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.
Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it.
This article first appeared in Hagerty Drivers Club magazine. Click here to subscribe and join the club.