Car museum plans unveiled
John Mozart gives us a look at his world-famous collection
John Mozart is a wealthy man who loves old cars.
When you walk into the lobby of his Palo Alto company, Mozart Development, a completely restored 1962 Ferrari coupe is parked in the lobby. Behind it is a set of double doors leading to more samples from his world-famous car collection.
Unshaven and wearing shorts on a cold winter day, Mozart emerges from the shop and directs a Voice reporter, accompanied by City Council member Jac Siegel, into his glass-walled conference room. He not only employs a team of real estate developers in the front office, but a full-time mechanic in the adjoining auto shop. Having his hobby next to his office seems to work for him.
Pulling out large sheets of rolled paper, Mozart went over his plans for a museum in Mountain View to house 60 of his 100 cars. Some of the world's finest automobiles could be displayed here — including exotic examples sporting the famous Duesenberg and Ferrari nameplates. Another candidate for the proposed museum is his 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C2900 Spyder, an unusually sleek piece of automotive history that has won recognition in some of the world's finest car shows, including the Pebble Beach Concours d' Elegance.
The museum plans show a simple one-story, two-room, 25,000-square-foot building on a site next to the Computer History Museum on Pear Avenue. After reviewing the details, Siegel concluded the building would likely be a visitor draw in itself.
The building — designed by Korth Sunseri Hagey of San Francisco — features walls of an unusual composition. Made in Germany, the tall, thin, U-shaped channels of glass will lock together and be filled with gel for insulation. The walls will be translucent, but not transparent, Mozart explained. Grids of small lights will be attached to the metal-framed ceiling to bounce off black granite floors, providing just the right amount of light to make the cars "pop," he said.
"I really wanted to make a statement architecturally," Mozart said.
Old racing days
Soon the discussion turned to the old days when sports cars were king. Siegel told a story about a 1950s Ferrari Monza he owned in his younger days that was originally raced by famed driver Phil Hill and was featured in the movie "State Fair," with Pat Boone driving.
Because fixing its blown engine would have cost an "exorbitant amount of money," Siegel put in a then-state-of-the-art Chevy 409 V8 and went racing on the circuits in the Southeast U.S. where he lived. He eventually sold the car for $8,000, but today it would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Many of Mozart's 100 cars are in that price range, including a 1958 Lister Chevy, a car he regularly enters in vintage racing events. It is one of the few vintage race cars of its type that originally came with a Chevy V8.
As long as Mozart uses a few period-correct pieces to comply with race rules, options for modifications abound because of the engine's popularity with hot rod builders. In the 1950s the car was rated at 300 horsepower but now it has about 500, Mozart said, making it a great selection for vintage races, where the menacing black car regularly runs at the front of the pack.
What's it like to drive such beast?
"It's scary," he said. The tires used in vintage racing are a bit too narrow to keep the unruly car planted to the asphalt.
Mozart said he never had any money until he sold his auto parts distribution business, Eurasian Auto Parts, in the 1970s. But once he did, he jumped into real estate development — like someone jumping into a pool who didn't know how to swim, he said. He bought his first collector car, a Duesenberg, in 1981.
He seems to have inherited the collector's bug from his father, who came from humble beginnings to own one of the country's first Porsche dealers, Mozart Porsche/VW, in Palo Alto, which included a museum with antique cars. One day his father grew tired of the cars and sold the whole collection, Mozart said.
Today, Mozart's collection is world-renown. A search on the Internet turns up numerous references and photos of him driving his cars on racetracks such as the famous Laguna Seca in Salinas.
In his office's auto shop, hundreds of pieces of memorabilia hang from the ceiling and the walls. Models of old war planes, old signs, pieces of automotive artwork and Elvis' face is prominently displayed on one wall; bronze statues of motorcycle racers and old toys sit on shelves; and there are even two very old go-carts built to look like 1930s race cars.
But while many of Mozart's cars will find their way into the museum, the memorabilia filling his shop will not.
In the family
Mozart's wife, Heather Mozart, talked about the car she has raced in Vintage events since 1997. In 2005 she was the first woman to win the Wine Country Classic at Sonoma's Infineon Raceway. Her 1965 Alfa Romeo GTA is like "the perfect gentlemen," she said, because of the way it predictably handles in the corners. It was totaled once in a crash, but the Mozarts decided it was worth saving. Since then the car's value has gone up.
The Alpha Romeo GTA was parked next to a row of Ferraris, Porsches, Mercedes and Jaguars, many of which have been restored by Mozart and his crew. They have the ability to fix anything on a car — and sometimes have pieces manufactured when they are no longer available.
John and Heather's 6-year-old daughter happened to be in the shop, looking to show off her go-kart — a small replica of a 1960s-era formula car, powered by a lawn mower engine.
Mozart plans to use the new museum for charitable events, and says he'll continue his tradition of opening up the collection to car clubs. He has made significant donations to charities, and sits on the advisory board for the Children's Place in Redwood City.
While the museum could be considered a gift to the city of Mountain View, it won't be open on a daily basis. Mozart said it wouldn't be worth it to hire someone to stand at the front counter when only a small number of visitors are likely to visit each day.
E-mail Daniel DeBolt at firstname.lastname@example.org