who died in 2012 at 89 years old. While Shelby’s methods and business approach occasionally led him to not acknowledge the contributions of his associates, Meyer says, he did more later in life to share his success with the people who helped make him a household name.

“At the end of the day, he won, in every sense of the word,” Meyer said.

Shelby, Meyer said, was an example of the hot rodding culture that first surfaced in pre-WWII America. “The entire Cobra effort, it was entirely American hot rodders,” he says, adding that the very first example of that beefed-up sports car was put together at the shop of famed hot rodder Dean Moon.

“Jazz, baseball, apple pie and hot rods,” Meyer says, “four things born here and perfected here.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his feelings, he has a fair number of hot rods located in his ample garage. “I have like 10 ’32 Fords, which is more than anyone should have,” he says with a chuckle. How big a chunk of his collection is that, for the record? When asked, he demurs.

“I don’t really talk about numbers,” he says. “It’s not even a hundred.”

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Will Sabel Courtney

Will Sabel Courtney is Gear Patrol’s Motoring Editor, formerly of The Drive and RIDES Magazine. You can often find him test-driving new cars in New York City, cursing the slow-moving traffic surrounding him.

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