(Tom Collier | Photo Courtesy of Tom Collier)
Polished Professional Tom Collier Carves Distinctive Niche in Auto Industry
Bend-based Classic Motor Car Company owner Tom Collier is proud to take an “old school” approach which has seen him navigate a successful path and reach a milestone of 60 years in the automobile industry.
Still going strong at the age of 78, Collier has garnered a sterling reputation for his depth of knowledge and expertise in transacting upscale vehicles.
As part of his six decades in the business, for the past 25 years he has been an independent broker, at the helm of Tom Collier Classic Motor Car Company, Inc. in Bend.
Collier relishes the challenges and variety of his daily work, orchestrating unique individual sales. As we spoke, he was working on a ’66 Ford Mustang convertible “probably going to France” and a ‘66 Cadillac DeVille Convertible bound for Hawaii, while recently concluding the sale of five brand new vehicles to the exclusive Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego.
Indeed, he has shipped classic cars all over the world and through 48 states in the continental U.S., observing, “When the phone rings it’s like a spinning top — I’ll never die because of boredom!
“I have built strong connections over the years and 98 percent of what I do is repeat business or referrals. I’ve worked with some of my clients for over 45 years. It’s really the people that I enjoy working with.”
Collier was born and raised on a wheat ranch in Eastern Washington into an automotive-oriented family during a golden age of American car production. He said he originally drove independently on the ranch at the tender age of four and bought and sold his first vehicle “for a profit” at the age of 12.
In 1953, on one of the few TV sets around, he recollects seeing the coronation of British monarch Queen Elizabeth II as an eight-year-old and has retained a long-standing love and respect for the UK since. He has visited several times, including with international Rotary exchanges, and said one of many memorable highlights was getting to tour the iconic Morgan sports car plant in Malvern, England.
Engines are in his blood, and he harbors a particular affection for true classic cars of the 1930s. He said, “The heavy-duty cars of that era all had their individual styling — the grille announced the particular personality of the upscale brands, the craftsmanship was superior and even hood ornaments were a special item.”
Collier is himself an avid collector and his passion for all things classic includes a show-condition 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air that he actually drove while in college, an original 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood ‘75 limousine, a ’98 XJ8 VandenPlas Jaguar, a 1972 Mustang convertible and a 2006 GT 200 Vespa scooter.
His encyclopedic knowledge has also seen him in demand for appraisal valuations and as a judge in Concourse d’Elegance* events, including marque brand Classic Car Club of America competitions.
*Concours d’Elegance is a term of French origin that means a “competition of elegance” and refers to an event where prestigious vehicles are displayed and judged. It dates back to 17th-century France, where aristocrats paraded horse-drawn carriages in the parks of Paris during summer weekends and holidays.
One of his more unusual assignments was appraising all 83 of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s Rolls Royce’s at the controversial former Rajneeshpuram religious community in Eastern Oregon in the 1980s. Collier said, “I saw more there than at the Rolls Royce service center in London! And a third of them had been painted with ornate murals such as a sunrise on one side and sunset on the other, or depicting a peacock or ocean scenes.
“I was doing a valuation for an interested party as a buyer had to buy the whole collection, but they actually ended up going to a purchaser out of Texas as another condition was agreeing to buy the Bhagwan’s numerous gold watches as part of the package!”
The most expensive individual car he ever appraised was a sole-surviving “one-off” 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 concept car, which sold for a staggering $3.2 million, and today is on display in its own showroom at the Gateway Colorado Automobile Museum.
Collier’s career began in February 1963 when he walked into a Chevrolet dealership in Pulman, Washington, and he started selling cars after earning a bachelor of arts in business from Washington State University. “I knew from the get-go that I wanted to become a franchise new car dealer, but also that I needed a degree to further my ambitions,” he said.
Collier’s most pivotal and life-changing decision was declining an appointment to West Point Military Academy in order to pursue his goals in the automotive industry.
He joined Ford Division-Ford Motor Company in 1969 and says his experience there instilled in him the structure and discipline that he employs in business to this day. “Ford was known for old-style management and meticulous attention to detail in everyday operations,” he said. “We all had to wear full suits, traditional wingtip shoes and button-down shirts as part of the respectful atmosphere.
“It was really a great foundation in how to go about business and I’ve often said I would sell my college schooling for five dollars but wouldn’t sell my Ford education for five million!”
In keeping with that tradition, Collier wears a suit and tie every day and maintains core principles of respect for others and maintaining professionalism.
Business flyers handed to prospective clients sum up his company approach as, “Offering a pleasant and professional alternative to the method new and used vehicles are traditionally purchased and leased.”
Ever the gentleman, each year he sends out hundreds of hand-written Christmas cards to friends and clients, as well as personalized thank you cards following sales, and should a woman purchase a car through Collier there are always a dozen roses resting in the front seat. The day previously he had called to check in on a customer who was going in for surgery.
A fountain pen aficionado, he has a collection of luxury writing instruments, as well as an impressive library comprising some 3,500 books.
Collier first came to Bend in 1971 while involved with district sales for Ford, and “fell in love with the place,” moving here full-time in 1974.
With an infectious enthusiasm for luxury vehicles, he has garnered a reputation for honorably conducting business in a fun but professional manner that has earned him the enduring trust and loyalty of his clientele.
A strong commitment to community has included serving on the Bend Chamber Board for seven years and being a 48-year Rotary member — serving at club, district, national and international level — as well as administering foundation scholarships and gifting a Steinway piano to the Tower Theater.
He has served on many boards and capital campaigns and has provided supplies for local schools every year for 24 years. He was named the 2018 Community Partner of the Year by Klamath Falls City Schools for his commitment to providing school supplies for students and teachers. He currently is serving as president of the Mayantigo Charitable Foundation.
“Having been able to honestly and honorably serve the automotive needs of my many friends and clients, this business has afforded me the opportunity to do good things in the community,” he said. “The community has been good to me, and I wanted to give back to it.”
Among many professional accomplishments over the years, he was recognized as Oregon Independent Automobile Dealer’s “Quality Dealer of the Year” for the state for 2002-2003.
He said, “There are not many independent brokers left in the business anymore, but there are advantages including the personal touch and that when you give a car to an agent to handle you distance yourself from the buyer and have a buffer.”
Outside of work, he has an interest in real estate investments and as a proponent of renewable energy, owns a 70-acre ten-megawatt solar farm east of Bend.
He said, “You only go through this life one time so you should have fun doing it. This business is fun, and I have enjoyed doing nice things for people.
“I have done what I wanted to do and have no regrets. It has been a great ride. I have no plans for retirement as I thoroughly enjoy working with my clientele.”
Tom Collier Classic Motor Car Company, Inc.
1183 NW Wall St. E • Bend • 541-317-3403