Fire ravages Omaha car collection

This 1934 Ford was among the casualties of the blaze that hit Jerry Vincentini’s collector car facility in Omaha, Neb., Jan. 15.

By John Lee

“I did everything I could to prevent a disaster, and then — poof!”

Jerry Vincentini was speaking a couple days after a disastrous fire in the early morning hours of Sunday, Jan. 15, destroyed several collector cars and antique motorcycles, along with the stylish garage in which they were stored at the family’s acreage on the outskirts of Omaha, Neb.

Considered a total loss were a 1934 Ford cabriolet Vincentini had owned for 47 years and restored twice, a 1994 Mustang Cobra pace car he had driven only 34 miles and a 1967 King Midget roadster.

Those and several motorcycles were parked in the front section of the building where the fire started. A partial wall and door separated that room from the rest of the building where eight additional vehicles were stored. While these avoided the flames, the heat, smoke and water that permeated the entire building left them coated with a substance the consistency of tar, which also invaded the interiors and engine compartments.

Vincentini drove the 1934 Ford Tudor at right to the Iola Car Show last summer. The 1961 Corvette is powered by a 454-cid engine.

Heat even melted the rubber weatherstripping on the 1934 Ford Tudor sedan Jerry had driven on a 1,500-mile round trip to the Iola Old Car Show last summer and was the subject of an Old Cars story. Other restored and excellent original vehicles that were severely damaged were a 1950 Ford convertible, 1949 Mercury convertible, 1961 Corvette, 1940 Ford Deluxe coupe with original paint, 1956 Ford Courier sedan delivery, 1906 Rauch and Lang electric, 1989 IROC Camaro and a 2008 Corvette.

Vincentini was hopeful that those cars could be re-restored, but most will probably require complete repainting and new upholstery and convertible tops.

(Right to left: 1934 Ford Tudor and 1961 Corvette from #2 plus) … 1950 Ford convertible was an Early Ford V-8 Club Dearborn Award winner.

Also a total loss was the 1,000-sq.-ft. “clubhouse” at the front of the building. Used for entertaining visiting car clubs, it contained a collection of 1,000 antique toy cars displayed on shelves around the room, his library, an antique juke box and gas pump and other automobilia.

Vincentini said the fire marshal had determined the fire started in the front wall of the building, probably from a spark or short in an electrical outlet. It burned up the wall and into the attic area where parts were stored, before flames broke out into the rooms themselves. He said the use of flame retardant Melamine paneling probably kept the flames contained inside the walls longer.

Jerry and his wife, Connie, were in Arizona attending the collector car auctions when the fire broke out. Since no one was home to hear the fire and smoke detectors, the fire burned until the heat broke out a window on the top level and set off the security alarm. The alarm monitor at a remote location initially reported it as a break-in.

1994 Mustang Cobra pace car had been driven only 34 miles – mostly to the mailbox and back. Several motorcycles and scooters were also destroyed in the fire.

The fire did not spread to another building, about 50 feet away, containing six additional cars, or to the home about 100 feet away. Several other cars in Vincentini’s collection were located elsewhere, including a boattail Auburn being displayed in the ACD Museum in Indiana.

“We felt we had done all we could to protect the collection,” Vincentini said. “Heat detectors, smoke detector, about every security item possible, plus insurance coverage.” He said he had elected not to install a sprinkler system in the building because at one time a backup temperature control system had failed which, on a frigid Nebraska night, could have frozen the pipes and caused a disaster of another kind.

'34 Cabriolet and 1994 Mustang together.

An insurance settlement won’t replace the irreplaceable, but it will help Jerry and Connie move on to rebuild the building and as much of the collection as possible. And yes, they will be hosting the Third Annual Joslyn Castle Concours d’Elegance in June.

About 1,000 antique toy cars were damaged or destroyed in the fire.


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16 thoughts on “Fire ravages Omaha car collection

  1. craig prahl

    There are different types of sprinkler systems that are more suitable for buildings that have potential freezing issues or where an owner is concerned about an accidental discharge. Preaction sprinkler systems employ up to two steps of detection before any water moves within the otherwise dry piping system. Contact your local sprinkler contractor for more information. There would have been far less risk of a broken pipe doing any serious damage compared to what a fire can do. You can dry things out but you can’t unburn them.

