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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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