NORTH PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - John Staluppi has spent a lifetime selling cars, so successful in his trade he boasts more than two dozen dealerships and more sales than he could count. But even he has never seen a sale like this.
Staluppi is liquidating his Cars of Dreams Museum and its 115 collector vehicles in an auction Saturday. The Batmobile, the Evel Knievel motorcycle, the lines and lines of perfectly shined cars, all of them will be gone. Staluppi, 65, says he is selling everything to make the museum site, which he owns, available to retailers.
"I'm starting to get sad," he admits.
Staluppi is a Brooklyn-born mechanic who took a chance starting a Honda motorcycle dealership in the 1970s. Its success led to more and more dealerships. Today, with his son, he runs 26 in Las Vegas and Long Island. Along the way, he took to collecting cars, building a 20-car garage to house his hobby. It wasn't nearly big enough to hold everything he wanted, or to give him easy access.
"Every time you take one car out, you got to move 20 cars," he said.
So six years ago, Staluppi decided to transform an 80,000-square-foot stretch of a property he owns into a showroom for his obsession. In a forgettable suburban strip mall, along with a liquor store, bank and sushi restaurant, he built a premiere auto museum. And with a sprawling space, he no longer had to curb his appetite for cars.
"Before, I'd see 10 cars I want, but I got no place to put them," he said. "Now, I says, 'Man, I got plenty of room.'"
Within months, Staluppi transformed the space into a private museum evoking memories of growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Not only is there car after car, but a drive-in theater, a carousel and replica storefronts from decades past.
Over by the firehouse, complete with a pole to slide down, a vintage Good Humor ice cream truck is parked. The Bob's Big Boy fast-food shop is beside old-fashioned storefronts for a barber, pharmacist and bank. Near the Carvel ice cream shop is a massive layout of Lionel trains stretching 30 feet long and 15 feet across.
The non-automotive memorabilia comprises an impressive collection of Americana and could collectively fetch upwards of $1 million, according to an estimate from RM Auctions, which is coordinating the sale. But the clear focus at the museum is on cars.
The sharp wings of a 1958 Cadillac Eldorado give way to the smooth curves of a 1955 Chevrolet Corvette roadster. Impossibly shiny chrome glimmers everywhere. All of the vehicles have been painstakingly restored and are in driving condition, and as the museum prepared for hundreds of bidders, the scent of wax wafted through the air and workers rushed from car to car.
The models - Corvair, Thunderbird, Firebird, Corvette, Camaro, Bel Air, Bonneville, to name a few - are among the most revered by collectors around the world.
Knievel's motorcycle, a 2005 Harley, is expected to bring bids up to $60,000. A 1966 Batmobile recreation comes with autographs from the cast on the dashboard, an accompanying original Batcycle and an estimated value of more than $125,000. The biggest-ticket item of all is likely the 1918 Herschell-Spillman carousel that is expected to bring $250,000 to $500,000.
All told, RM is estimating the auction could bring a total of $9,558,500 to $12,684,500.
Staluppi is holding onto just three cars of his own - an Audi, a Rolls-Royce, and the 1962 Corvette that was his very first car. But he makes no secret of the fact that he plans on amassing another collection of cars once this one is gone.
"You can take that to the bank," he says.
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