By Brian N. Willhite
Classic automobiles serve as remnants of the fashions, trends and engineering advancements of history. They serve as iconic cultural figures from the past.
For one local collector, capturing the essence of these cars and preserving their memories has become a life-long endeavor.
Bill Ray’s love for these marvels of machinery began in 1945, when he bought his first car. But it wasn’t until 1960 that he started seriously collecting.
He has a collection of 30 classically restored automobiles. Six of them, including a 1949 Cadillac and a 1931 Model A Coupe, are still being driven while the other 24 have been retired and are in a private museum he built to preserve and celebrate the history and culture of each vehicle.
He felt the classic cars would someday hold a significant historical value. Plus, he said, the cars look good.
“I collect them because they’re something of beauty, they’re pretty and they have good lines,” said Bill Ray, owner of Bill Ray Tile. “The cars today all look alike.”
Some newer cars made today are nice looking, he said, but not as nice as older ones.
“Especially cars in the 1950s, everybody made a pretty car: Ford, Chevrolet — all of them,” he said.
The classic cars are displayed in a large showroom floor, lined and slotted with memorabilia complementary to the era of each car. Some of the vehicles have car hop food trays hanging on the doors.
“These cars from years ago have their own personality and everybody that comes in here to see them says, ‘Oh, my dad had one just like that, and I used to ride in the back seat,’” Ray said with a laugh.
People are often taken back to their youth when they see the cars and share fond memories.
“I never thought there would become that type of an interest in (classic cars), but people do like to look at them,” Ray said.
Ray has opened up his museum for enthusiastic car clubs to hold events, meetings or just to swap stories with fellow collectors who share an affinity for classic automobiles. The museum is private, available for viewing by appointment only.
Ray’s longtime friend Humberto Quiroz was inspired by Ray’s drive for collecting cars and soon became interested in the hobby. He now has three classic cars of his own, including an antique Nash Metropolitan that Ray gave him for his birthday.
Quiroz, vice president of Bill Ray Tile, has found that driving the classic cars is particularly fun.
“I like the feel of driving down the street with people … waving at you when they see you in these old cars,” Quiroz said.
Ray and Quiroz met 26 years ago, when Quiroz began working at Ray’s tile business at 16 years old. Quiroz has helped establish the car museum, and through the years, has become like a son to Ray.
As for future additions to the museum floor, Ray said he has retired from collecting cars and is happy where his collection stands.
Each car has a special place in his heart.
“These cars become like your dogs; it’s hard to sell them, hard to give them away,” he said as he looks over at the cars, smiling. “You just get attached to them.”