Celebrity Car: George Gray - East Valley Tribune: Business

Celebrity Car: George Gray

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Posted: Monday, March 24, 2008 10:31 pm | Updated: 11:02 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

His unique collection tells the story of his life.

Comedian George Gray’s car collection is pretty much what you would expect from a guy who has hosted entertainingly eccentric TV shows such as Junkyard Wars, The Weakest Link, Extreme Gong Show ESPN’s I’d Do Anything.

“I’ve got a lot of quirky, old stuff,” he cheerfully told Celebrity Car Magazine with a nod toward the array of vehicles stowed here and there on whatever level surface there is in front of his Hollywood Hills, Calif., home.

“(Comedian/actor) Tim Allen has a nice warehouse; Jay Leno, a gorgeous museum; and I got stuff jammed in corners all over the place,” he mused. At the time of Celebrity Car’s visit, scattered about him were a Fjord (as in Norwegian waterway not Ford) Green 1962 Amphicar, a red 1967 Pontiac Firebird 400 convertible and what looked to be a nearly perfect 1955 Thunderbird but was actually a 1979 Mustang in disguise, built under license from Ford. Peeking out from under a tarp was a modified 1958 Berkeley, a tiny sports car powered by a 492-cubic-centimeter (c.c.) three-cylinder, two-stroke motorcycle engine, a vehicle Gray was restoring.

He also had a red 1962 Studebaker Lark convertible, a midnight blue 1973 Cadillac Fleetwood nine-passenger limo, a red 1969 Firebird convertible and a red 1964 Amphicar. A couple of old Chevy pickup trucks, another Firebird, and numerous vintage Indian and Harley-Davidson motorcycles completed his fleet.

There is a method to this mad assemblage. Like any worthwhile collection, it’s a reflection of his personal history and his individual sense of style. In other words, the cars tune you into Gray’s vibe: he possesses an understanding of what is inherently cool.

Gray was born in St. Louis, Mo., but his family moved to Tucson, Ariz., when he was a boy. His automotive memories of St. Louis center on the noisy muffler and the rusted-out floorboards of the family’s 1956 Thunderbird, where he sat while his older sister occupied the passenger seat.

“No seat belts, no car seat, no nothing and we survived, damn it,” he says in mock admonition.

Following the T-bird, Gray’s father owned a 1971 Firebird with a special order engine, a race-tuned Corvette, a Berkeley racer and a 1981 Trans Am, the car that Gray drove when he first got his license. The 1969 Firebird convertible in Gray’s collection was inherited from his dad. The Berkeley undergoing restoration at the time of our interview was a tribute to his nowdeceased father who raced a similar car in the 1950s.

Gray’s love for fast driving comes from his father, but he taught himself to work on cars during college when he wanted a cool ride but didn’t have a lot of money. He bought a 1967 Firebird convertible, which he still owned at the time of this interview, for $3,200 and learned to do the necessary maintenance and repairs.

“At first I worked really slow to take things apart to make sure nothing would fly out over my shoulder. Now I can turn the key and if it is not starting tell if it’s electrical or carburetion or a compression problem. There are really not that many mysteries in working on old cars. New cars, forget it. I . . . just put gas in and drive it.”

The Firebird taught him another valuable lesson when he moved to Los Angeles, Calif., from Arizona about 15 years ago.

“I had my car looking cool-fast and rumbly and badass, but I told my friends that when I show up in L.A. people won’t even pay attention to me. The funny thing that happened was I would show for meetings at these swanky places and they [valets] would put my ten-grand car in the coveted couple of spaces out front. I realized L.A. is all about flash and my car had more style than cars costing 24 times as much.”

Of all the vehicles, the Amphicar — part car, part boat — has to be the ultimate cruiser in every sense of the word.

“It makes people’s jaws drop. The first day I had it, I took it in the water. It quit running [loose wire], and I so wanted to call AAA to see what they would do,” he says with a grin.

“Everything I own, bike or car, is meant to be driven. I take good care of them, but I am not going to mothball them.”

Although he prefers the old stuff, Gray does admit to “drooling” over the Ford GT supercar. He still has a hard time justifying spending that much money because “I love finding cool things that are undervalued.”

“You don’t have to be a celebrity with a booty load of cash to get a kickass car,” he says. “If you know a little about mechanics and can tinker, you can get a lot of bang for the buck. (Anyone) can open up a checkbook and buy something expensive, but if you have some taste, some style and be passionate about it, you can be the coolest cat on the block."

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