  2. Robert Waller

    Hello Jerry and Connie,
    Though I have not had the pleasure of meeting you, I cannot help but feel the pain of what you must be going through at this time. If I can be of any help with either restoring your emblems or Woodgraining, I would be more than happy to do so with and for you. Most importantly, you are safe and all else can be dealt with as needed. Be well, I wish you the best in getting your collection and facility back to what it was and let me kow if I can help you to accomplish that goel. Sincerely….Bob Waller, Classic Auto Services LLC

  3. Bill Davis

    Stupid -! wood constuction ! cars practially on top of each other ! our garage built in 1949 all CONCRETE
    and proper fire suspression system – never had any probems like this — as pops told us – common sense
    was used to Build his garage – Then store all collector cars (all 62 ) not counting trucks – and when we
    had UPDATED smoke and other detection systems -the fire marshall was called to inspect – and stated
    that this building is well built and above all codes – remember car collectors – Before you collect cars
    build a fire proof building – tornado proof -etc – and you will avoid this type of stupidity !!!!

  4. Bill Davis

    ALSO – we left out one item — pops said All electical is in Conduit – all switches designed for flammable
    enviroment – and we also within last 2 years updated all breakers to Modern ones that will trip at
    slightest short ! — again stay on top of things and avoid this type of stupidity !!!

      1. Joe C

        I agree with you Henry, nothing like kicking a guy when he’s down! It’s one thing to give advice, it’s another to rub a person’s nose in it. Too bad we can’t all be as perfect as Bill!

    1. Bill Fudacz

      Totally unnecessary to call this tragedy an act of stupidity. Lighten up. You sound like a narcissist, putting others down, you always being right. Take it easy.

  5. Greg Plummer

    Jerry and Connie, so sorry to read of your loss. Obviously, its good to know that no one was hurt, but there is pain in this nevertheless. Best to you as you rebuild your collection.

    Bill Davis, sorry to say that I’ve taken you off my list of people to attend my funeral because I would wouldn’t want everyone who is concerned for my wife in her time of loss to hear how stupid I was to die!

  6. Don Cunningham

    Jerry –

    Am so sorry for the fire destroying everything. My Dad was a fireman. I know what fire can do.
    Good luck re-restoring the cars best you can. And the buildings.

  7. Rod

    Uh, lighten up there Bill. If that’s the case why don’t we all live in concrete houses since our lives and families are more valuable than any car collection. Stupidity?

    While your points are all good ones, the way you made them is… well…..stupid.

    Sorry for your misfortune Jerry and Connie.

  8. Doug Braun.................Billings, Mt,............Hazard, Nebraska

    Hi Jerry and Connie…………………….things like this just make a person sick. Sometimes no matter how hard a person tries things like this just happen. On the bright side though you can re restore most of them. I am a Montana native and a navy viet nam vet. I have a military ID and I have stayed at Offutt AFB about two dozen times in the past six years so I am familiar with most of Nebraska, in fact I have a garage and lot in Hazard which is about 25 miles north of Kearney. When I grew up we were really poor, lots of time, no money, and lots of old cars………………… dad who died in 1990 always said that he was going to build an old car museum………………………well that never happened, so now I am making that happen in my birth place of Terry, Montana just off I-94 in eastern Montana. Good luck to you in the future………..Doug Braun , Billings, Mt. (406) 861-3777

  9. John Slatner

    I don’t think it was stupidity at all. Hindsight is always 20/20. People don’t usually expect the unexpected. Hopefully insurance covers most of the loss. Yes, it is always sad to lose pieces of history and art. Should have could haves always come after tragedy, Maybe there is a time for that but not right after a loss like this. Its like being mad at a relative who dies in a car crash from neglecting to wear a seat belt….

  10. Dave Danielson

    Jerry and Connie, I feel for you. What a terrible loss. You put so much time and money and pride in something, and then something like this happens. I hope you can recover and restore again. Bill, your an ass.

  11. Becki Thomlison

    Jerry and Connie, we are so sorry for what happened to all of your vehicles. You are both strong people, and you will get through this. I am just so glad that neither one of you were hurt.


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