Trash or Treasure: Car enthusiast traces collection to Matchbox and Hot Wheels
It all started with a few toy cars says collector and vintage automobile enthusiast Chris Beltz. The Human Resources director, insurance agent and part-time antiques dealer (he has a booths at Odd Fellows Antiques in Berkley and The Town Peddler in Livonia) traces his impressive holdings of 15 vintage cars to his early days playing with miniature versions of some of his favorites. Since then, he’s amassed not only actual cars and related automobilia, but a variety of other antiques. “I collect all things vintage,” he explains. “The style and quality of older items appeal to me… even my oven and fridge are vintage.”
As part of an ongoing series spotlighting local collectors, we caught up with him to talk about his antique automobiles and how and where he finds them.
Q. What do you collect and why?
A. Vintage Cars & Accessories. As a child my favorite toy was Matchbox cars and Hot Wheels. I knew every car and even kept most of them in their original packages and didn’t play with all of them.
Q. How long have you been collecting this?
A. 2008 was my first “real” vintage car purchase, a 1974 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. Since that time I’ve driven and “played” with some and then sold them and upgraded my collection as I have progressed in the hobby.
Q. What are your favorites?
A. I like anything that is unusual and uncommon. I’m not interested in the usual muscle cars that the baby boomers fancy, I like to have some that set me apart from the crowd. My 1965 Imperial Crown Coupe is one of my favorite cars because the older generation knows exactly what it is and the younger generation is curious as they are unfamiliar and often think it is a Lincoln.
Q. What has been your best find/deal?
A. My 1985 Oldsmobile hearse was my best find, it was mislabeled on eBay and was a bit under the radar. I paid $600 for it and it has 23,000 miles on it. It’s a beautiful looking and driving car.
Q. Most/least you ever paid?
A. I have a 1989 Cadillac S&S Limo that was gifted to me by a friend when they relocated out of state. They knew I was a car collector and were happy for me to be the caretaker and give it the attention and upkeep that it needed.
Q. What can’t you resist?
A. A story, the history of the car and being the next caretaker of them is often what motivates my purchase. I purchased a 1983 Pontiac J2000 that has 2,800 original miles on it and happened to be stored really by accident and now the car is rather special, as these cars weren’t thought of to be saved as a collector vehicle.
Q. What’s hot in the world of vintage autos?
A. Classic trucks have always been iconic, but outside of those from the ‘50s and ‘60s examples they were considered more utilitarian. The price of vintage trucks from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s are steadily increasing and holding their value. Millennials and Gen Xers interest in trucks and early SUVS have been credited as the reason for their recent popularity. When this 1972 Ford F-250 with 21,000 miles was available for purchase by the original owner I was very excited to add it to my collection.
Q. Do you have a “Holy Grail” piece?
A. My 1919 Briggs & Stratton is a family car and it is pretty rare. It’s a car that most people are unfamiliar with and always draws a crowd and attention. It’s a perfect car to engage people and talk about the hobby as they learn the story and history of the family, the car, and the company that produced it.
I’m very excited about my 1956 Highway Hi-Fi car record player and records that I recently acquired. They are hard to locate as they were made for just a few years in the mid 1950’s and are the ultimate in car accessory for your own personal enjoyment as well as car shows.
Q. Where do you shop?
A. I find most of my cars by word of mouth or on the side of the road a bit off the beaten path.
Q. How do you store or display them?
A. I rent warehouse space in Ferndale, finding space to accommodate them is very difficult. I do have several stored at the cottage in St. Helen, MI in addition to my local storage. I happen to collect the largest vehicles possible!
Q. Do you ever drive them and/or take them out for joy rides?
A. Yes, from car shows, to trips for ice cream, to estate sales.
Q. Other tips for collectors?
A. Engage with local clubs instead of online and through social media, the in-person meetings are more interesting and valuable than one may expect. They are a great way to network, explore the hobby, and attend events. Car enthusiasts are happy to assist with locating parts, assisting with repairs, and exposing you to events that you may not have ever known about. I joined the Motor City Region of the Cadillac and LaSalle club over 5 years ago and have enjoyed the personal interaction and connections that I have made. Recently I was elected the region President, which is an honor to be nominated by your peers.
Q. Do you ever sell anything?
A. Yes, I love to buy and sell and try out all different types of vehicles, those that I love the most find a permanent home with me and others are sold and appreciated by other collectors. I often update my website (www.detroitclassicauto.com) to reflect my current collection but I’m always looking for more and happy to be a resource for other collectors.
Tell Khristi Zimmeth what you collect by sending a note to email@example.com. You may be featured in an upcoming column.