13 June 2011

Bob Simpson and his neoclassics

They say there's a butt for every seat, and when those seats are delectable lipstick red leather, with a view looking out over a hood as long as a carrier deck, you know this isn't a car for any ordinary collector.

Meet Bob Simpson, owner of Bob's Classics in Clearwater, Fla. Bob's probably the largest dealer of neoclassics in the world, and he's been selling Excaliburs, Zimmers, Tiffanys, Bacis, Clenets and more for more than 18 years.

Simpson once owned a jewelry store and kept a few cars parked outside. "The cars ended up selling and not the jewelry," he says. "So I started buying more of the cars. They're easy to maintain, and they're fiberglass so they will never rust."

So he closed the jewelry store, rented a full-time location, and got his dealers license. The timing was perfect, because, as Bob says, "then the Internet started. I've sold over 1,500 cars since."

Bob's Classics always has at least 22 cars in stock — mostly neoclassics, but also replicas and kit cars. But who, exactly, buys a neoclassic? Certainly not your "average" car guy. "Most buyers are over 60 and want one last toy to have a blast with," says Bob. "Some of the cars have the styling of cars as much as $8 million," but a neoclassic can be had for a fraction of that.

The cars must be all kinds of fun, because most people can't have just one of them. "Many of our customers have three to six of these cars," says Bob. "But not many collect only neoclassics, either." Like the prime minister of Kuwait, for instance, who's purchased four neoclassics from Bob. We're pretty sure they're not his only cars …

In the ornate and, dare we say, gaudy realm of the neoclassic, not all cars are created equal, and Bob reckons the wildest car to pass through his showroom is the 1981 Zimmer Golden Spirit built for Liberace, which the late piano man drove all around Vegas. The car was on display in the Imperial Palace for several years and is quite possibly the only car with seven candelabras, mounted not inconspicuously at various points on the Zimmer's curvy exterior. We can state with total certainty it is the only car with Liberace's signature in three separate places.

This seems to be the logical place to make a social comment about neoclassics and the folks who buy them. A gold chain and leisure suit kind of comment. A Liberace kind of comment, but Bob made a good point in a recent Car & Driver interview when he said, "Hot-rodders think nothing of a fiberglass Ford bucket T, powered by a big-block Chevy. Why is that intellectually better or worse than a neoclassic?"

Intellectualism aside, one realm where neoclassics seem to trump plastic hot rods is in the market, where they continue to perform strongly year after year. If bells and whistles, chromed horns and faux pipes, lipstick red leather and candelabra accents are your thing, then Bob Simpson has just the car for you.

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