SN&R • Joe Palmer: vintage car collector

Joe Palmer stands next to one of his 14 vintage cars, a 1941 Lincoln.

Photo by James Raia

Vintage car collector Joe Palmer spins the hood ornament of his giant 1941 Lincoln. The vehicle has a massive 12-cylinder engine, weighs nearly 4,000 pounds, and few were made.

Palmer is fascinated by how old cars work. But he also appreciates the Lincoln’s gun-like chrome appendage and its twin horns that blare as loudly as the fog sirens in the headlights. He owns 14 vehicles, including a Rolls-Royce, Cadillac and Ford, and many are parked in the backyard of his Midtown home. The 59-year-old real estate businessman and musician is immersed in the history and stories of vintage vehicle owners. He enjoys driving himself and his friends in his vehicles, including a 1956 green two-tone Bentley. SN&R chatted with Palmer on a recent late morning at his house while sitting in his 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood limo .

You basically have a collection of vintage cars in your backyard. How did it all start?

I just started with this one, the 1941 Cadillac Series 62, and I thought, Well it’s not enough. So I just started collecting a few, and I’ve had over 30 now. But I sold a lot. I sold one to a guy in Australia, and I sold them to England, Italy, France and Czechoslovakia. They’re all over the world now, so that’s pretty neat.

Often car collectors have a father, brother or someone who was also a collector and influenced them. Was it so for you?

My dad used to make moonshine. Have you ever seen the movie thunder road? That’s actually correct. These are some of the roads he drove on. He always told me stories about it. I respected my father a lot. When we invaded the beaches of Normandy, he was there. He was always telling me about different cars he had, and he tried to buy me a Model T. I didn’t think he had the money, so I told him not to. But now I own a Model A.

As a vintage car collector, where do you look for vehicles—Craigslist?

I particularly like two sites: Classiccars.com (I have a few cars listed there) and Hemmings.com. It is a beautiful site. You just put what you are looking for and boom! They are there. If anyone has a 1974 or 1975 Cadillac Talisman, I’m very interested.

Have you ever had a new car?

I drove a Prius. I’ve reduced my carbon footprint, so if anyone wants to blame me for driving all those old gas guzzlers, I’ve driven four different hybrids, all Toyotas. Two were Prius, one was a Camry hybrid and the last was [an] Avalon hybrid – all good nice cars.

You mostly have four-door cars, don’t you?

I like that people have their own doors. Coupes are where it’s at, supposedly, but I like people getting out of my backdoor without having to crawl into the back seats. The Mustang I have is a two-door. You have to raise the front seat and people scuff it. For me, it’s just getting out of the house, you know?

What are some of the reactions you get, especially from young people?

Some of them don’t know what’s going on. They have never seen cars like me. But others are surprisingly into it. They know what their grandfather drove and they’ve seen cars like these at the California Automobile Museum downtown. I had a few cars there.

What’s your favorite old car, maybe one you sold and could salvage?

I have the ’57 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham right now, but I had another one. It was a Fleetwood. I sold it to a friend who really wanted it.

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