'Pieces of American history': Local collector putting one-of-a-kind race cars up for auction

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For the past 20 years, Todd Werner has amassed an impressive collection of unique race cars and muscle cars.

"I'm a firm believer if you do something in life, whether it's work, family, business - whatever it is - you have to be passionate about it," he said. "And passion is life. From that, I got passionate about collecting cars."

But don't call him a car collector. Instead, he prefers to say he's the temporary custodian of his one-of-a-kind vehicles.

"Dick Landy had this car for two years, I've had it for about 16 years," Werner said, pointing to the pristine Dodge Challenger next to him. "That's Dick Landy's car, not necessarily mine. It is mine, I own it, but it's Dick Landy's car. That's the way I feel about it."

Werner started by collecting classic muscle cars, and said nostalgia is one of the reasons people are drawn to the vehicles.

"When I was in high school, you could buy some of these cars for $500," he said. "Now as we grow older, we want these things to remind us of our childhood, I suppose."

He soon turned his focus to the race cars of the '60s and '70s. But not just any race cars would do: He wanted the winners.

"There's an old term, 'What wins on Sunday sells on Monday.' Instead of buying old race cars, I decided to buy great pieces of American history: The cars that won on Sunday. I wanted the best."

Werner owns 75 cars in his collection. Now he's decided to put 44 of them up for auction this July in Pennsylvania. The auction is expected to draw car aficionados from around the country.

"Of course, I will miss the cars," he said. "It's just time for somebody else to enjoy them. They'll get new, fresh excitement."

Of the 44 cars on the auction block, just one has a reserve price set: NASCAR legend Richard Petty's "legacy car," the 1970 Plymouth Superbird.

"This particular car is the pride and joy of my collection. It turned out to be the most recognized automobile in American history," Werner said.

Even if you aren't a NASCAR fan, chances are you know the Superbird. Besides being the iconic car driven by 'The King' Richard Petty, it also appeared in Disney/Pixar's movie "Cars" as "Strip 'The King' Weathers" -- voiced by none other than Richard Petty himself.

The Superbird will be joined by other classic race cars, including those once driven by Ronnie Sox, Buddy Martin, Bill Flynn and 'Dyno' Don Nicholson. Seventeen of Werner's cars once graced speedways across the country.

"Some of these cars were next to each other on the racetrack. Now they're parked next to each other for this point in time," Werner said.

Some of the other vehicles that will be available include classic cars such as a 1957 Chevrolet Corvette, a 1958 Pontiac Bonneville, a 1962 Chrysler 300h, a 1969 Chevrolet Yenko Camaro, a 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda, and two 1957 Ford Thunderbirds.

There are a few more modern options up for auction as well, including a 2004 Ferrari 575 M Maranello, a 2009 Ford Mustang Iacocca 45th Anniversary and a 2001 Zoso Custom motorcycle.

Werner says it'll be a sad day when his vehicles are sold, but he hopes the next owners take the time to appreciate them like he has.

"I've had them for a very long time. I've enjoyed them, I've loved them, I will always love them," he said.

To the next owners, he offers this advice: "If you take your car that you've collected and you stuff it in a corner and you're the only one that pets it and looks at it and enjoys it, I think they're missing out. Take them out. Enjoy them. It's not just a car, it's a piece of our American history."

LINK: For more information on the auction happening this July in Harrisburg, or to see all of the vehicles that will be available for bidding, visit Mecum Auctions' website.