Rides to remember
Collections conjure up fast times and first loves for car buffs
Love can happen at first sight, and it sometimes includes a steering wheel and a set of tires.
For Jim Cullen, the undeniable attraction occurred in 1947 in Panama, when Cullen, then a machinist at the U.S. Navy yards, passed by a Chrysler dealership and saw a gleaming black 1947 Plymouth four-door sedan.
He waited nine long months to get his hands on it, and he continues to be smitten by its charms. The car moved with him to Titusville and remains well-loved. Now 103, Jim Cullen and his son, Peter, still drive the 75-year-old Plymouth around town. It’s more than a car, it’s part of the family.
“I learned to drive in the car,” Peter Cullen said. “My mom drove that car all of my childhood.”
Evelyn Cullen was as much of a car buff as her husband, and she insisted the Plymouth relocate with them when the family moved to Brevard.
It is easy to relate to Jim Cullen because there is a little bit of the car enthusiast in everyone. Many are mesmerized by hot cars and still remember fondly that special vehicle that got away.
Kenny Scofield, who runs Dolphin Auto restoration shop in Grant-Valkaria, likes to ask listeners of the automotive-themed radio show he co-hosts if they name their cars.
“Most people do,” he said.CAR SHOWS GALORE
Scofield has restored classics such as a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud imported from Switzerland and a 1919 Willis Overland, one of only 14 made. His special car baby is a treasured 1970 Chevy Nova, which he enjoys taking to the many car shows he organizes in Brevard and Indian River counties.
And, it is hard to not find a car show in Brevard most weekends.
Indialantic resident and devoted gearhead Bill Antonetz orchestrates several each month. On the third Saturday of the month, 200 or more classic cars owners gather at the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot. On the second Thursday, the cars roll to Friendly’s in Indian Harbour Beach. On select Sundays, classic car owners gather at Fresh Scratch Bistro. Whatever money is raised goes to charities.
Antonetz also enjoys sharing his passion for cars with older adults and has enlisted fellow car buffs to give some of them a ride in a gleaming classic convertible. He even drove his beloved 1957 blue Chevy inside the Melbourne Auditorium to serve as the centerpiece for Melbourne Municipal Band’s first sock hop of 2023.
IT NEVER GETS OLD
Some folks, like Jim Cullen, hang on to one or two treasured sets of wheels. Others, like Antonetz, restore a model they particularly admire. And still other enthusiasts, like Nick Bauer and former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie, prefer specialty autos.
When he is in town, Flutie is often at car shows with one of his two Batmobiles, while Bauer likes to show off the elegance of his 1931 Auburn, which once belonged to legendary stage and screen siren Mae West.
Bauer, who has been offered $10,000 just for the car’s hood ornament, has been besotted with the Mae-mobile. A car guy since diapers, Bauer had been on the prowl for an Auburn, as classy as a classic car can get. Of the 650 Auburns made in 1931, only three survived and two of these had not been restored. He hit the jackpot when the owner needed cash and decided to sell it, complete with a spotless provenance that included West’s personal trunk.
Dressing up in gangster regalia complete with machine gun, Bauer can be seen on the car show circuit. The fun never gets old and the passion never fades.
“It’s like having an affair with a piece of machinery,” Bauer said.
THE ULTIMATE MUSEUM
There are collectors like Jim Cullen, Scofield, Antonetz, Flutie and Bauer. And then there is Mark Pieloch.
Local car enthusiasts revolve around Pieloch like the solar system around the sun, for, indeed, Pieloch’s star is of solar proportions. With a collection of more than 400 extraordinary cars, including 200 with less than 100 original miles and several in the more than six-figure price range, Pieloch is a collector’s collector.
The Vero Beach entrepreneur has channeled his passion for autos into an awe-inspiring fundraising machine with the opening of his American Muscle Car Museum in Melbourne in 2016. The 180,000-square-foot temple to testosterone-fueled vehicles, set on 42 acres on Sarno Road, is open only for nonprofit fundraisers, car activities and educational tours for school-age children.
Space Coast nonprofits have embraced the museum with such vigor that its annual calendar is chock full. There are not only the magnificent cars to view, but Pieloch provides the food and drinks for the variety of events held there each year. Nonprofit organizations also get to keep all ticket sales for their worthy causes.
STABLE FULL OF MUSTANGSThe museum’s collection is jaw-dropping, drool-inducing. More than 60 Ford Mustangs of the highest collectible quality are stabled in a pristine facility clean enough for surgeries. More than 50 Porsches line up perfectly next to each other.
Approximately 50 of the baddest-boy Corvettes seem ready to roar out the door, as are 14 Dodge Vipers, the Shelby and Ferraris. If a car manufacturer makes a machine that goes fast, Pieloch has one of its top specimens.
After touring the museum, Edsel Ford II reportedly said to Pieloch, “I have seen many car collections, but nothing has impressed me as much as yours.”
And according to operations/restoration manager Ed Dedick, “Ford Motor Company has told us we have the largest [Mustang] GT collection in the world.” Dedick and restoration technician Ryan Colin labor full time in the state-of-the-art 25,000-square-foot maintenance facility to keep the vehicular thoroughbreds in top shape.
Pieloch could have chosen any place for his museum, but he selected Brevard. With balmy weather and an ever-present beach culture, the Space Coast has been a magnet for car buffs who appreciate the opportunity to take their favorite vehicles out for a spin whenever the urge arises.
“Florida is the No. 2 state for the car culture,” Pieloch said. “Only California ranks higher, but I think Florida is going to overtake it.”
With the caliber of car buffs in Brevard, it is a certainty.
Maria is a prolific writer and most excellent proofer for various Space Coast publications and an adjunct professor at Florida Institute of Technology’s Nathan M. Bisk College of Business. When not writing, teaching or traveling, she can be found waging a one-woman war against her lawn and futilely attempting to maintain order among the chaos of a pack of extremely clueless wirehair dachshunds and an angst-driven basset hound.