Over the weekend, we got a special treat: a guided tour of the famed Richard Stephens antique car collection here in San Francisco. Now, no matter what strain of Old Car Fever you suffer from, there’s absolutely no denying a great collection of just about any ilk. And Stephens – the patriarch of the Academy Of Art University – has been collecting some of the most amazing marques ever built for a long, long time.
And what’s even better is that his Industrial Design school, headed up by the one and only Tom Matano, gets to use these cars as curriculum in its degree programs. So, if you’re a budding Transportation Design student and you enroll at the Academy here in San Francisco, you’ll sooner or later get your hands on these beautiful, massive machines. Just a win-win-win-win, says we.
There have been rumors for years about secret caves beneath the streets of the SF Financial District crammed with Stephens’ car collection overflow, but really, all we have to do is stroll up Van Ness Ave – the part of U.S. Route 101 that winds through town between the Golden Gate Bridge and Rt.80 – and gaze through the glass at a few of the old car dealerships that Stephens bought to house a few dozen of his favorites (well, we assume they’re his favorites, but how could they not be?).
But this time, we got to walk through the doors. Don Redmon hosted the day and patiently walked us around all the cars, opening doors, pulling back multi-paned hood sides, carefully opening trunks and letting us peer inside. Floorboards covered in mink? Sure. Nickel-plated generator brackets? Absolutely. One-of-a-kind 23″ Silvertownes that cost more than $16,000 to mold for the behemoth of a Daimler? Right there in front of us. The restoration of a last-known Invicta coupe? Yep, just don’t touch anything. It was almost too much to take in all at once: Stephens’ private Pre-War collection rivals anything we’ve ever seen and that’s JUST the pre-’42 stuff. Daimler, Rolls-Royce, Isotta Fraschini, Mercedes Benz, Packard, Pierce-Arrow, Minerva…the list just goes on and epicly on.
Along with the really old stuff, there’s the just kinda-old stuff: Buick, Ford, Metropolitan, Aston Martin, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Alfa Romeo…that list also goes on, but each and every car is a rare model that we rarely – if ever – might see anywhere else. Now, speaking of rare models, we have to call one out, in particular: a certain perfectly preserved Buick Grand National that sits in the corner of an upper level of just one of these buildings stuffed to the gills with ground-breaking cars. If we didn’t already have a ton of respect for Richard Stephens and his collection, we just piled a whole glittery pile of admiration on top of it. And we stood there ogling that thing while everyone else just looked at us with awkward silences and rolled eyes-with-the-thumb-over-the-shoulder as they quickly walked away from us. Whatever. That G/N was BITCHIN!
We know you can’t all just get to San Francisco to see the collection. We also know that once you’re here, you can’t just go waltzing into one of the many buildings housing these things with a Cherry Coke in one hand, a mustard pretzel in the other and start kicking tires and opening doors and saying shit like, “Hey, you know what you guys oughta do is…” But you can walk through our snappy snaps below and get on over to the official collection site to see more.
You won’t necessarily get an up-close and personal description of how a sleeve valve engine works from Don, himself (like we did), but you’ll get to see a collection of some of the finest examples of human engineering and art ever combined into self-propelled machinery ever ever ever. EVER.