A Lifetime of Automobilia Finds a New Home

Mark Patrick has his hands full. As the librarian and archivist at the Collier Collection here, on the Gulf Coast in southwest Florida, he and his small staff face the daunting task of sorting through the 7,000 automotive books and 300,000 photographs and files that the Collier recently bought from Karl Ludvigsen, the prolific author, journalist and former auto executive.

The trove arrived from Mr. Ludvigsen’s home in England in mid-March, the photos and documents in 41 four-drawer filing cabinets and the books in more than 500 green plastic bins, each holding volumes that once occupied two-and-a-half linear feet at the Ludvigsen Library in Hawkedon, Suffolk, northeast of London.

Mr. Ludvigsen, who turned 77 on Sunday, had been contemplating selling his library for a couple of years. Why now? “It’s a desire to stop working on Saturdays,” he said by telephone. “Writing is time-consuming.”

But that does not mean that he’s retiring. Mr. Ludvigsen, an American who has lived in England since 1980, said that in addition to writing about cars, he planned to devote more time to aerospace and military history, and has retained an archive to aid in those projects.

Neither Mr. Ludvigsen nor Mr. Patrick, the librarian, would talk about the cost of the acquisition. As Mr. Ludvigsen put it, “That’s between them and us.”

Operating under the umbrella of the Revs Institute for Automotive Research, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, the Collier comprises the library and a tightly curated collection of about 100 automobiles. Although it is not open to the general public, the Collier makes its holdings available “to those seriously interested in automotive history,” according to a Revs press release.

Mr. Ludvigsen liked that his archives “would not disappear into some private collection,” he said, but would remain available to researchers, restorers and the media.

His books and documents were shipped in a 40-foot container to Naples, where they are being temporarily stored in the Collier’s truck garage. After processing, they will become part of the Collier library, which, before the Ludvigsen acquisition, numbered 20,000 books, 300,000 magazines and 1 million letters, catalogs and photographs.

“The Collier is without a doubt a world-class collection,” Prof. John Heitmann, an automotive scholar who teaches at the University of San Diego and at the University of Dayton, his home institution, said in an e-mail. “It has a large number of monographs (18,000 if I recall correctly), one of the best photographic collections in the U.S., hard-to-find journals and in my opinion the best automotive history librarian anywhere.”

The Collier Collection is the brainchild of Miles Collier, a grandson of Barron G. Collier (1873-1939), who made his fortune in subway and streetcar advertising in New York and later in Florida real estate, much of it in the Naples area, in what is now Collier County — named in his honor.

The library and automobiles are in an 80,000-square-foot building in a landscaped office park. The cars, meanwhile, are arranged chronologically in four group exhibits: “Automobility: The Car, the Road and Modern Life”; “Vitesse: Sports Motoring and Motoring Sports”; “Porsche: Designed to Excel”; and “Revs: Racing Cars and Racing Men.”

The collection includes a number of cars once owned by Briggs Cunningham, a Collier family friend. In 1933, he and Miles Collier’s father and uncles were founders of what became the Sports Car Club of America.

On April 14, Ralph Stoesser, a volunteer docent at the collection, conducted a comprehensive two-hour tour of what is truly a connoisseur’s selection of automobiles, highlights of which included:

• A 1902 Mors Model Z racer with nail-pullers on both rear wheels. The pullers, which resemble two big spatulas, are mounted just behind the tires so that they could catch any nails — a hazard from horseshoes in the early days of motoring — before they could rotate around and puncture the inner tubes.

• A 1914 Simplex Speed Car, a two-seater once owned by Barron Collier, with a 597-cubic-inch engine, the largest in the collection. Its four cylinders produce 50 horsepower.

• A 1927 Packard that Briggs Cunningham turned into a hot rod when he was a student at Yale. The story goes that the family chauffeur would deliver it to New Haven on Friday, Mr. Cunningham would drive it over the weekend and the chauffeur would pick it up on Monday.

• A 1939 Mercedes-Benz W154 open-wheel racer, one of the Silver Arrows. The car takes five mechanics a half-hour to start because its V-12 engine must be carefully warmed up. It was raced only once, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, on Sept. 3, 1939, the day Britain and France declared war on Germany.

• A 1935 Duesenberg SSJ roadster, one of two built. Gary Cooper owned this one, painted in two shades of gray; Clark Gable owned the other.

• A 1949 Porsche 356SL coupe, one of the first 50 cars hand-built in Gmünd, Austria.

All are kept immaculately dust-free — the three-story building is pressurized, and the air is filtered twice. As Mr. Patrick, the librarian, said, “Mr. Collier takes very good care of his property.”