PASO ROBLES — If you drove through downtown anytime last week you might have thought the Great Gatsby himself got caught in a time warp and descended upon the Paso Robles Inn along with 50 or more of his carousing friends. It may not have been the Great Gatsby but with more than 35 cars dating from 1906-1922 and a slew of collectors who could be considered “Captains of Industry,” it might as well have been.
The Annual Paso Robles Antique Car Rally, hosted by John Mozart and John Travis, is a three-day event with tours taking these museum quality cars down back country roads all over the Central Coast, from Fort Hunter-Liggett to Creston and Parkfield.
Travis and Mozart, both commercial developers — Travis from the Bay area and Mozart from Silicon Valley — started collecting 35 years ago. With more than 150 cars in his collection, Mozart is rated as one of the top 15 collectors in the world.
“We decided to put a tour on about 18 years ago,” he said. “It started in Napa then Jackson Hole, then we came here. And have been coming back here for the past 15 years, every May. We charge a fee and extra and give that to the local community, police department, drug programs, summer programs. We always charge a charity fee and distribute it back into Paso Robles. Paso Robles has been great for us. It’s a nice little community.”
Apparently they are very generous with one another as well.
“Actually our car broke down the first day, so everybody feels sorry for us so they’re loaning us their cars, how about that?” Tom Batchelor, of Reno, Nev., said. “We started out in a Bentley then we blew the engine out and then this car belongs to John Mozart who puts this tour on. It’s a 1908 Stearns made in Cleveland, OH — the only one in the world.”
Travis adds, “This is a group. You’re invited. We’ve been to Montana, Oregon, and Southern California but this is the best time for old cars. We come in on a Monday and we leave on Thursday. A lot of the folks get invited back. And on a sidelight, in doing all this we donate between $12-14K back to the community here for special programs — it’s nice of the town to have us — after school, kids at risk that sort of thing. We do that every year and we receive wonderful notes back from them [the kids] so it’s a win-win for everybody. And on a Spring day like this it’s just spectacular here. All the colors, all the flowers. Wonderful restaurants here, we can walk to everything.”
When asked facetiously how one “does not get invited back,” Travis responded, “If you misbehave with the law enforcement, you know, don’t follow the rules of the road... or don’t pay the bill when we send you the bill at the end of the trip.”
That situation seems highly unlikely given the financial status of most, if not all of those attending. There are a lot of fortunate guys here, said Travis.
“You know, some of these cars are worth up to $3 million,” he said. “Lot of Pierces, lot of Rolls Royces. There’s a National here which is a rare car, a really rare car, there’s just lot of special cars. Some have been in museums. A lot of them have been to Pebble Beach. And these were always toys for the heavy hitters and the well-healed. To give a comparison to today’s value ratio, when these cars first came out they would set you back $8-9K while you could get a Ford for $400.
And as for breaking any laws, Evan Ide, from Massachusetts, was driving the oldest car there that day, a 1906 American Underslung. Even though it can go more than 60 MPH, “Your exposed. There’s no windshield, nothing. You gotta wear some kind of eye protection,” he laughs, “you get a lot of wind on you but it’s all the more exciting and exhilarating. You don’t even have to go that fast which is nice, you don’t have to risk going to prison to have a good time.”
Even for past Apha Romeo racer Richard DeLuna, it’s not about speed, it’s all about the cars. Shouting over the chain drive of a 1908 Stearns barrelling down Vineyard-Canyon Road, “We call some of these cars, when you see them at the shows, trailer queens. It’s not good for the car. A lot of these guys are under the radar. They just like to take their cars out and drive.”
When asked how they will carry on this tradition, Travis responded,”That’s a good question. We lose someone every year. And the younger guys are into sports cars. They’re easier to run, faster. Plus it’s price prohibitive to get into this.”
Mozart was a little more optimistic when posed the same question.”Eh, we don’t live forever. Someone will grab on and keep going on.”
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