Collector Culture: Bruce Meyer on Cars, Watches, and Buying What You Like

Last Wednesday, less than 24 hours after arriving home in Los Angeles from two solid weeks of business travel, I found myself back on the party circuit at an event hosted by Geary’s (Beverly Hills’ preeminent independent retailer) and Tudor Watch to celebrate the latter’s United SportsCar Championship, held in Long Beach, Calif., this past weekend.

I had contemplated flaking out on the cocktail party (so many soirees, so little time!), but I’m so glad that I didn’t. The venue, a private garage in Beverly Hills housing one of the world’s finest vintage car collections, was better than a museum. Owned by Bruce A. Meyer, a real estate investor who also happens to be founding chairman of the Petersen Automotive Museum and president emeritus of Geary’s, the garage had the vibe of a gallery displaying works of automotive art, from a 1957 Ferrari 250 TRC Testa Rossa originally owned by Ferrari dealer and race-car driver John von Neumann, to a 1929 4½-liter Bentley that Meyer piloted in a 1,000-mile classic rally with Louis Vuitton.

As waiters circulated with glasses of Champagne and specialty cocktails, my sister, and ever-reliable plus-one, Julia, and I cruised around the room snapping selfies, trying in vain to capture the coolness of the space, the cars, and the man who’d spent a lifetime collecting them. (It didn’t hurt that Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, both car nuts, were in the crowd, seething, I imagined, with jealousy over Meyer’s staggering display of automotive timelessness.)

That’s Jul at the table in back, eyeing her dream car, a vintage silver Mercedes.

Tudor brand manager Russell Kelly addressed the audience halfway through the cocktail event: “Tudor’s focus is really to communicate our heritage. We are a new brand back in the United States since September of last year, but we have a history starting in 1926. We’re part of the Rolex family, and we’re proud to be able to align ourselves with such important historical collections, like Bruce’s collection of amazing automobiles.”

I had a soft spot for this shiny Porsche speedster.

Kelly then brought Murray Smith, a historic car collector and race organizer, to the stage, where the white-haired Brit proceeded to interview Meyer about his obsession with fast cars and motor-sport memorabilia. (The bookshelves alone warrant some time—even I was mesmerized by the breadth and depth of Meyer’s tomes, not to mention the charming, car-inspired tchotchkes that tastefully sat beside them).

The ladies’ restroom was tastefully decorated with the requisite Steve McQueen photo.

What’s fascinating about the conversation excerpted below is how easy it would be to replace the words car and automotive with watch and watchmaking and yet retain the meaning and intent of so many of the sentences.

(FYI: When Meyer refers to Tom, he’s talking about his nephew, Thomas J. Blumenthal, president and CEO of Geary’s.)

Murray Smith: What was the first car you owned, and what was the first car that really turned you on to automobile collecting?

Bruce Meyer: I grew up with automotive DNA and Tom, my nephew, knows that my parents thought they were a bit too expensive and they had no time for this. It’s either in your DNA or not, right, Murray? You can’t train people to love cars.

Tom’s mother, my great-aunt, left me and my sister a 1950 Plymouth. She went to work with it, and we drove it on the weekends. So I don’t like to think of it as my first car. My first real car was a [1955 300 SL Mercedes] Gullwing, and that’s what started the whole car thing.

Smith: Where’d you get the money to buy the Gullwing?

Meyer: Well, I mean it was $4,000, which was a lot of money, but I’d pay that for a car any day.

Smith: The other thing about your collection, you’ve got vintage Testa Rossas, you’ve got motorbikes, you’ve got hot rods. Why all those different kinds, and which genre do you like the best?

Meyer: With collecting, I think it’s important to buy exactly what you like. And I was talking to Jerry Seinfeld in the back—there he is, Jerry!—and he specializes in Porsches, and I was just saying to Jerry, how did you figure out that these were so collectible? Porsches have become the car to collect and appreciate. But Jerry just said, ‘That’s easy. Those are the cars I like the best.’ And that’s the way it works. You buy what you like. So this is what I buy.

I enjoy all these different cars. [My wife] Raylene and I have driven almost every car here around the globe. We drove that car there from Monaco to Venice, Italy. That one from Budapest to Prague. They all drive differently. One of your questions was what genre moves me? That’s the hot rod over there. Basically, hot rods are a pure American phenomenon. They started in America. And they’re as American as baseball, apple pie, and jazz.

Smith: Tell me about the bikes.

Meyer: Well, growing up in a family that thought cars, automobiles, collectibles were just a big waste of time, I thought about something I could get and hide from my parents. I started racing motorcycles on the weekend. It went for maybe five years before they ever found out about it.

I love motorcycles. I think it’s the most fun way to get from point A to B, and also the most dangerous, so I’ve given up riding them on the street.

Smith: How do you feel about Tudor, a brand you sell in your store, getting involved with sports-car racing?

Meyer: I love it for a couple reasons. First, I think it’s as it should be. And second, you all know my nephew, Tom. He’s done such a great job of carrying on the tradition. For 35 years, I opened and closed the doors of Geary’s. It was a labor of love. And Tom went to work for us when he was 13 years old. Raylene and I gave him his first briefcase. When Rolex went to get more involved in historic racing at Pebble Beach, it was great for me. As Tom’s investor and landlord, he cut me into some really cool things like Tudor at Long Beach and Rolex at Laguna Seca. I think it’s fantastic, and I love that Geary’s benefits from that.