San Francisco Bay Area Visits Mozart Automobile Collection
Submitted by editorgary on 03-30-2013
Event InformationDate: Sat, 02/23/2013 - 11:37am - 2:37pm
Location: Mountain View - California
Contact: Eva Gordon
SFBA Visits the Automobile Collection of John Mozart
Once in a while, anyone with an interest in automobiles needs to get outside the familiarity zone of their own chosen marque and look at the grand sweep of development of this complex field. For 41 members of the San Francisco Bay Area Section of the MBCA, one such opportunity came on February 23 when we visited the marvelous building that John Mozart has built in Mountain View, California, to houses 60 of the 100 or more cars in his eclectic collection of significant automobiles.
Mozart’s gearhead passion comes from obvious roots, since he was raised among automobiles in his father’s dealership in Palo Alto, one of the first in the country to handle Volkswagens and Porsches, as well as Mercedes-Benz in the early days.
When it came time to find his own way in business, Mozart established British-American Motorcar Parts, which he expanded to include parts for Japanese and European parts before selling it off to one of the major national auto parts chains.
From there, Mozart’s business attention shifted to real estate development just as the Santa Clara Valley began its transition to Silicon Valley and the property his father’s dealerships had occupied became more valuable as lab and office space for companies like Hewlett-Packard and Intel, and the shopping centers that served their employees. Somehow it seems quite appropriate that Mozart’s custom-designed building is next door to the Silicon Valley Computer Museum since the prosperity created by the information processing industry spun off the wealth that enabled Mozart to realize his own personal dream of combining his interests in history, automotive development, and motorsports.
Mozart acquired his first significant automobile, a Duesenberg. Since then, he has sought to acquire examples that are either important in their own right for their beauty, rarity, or performance, or represented significant milestones in automotive development.
For many years, Mozart’s growing collection was housed in the warehouse behind his real estate development office in Palo Alto, but in 2007 he decided to have a building designed and built specifically to showcase the highlight cars from his collection. Finished in 2011, the building has translucent glass walls surrounding black granite floors, with the cars highlighted by grids of small lights in the ceiling.
We were ushered into the building at our appointed 1 p.m. time – the building is open for tours by car groups by prearrangement and used occasionally for charity functions – and greeted by the docent who would show us through the collection, discussing the history of some of the specific cars. Halfway through our allotted two-hour time, we were allowed to look at the cars that interested us while the docent answered questions and listened patiently while club members told stories from their own pasts related to the cars on display. The only constraint was that photography inside the collection would not be permitted.
As we entered the museum, we were awed by the two cars on pedestals in the foyer, a 1938 Bugatti Type 57 and a 1937 Alfa Romeo, the two cars that brought Mozart to the absolute pinnacle of automotive collectors, Best of Show trophies at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. We could have easily spent two hours just absorbing the hand-crafted perfection of these automobiles, including such touches as the hand-chiseled pattern in the valve cover of the Bugatti that would be later emulated by the process of machine-turning that is seen on the dashboards of lesser classic cars and is still often stamped into modern metal automobile trim.
But we had to tear ourselves away from these cars, because 58 other masterpieces beckoned in the rooms beyond.
Of course there was a replica of the Benz Patentwagen on display – what collection would be complete without this starting point to automotive development? – but what caught my eye were three early cars that were completely original and unrestored. A 1907 Royal Tourist six-passenger tourer had been owned by one family for 105 years before Mozart acquired it for his collection. An equally obscure brand from among the hundreds that were once manufactured in the United States was a 1911 Cole open tourer, and one of the earliest Pierces, a limousine from the same year.
In that same hall of early cars was a 1913 Simplex, quite an expensive automobile for the day, that had been owned by a 22-year-old dandy from one of the old missionary families in Hawaii. Somehow the juxtaposition of a car like that, being used to drive down the dirt tracks from the family’s home in Honolulu to an absolutely unspoiled Waikiki beach conjured up quite a picture for me.
Other unusual cars in the same room included a V16 Cadillac, built at a time when a Model T was quite satisfactorily propelled by four cylinders, a Rolls-Royce built in Springfield, Ohio, a 1913 Lozier, a 1915 Stutz runabout, a 1914 Mercer, considered the finest car built in that period, and a marvelous Isotta Fraschini from the decadent era of automotive styling between the wars, all chrome and curves.
Reflecting the active interest in motorsport of both John Mozart and his wife Heather, there were various important race cars on display, many of which they have driven in wheel-to-wheel competition at events like the Sonoma Wine Country Classic and Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Two rare and extraordinarily valuable Ferraris stood out, a 250 GTO and a 250TR, with both still carrying the dust from recent events. Next to them was an array including a Jaguar XK SS, one of only 11 in existence, a Porsche Spyder 718RS, kin to the car in which James Dean died, and a Lister Chevy, which oozed power from every burly curve.
Three cars from an earlier period, all with fierce Offenhauser engines, that had raced at Indianapolis in the early 1950s, reminded me of the tin race cars that I had played with as a child.
Of course there were two Mercedes-Benz automobiles on display – Mozart is known for his habit of moving specific cars from his broader collection as tangible signs of welcome to individual car clubs. One was a perfectly restored 300SL Gullwing that the docent mentioned Mozart had acquired because it reminded him of a visit to the San Francisco docks in 1955 with his father when they watched a similar car, one of the first in the country, unloaded from the ocean liner to be delivered to his father’s showroom. The other was a 300SL Roadster in excellent but completely original condition in a lovely ivory color with a light beige hardtop and darker tan upholstery.
With our allotted two hours up, the docent and other attendants politely but firmly rounded everyone up from among the collection’s various corners and ushered us out into the California sunlight. There we stood and talked about what we had seen until we finally and reluctantly got into our own cars to drive home, convinced that we could have spent days longer among these marvelous cars. Gary Anderson Event Images