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Vintage Roadcar INTERVIEW: Gordon McCall
Collector and Co-Founder, The Quail Motorsport Gathering
VR: Let’s start off right at the beginning. How did you first get started with cars?
GM: Real early in life, like a lot of people in my demographic range, I started off with Corgi Toys and Matchbox cars that were given to me as a kid.
VR: How did you progress to getting hands on with the real thing?
GM: It actually started with motorcycles. I went from—again, kind of a typical kid—went from a Stingray bicycle to a Raleigh Grand Prix bicycle, sold it and bought a Honda 90 when I was 14. It was actually a motorcycle that got me going into the whole mechanical “what it’s like to scare yourself on two wheels” thing. And that evolved into my first car.
VR: Did you get involved in restoring cars or racing cars? What aspect of the hobby did you first start in?
GM: Well, you know at that age…so I went from 14 to 16 just learning about motorcycles and how to build motors and how to make them go faster. So that was kind of a hands-on thing. My first car was a Datsun 510. I was heavily influenced by the 2.5 Challenge and a gentleman who now and for many years has been a dear friend, Peter Brock, who back then was somebody I never thought in a million years would become a friend. BRE racing was a big deal in the ’70s so it’s actually kind of surreal to have developed a friendship over the years. But, I used to volunteer out at Laguna Seca Raceway as a kid pumping race gas so I was around all that stuff at a really influential young age and so here I’m driving a Datsun 510 and then watching John Morton dominate the 2.5 Trans-Am Challenge, which just led me further into the car arena.
So, I started sweeping floors at the local Monterey Ferrari dealership, ended up working there, ended up going to Europe, going to trade school, learning some further skills (mechanical skills), came back and along with my brother and a couple of friends we opened up a repair facility on the Monterey Peninsula and specialized in Ferraris.
VR: Oh, really? What was the name of that?
GM: It’s called The Masters. It’s now a Honda repair facility but it’s still around. And, from there, I really kind of got into racing. I got into SCCA racing, and even furthered my interest with cars. And then, you know after doing that for several years, like a lot of guys, I felt like I needed to find what was it that I most enjoyed about…how do I say this…working on people’s Ferraris and Lamborghinis and Porsches, you’re often put in the position of being the bad guy when you’re the shop. You know, someone will go out and buy a car that maybe they had the means to buy, but when they blew it up, all of a sudden it’s your problem. I started bringing headaches home with me at night and that wasn’t sitting well with me because I just love cars too much to be taking on other people’s grief in that department. I thought, well, what’s the part about the car thing that I enjoy the most and, quite frankly, it was the restoration side of it. That’s something I was doing simultaneously and I really, really enjoyed. You know, people were getting their cars restored because they wanted to, not necessarily because they had to. That just kind of opened up the door for me. So I ended up selling that business and specializing, in what I refer to, and kind of coined the phrase, finish restoration specialists. We were a little shop at the Monterey airport and we were the last stop for a car, a car that had been sitting in restoration for many, many years. You know, the owner’s frustrated, the restorer’s frustrated, the owner’s writing checks every two weeks and asking, “When’s my car going to be ready?” And I just created a niche of doing the finish work…the final assembly, the color sanding, etc. The cars went from my shop to a trailer, to a show or into use. And, I really enjoyed that because it was all about goodness. It was really uplifting. I did that for many, many years, before I got out of that business.
VR: What time period was that?
GM: That was in the ’80s and ’90s.
VR: So you were right in there, in the thick of things, during the peak of the market, before one of the many collapses?
GM: Absolutely, and you know that ended up leading into my being recruited by Christie’s, the auction house. I started in at the very bottom, as kind of your classic “start in the mail room” story and ended up last man standing in the car department for a while. As my colleagues were getting out of the business, Christie’s was in a major kind of a reshift mode and that’s when they were considering their partnership with Pebble Beach. I ended up flying over to the UK and convincing them to move the sale. And that’s when I moved it to the [Monterey] jet center. Now, simultaneously, over the last 22 years, I’ve hosted my jet center party, which started off as a customer appreciation for these folks whose cars I was restoring. That kind of turned into a whole different animal along the way!
For the whole story, see the August issue of Vintage Roadcar.