Rodeo Drive at night. Mad and bad, but exhilarating too, and home to the world’s biggest car show-offs. Beverley Hills is essentially a catwalk for the world’s most outlandish cars.
A dark service alleyway between glitzy shops leads to a staircase that takes us to the first floor of an anonymous brick building. We are ushered through steel doors into a vast open space. This is boys’ heaven. I feel eight years old again, because all around me are cars that I’ve dreamt of and read about since I was at school. This is Bruce Meyer’s collection, and it is simply one of the finest car collections in the world.
As tasteful and perfectly balanced as Bruce’s collection is, it is the very opposite of so much stuff in the City of Angels. In particular, such objects as the metallic pink Ferrari parked outside the pink neon Gucci windows in Rodeo drive, just across the road!
I am in Los Angeles for the opening of my photography exhibition, which is happening downtown on Anderson Street, at the Venus Over LA gallery. The gallery is fabulous and very LA; a huge pink warehouse decorated with fairly wild graffiti. Motorcycle aficionado and FOS guest Keanu Reeves has came to look at my new ‘Seascape’ pictures, and so too has Bruce Meyer, the man who put the Peterson Automotive Museum back on the map. That's why we've ended up here on Rodeo Drive, surrounded by Bruce's private collection. He asked us to come and have a private look – and what a look it was.
Those of you who have been to the Festival of Speed may have seen some of these cars before, as many have decorated our lawns over the years. Amongst the most glorious cars Bruce has sent have been his early hot rods. In fact, it is very much because of Bruce, that I have become such a fan of American cars and car culture. Cars such as the fabulous Pearson Brothers coupe, and the breathtaking Bonneville belly tank racers. Meyer was one of the very first to see the value and beauty of these wondrous machines. He has great taste, and the collection has taken time, trouble and enormous care to create. It is all very restrained; every car is there for a reason, and every one is a blockbuster.
As well as the very early hot rods there’s his Ferrari 250 TR59, a rare and priceless work of racing automobile art that is, I’m told, the winningest Ferrari of all time (Wow). He also has the very first AC Cobra ever built (you cannot be serious), Clark Gable's immaculate Mercedes (is that really Mr Gable’s actual hair on the ivory brushes?), and a clutch of hugely successful and wonderfully liveried Le Mans winning Porsches. It’s a perfect example of having ‘one of the best of everything’.
We first invited Bruce to the Festival of Speed many years ago and since then he has brought us some sensational and uniquely American cars. One which has actually never been and I adore is the Doane Spencer Roadster, which as Tony Thacker says in his book '32 Ford Deuce: The Official 75th Anniversary Edition’, “is the one hot rod that stands tall above all others as the quintessential example of this uniquely American automotive art form – the hot rod from which all others are derived… the DNA”. Maybe 2017 could be the year to persuade Bruce to bring it to Goodwood, as the Festival of Speed theme will be all about ‘the cars that rewrote the rules’.
Back outside in the dark, I almost trip over a very familiar friend – a Rolls-Royce Ghost. Familiar because all Rolls-Royces are made at Goodwood, and funny to think that both of us have recently made the same trip – very recently too, judging by how new the car looks. However, it’s not exactly sporting what one might describe as ‘English understatement’. It’s both matt black and heavily blacked-out, making it look like some kind of night-time camouflage. Its registration is “MR DARK”, and as we’re admiring it the man himself proceeds to get out of the car. I can’t resist telling Mr Dark that I am a director of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, and that I’m not sure the way he has styled his car is quite in keeping with the palette preferred by Henry Royce. Mr Dark takes it all in, and chuckles to himself as he asks his wife to disembark from the car. As she slides out of the Ghost he tells me that she, of course, has the exact sister car, the only difference being that her Ghost has the registration “MRS DARK”. I am sure Sir Henry would have been doubly impressed – I certainly was…
Photography by Lord March and Paul Melbert