Jul 15 2014

More Insight into the Bird Cars, the Farnesworth Garage and the 1962 “Car Auction of the Century”

VanderbiltCupRaces.com viewers continue to share stories and information on Wallis and Minnie Bird, their the unique car collection, the Farnesworth garage and the 1962 "Car Auction of the Century".


Howard Kroplick

Anonymous: "Back in, I think, 1959 I had a close friend at college (who at one point years later managed the Chrysler TransAm program) whose girl friend came from Oyster Bay. She said that since all we could talk about was cars, that she knew of a bunch of cars in an old garage near where her family lived. So one day we got in my old Porsche and drove down to Oyster Bay from Cambridge. We found the estate she had told us about, but it appeared to be deserted and had been left to become all overgrown. There were big steel front gates, wrapped with chain and several padlocks. We blew the car horn and shouted a lot and eventually an old rather stooped man came out of the bushes on the other side of the gates, telling us to shut up. We said that we had heard that there were some old cars there and that we had driven a long way just to see them. "There are no cars here. Go away," he said. I then took what was, for me, a small fortune out of my pocket ($5) and, handing it through the gates to the old man, said that we really would appreciate seeing the cars. At this point he began unlocking the padlocks and unwrapping the chains. He pointed to a large garage building some distance away through the trees and said, "Go in there. Don't touch anything and call me when you come back out." It must have been late winter then because I remember some snow on the ground and that one skylight of the garage had collapsed from snow.

Anonymous: "We went into the garage and there were nine cars there, all on blocks with 1940 NY license plates which had mention on them of the previous year's World's Fair. The cars were as described in the article although I recall that the Mercedes 540K roadster had real alligator skin upholstery and the Duesenberg SJ roadster had some 6000 miles on it. The two Bugs, a 35 and a 37 I think, each had white racing numbers painted on them. All in all, quite a sight for young enthusiasts. I later found out that the Bugs had been driven by Bird and a friend at the 1939 World's Fair Grand Prix. After that visit, I somehow got in touch with a lawyer in New York who represented Mrs. Bird. He told me that when Mr. Bird died in 1940 trying to learn how to fly an aircraft, Mrs. Bird had decamped to Switzerland, leaving the caretaker in charge of the estate, he was the fellow who had opened the gates) and had, as yet, never returned. About six months later I was reading a copy of Life magazine and read an article about a Swiss doctor who had recently been arrested for murder. It seemed that this man had a racket whereby he befriended aged widows and got them to put him in their wills before poisoning them. He had been caught due to a mistake in the case of his most recent victim, Mrs. Wallis Bird! The lawyer told me that actually she had died without a will and that everything would be sold, which took place in 1962. I very much wanted to attend that auction, but my father told me, "You have a Porsche, you don't need any more cars!"


Walt Gosden: "I was at this auction as well, was 12 years old,  the Bugatti that Austin Clark bought had a hole cut in the top of the hood for easier access to the carburetor, and was I believe raced at Roosevelt Raceway in either 1936 or 1937 at the George Vanderbilt Cup Races held then . A lot of people who attended the auction drove over in pre WWII classic cars and I spent more time in the grassy field next to the auction taking photos of those cars (brownie box camera borrowed from my aunt) . "

Walt Gosden: "The Duesenberg roadster (body by LeGrande) as far as I know is still owned by Dieter Holterbosch, and the Duesenberg Beverly sedan (Murphy coachwork) is owned by a collector/dealer in Va. this car when in the Bird estate had its shift lever cut off about 8 inches above the floor, and canvas covered rear top was stained as the roof of the garage leaked above it. Friends said that in the years the cars were stored there they could get into see the cars if you gave the caretaker a bottle of booze"



Walt Gosden" "Also in the garage was a rare 1940 Buick woody wagon with very low mileage and a 1952 Buick sedan with low miles as well. Back in the early 1970s when I worked for Austin we would go out to lunch and meet some long time Oyster Bay residents who remembered Wallace Bird and they had some pretty interesting stories about his “interests” beyond the cars."

Walt Gosden: "This is from the Bird's personal photos that were picked up by somone who knew them from Oyster Bay.
Received in the early 1970s over lunch at the Country Inn in Locust Valley from this man (can't recall name) who was glad to know someone was interested in the Birds. I would guess photo dates from about 1937. Winifred Bird is lady on right, do not know who lady in middle or left is.They are on the top deck of the Bird's yacht named Wal - Win, that was docked in Oyster Bay. Mrs. Bird would have been about 40 ish when this was taken."


Jul 20 2014 stevel 1:00 PM

Awesome story. This was the Bugatti I remember from childhood at the LI Museum. Gold Coast of LI was an incredible place to wander in the 60s. Anyone remember Ferguson’s Castle in Huntington Bay?


Jul 21 2014 S. Berliner, III 3:19 PM

What fun!  I’m in that top photo and the one with the first of Walt’s comments; too grainy to be sure which of several possibilities.  “Mercedes 540K roadster had real alligator skin upholstery”.  That may well be but there was no M-B 540K there, garage or visiting; the car with a missing rad. cap and add-on rad. shutters is a 1927-1931 S (short w/b) or SSK.  If the 1930 date (very likely) is true, it’s almost certainly an SSK, but it’s a convertible coupĂ© (NOT a roadster - ditto the LaGrande Duesey).  Sam, III

Jul 21 2014 R Troy 11:19 PM

In regards to the poll on favorite museum, I think many of us chose AAP because so many of their aircraft still fly!

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