Meet the 27-year-old who scrimped his way into one of the world’s most prestigious car shows
Max Neary’s business card resembles a 1920s movie poster and reads “Antique Auto Repair and Maintenance” specializing in Lincoln, Stutz, Locomobile, Packard, and other makes of a bygone era. When not dickering with magnetos or adjusting thermostatic grille louvers, Neary dresses in wide-lapel vintage suits and slicks his hair back above a pencil mustache to look like a young Fredric March, the cigarette occasionally smoldering on his lower lip figuring in as a period prop as much as a bad habit.
Neary slipped his card into my hand late one night this past August as he and some friends were downing beers and polishing the fenders of a 1926 Lincoln, the car being prepped for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance a couple of days hence. The scene looked like many such gatherings on the Monterey Peninsula that week, wherein the young grunts who make it all happen serve in rented garages fettling the cars for the wealthy owners dining in splendor in Carmel or Pacific Grove. Except that Neary owns this Lincoln, and he and his friends are anything but rich.
A lot of people at Pebble worry about the future of Pebble. They should; to go is to gaze upon a vista of immaculate silvery cars brought by equally silvery people. The event’s bias toward the automobile’s prewar glory years has made it the sport of kings—the princes being out in the parking lot ogling new Paganis and McLarens. That has backed the event into something of a demographic corner. But I have met Pebble’s future, and it is Max Neary. Did I mention that he’s 27?
Neary has a great story, the product of mentors and benefactors who took time to share with a young kid. When he was 12, a guy brought a Model T to his school and asked if anyone wanted to learn how to drive it. Neary thought, well, what the hell, and put up his hand. Old-car owners, pay attention: This is why you give rides. The experience changed Neary’s life, evoking a passion for cars from the Tin Lizzie years.
Before the pandemic, Neary was waiting tables in Oakland and aimlessly taking classes at the local college. He had befriended a collector of Lincolns and other old crocks and the guy was out of space, so he offered to let Neary take one of his long-sleeping Lincolns home for the summer to see if he could do anything with it. It’s a one-of-10 Willoughby-bodied Berline Landaulet town car that, without wishing to offend, isn’t exactly the sexy apple of a young man’s eye. It is a mile long and a mile high, the square turret of the upper body a roadgoing aquarium in which the owner luxuriates in back while barking orders at the chauffeur through a microphone. However, Neary was smitten with this time-travel barouche, so he rebuilt the engine and other bits and drove it 5000 miles, somewhere along the line coming to an understanding with the owner on a price. “I had to scrimp and save and beg and barter to make it happen,” he says.
When Pebble put the word out that it was celebrating Lincoln’s centennial in 2022, Neary—who had by then moved with a roommate into a rented L.A. house and hung out his shingle as a journeyman mechanic—threw his name in, eventually getting the nod for the prewar V-8 class. He and his crew were up till 2:30 the morning of Pebble getting ready in a friend’s garage. At 5:30 a.m., they rolled. The Lincoln burbled happily through the misty darkness, as it had on the 80-mile Tour a few days earlier, then died half a mile up a steep hill with no shoulder. With no choice, they dead-sticked the giant black limo backward through the night to the nearest gas station, one of the team running ahead waving his phone flashlight as a beacon to warn cars emerging from the fog. “I honestly thought we were going to die,” said Neary’s partner, David Lepor, still shaking in his vintage wingtips and clutching close their wirehair terrier, Boggsie. It took an hour and a half to find and fix the fuel issue, and they arrived at Pebble with only minutes to spare. And on a dead battery. Neary had to borrow one from the car next to him to be judged. The reward: a joyous third in class.
It sounded like a college romp, one of those crazy stories you tell for years about your sleepless, harried, misspent youth. And it made me, for the first time ever, want to show a car at Pebble Beach. I never thought it would be fun. Probably because I never saw somebody my age or younger do it.
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This article first appeared in Hagerty Drivers Club magazine. Click here to subscribe and join the club.
Thanks for an excellent story. While young owners of pre-war cars is novel when will Pebble have classes for post-war classes on a more regular basis. I live nearby and figure at age 60 I’ll never be invited to show my 1960s cars in my lifetime. Currently, I think the San Marino Motor Classic or Hillsborough Concours are the shows for the “rest of us” who have post-war cars. Some of the “display” classes at Pebble give me hope but will they move into the future in time? We can only hope. Thanks.
Great story and all the best in the future to these young lads as they are our hobbies future!!
This story was great fun to read! It was also another call to arms for those of us who collect cars “of a certain age” or of a certain Marque — specifically the orphan makes. We have to reach out to our intended (younger) audience where they are. Maybe we don’t have Packard Twelves that we can loan out or sell at attractive prices, but giving rides or opportunities to drive our cars may inspire a new generation to buy a more affordable 1952 Packard 200 or a 1949 Packard Super Eight club sedan to work on.
