Florida’s Wilson Collection is a diamond in the rough
To say the Wilson Collection is impressive isn’t completely accurate, since impressive doesn’t quite cover it. The scope and scale of the collection is such that even seasoned car guys are left speechless when they see it for the first time.
Started by Larry Wilson and located in a nondescript commercial park in Jupiter, Fla., the Wilson Collection consists of about 120 unique and historically significant automobiles. The number is an approximation because the total fluctuates; some automobiles are sold when they no longer fit the profile of the collection, and others are added when tastes change.
Dave Polny, an old friend of mine, manages the collection and invited me to come down. Since I hadn’t seen the collection in a while, I jumped at the chance. When I arrived, Paul Willison was behind the wheel of the collection’s Porsche 550 Spyder. Paul was with Brumos Racing in the early 1970s and is equally well known for his work at Willison-Werkstat over the last 25 years. So meeting him was a wonderful way to get things started.
For those who have followed Porsche Sportscar Racing in the U.S. during the last 40 years, the name Mike Colucci is very familiar. Mike has five overall victories at the 24 Hours of Daytona, as well many other victories on his resumé. As I planned my trip to Jupiter, I reached out to Ken Gold from Atlantis Motor Sport Group, as he had scheduled a private test day at Palm Beach International Raceway for his 1977 Porsche 935K Factory Werks race car. Colucci knows the car well and was helping Gold prepare the 935 along with Orbit Racing’s Rodger Hawley, who has been prepping top-level Porsche race cars for many years and has a Daytona victory to his credit (2004). So I was looking forward to spending the day with them.
There was also a white Porsche 918 Spyder on track that morning, and as far as I can tell, the only way to make a Porsche 918 Spyder disappear is ask it to share the track with a factory 935.
Colucci mentioned that he had never seen the Wilson Collection, so we jumped into his Speed Yellow Cayman S and made our way back. He wears his Rolex Daytona with pride, having earned it by winning at Daytona. The Cayman S has a 2013 Daytona victory to its credit, with David Donahue, Shane Lewis, Dr. Jim Norman, and Nelson Canache handling the driving duties.
It’s always a pleasure spending time with Colucci and hearing his mesmerizing stories from “back in the day.” His career started at Brumos Porsche in 1972 working alongside Jack Atkinson and drivers Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood. Anyone who knows Colucci will agree that he does not suffer fools gladly, and he certainly doesn’t pull any punches when offering his opinion. The guy has truly seen sports car racing grow from the early ’70s to what it is today, so when he speaks, you listen.
When we arrived at the collection, I was looking forward to seeing Colucci’s reaction. He is not easily impressed, but he was utterly speechless as we walked through the simple doors and into the building. I wasn’t surprised. There’s no way to prepare for why you’ll see at “Larry’s Used Cars.”
Most car guys know that a lot of really great collections are located in industrial parks and are designed to look like any other manufacturing business. It really is part of the appeal when you walk into the warehouse not knowing what to expect and then are greeted by this wondrous scene.
The Wilson Collection facility spans 18,000 square feet, is equipped with air conditioning and crystal chandeliers, and features a boardroom, library mezzanine overlooking the race room, and full fabrication shop. The three main rooms are the Race room, American room, and European room. The front door deposits you into the European room, which contains some of the tastiest Porsche 911s and 356s imaginable, as well as choice models from Maserati, Mercedes, Alfa, Volkswagen, and others. And the cars aren’t just pretty to look at. Larry Wilson drives or races every automobile in his collection, and the man is not afraid—he races the RSRs, new and vintage, as well as the 910.
Mike Colucci spent many years repairing crashed race cars, and he appreciates custom fabrication more than most. When Polny showed him the 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB NART Spyder and explained that most of the fab work was done in house by McPherson College graduates Evan Clary and Oscar Vorhees … well, quite frankly, I cannot print what he said.
The NART Spyder will be a star at SEMA Oct. 31–Nov. 3 in Las Vegas. The quality of craftsmanship is second to none, and only the best-trained Ferrari eye will spot the differences. Not that this car was built to fool anyone; it was built to show off the McPherson College program and the skills of Clary and Vorhees. (As an aside, while I was visiting, Bill Warner called and asked if he could pay the NART a visit. Yes, that Bill Warner, founder of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.)
We saw more work from Clary and Vorhees in the fabrication shop, where the two are now creating a 1960 Ferrari California Spyder, based on a 1962 330 GT. Creating body panels will prove to be a slightly simpler task since the collection sourced and purchased a wooden body buck used to create the original 250 California Spyder.
During my visit, the Wilson Collection hosted the Porsche Club of America Zone 12 Open House, which was limited to 125. The event sold out in minutes. You have to act fast if you want an opportunity to see the private collection.
As the day drew to a close, I asked Polny what he had in mind for Palm Beach Cars & Coffee the following day. He responded with these magical words: “Let’s take the Scarab,” referring to the Wilson’s rare American roadster.
It was a perfect end to a great trip. I can’t say enough about the automobiles in the Wilson Collection—again, “impressive” isn’t a strong enough word—but the friendships truly make it special. Many thanks to Larry Wilson and Dave Polny for giving me the opportunity to live the dream.ive the dream.