L. Scott George knows a thing or two about protecting valuable automobiles. As president and curator of the Collier Collection and vice president of the Revs Institute for Automotive Research, George manages a cache of more than 100 historically significant vehicles at the collection’s museum in Naples, Fla.
“You can’t plan for every situation or protect your car from every possible danger, but there are a lot of things you can do to lower the risk,” George said. “Obviously, some of what we do at the museum isn’t practical for the average person, but there are common-sense things that everyone can do.”
For instance, George said, it is common practice at the museum to disconnect the battery and leave little or no fuel in the cars unless they are going to be driven. “Anything you can do to reduce the risk of a spark and fire, do it,” he said.
Extensive – and costly – precautions are essential when protecting vehicles like those in the Collier museum, which The New York Times declared “the finest sports car collection in America.” The museum is equipped with sprinklers, smoke detectors, security alarms, cameras, impact-resistant glass and hurricane shutters. Heat detectors, which sound an alarm when a rise in temperature is sensed, are also installed. And there is enough plastic on site to cover every car in case of water intrusion through a roof leak or broken window.
“Theft is always a possibility,” George said, “but accidental damage is a much more prevalent problem.”
Even if you don’t have a museum’s worth of vehicles, there are lessons from the professionals that apply. Rick Worm, who spent 24 years as firefighter and EMT and is in his 18th year as a Loss Control Specialist at Hagerty, offered these tips to protect your collection:
- Structure type and building construction – Noncombustible construction, such as masonry exterior walls with steel-frame roofing, is preferred. Local codes will also dictate construction techniques (such as in hurricane or earthquake zones or in areas of high snow loads).
- Fire and burglar alarms – A licensed alarm company can design a monitored fire and burglar alarm system to alert fire and police departments of an emergency through a call center. Wireless systems with cellular back-up are also available. Heat detectors in the garage can help prevent false alarms caused by conventional smoke detectors, which may be triggered by vehicle exhaust hovering at ceiling level.
- Surrounding Landscape – Facilities built in areas prone to brush fires should have a minimum clear space of 100 feet from the building to thick brush or large trees. In less fire-prone areas, a 25-foot buffer should be maintained. “Also keep in mind that in the event of a fire, large fire apparatus will need to get to your building, so when designing a driveway consider things like width, grade and curvature,” Worm said.
- Ventilation – Proper ventilation is very important, especially in hot, humid climates where inadequate airflow can foster condensation and mold. A properly designed HVAC system will ensure proper circulation, temperature and humidity control.
- Windows – To discourage curiosity seekers when the property is unoccupied, consider shades or tinted glass.
- Knox-Box – A Knox-Box is a small wall-mounted safe that holds building keys for fire departments to retrieve in emergency situations. “Local fire departments keep master keys to all boxes in their response area, so firefighters can quickly enter a building without breaking doors or windows, which could increase the intensity of the fire,” Worm said. The master key is controlled and audited electronically by the fire department (and in most cases a loud alarm sounds in the fire apparatus until the key is replaced).
- Fire extinguishers – Install fire extinguishers per local building codes. “A fire extinguisher service company will be aware of local codes and advise what type to buy and where to place them,” he said.
Worm also offered a few caution notes regarding potential problems that may be easily overlooked: "Don’t suspend items above collector vehicles; secure wall cabinets to prevent them from toppling over; and prohibit smoking inside the building. Flammable liquids, including starting fluid, fuel and cleaning chemicals should be stored in a clearly labeled, UL Listed flammable/combustible liquids storage cabinet.”
George said he worries less when the automobiles in the Collier Collection are inside the museum, in the care of people who know them well. “When the cars are out of your control, that’s when they’re in the most danger.”
Moving the cars also warrants consideration. It’s important to hire a reputable transport company that understands how important the vehicles are and will handle them with care.
“You have to educate whoever is carrying the car,” he said. “Don’t wear anything that hangs down or sticks out like a belt buckle; don’t carry screwdrivers in your pockets; cover the seats; don’t lean on doors; don’t support your weight on something fragile; make sure you push the car where it should be pushed; strap it down properly. We even use signs to show where to push and where not to push, where to tie down and where not to tie down. Do their thinking for them.”
George said that he also wants to be updated on travel and know where the cars will be stored or where the carrier will be parked. “If they’re at a show, will there be 24-hour security? Will they be properly covered in inclement weather?”
Overprotective? No way. “Remember that no one cares or knows as much about your cars as you do,” George said. “Don’t take anything for granted.”