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Ashes to Phoenix | Rebuilding a Massive Classic Car Collection

Updated: Jun 4, 2021

Garry Cassidy’s love of cars is evident as you walk through his massive showroom and hear him talk about all his rare classic vehicles. What’s more riveting is hearing him tell the story about the huge fire that destroyed the showroom and his entire collection in 2017. Garry tours us through the rebuilt showroom and describes all the cars that he’s purchased in the last few years to rebuild his collection of rare vintage automobiles. Some of these cars hold special significance in automotive history.


I was just so so lucky for a long time and then October 27 '17 it all came to an end.

Hi folks and welcome to Center Lane. I'm Bruce Hitchen we are at the showroom of Garry Cassidy. Now Garry has a beautiful collection of cars and it's a very large collection. But this collection was met with tragedy about, almost three years ago now. We'll talk about that tragedy in a few minutes but we're going to talk to Garry and him tell us about his collection. If you like this show then please subscribe to my channel and click the bell to be notified of future episodes. Now Garry, I wonder if you could just tell me, this is quite a collection you have here, can you tell me how long you've been collecting cars?

Well like you say, these cars here only arrived in the last three years, two and a half years. Prior to that we were about 17 years collecting the ones that were destroyed. And we only collected a few at a time, and we lived up the hill from where we are right now and we were limited to, I think maybe 15 cars. And we were lucky enough to buy this property and build this shop. And when we had a bigger shop we could have more cars so that allowed us to expand the collection.

Can you tell me how you got going? I was raised in Calgary Alberta and I worked for a company called Canal Racing Products and we were into hot rods and dragsters and all that stuff. And so I always had the bug, I never had the time or the money but always had the bug. And then we ended up starting to go to Barrett Jackson, I think in 01 or 02 and, "oh gee, I like that car" and you put your hand up...oh, now you own it. Well that was kind of neat so go back to Barrett Jackson the next year...I like that car. You put your hand up and you own it. So we kind of started collecting cars and we were maybe getting one car a year for a bunch of years and then all of a sudden we put an extension on our house up here on top of the hill and oh we could have some more cars. So I bought a couple more and I did unbelievably lucky on some of the cars that I got. That I was the only guy that wanted that car, that day and I always say, a car is only worth what two guys will pay. And if there's only one guy bidding. I did really really good. I mean, the one unique car I bought a 61 Bel Air convertible. The only one in the world and I think I paid $35 000 for it. I mean, it's the only car in the world, I paid 35. I bought an 03 F-150 that Michael Anthony from Van Halen built for Ford Motor Company for SEMA. They had over 200 grand in this truck. It was all GT40 running train. I got the truck for $50k and with it, I got a signed Michael Anthony guitar that was worth $17k. So I really got the truck for $33,000 and it was worth $200,000. So I was just so so lucky for a long time. And then October 27/17 it all came to an end.

You had this large collection. You had this building and you weren't here. You were at Palm Springs. Had just got to Palm Springs. Yeah, and so you get a phone call.

3:28 in the morning.

And and who called you and what did they tell you?

Our alarm company said that your fire detector is going off in your shop. And I went, well we're not there. I said phone the fire department. I then phoned my friend, Johnny Federerson that lives just down the street. Phoned me back five minutes later. He said, it's not good.

What was the size of your collection at that point?

We had 39. We lost 37 that day. The truck you're leaning against, Larry, was in Palm Springs and my 32 roadster was in Palm Springs.

So what did you do at that point?

Oh, the day from hell. I can't...we, we, if we, phoned a bunch of people. We phoned our builder whose wife was my controller. Phoned our our son-in-law. We couldn't get a flight out of Palm Springs. We ended up driving to Las Vegas that day and getting on a plane at noon and flying home. I don't know how I can even describe it...the day from hell. My wife says thank God we weren't here because you probably would have done something stupid that we would have regretted.

37 cars, we did save some motors and some rear ends. We didn't save a body panel. Did not save one body panel. I can show you outside, pictures of the cars, how destroyed they were. And you would have one car that the fuel tank was completely gone and there would be another car, not only it was a fuel tank there, it still had gas in it. The fire chief, Pat Walker met us the day before and he goes, I've been in this for a long time he goes, don't ever remember crying this bad. This is a fire chief right.

What was the hardest one to lose?

You can't have one. You can't have one. My '59 El Camino, my '68 I89 car, the '61 Bel Air convertible has to be one of them. You know, you can't have one like, when you go to five, you can go to 10 okay. It started in the electrical room. The floor above that was not completed. Didn't have any drywall or insulation all that when the fire got into that it was gone. It went up into the rafters and it was just out of control.

But it wasn't only cars that you lost. You had some other things. Can you tell me about that?

My father-in-law played for Detroit in 1954 and in the seventh game, overtime, against Montreal, he scored the winning goal.

And here comes the winning goal. Glen Skov takes the puck over the blue line. Shoots it around the boards to Tony Leswick, number eight. He shoots, he scores at 4:29 of the overtime. The Wings win 2-1 and they have the cup.

And only three NHL series have gone to seventh game in overtime. We had a picture of him upstairs, holding the cup. And we had the puck underneath you know. I mean this is with Gordie Howe and all these guys. And we had it all. It's gone.

You know, you've rebuilt the collection. Is it the same?

Never be the same, never be the same. I probably bought four or five barn fillers that filled the spot here in the garage but they weren't the kind of cars that we had before. And we're gradually getting rid of them, and we're starting to get some really good cars again. We just, we just scored two unbelievably nice ones here this year. It's coming along good where, when people come in that you show them a car now and they go wow!

This is Hula Girl. This actually belonged to Craig Jackson himself. This car went to the Oakland Roadster Show and won it in 1952.

It's called McCoy. It was owned by Bob McCoy who was a sprint car actor out of LA. It's a chopped 1944 pickup with a 327 in it.

This is this is Darlene's 1950A pickup. It's just breathtaking!

Now how nice is that? This is one of the cars that when you put it up on the hoist, it's nicer underneath than it is up top.

This is the 1969 Camaro. This is a big block 396. 375 horsepower. It was the Pace Car for that race Mario Andretti was...the only Indy he ever won. My buddy, Jim McGee was his crew chief. The air cleaner on this car signed by Mario Andretti and Jim McGee.

This is our home run for the year. Palm springs had an auction. This gentleman put this car in. 1990 Daytona 500 winning car that Derrike Cope drove and passed Dale Earnhardt, who got a flat tire on the last corner of the race, to win the 1990 Daytona 500 car. This is an 03 Indy car. Actual Indy car. It runs. It was driven by Sam Hornish in '03. He was leading the race late into the race and then the engine failed so the car never finished the race in 03 but it's an absolutely a true Indy car.

This is a '65 sprint car. What's kind of unique about this car, it has a 351 Cleveland. Most of the sprint cars back in the East Coast all ran big block Chevys and all that. This one's an all Ford car. I have a friend Bentley Warren, this is what he drove. and you get, you go and sit in one of these cars and you just think about how brave you'd have to be to be driving 120 or 130 miles an hour and all you have is this little bar around you. And you're just crammed in there. Transmission between your legs, driveshaft between your legs.

What is it that you like about doing this?

Oh just with the thrill of going out and driving them. I truly, truly very much enjoy having somebody that's never been here before come in and I get to walk around and tell them the stories. And I've had a few guys going, you know we got to record...Darlene, my wife says, we got to record this because if something happens to me who's going to remember all the stories. So I very much enjoy telling some of the great stories with some of the cars.

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