Now that’s a car collection


By Dave Tomlin - Ruidoso News, N.M.



RUIDOSO, N.M. — Driving past the quiet homes and shaded lawns in the middle of this town, one would never guess that lying hidden behind the suburban serenity is a private trove of gleaming vintage cars that would rank high among the world’s largest collections if its owner ever bragged about it.

The eye-popping hoard of candy-colored Corvettes, Camaros, souped-up roadsters, novelty pickups and antique horseless carriages belongs to Ron MacWhorter, 79, an El Paso real estate developer who fell hard for cars at the age of 12 and admits the honeymoon still isn’t over.

Altogether there are 278 of them. A website that calls itself “therichest.com” which compiles lists of all kinds failed to include MacWhorter in its “10 biggest car collectors in the world,” but it should have.

The top two spots on the list belong to a couple of Middle Eastern sheiks who are so ridiculously rich they almost don’t even count. But talk show host Jay Leno comes in third, and he only has 200 vehicles. Rock stars Wyclef Jean and Nick Mason are tied in 10th place at a paltry 40 cars apiece.

But MacWhorter’s huge collection is about to get smaller. This week a crew from Mecum Auctions led by road manager Rocky Hodges was on MacWhorter’s property taking glossy photos of 130 cars and preparing them for shipping to Dallas to be part of a 1,000-car auction on Nov. 2.

Mecum Auctions is said to be the nation’s biggest collectible car auction house. It’s the subject of a TV series called Mecum Dealmakers, each episode a behind-the-scenes look at one of Mecum’s many facilities around the country.

MacWhorter doesn’t know what his cars will fetch, but his best guess is that the group he’s offering will be knocked down at a total between $2.5 million and $3 million.

“You never know about an auction,” Hodges said. “We might get some bidding wars going on some of these.”

But MacWhorter isn’t sending them away for the money. He’s just running out of space.

“I’ve got a whole lot more of them in storage,” he said. “It’s costing me almost $100,000 a year, and I can’t afford that. Also, when they’re away in storage I can’t look at them.”

So when Mecum hauls away nearly half of MacWhorter’s cars, a whole new group of vehicles will come out of the rented off-site sheds and warehouses where they’ve been parked mostly unseen for years and move up to MacWhorter’s sprawling hilltop home, which is surrounded by his own more accessible garages.

That should come as good news for the local charities that MacWhorter allows to raise money selling tickets to car enthusiasts for personally guided tours of the row upon row of his one-of-a-kind exemplars of speed, power, style or all three. There will soon be new vehicles on display.

MacWhorter bought his first car, a black 1940 Ford coupe, before he was old enough to get a driver’s license. The first car he actually drove was a maroon 1937 Dodge. His most recent acquisition was a gray 1969 Camaro with a black vinyl roof and a custom-sculpted rear-facing hood vent.

In between came pimped-out GTO’s, low-slung Impalas, tail-finned Cadillac sedans, stately black saloon cars that date back to World War I, unrestored Mercury’s and Oldsmobiles from the 50’s and 60’s, a pair of classic 1957 Chevy’s, and a Camaro with a massive 588-cubic-inch V8 that MacWhorter said could generate 1,000 horsepower.

Before he got into real estate development, MacWhorter said he was involved in the salvage yard business and a car dealership. He also raced professionally for a while, mostly sprint cars, and learned firsthand what it feels like to crash head-on into a wall at 70 miles an hour. It feels bad.

But the incident did not dampen his zeal for car buying, and the pace of his purchases quickened about 20 years ago. “I’d see one I liked, I’d have to get it or try to get it,” he said. “I went to a lot of auctions.”

MacWhorter bought his Ruidoso home in about 1980. It sat on top of a hill that was otherwise vacant at the time. He built a condo complex on it and began selling units off one at a time while he expanded his collection and parked his prizes in a large underground garage he installed beneath his house.

They quickly filled it, so he built more garages around the house, including one devoted entirely to a multi-hued fleet of Corvettes parked in a long chevron pattern under bright lights with their hoods raised at identical angles so visitors can admire their high-displacement power plants.

If MacWhorter has a particular favorite among his beauties he won’t let on.

“If I said one was my favorite, the rest of them would never run again,” he said. “I like ‘em all. I’m very careful about that.”

MacWhorter’s aim now is to downsize. But he admits that his lifelong compulsion to possess automotive objects of his affection could drive him to use the fat bankroll from the November auction to renew the leases on those empty garages and start filling them up again.

“I’m going to try not to,” he said without much conviction. “I hope not.”

By Dave Tomlin

Ruidoso News, N.M.

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