Joe Palmer: vintage car collector

He owns 14 classic cars, but the Midtown resident really wants a ’74 Cadillac Talisman.

Joe Palmer stands next to one of his 14 vintage cars, a 1941 Lincoln.

Joe Palmer stands next to one of his 14 vintage cars, a 1941 Lincoln.

Photo by James Raia

Vintage auto collector Joe Palmer spins the hood ornament of his giant 1941 Lincoln. The vehicle has a hulking 12-cylinder engine, weighs nearly 4,000 pounds and not many were made.

Palmer is fascinated by the workings of vintage cars. But he’s just as appreciative of the Lincoln’s weapon-like chrome appendage and dual horns that blare as loudly as lighthouse fog sirens. He owns 14 vehicles—including a Rolls-Royce, Cadillac and Ford—and many are parked in the backyard of his Midtown home. The 59-year-old real estate businessman and musician is immersed in the history and the stories of vintage vehicle owners. He likes to drive himself and friends in his vehicles, including a two-tone green 1956 Bentley. SN&R chatted with Palmer on a recent late morning at his home while sitting in his 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine.

You basically have a vintage automobile collection in your backyard. How did all of this get started?

I just started with the one, the 1941 Cadillac series 62, and I thought, Well, this isn’t enough. So I just started pulling a few together, and I’ve had more than 30 now. But I have sold a lot of them. I sold one to a guy in Australia, and I’ve sold them in England, Italy, France and Czechoslovakia. They’re all over the world now, so that’s kind of neat.

Often car collectors have a father, brother, or someone who was also a collector and influenced them. Was it that way for you?

My dad used to run moonshine. Have you ever seen the movie Thunder Road? It’s actually accurate. Those were some of the roads he used to drive on. He was always telling me tales about that. I respected my dad a lot. When we invaded the beaches of Normandy, he was there. He was always telling me about different cars he had, and he tried to buy me a Model T. I didn’t think he had any money, so I told him not to. But now I own a Model A.

As a vintage car collector, where do you look for vehicles—Craigslist?

I like two sites particularly:—I have some cars listed there—and It’s a beautiful site. You just put in what you are after and bam! There they are. If anyone out there has a ’74 or ’75 Cadillac Talisman, I am very interested.

Have you ever had a new car?

I drove a Prius. I lowered my carbon footprint, so if anyone is going to blame me for driving all these old gas hogs, I’ve driven four different hybrids, all Toyotas. Two were Priuses, one was a Camry hybrid and the last one was [an] Avalon hybrid—all good, enjoyable cars.

You mostly have four-door cars, right?

I like for people to have their own doors. Coupes are where it’s at, supposedly, but I like for people to get out of my backdoor without having to crawl over the back seats. The Mustang I have is a two-door. You have to pull the front seat up, and people are scuffing it up. For me, it’s just getting out of your own door, you know?

What are some of the reactions you get, particularly from young people?

Some of them don’t know what’s going on. They’re never seen the cars like I have. But some others are surprisingly into it. They know what their grandpa used to drive, and they’ve seen cars like them at the California Automobile Museum downtown. I’ve had a few cars there.

What’s your favorite old car, maybe one you’ve sold and you could get back?

I’ve got the ’57 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham right now, but had another one. It was a Fleetwood. I sold it to a friend who really wanted it.