As he prepares to watch his treasured 1940 Howard Hughes Cadillac and hundreds of other meticulously maintained automobiles be driven right out the door, broadcasting pioneer Art Astor is realizing a piece of his heart will be leaving with them.
A Southern California native who grew up with a passion for automobiles, Astor began collecting classic cars 30 years ago when he began buying radio stations and making the kind of money that would allow him to own something like the 1927 Rolls-Royce roadster that once belonged to movie cowboy Tom Mix.
Now 83 and unable to find anyone willing or financially able to take on his collection after he's gone, Astor has decided to part with about 200 of his approximately 270 cars.
Those he's selling go on the block Saturday at the Astor Events Center in Anaheim, where much of Astor's large collection of antique radios and telephones also began being sold Friday. The sale of all items concludes Sunday and is expected to raise $20 million to $25 million.
It is parting with the cars, however, that is breaking the heart of Astor, who owns radio station KSPA, which broadcasts in Southern California's inland region, and stations KFSD and KCEO in the San Diego area.
"I don't have any car that I ever bought that I didn't like," the normally effusive entrepreneur says quietly during a recent phone interview from his museum. He's just gotten back, he says, from taking his 1955 Cadillac Coup de Ville out for a spin.
"When you part with an automobile that I purchased myself and test drove it and looked at it and fell in love with it," he adds with a sigh. "It almost borders on trauma."
That's why he won't part with the 1947 Ford Woody that once belonged to actor Steve McQueen. He tried and failed to acquire it when McQueen sold his own car collection shortly before his death in 1980 and had to wait 15 years for it to come back on the auction block.
"That's one of my favorites," he says, even if it's not the collection's priciest. But then Astor, who says he moved on from hosting a local TV show early in his career to running radio stations because it was the guys who did that who seemed to drive the really nice cars, didn't buy any of his vehicles with strictly dollar signs in mind.
"I prefer to have maybe a 1950 Oldsmobile holiday coup that's worth maybe $50,000 instead of a Deusenberg worth a million-and-a-half," he says. "I don't like to drive a Deusenberg. I'd rather drive an Oldsmobile."
Or the 1939 Plymouth with only 9,000 miles on it. It's probably worth no more than $25,000.
"But it gives me joy because it's an example of a prewar automobile," Astor says. "It's still got the 'Elect Roosevelt' sticker on it."
Unlike most cars found in automotive museums, Astor could take that Plymouth or one of his Rolls-Royces or Packards or Jaguars or Buick Roadmasters out on the road right now. He keeps every car in his Astor Automotive Museum polished and ready to drive.
"It's the only museum in the world that I'm aware of that everything here works _ including its curator," Astor says, laughing heartily.
And that's part of the reason he's cleaning it out. Maintaining a staff of a half-dozen or more people to keep his cars, radios and phones working costs him a fortune, he says, adding: "I'm not wealthy enough or have the deep pockets to throw a couple million dollars away every year."
So when the auction is complete there will still be an Astor Events Center, albeit with a scaled-down museum.
Meanwhile, Astor will be able to offer more help to the charities he supports and not leave a burden behind for his family when he's gone.
Not that he's planning on leaving anytime soon.
"Just got my driver's license renewed," he says jovially. "So I'm ready for at least another five years."