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A car collector's dream garage

It's important to have a good place to preserve and display a prized old car. Patterson area resident Jim De Martini appears to have solved the dilemma of housing his two dozen vintage vehicles and a wide assortment of antiques.

The longtime grower and Stanislaus County supervisor still is making minor tweaks to his 9,000-square-foot garage which is home to 1960s muscle cars, vintage autos nearly 100 years old and the memorabilia that goes with such a collection.

De Martini said he didn't want just a warehouse for the vehicles he has been acquiring for nearly 30 years. He had ideas for how these things would be displayed, but followed his conviction of hiring an architect and project manager to get the six-month project done.

"It came out just like I wanted," De Martini said. "I have been collecting cars since 1986; once I buy it I will never sell. You're never done, but I think I did everything right. It's important to hire an architect to make sure you get what you want."

This architectural oversight means you thought of putting electrical outlets along the length and breadth of the building to accommodate neon signs. It also means thinking about having a large number of compressed air lines along the walls to keep the tires on the vehicles aired up. A sprinkler system also was part of the plan.

Modesto architect Dennis Smith designed De Martini's complex starting with a prefabricated metal building, which helped hold down the initial square footage costs. Expenses would mount as a 1950s dinner, 1900 office and centuries-old kitchen were incorporated into the project.

Smith said designing De Martini's garage was a fun project, completed nearly five years ago. He hadn't designed a car collector's "man cave" before and hasn't had any similar requests since then.

"There aren't a lot of architectural flourishes other than the diner and the offices," Smith said. "But he wanted to provide a facility for his car collection that incorporated a Fifties diner and space for his antiques."

De Martini concedes the designer of a vintage automotive garage needs to have specific ideas of what he wants. Some of his inspiration for the diner came from watching reruns of the old television show "Dragnet."

The ideal garage also needs space to work on vehicles. De Martini has a powered hydraulic lift, pressure washer, air compressor, stick welder, workbench and the tools needed to maintain the vehicles.

De Martini said his garage is more like a private museum. He holds events for non-profit organizations and throws a Christmas party for his friends.

"I like collecting antiques but had no place to put them," De Martini said. "I have no regrets, but I could have made the building bigger. Everything had to fit. I got all the needed in here but I may have to enlarge because I would like to buy more cars."

De Martini said hiring a project manager to design an old car garage also is essential. This person made sure all of the dozen subcontractors involved in the project did their jobs.
"That's what you need to put something like this together."

De Martini has always had a fascination with mechanical things. He said all of the cars and trucks are in perfect mechanical condition and many of the antiques still work. While he doesn't have the time anymore to do the hands-on restorations, the light maintenance with such a fleet is his regular task.

The 61-year-old collector quips he has cars instead of children. He said all of the cars were purchased for specific reasons - some remind him of his days in high school or vehicles he wished he had when he was young.

De Martini's favorite vehicle is a 1970 Pontiac GTO "Judge" which is a potent muscle car that drives nice. He also has a 1970 Plymouth Superbird, 1958 Edsel convertible, 1970 Dodge Super Bee, 1936 Auburn four-door phaeton, 1969 Mercury Cougar, 1953 Buick, 1969 Mustang Mach I, 1969 Camaro Z-28 hardtop, along with a 1909 Locomobile,1928 Chevrolet sedan, and a 2013 Ferrari 458 Italia.
Keeping a large mental inventory of what's needed and where to get it also is essential. De Martini and Smith located a Chicago company that make the booths for the 1950s diner and also found the vintage telephone booth that came out of a Chicago hotel.

Having a massive man cave means furnishing it with period pieces. That includes a framed picture of President Ike Eisenhower, a Rockola jukebox, cigarette vending machine, Coca Cola signs and vending machines, accented by checkerboard flooring.

Throw in a 1953 pinup calendar, a 1918 mimeograph machine, a wooden wheelchair, drive-in movie speakers, pinball machine and you've set the tone for some fun times remembering the past.

With a head full of ideas on the ideal vintage garage and the help of an architect and project manager, De Martini was able to achieve his goal.

— Doane Yawger of Merced is a retired newspaper reporter and editor.