News & Car Culture

California Wildfires Claim Dozens of Lives—and Rare Classic Cars


Firefighters push a vehicle from a garage as a wildfire fire burns a home near Malibu Lake in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

California’s deadly wildfires have raged on for the better part of a week, claiming the lives of more than 40 people, scorching more than 200,000 acres of land and contributing to a lesser, but still tragic loss—the destruction of dozens of classic automobiles.

Amidst the ruins of homes and businesses destroyed by separate fires in Northern and Southern California are the remains of rare and historic vehicles, including the one-of-a-kind Norman Timbs Special, owned by Gary Cerveny, a prominent car collector in Malibu, CA.

Powered by a 1948 Buick Straight-8 engine, the one-off streamliner was inspired by mid-engine German race cars of the 1930s and featured a unique, two-piece construction that allowed the tail section to be opened for easy access to the gas tank, spare tire, engine, and other components.

Built by automotive engineer Norman Timbs in the 1940s, the vehicle changed ownership multiple times and spent years languishing in the California desert before finally being rediscovered in 2002. Cerveny purchased the car for only $17,600 and oversaw its complete restoration, showing off the renewed vehicle at the 2010 Amelia Island Concours.

Old Crow Speed Shop in Burbank, CA, first drew attention to the tragic news in an Instagram post noting that Cerveny’s entire collection of 30-plus cars was destroyed. According to The Drive, other vehicles in Cerveny’s collection included a 1997 Dodge Viper, 1950 Chrysler Woodie Wagon, various IndyCar racers, and experimental dragsters.

Numerous other vehicles have been lost to the fire, including actor Gerard Butler’s first-generation powder blue Ford Bronco, which was unrecognizable in his recent Instagram post.

Not all of the news coming out of California has been bad, however. Firefighters in Malibu were able to successfully rescue a rare 1966 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 Fastback—one of only about 1,400 produced that year—ensuring that this piece of American history lives to drive another day. Other car enthusiasts have been protecting their vehicles by leaving them in parking lots away from the fires.

Here’s a video showing more footage of the fire, as well as showing some of the parking lots where people were parking their cars in hopes of keeping them safe from fire damage.

You can read more about how the California wildfires are impacting the collector car community by reading these articles:

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