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Jack Passey didn’t write the book on auto collecting, but one was written about him.
“For the Love of Old Cars,” by Ken Albert tells the story of Passey, a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance. At 85, and collecting cars since he bought a 1927 Essex in 1944, there’s a lot to tell.
Passey has been a judge at the Concours D’Elegance for 39 years. He is renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge of old cars and his nearly unrivaled love of them. He especially likes Lincolns.
“I’ve owned 92 different Lincolns; I had 55 of them at one time,” he said.
He still owns dozens of them — and not just any Lincoln. His Lincolns are mostly at least 80 years old and very rare. You can count on your hand how many 1933 Lincoln K Brunns were made, and one is sitting in Passey’s garage — amidst two long rows of classic vehicles. And these are not all of them. His 30-acre property outside of Watsonville has cars in all sorts of places.
“My list of cars in the Classic Car Club is one of the long ones. It’s not the longest, but it’s longer than 90 percent of them,” he said.
By his mid-twenties, Passey had already acquired eight classic cars and by the time he was 40, he had about 100. That was when he married his wife Mona. He said he has never understood it when other guys tell him they had to get rid of a car when they got married.
“When I go out and meet other guys and they tell me their wife won’t let them do this or do that, I tell them ‘you got married too soon,’” he said. “How could a wife have that much power? My wife, had to move in with 100 cars. … This is me.”
In all his years, Passey said the most fun he has had collecting was when he was working for his friend Otis Chandler, a retired publisher of the L.A. Times and worth billions of dollars. Passey and Chandler met while in college. Chandler threw the shot put for Stanford and Passey ran hurdles for San Jose State. They’d talk about cars at meets.
Decades later, Chandler had Passey scouring the country for classic cars.
“He was a fabulous friend,” Passey said. “I bought over $33 million worth of his cars.”
Passey said Chandler called him one morning and said he was selling his muscle cars and wanted Passey to help him build a collection of the greatest automobiles of all time.
And Passey’s reputation was such that he didn’t have to search very hard. He has judged shows for 50 years all across the country.
“Otis wanted the greatest cars that were ever built and he turned me loose to buy them,” Passey said. “I had so many people that knew me, that knew what I was doing, my telephone gave me all the leads I needed. I bought most of the cars sitting on the edge of my bed. And it helped that I had judged at Pebble Beach because I got to meet the wealthy collectors from all over.”
Passey said he looks forward to the entire week on the Monterey Peninsula, with shows just about every day. He will also be an official judge at the Little Car Show in Pacific Grove, but the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance, he said, is like no other show in the country.
“It’s gigantic … it’s indescribable. There’s nothing else like it, short of a couple of really great shows they hold in Europe,” he said. “Just having your car on the field, the fact that you got invited is a big thing for a collector.”
Passey, meanwhile, needed to get back to his work. He was cleaning a grill on the Lincoln he will be showing at the Concours D’Elegance.
“As a judge, if I saw that spot … whoa.”
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