27 September 2007

Gunner's Great Garages 8

We visited the “garage” of Harley E. Cluxton III in 2000 with Barry and Karen Meguiar and a busload of automotive journalists. It hasn’t changed much since then. The ladies and gentlemen of the press had traveled the world to visit many outstanding collections and museums, but this racing-car emporium in Scottsdale, Arizona was still a real jaw dropper.

Cluxton’s Grand Touring Cars, Inc., traces its roots to 1972 when Ferrari authorized the formation of GTC, Inc., in Chicago, Illinois. Cluxton became the youngest factory-authorized Ferrari dealer in the United States. GTC relocated to Arizona in 1973. The dealership has been in Scottsdale since then. Though GTC is a business — a very cool business — hobbyists on all levels can get “great garage” ideas from this high-performance palace in the desert.

GTC became the Lamborghini importer for the Western U.S. from 1973-1977. In late 1975, racer John Wyer — who had earned World Championships for Aston Martin, Porsche, Ford and Mirage — approached GTC about purchasing his Mirage Racing Team from Gulf Oil. Cluxton had raced for Ferrari and competed against Wyer. He had a close friendship with John and his drivers.

Cluxton purchased the Mirage Team in early 1976. By that June, he retired from racing and Wyer became his consultant. John hired drivers, negotiated a sponsorship and went racing. The team achieved second- and fifth-place finishes behind a group of factory-backed Porsche 936s.

Cluxton directed the extremely successful GTC-Mirage team from 1976 to 1982. They ran two cars in the FIA World Sportscar Championship. In 1982, Mario and Michael Andretti and their car — the only American-made, American-owned, American-driven entry in Group C — made a 2-centimeter infraction and got excluded from the race 20 minutes before the start. The Mirage team quit Le Mans. After that, GTC developed and manufactured 265-cid, turbocharged Indy motors for Renault. GTC also supports Formula 1 drivers, CART drivers and selected sports car drivers in sponsorship, legal and management matters.

The company can provide collectors with discreet, personal attention concerning the acquisition of Ferrari, Maserati, Cobra, GT40 or Formula One cars. It works with both individual collectors and 501 C corporations, such as museums.

Any visitor to GTC will be impressed by the cleanliness of the epoxy-coated floors, the well-planned lighting scheme and the clever use of racing memorabilia to decorate the walls. Complete noses and bodies of racing cars hang from the walls, which are also dressed up with photos, posters and tool boards. The walls are painted white, which makes the space look larger than it is.

Also in the shop area are neat-looking workbenches finished in a neutral gray with drawers for uncluttered storage of parts and tools. There are lifts (finished in red and gray), red jack stands and a gray hydraulic press. The overall look is like that of a modern automotive dealership.

A nice touch is the use of a two-tone color combination (light gray/dark gray) on the floors, with the slightly darker shade used to section off the area in which cars are actually worked on. A blue “racing” stripe is used to separate the shop area and the collector-car storage area.

The building contains an office area with a desk and bookshelves lined with books on sports cars and racing. On top of the bookshelf a collection of colorful racing helmets is kept. The other “furniture” includes a Renault racing engine on a sturdy, but attractive “engine table.”

As for the shop area, it is immense with plenty of room provided around each vehicle being worked on. Except for the lifts, the tools and equipment are located around the perimeter of the space, leaving the working area clean, open and free of obstacles. Rows of neon lights run across the building, overhead, about every 10-12 feet. There is a loft area where heating and air conditioning units reside. Even it is decorated with a large Renault racing banner. Large overhead fans are suspended from the ceiling to keep the shop area cooler on hot Arizona days.

We were told that the fabulous sports cars on display inside the building were a combination of vehicles for sale and private cars that collectors store there. Though it has the appearance of one, the building is not a public museum. However, it certainly is a fun business operated in a “great garage.” The Grand Touring Cars, Inc., Website is located at www.gtc-mirage.com.

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