On April 17, the hobby lost one of the men who made car collecting what it is today. It was Leo Gephart who was the driving force to creating auctions in Arizona every January and Auburn, Ind., each Labor Day weekend. Gephart was also the man who brought professional transport services to the hobby. Although a business man best known for selling vintage cars, it was Gephart’s love for old iron that inspired him to inadvertently create the foundation for the hobby as we know it today.
Gephart’s longtime friend, Joe Bortz, shared Gephart’s story in a 2008 issue of Old Cars Weekly. We have posted it here in Gephart’s memory.
Leo Gephart: Building a Hobby Behind the Scenes
By Joe Bortz
Originally published in the April 3, 2008, issue of Old Cars Weekly
In automobile collecting, as in all hobbies, there are those that lead and those that follow. But there is also a small group of multi-talented people that do the utmost for the hobby, and usually go unheralded. Such people quietly pave the way for others.
One such hobbyist, and the subject of this story, was instrumental in helping start Passport Transport (now FedEx Custom Critical Auto Transport), Kruse International and its giant fall auction in Auburn, Ind., and the weather bell of auctions, the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction in Scottsdale, Ariz.
It seems impossible that a man who has been affiliated with so many large businesses is not a household name in the hobby. To top it all off, this individual has owned and handled more Duesenbergs in his lifetime than any other hobbyist — more than 80 Duesenbergs have been connected to this important hobby figure. He’s also placed hundreds of cars in other hobbyists’ garages through his collector car sales business. This hobby figure is Leo Gephart.
Gephart has always loved cars, and naturally enough, in the 1960s and ’70s, he ended up with a used car lot in Ohio. Leo loved 1932 Fords, as well as Corvettes, and collected Chevrolet’s fiberglass two-seaters right from their early inception. He began buying and selling Corvettes and keeping the few that he thought were the best of the lot.
In 1955, Gephart bought his first Duesenberg, a Willoughby limousine, for $1,000 and eventually sold it to a buyer in Texas. In the 1960s, when Corvette owners were getting hit with a high insurance premiums, Gephart turned back to a love he had in the 1950s — Classic cars.
Gephart built a collection of Classic cars, and also bought and sold them to support himself and his hobby. Eventually, Gephart realized that there was nobody hauling old cars, because an ICC permit was needed to commercially transport cars. Gephart decided to organize collector car transporting when a friend of his with an ICC license decided to retire and sell his trucking company to Gephart.
Around that time, Gephart saw a 1940 Packard advertised in St. Louis, so he contacted Bob Pass, who said he would drive the Packard to Gephart in Ohio if he bought it. Gephart and Pass hit it off, and shortly thereafter, Pass and his brother purchased the trucking business from Gephart to form Passport Transport. The rest is history.
By this time, Gephart was heavy into collecting and trading Duesenbergs. The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club was also looking for a way to raise money to support its annual Labor Day weekend reunion, and called upon Gephart to start an auction. Gephart met with Russell Kruse, who had an auction license in the state of Indiana, and the two started a collector car auction simutaneously with the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club Reunion in Auburn, Ind. The pair’s first auction was held behind the Dairy Queen in Auburn, and now, the auction has grown to have its own complex in the town.
After a few years of working with Kruse, Gephart started conducting various auctions of his own around the country. The name of his auction company was Auction America, and the company’s first successful auction was in Florida, near Tampa, with 800 cars.
Gephart eventually tied in with Russ Jackson and was on his way to starting a giant auction with Jackson shortly after New Year Day’s in Scottsdale, Ariz. Eventually, Gephart sold his interest in the Scottsdale, Ariz., auction to Tom Barrett, and with Russ Jackson, the two formed the famous Barrett-Jackson auction.
After getting out of the auction business, Gephart went back to collecting and trading his favorite Classic car, the Duesenberg. Gephart has counted 20 Murphy-bodied Duesenbergs among those that have gone through his hands, as well as one of the beautiful Duesenberg Walker-La Grande convertible coupes and 60 others. He also reproduced Duesenberg superchargers to replace supercharger units that were missing from Duesenbergs originally equipped with them, and even added the units to some Duesenbergs that were not originally supercharged.
Today, Gephart operates out of Scottsdale, Ariz., buying and selling Classic cars and other cars of interest to a steady clientele. His business also attracts new customers, who are always dazzled by his accomplishments and recollections of the historical past of car collecting.
Almost all Old Cars Weekly readers are collectors in one facet or another. When reading about an unsung hero like Leo Gephart, it strikes our imagination that he has had passages in his life that we could all dream about.
Any one of Gephart’s accomplishments would satisfy a hobbyist’s life. But Gephart, now a man well past his beginning years, has helped transform the car collecting hobby into the multi-faceted industry that it is today.
I hope that you have enjoyed meeting Leo Gephart, an unsung hero to many. To those that have known him for decades like myself, he’s a man of major stature in the car collecting, and our hobby would be very different without him.