January 04, 2012 - By Joe St. Henry
This 1939 Packard Roadster was obtained from an owner in Pennsylvania. Photo by G. Ouzounian (click for larger version)
Neal Porter has two grown children, but another 50-plus "babies" under his care today.
They receive plenty of love and attention in a heated showroom of sorts, tucked on the business owner's property in Lake Orion.
People who know Porter know his collection of classic cars rivals those found anywhere. Like a proud father, he says he has no favorites. Each vehicle, some dating back to the Depression Era, has its own story, which he is excited to share.
There's the 1930 Packard he acquired in 1966 from an owner in Argentina that was once the property of Eva Peron, the wife of the South American country's president. Then there is the 1959 Cadillac that Porter drove to his 50th class reunion a couple of years ago.
How about the 1957 Dual-Ghia convertible, designed by Chrylser but built in Italy; most were sold to movie stars of the time. He also owns a 1934 Packard that was once owned by American industrialist John D. Rockefeller. His 1939 Packard Model 12, once property of the Wanamaker's department store family in Philadelphia, sat for 40 years with a blown engine before Porter bought it 15 years ago.
His 1957 Ford Thunderbird is one of only 117 ever built by the automaker's racing team back in the day. Porter's collection also includes a 1957 Lincoln Continental Mark II, designed and built by Ford to be the "best car ever".
In addition, he has a replica of the 1958 Corvette that Porter and his wife Lois eloped in 48 years ago. She also likes to drive the 1961 Corvette featuring all original parts and the 1962 Oldsmobile Starfire.
"My wife likes to drive the cars with hard tops because they don't mess up her hair," Porter said, noting he prefers his convertibles.
His passion for cars began during his teenage years, when he brought home a 1941 Ford two-door sedan that "needed some work." Porter said his father was not thrilled with the acquisition, so he sold the vehicle to a buddy and he still drove it around town.
He began his collection before going to work for General Motors in Pontiac as a die maker. When he was younger, Porter added a car or two each year when he could afford it while raising a family.
Today, he visits vintage car websites and car shows, plus his friends keep a lookout for vehicles they know he may be interested in acquiring.
Porter said he now adds a few vehicles to his collection annually. He does virtually all of the restoration work himself, finding time while running Vette Products of Michigan. (Porter also is a member of the Orion Township Board of Trustees.)
"When I disappear, my wife can usually find me working on a car," he said. Currently, he is restoring a 1937 Packard 12 Roadster, a 1953 Corvette, a 1953 Cadillac Eldorado and a 1957 Isseta.
Like many collectors, Porter said he likes to collect cars that he grew up with downriver and in Pontiac. But, he is quick to point out, he is not interested in the cars his dad may have owned.
"I look for the cars that people on the other side of the track drove," Porter said. "The ones that we ran out of the house to see coming down the street."
He and his wife drive all of the cars in his collection. They can often be seen around town and pick one to go on vacation each year. He also lends vehicles to the organizers of the Orion Area Parade Group each year for its lighted parade.
When movie studios began setting up shop in Detroit a few years ago, word of Porter's collection spread amongst directors and producers. They asked if his vehicles could be leased for movies and he was open to the idea. When studio executives visited his showroom, however, they were both impressed and disappointed.
"They said my cars were too unique," Porter quipped. "The directors were looking for more everyday vehicles to include in movie scenes. Many of mine are rare finds."
Porter remembers when his daughter asked for a limo for her high school prom several years ago. Her dad said no, but offered an even better deal. He would chauffer her and some friends in the blue 1934 Packard to the event.
When they pulled around the line of limos and hit the siren horn, heads turned in awe.
"Everyone, including the limo drivers, checked out her ride," Porter said. "All night, the kids asked how she found that