A basement isn't usually regarded as an impressive area of the family home -- certainly not the first spot to take guests. Bob Albrecht's unfinished basement wouldn't be particularly noteworthy if it wasn't for what he stores in it.
"When we have friends or family over and he invites them downstairs to see 'The cars,' they automatically assume he means a collection of toy cars," said Sandra, Bob's wife.
Heading down the family's staircase reveals the vehicles are indeed full size and fully functional. All six collector cars parked below the Palatine home are Oldsmobiles, Albrecht's favorite auto brand.
"I've been in love with them since I was 16 and had my first car, a 1950 Olds," Albrecht said. "They were pretty fast for the day and ever since, they were the only classics I had any interest in getting into."
As a youth, Albrecht enjoyed his Crest Blue cruiser for a few years before natural causes brought it to an early demise. "In 1965 I lost my license and parked the car on my uncle's farm. During a heavy thunderstorm, a tree fell on it and smashed it."
As a young driver with limited funds, the damage was deemed too much to repair. Yet Albrecht never outgrew his love for Olds and in 1978 he acquired his first collector Olds. "Life has a way of taking over but I never lost the passion for them. Once I got the first one, it turned into two, which became three and so on."
The six he currently keeps downstairs are all in restored condition and have been accumulated over the past several decades. In his fleet, Albrecht has a 1955 Super 88 in Crest Blue and Ivory White. "I found it in 2008 on the East Coast. This one is unique as it has a three-speed transmission on the steering column."
His 1950 98 convertible came from Fond du Lac, Wis., and was the top of the line model for the year. A 1950 88 two-door sedan came from St. Louis and was repainted. "I put a hot rod engine in it," he says, replacing the original 303-cubic-inch V-8 with a 394-c.i. version out of a '64 Olds. With dual carbs and a special transmission, "it'll snap your neck back when you mash the throttle," Albrecht said.
Albrecht's 1951 98 Holiday hardtop also came from St. Louis and packs the 303-c.i. V-8. "In its day, it was a high-powered car."
The other 1950 Holiday hardtop was sourced from Kentucky and has accumulated only 20,000 miles on the odometer. "A car-loving friend of mine got lost driving back from Tennessee. He stopped off the freeway to get gas and saw this car in a lean-to. He didn't see plates and inquired if a sale was possible. I was down there within a couple days to see it and eventually purchase it."
The sixth machine is a '52 that Albrecht has owned since 1990 and one he bought sight unseen from an East Coast owner.
The cruising hideaway came about in 2007 when Albrecht lowered down the first car. He added a garage door to the walkout basement, and a lift to get the cars over a 3-foot foundation wall.
"I realized it was a pretty big room and when I decided I wasn't going to finish it, it was natural to bring more cars in."
Exhaust fans have also been added, along with shelving to hold spare parts.
"I like that if I have ambition one night, I can come down here. If you store cars off-site, you have to drive somewhere to work on them. It's not too fun to go through that hassle -- or the flip side is you get wrapped up in your work and never come home!"
Albrecht's daughter Emily has helped along the way getting the cars back in showroom condition. While she has grown accustomed to the downstairs work space, she's noticed neighbors are still a bit miffed.
"They all think it's weird when we drive around to the backyard," she said, "and then don't come back up."