Larry Klairmont auctioning 40 classic cars – Consumer News

on Sep29

28 September 2017 | 5:00 pm

When Larry Klairmont, better known around Chicago as a savvy real estate investor, attends an auto auction, his bidding is often so rapid-fire and seemingly reckless that strangers sometimes peg him as a shill, put in his seat by management to boost prices that others end up paying.

There’s a method in that bidding style, however: over the past decade Klairmont, founder of Imperial Realty, one of the largest property managers in the area, has rarely lost out in his hunt for rare cars that stir his passion, assembling one of the most important collections in the U.S. Now, at the age of 90, he’s in the process of unwinding some of his holdings, with the sale of 40 of his cars slated at the Mecum Auction running Oct. 5 to 7 at Schaumburg Convention Center.

But Klairmont isn’t going away. Yes, he’s giving up a prized 1948 Chrysler Town & Country wood-clad convertible, expected to fetch $100,000 at the upcoming event. And yes, his collection has shrunk from a peak of some 640 cars a few years ago to a little over half that today. Many of the cars he’s selling off, he says, are virtual twins to other models he owns. The vehicles Klairmont will bring to Mecum’s auction include a 1902 Wells Fargo horse-drawn mail carriage, a 1926 Rickenbacker E6 Brougham, a 1919 Ford Huckster bus, a 1937 Cord 810 Westchester, a 1950 Studebaker Champion and a 1948 Packard Sedan with a matching teardrop trailer. More modern collectibles include a 1995 International 4700 truck and a 2000 Plymouth Prowler. “I’m still buying cars here and there,” Klairmont, who acquired a 1912 McFarlan only last week, says. “My collection can still get better.”

That’s a grand ambition. John Kraman, director of consignments at Mecum, which is based in Walworth, Wisc., and bills itself the largest auto auction house in the U.S., says that the Klairmont cars, housed in a former printing plant on the Northwest Side, rank among the four or five most important collections in the country, surpassed perhaps by only the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles and the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, Calif. Klairmont won’t say, but industry observers estimate his collection is worth more than $50 million. “Larry has got the cars that reflect important parts of American history from 1900 into the 1960s,” Kraman says. “The sheer variety is amazing.”

Indeed, many of the Klairmont vehicles, all of them in pristine, showroom-quality condition, are one-of-a-kinds. A 1937 aluminum-bodied Rolls-Royce Phantom III Aero Coupe, for instance. A 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II with a custom bubbletop that looks like something out of the “Jetsons.” A 2002 Lincoln Continental concept car made the auto show circuit and then was destined for the scrap heap, but Klairmont saved it. It’s got a 414-horsepower Aston Martin engine, a six-speed Jaguar transmission and giant 22X9 wheels. Value? Priceless!

A Marine in World War II who fought hand-to-hand combat at Iwo Jima, Klairmont’s first big score came in the early 1950s, while he attended law school at DePaul University. A friend had a 1951 Rolls Royce Silver Dawn convertible with left-hand drive—one of only three made—and had to sell it. He gave Klairmont a sweetheart price of $9,000, though as he built his chain of Imperial Cleaners stores through the 1950s around Chicago, Klairmont was more likely to be seen in Cadillacs. He sold out of dry cleaning in 1962, and five years later launched Imperial Realty, which has amassed over the years more than 150 properties ranging from warehouses to offices and other commercial buildings, virtually all of them in the suburbs and some of Chicago’s more remote neighborhoods. He’s the biggest commercial landlord in his hometown of north suburban Highland Park, among other places.

As he built his real estate empire, Klairmont put his car collecting on hold. But then in the 1970s somebody offered him $185,000 for his Silver Dawn Rolls. He took the money and a light went on. “I got to thinking that there is good money to be made in collecting cars,” he says.

Still, the serious collecting didn’t commence until around 2000 or so, when his son Alfred took over more day-to-day operating responsibilities at Imperial and Klairmont plunged head into collecting cars at an age—well into his 70s—when most car owners are liquidating. He’s got more than 20 Rolls-Royces, over 20 vintage Cadillacs and three prized Duesenbergs.

Klairmont is preoccupied today with the future. He allows the public in to view his cars for limited hours each Saturday, when his crew of mechanics and detail men are not working, and is building a banquet room adjacent to the car display. He’s also considering expanding his space to a full-time museum.



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