Larry Hale and his family house a collection of 50-plus cars in three adjacent barns in the Frankfort area. (Phil Berg)
Tucked away in the backstreets of Frankfort, a picturesque harbor town in northwest Michigan, is an automotive gem with strong Motown connections.
Three barns house a treasure trove of classic General Motors cars, vintage Ford models and other assorted brands. This collection of 50-plus cars belongs to Larry Hale and his family, who lived in Farmington Hills before moving up north.
Larry’s son, Jeff, manages the collection and works on restoring the cars, acquiring new models and related hobbies when he is not at his regular marketing job with a Traverse City publishing company.
The Hale car collection is not normally open to the public, but the family does open the doors quite frequently for interested car clubs, and visitors are welcomed by arrangement.
Jeff Hale, 52, describes the collection started by his father in the 1960s as an effort to preserve a slice of American automotive history, rather than a money-making investment.
“We haven’t sold any of the cars,” said Jeff, who used to work at the Doner advertising agency in Detroit before heading north.
Given that Larry Hale was employed as an engineer at GM in Detroit for several decades before retiring in 1991, it’s not surprising that the collection focuses heavily on GM cars.
There are more than 15 Oldsmobile models from the late ’60s to the ’90s, including a couple of especially rare examples. One is a 1969 Hurst Olds, which was the personal car of George Hurst, a well-known maker of performance shifters.
“It has every option available and the engine was modified and blueprinted under the supervision of George to produce 580 horsepower,” Jeff Hale said. “And it was featured by GM Parts at the R.E. Olds 100th anniversary.”
The other Oldsmobile rarity is a 1971 442 W-30 convertible.
“It’s one of 110 convertibles built and was a heavily optioned car ordered new by a GM executive,” he added.
A significant number of Indy pace cars are found in the Hale barns, including Oldsmobile, Buick, Chevrolet and Pontiac editions. Jeff Hale said he was saddened when Pontiac was axed during the GM bankruptcy. One of the collection’s most prized models is a 1972 Pontiac Trans Am.
“It’s very rare, very fast,” Jeff Hale said. “It features the 455 HO engine and is one of the most sought after Trans Ams.”
The Fords in the Hale barns date from the late 1920s and 1930s and include a rare 1931 convertible sedan with fixed pillars.
Jeff Hale has a soft spot for International Harvester Scouts, an early sport utility-style vehicle that went out of production in 1980. His favorites are a 1979 International Scout SS II Baja Cruiser. Fewer than 4,000 were built and Hale’s example has all the options including an eight-track player.
He also has a 1976 International Scout Spirit, one of 384 built to commemorate the American bi-centennial. It boasts a special red, white and blue paint scheme with blue denim top.
Part of the charm of Hale’s barns is the automotive paraphernalia that adorns the walls and hangs from the rafters. As well as numerous dealer signs, advertising banners and other car-related visual material, Jeff Hale fills some of the spaces around the cars with vintage pinball machines and miniature wooden bowling alleys.
The younger Hale has devoted part of one barn to the creation of a Hawaiian-style bar complete with more than 200 Tiki mugs. A large collection of Texaco model cars also takes up the wall space in one of the buildings. And in case visitors are into boats, the Hales have six classic hydroplane racers among the cars.
What drives Jeff and his father to maintain such an impressive collection?
“It’s really just for the enjoyment of being around so many interesting cars,” Jeff Hale said. “Sometimes you just stop and look at a particular car and think of the people who owned it. You wonder why they specified it the way they did. Each car has its own story.”
John McCormick is a writer for Autos Consumer and can be reached at email@example.com