Good story and news for those of us interested in authentic vintage cars, not “retro rods,” junk rods, Frankencars. All best to Max and David; may their enthusiasm for the real thing be contagious. For those buying the premise of janitorial d’ elegances/tournaments of credit line like Pebble and Amelia Island, which have nothing to do with the original concours in France, Europe, England, at which cars were judged solely on line, form, elan, often driven through rain the night before, perhaps a bit of mud still on their tires or on the underside of their fenders, younger folks able to appreciate the past will be the only hope of such shows,
without diluting them to accept ’50s and ’60s dreck just because that’s all they know.
Meanwhile, we have to laugh when some low horizon sort says he can’t afford a memorable vintage luxe, road or grand touring car, only to boast how much he’s sunk into a Mustang, Camaro or “numbers matching” muscle car; egregious mid-sized Motown tin with station wagon engine, teenage suspension, geared for acceleration, festooned with decals or racing stripe. Power steering, power brakes, automatic transmission = muscle? Any old car, high-priced in the day and since or not, is a pleasure to drive if correctly rebuilt. Some may take a little effort parking, but if you can’t handle that, time for a golf cart.
Thanks Aaron and Hagerty for the above refreshing story.
Leno needs to interview this guy!! As well as do a story onthe car!!
Jay is in the hospital right now but you are right about this guy. Should have his car on the Garage show.
That would really be amazing, I live near his collection and often see him driving around.
Great story. Answer questions, give rides, in other words be cool about it. You will spark interest in someone for cars, maybe even what you have.
We definitely need to drive, show, and open up our cars to the younger generations. We can’t take these cars with us so we better make sure they will be left to those who will take care of them as we have. My almost 16 year old grandson has driven all my cars and his younger brother has ridden and I’ve given him the opportunity to drive all of them, he is not quite comfortable driving yet but loves riding in them. Will give them to my kids, hopefully before I’m gone, so the grandsons will get them eventually
It is ironic to read these comments on Hagerty’s forum about letting younger folks drive our old cars in order to kindle their interest, when it is the classic car insurance rules that disallow my kids from driving my old cars until they are 27 years old. In 2021, a special request for permission for my 23 year-old daughter to drive one car on one day to one show was denied. She is a registered nurse working in the operating rooms of a major hospital, but neither that nor her seven years of driving experience in a metropolitan area of 6 million people was sufficient to justify bending an insurance rule. I cannot imagine where the classic car insurance companies will get customer from in a few years’ time. My kids have no interest in owning or insuring any of my two dozen old cars.
Thanks for sharing your concern with us, Richard. I have shared it with the right folks within Hagerty, as they evaluate their underwriting guidelines on a regular basis. Again, thank you.
I am middle aged now, so the issue doesn’t have as much effect on me (although my adult children are not old enough to drive my stuff yet). My first classic truck was rebuilt and restored by me throughout my youth. Hagerty literally hung up the phone on me when I called to talk about insuring my truck at age 16. My antiques have been insured elsewhere in the past (I won’t name companies, but there were a couple that worked with me on a bond). At age 23 I contacted Hagerty again and was denied. I am with them now only because they bought another insurance company that I had a policy with. I understand that times change, and do understand the risk insuring youth, but I can attest that when you spend hundreds of not thousands of hours as well as every spare dollar building something, you tend to be pretty damn careful with it.
Try to get one if the major clubs to front the issue. In my country my children could drive my oldies from the age of 18. The very low premiums are due to the work of the national umbrella organisation, as are the other benefits.
Absolutely great story. I had some outstanding mentors growing up in the hobby and I’ve tried to be one myself. Best wishes Max! 🏁
Please share a link to his business and/or social media. Some of us may want to follow and support his progress.
I’d like to know more about that “agreed” price. Back in the mid ’60’s when I was a youngster looking for a deal on a first car, anything over a thousand dollars was out of my league. Flash forward to 2012 when Mr. Neary was in his late teens, how much would the purchase have been? I know that not everyone was as monetarily challenged as I was, but this still represents a sizeable investment for someone his age. A locally well-known spinster had a pristine 1941 Lincoln convertible and she was no longer able to drive it. It was for sale in 1969 for $500.00, but there was no way I could afford to buy and maintain it on my after-school job income of $80.00 per week. I don’t know where it ended up, but it was one of many smoking deals that could have been had back in the day, if I had only had the money.
Awesome story! Thanks for sharing your, Max, David, and Boggsie’s story! What an effort to make it to the grass, then win a third place – wonderful!
Perhaps we need to invite participation from local high schools. In any school of more than a few hundred there must be at least one with a burning interest in old automobiles. Inviting them to local car shows could be a start.
pebble beach is just for multi millionaires to show off how rich they are.
its not about the cars.
The article completely debunks your assertion and stereotyping of the owners of the cars shown at Pebble Beach but yet here you are after reading the article making that ignorant statement.
Great article. Another example of a young person getting deeply involved with an unlikely era car. The AACA letters to the editor section in the 1950s had owners writing in that Nobody was interested in their model T and worried their cars would die on the vine. Similar letters to the editors were sent in the 60s, 70’s and 80s about other type cars. Keep the faith folks! Give a kid a ride and a drive. You never know what you will spark in a young boy or girl!