The Psychology of Collecting: Many collectors have such brand loyalty that they’d never consider owning anything else
Bill Edwards should have been content with his fast new 1968 Camaro Z/28. But it wasn’t long before he discovered Mopar muscle, and he hasn’t flinched since. The Z/28 has been stored in a friend’s garage for years, but with a fleet of potent Dodge and Plymouth muscle cars, he says, “I don’t care if I never see it again.”
Edwards isn’t alone in his devotion to one marque. Some folk crave Chryslers, have a passion for Packards or a focus on Fords. But what drives them? Often, it’s a matter of collecting what you grew up with — the car that first knocked you off your feet. According to psychiatrist Dr. Ron Gaertner and clinical psychologist Dr. Randy Rhoad, there’s a measure of obsessive-compulsive behavior involved, but those same characteristics can be found in most government and corporate leaders.
Michael Eaton was eight years old in 1972, when he fell in love with MGs. While running outside one day, he recalls seeing the 1948 TC his parents had just bought. “It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.” The family used the MG occasionally, but Michael says that changed “when we moved to Virginia Beach in 1975 and got involved in the local club.” Soon, his father Ron started restoring the TC and collecting MG books, which fascinated Michael and brother Jim. As Ron added a series of MGAs and Twin Cams, Michael became passionate about MGAs, with an emphasis on important racing cars. The Eaton Family Collection currently consists of the 1957 David Ash Sebring MGA, a 1959 works MGA Twin Cam coupe, the ex-Bob Olthoff MGA Twin Cam, two other Twin Cams, an MGA 1600 Mk II Deluxe, a bunch of MGB s, an MG TF and the TC that started it all.
Eaton says he has been tempted by other cars, but explains that he’s “marque loyal because they were my first love and I’ve gotten to know people who had works and factory racing experience.” Plus, he says, “If I had a Morgan, a Jaguar or an Aston Martin, I’d need spares for them all.”
As single-marque collectors go, Bill Edwards is very pragmatic, which helps explain why he shunned Chevy for Mopar all those years ago. “On a 440, you can take the intake off without taking water out, and the water and fuel pumps are external. You can change one in 10 minutes. Easiest engine going.” He also likes the way the VIN “tells you everything about a car: motor size, where they were built, everything.”
Of course, emotions do play into Edwards’ incredible marque loyalty, as he admits to loving “the looks, the sound, the massive power and the wild colors.” He also wanted “something that you don’t see by the dozen,” and that’s true of all of his cars, which include a 1969 Plymouth Hemi Road Runner, a 1969½ Road Runner 440 Six Pack, a 1970 Plymouth Super Bird 440 and a 1969½ Dodge Super Bee 440 Six Pack, in colors like Butterscotch, Sublime and Sassy Grass Green.
Clinical psychologist Randy Rhoad is trained to identify obsessive-compulsive behavior. He’s also smart enough to know that he wouldn’t have three near-perfect 1980s BMWs and an equally pristine ’08 5-Series without being a bit obsessive himself.
Rhoad had little interest in cars until the late 1990s, when a neighbor told him about the “Ultimate Driving Machine.” He was intrigued and had to investigate.
First came a used 735 in about 1999, followed by a 1995 525 found on eBay. “I became so impressed at the drivability and solid handling of the BMWs that I became sort of obsessed with them as a diversion from my work,” Rhoad says. Over the years, other BMWs have come and gone. In the process, Rhoad developed “a drive to have them perfect,” which peaked with a show-winning 3.0CSI, into which he sunk an “absurd amount of money.” His BMW fleet currently includes an ’81 635 CSi, an ’86 325, an ’88 325Is and the daily-driver 5-Series.
Rhoad has also thought about switching, but asks, “What would I switch to?” In addition to a measure of obsessiveness and single-mindedness that isn’t likely to go away soon, he considers the matter of identity. He explains, “When people develop an expertise in a brand, it becomes hard to switch. It can become a part of an individual’s identity.” That’s certainly true in his case.
Growing up on an Iowa farm surrounded by Chevys, Dennis Albaugh liked the look of the 1955, ’56 and ’57 Chevys. He really wanted a convertible, but “Dad wouldn’t let me have one.” It wasn’t until after his fledgling agrichemical company took off that he could pursue his dream cars. First came a ’57 convertible, then a ’58, followed by a ’55 and a ’56 — all drop tops. He planned to stop, but then he started working backward and forward to land one of every convertible Chevrolet ever made. Although Albaugh considers himself “Chevy through to my toes,” he briefly strayed with two ’57 T-Birds.
His massive collection currently consists of 147 cars in a space built for 120. The earliest is a 1912 Little — a Chevrolet predecessor — and the latest is a 1975 Caprice. His toughest find was a 1939 Chevrolet convertible built by Holden in Australia. Now he’s in the process of looking for exotic Camaros.
Psychiatrist Ron Gaertner has been showing his XK120 and XK150 with the Jaguar Clubs of North America and at national concours for several years. And he admits that with the exception of taking them on and off the trailer, he doesn’t drive either one. And, he says, when the XK140 he’s now restoring is done, he won’t drive that one, either. For him it’s all about shows and winning at the highest level. He argues that it’s purely practical: The better his cars do at major events, the more they’ll be worth. According to Gaertner, being able to say, “You’re Number 1 in the country” is what counts. “I could have a stamp collection, but it wouldn’t be as much fun.”
“Jaguars call to me,” he says. “I picked Jags because they made an impression on me as a kid. They were the epitome of style.” But what really hooked him was the time his girlfriend picked him up in her mother’s boyfriend’s E-Type. “They let her drive it to get her out of the house.” Restoring and preparing them also gives him strong “non-work-related goals.” But he also understands his unique passion and jokingly acknowledges that “there has to be something wrong with someone who has to have a car at this level.”
Like every single-marque collector, Gaertner is driven. He’d have to be to build his practice and to compete with his Jaguars nationally. All these collectors share two traits: They are successful and obsessive. They have sharply focused interests and they want the finest or most significant examples of their marque. And, like Dennis Albaugh or Michael Eaton, they can be relentless in finding that special one. Most importantly, however, they’ll all be loyal to the bitter end.