10 December 2007

Behind the Scenes: Influential Hobbyists in Your Area

You know who they are — at least many of them. They’re the people with big collections you see at shows or during club “garage tours.” They’re folks who put on the events you attend and the ones who manage the car museums you visit. Maybe you’ve read an article they wrote. Maybe they restored your car. You may have sent some of these folks your club dues or purchased a part from them. Maybe you attended their auction. They’re the influential hobbyists in your area, the local movers and shakers of the collector car scene.

Over the next few months we’ll be taking a look, region by region, at some of the hobby’s biggest players. This month, we’re focusing on the Midwest.

Chet Krause: Iola, Wisconsin

Chet, now 84, became an old-car nut 70 years ago. His love for vintage autos started when he and his brother tore down a Model T and put it back together.

After service in World War II, Chet worked as a carpenter. He was also a coin collector. In 1952, he started a newspaper for coin hobbyists. Five years later, he had 30,000 readers and found himself a successful publisher.

In the early ‘70s, Krause Publications came through a downturn in the coin market and decided to broaden its reach with a magazine called Old Cars. It grew to become a weekly – Old Cars Weekly – and one of the “Big 3” magazines in the old-car hobby.

Chet also amassed a collection of over 150 cars, trucks and tractors, as well as a major military vehicle collection. Several years ago, he sold his vehicles off, but he then started a collection that includes every kind of old Army Jeep.

Chet won the first Mequiar’s Award and many other hobby honors. Books he has published have won Cugnot Awards and Moto Awards. His favorite of many charities is the automotive program at ex-Green Bay Packer Bart Starr’s Rawhide Ranch in New London, Wis.

Joe Bortz: Highland Park, Illinois

Joe Bortz had a dream to find, save or restore and collect the great “Dream Cars” built for 1950s-1960s auto shows.

Over the last 25 years, Bortz accomplished his mission. He located many of these early “concept cars.” Some were in perfect shape. Others he purchased in pieces and had put back together by a top-notch restorer.

As Bortz found each car, he publicized his treasures and revived interest in these one-of-a-kind (or in one case two-of-a-kind) cars. His stories about digging the pieces of the Chevy Biscayne out of a salvage yard fired the imaginations of many collectors. In recent years, Bortz — and others inspired by him — have auctioned these cars, trucks and buses off for unheard of seven-figure prices.

Bortz is a real “Chicago” personality. It’s true that the dream cars turned out to be a good investment for him. However, when he started, he knew nothing more than he had a dream. His achievement of that dream has preserved important pieces of automotive history and influenced the entire car collecting hobby.

Dennis Gage, Evansville, Indiana

With his TV show “My Classic Car” Dennis Gage has had a major influence on widening the collector-car hobby. Gage’s lifelong love of cars and motorcycles led him into doing a TV show that he describes as “The ultimate job!”

Dennis grew up on a small family farm in northwestern Illinois. He started tinkering with cars early on and purchased his first, a ‘59 T-Bird, at age 15. He also played guitar and trumpet in rock, folk and school bands. He went to North Central College in Naperville, Ill., where he majored in chemistry and physics. His automotive interest continued in college and he owned a number of muscle and sports cars.

After graduating, Dennis played in country-rock bands in the Chicago area, before going to graduate school at the University of Idaho. He received a Ph.D. in chemistry, took up climbing and married his high school sweetheart, Ellen.

Dennis took a job at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he created many of P&G’s food products like Pringles. He even bears a striking resemblance to the handlebar mustachioed character on the Pringles can. With a number of patents in his name, he was able to start playing with classic cars while he and Ellen raised three children.

While working at Bristol-Myers Squibb in Evansville, Dennis met Brad Kimmel, founder of Bradley David Productions, Inc. and creator of “My Classic Car.” While Dennis had no formal training in television, he had a good knowledge of classic cars, an outgoing personality and his iconic mustache. Together, Brad and Dennis developed a pilot series that received strong ratings when it aired on The Nashville Network in early 1996.

In 2000, the show moved to Speed Channel. It now reaches over 65 million households in the U.S. Brad and Dennis received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year award for Indiana in 2000. Dennis also serves on the Board of Directors of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), as well as a number of academic and industry advisory boards and councils.

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