By Melanie Hayes
When Phil “Rock” Gumpert bought his first car in the early 1960s at age 19, he had to get an $800 loan. He only had about $80 in his pocket.
Now, decades later, he owns many Ferraris, Porsches and other rare and classic cars. He exhibits them at events and drives several of them in Formula One and Formula Atlantic races.
“I call these cars rolling sculptures because a lot of them are like fine pieces of art,” he said.
Gumpert, chairman and CEO of Tom Lange Global Produce Network, was one of several collectors who showcased classic cars at Conner Prairie’s second annual Festival of Machines and its VIP event, Vintage Wheels and Wine, earlier this month.
He and wife Judy became Conner Society members earlier this year.
Gumpert owns mostly sports cars and race cars. His first car was a 1951 MG TD, an early sports car from the United Kingdom that became popular in the U.S. after World War II servicemen brought them home.
Over the years, he has bought a variety of cars, including more MGs, Triumphs, Austin-Healeys, T-Birds, Corvettes, Morgans and more. Some are one-of-a-kind cars while others were limited production vehicles. Last year, he displayed a 1958 Porsche Speedster and a 1974 Ferrari Dino. This year, he showcased a 2015 Ferrari 458 Spider.
“When I made a few bucks, I started buying cars and I parlayed them into the next cars and the next cars,” he said. “I became interested in them because of their styles and components. A lot of these cars are very iconic.”
Exhibiting classic cars is a great way to preserve and showcase history, he said. Festival of Machines allows the public to see these cars up close and to help them make connections between the past and the present through transportation industry.
Gumpert said this year’s festival allowed people of all ages, including children and adults who were not alive during the era of these cars, to ask questions and discover how lives, companies and communities were affected by constantly changing automobile innovations.
“(Classic cars) are part of our history,” he said. “A lot of them were handmade. Indiana had quite a few car manufacturers that did some outstanding designs, like Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg and Marmon. These are icons, classics, never to be repeated.”
Several of Gumpert’s cars have interesting stories. He owns one of only four 1969 Santa Ana Eagles ever built by race car driver Dan Guerney. During this year’s Indianapolis 500, all four cars were reunited along with Guerney and his four sons.
A 1964 MG Liquid Suspension Special that Gumpert owns is one of three manufactured for the 1964 Indianapolis 500. One was destroyed in practice and the other two raced from 1964 through the early 1970s. Famed racer A.J. Foyt tested the car in Phoenix and set a track record. He brought the car to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but ended up driving a Roaster and won the race. Gumpert bought the car in Canada and set it up for his own racing use.
Gumpert also has a vintage 1976 Shadow Formula One car that he races. “It’s a legal way to go fast,” he said about his passion. He reached 170 miles an hour in a recent road course race in Wisconsin.
“I am just going down the highway of life, sometimes quicker than other people,” he said.