What’s the best thing about being a billionaire?
The freedom of just spending as much as you want on the things that you love, and for billionaire Nicola Bulgari, chairman of Bulgari, that means the liberty of buying all the stunning vintage cars he can get his hands on. On his 21-acre estate located in Allentown, Pennsylvania are 7 warehouses that store 150 fully restored vintage cars. He also has another 60 vintage cars in Rome which are shipped to Allentown whenever they require repairs. Most of his collection are cars from the 30s and 40s, the prime of most American auto companies, which are mostly Buicks that have been restored to be completely original classics. The facility is called the NB Center for American Automotive Heritage. Since its opening in 2008, it has grown into such a huge collection of stunning classics.
1940 Buick “woodie” Estate Wagon
Bulgari’s estate is not just a huge warehouse for his vintage cars. It is also filled with workshops manned with a handful of experts in restoring and maintain his cars, from preserving leatherworks to repairing metal works. “We authenticate every piece,” said Keith Flickinger who is the curator of the workshops and also heads the restoration projects. “They are reconstructed to the way they were when they came out of the factory.” The estate also has its own track that is used to drive the classics every day. Mr. Bulgari visits the estate 5 to 6 times every year and spends some time in driving some of his cars.
“His philosophy in collecting cars is that if you can’t drive it, he doesn’t really want it,” Flickinger said. “Art is for the walls and cars are meant to be driven. That’s why they were built. All of these cars are probably underwater in terms of what’s been invested in them, but that’s the objective.” One of the latest addition to the collection is a 1940 Nash Ambassador 8 convertible which is still undergoing restoration. “This car’s going to cost $250,000 to restore. It’s probably only worth $80,000-$100,000. So financially it doesn’t make sense, but historically, it does. If this car was not saved by Mr. Bulgari, you would only see it in books,” Flickinger added.
Some of the most interesting cars in the collection are the taxi used in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”, a 1930 GMC taxi, Series H Yellow Cab, Model 6, and a 1940 Buick “Woodie” Estate Wagon that used to be under the ownership of Bette Davis. The Woodie was featured in Bette Davis’ movie the “Now, Voyager” in 1942. Buick only built 495 1940 Super Wagons which was the first production year of the model.
Most people may wonder why spend so much in this collection without trying to make a profit out of it. Well, Mr. Bulgari is already earning so much and losing a few hundreds every now and then does not really put a dent in his bank accounts. He is purely in it for his love with American cars. When he was still young and growing up in Rome before the war, he was captivated with American movies. He fell in love with the large “working-class” coupes like Buicks, Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, and Hudsons he saw in those movies that ultimately nurtured his lifetime passion for these classics that was passed down to Keith Flickinger.
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