Author, adventurer, and classic car collector Clive Cussler dies

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Author and classic car collector Clive Cussler, who wrote dozens of adventure novels and led numerous expeditions in search of historic shipwrecks, died on Monday at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 88.

Cussler’s passing was announced by his wife, Janet, via Cussler’s Twitter account. “It is with a heavy heart that I share the sad news that my husband, Clive, passed away Monday. It has been a privilege to share in his life. I want to thank you, his fans and friends, for all the support. He was the kindest, most gentle man I ever met. I know his adventures will continue.”

Cussler, who resembled a sea captain with his weathered skin, white hair, beard, and mischievous grin, was featured on the cover of Hagerty magazine (then called Hagerty’s) in spring of 2008. In a story that extolled Cussler’s love of history, adventure, the sea, and antique automobiles, Jerry Burton wrote, “He loves chasing down shipwrecks, lost aircraft, gold mines, historical myths and anomalies, great story lines, and, oh yes, magnificent old cars… [and] the fruits of his labors are as numerous as the marques in his garage.”

Born July 15, 1931 in Illinois and raised in California, Cussler was a college dropout but went on to write more than 80 books. Some were non-fiction or children’s books, but Cussler gained fame and fortune as a novelist. According to The New York Times, his books have been translated into 40 languages and have sold more than 100 million copies, resulting in a fortune estimated at $80 million. Cussler’s work has appeared on The New York Times best-seller list more than 20 times.

His commercial breakthrough was 1976’s Raise the Titanic!, in which a clandestine government-backed salvage team—led by Cussler’s alter ego, the heroic Dirk Pitt—repairs the sunken ship, brings it to the surface, and recovers a rare mineral that is vital to the U.S. defense system—while outsmarting the USSR in the process.

According to The Times, Cussler originally created the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) as a fictional government organization, but in 1979 he founded an actual National Underwater and Marine Agency as a private nonprofit group committed to “preserving maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts.” The organization underwrote Cussler’s maritime ventures.

As Cussler grew older and began to slow down, he employed several co-authors, including his son Dirk—Dirk Pitt’s namesake—to keep his fans happy and produce 1–2 books per year. Cussler’s final book, Journey of the Pharaohs: A Novel from the NUMA Files, written with Graham Brown, is scheduled to be published next month.

Cussler’s massive car collection near Denver includes some equally massive cars, like a 1929 Duesenberg Model J-140, 1929 Isotta Fraschini, and 1936 Pierce Arrow V-12 Berline with matching trailer, to name a few.

“Just about everybody has an instance in their life where they are touched by a car. Like the guy in high school who dreams about owning a ’57 Chevy Bel Air convertible, and then at 45 or 50 rushes out and pays $80,000 for one,” Cussler told Burton in 2008. “When I was about 5 years old, I was sitting on the curb in Alhambra, California, and this car went by and I was just agog—because everybody had a Chevy or a Ford, but here was a town car with the chauffeur sitting out front in uniform. I was blown away by that.”

Cussler’s Pitt character drove many of the same cars in his novels that Cussler owned himself, the author’s way of intertwining two of his favorite things. He told Burton in 2008 that one of his biggest regrets was not paying $35,000 for a 1948 Tucker when he had the chance. “[A friend] asked, ‘Why didn’t you buy that,’ and I said, ‘That’s too much to pay for a Tucker,’” Cussler lamented. “I screwed up.”

Cussler joked that he wasn’t as fortunate as Dirk Pitt, who never seemed to grow old. “When Pitt and I started out together, we were both 36,” he said 12 years ago. “Now he’s 44 or 45 and I’m 76. It isn’t fair.”

Thanks to Cussler’s imagination and love of adventure, they’ll both live forever.

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