Classic deals: Geneva luxury car collector shares tips for buying vintage Rolls-Royces at lowest cost

To fulfill a lifelong dream of owning vintage luxury cars, Lee Murphy had to take the idiom “he who hesitates is lost” and recast it. Maybe something like, “he who waits is the winner.”

In collecting classic cars, the waiting game proved to be the better strategy for Murphy, a 72-year-old Geneva resident who admits to being a “car kid” as a youngster who pined for someday owning a Rolls-Royce. Of course, a young lad isn’t likely to buy a classic car, but Murphy also controlled his urge through his adult years, waiting until 2018 to buy his first vintage car.

The strategy also worked in waiting for the price to come down on the vehicles he eventually bought.

From the first day of buying a two-tone (yellow and chocolate brown) 1979 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II at an auction in Schaumburg, Murphy caught up for lost time by owning 13 cars.

In a storage facility west of St. Charles, Murphy displays an array of vintage cars, including Rolls-Royces, a 1950 Buick Roadmaster, a 1977 Daimler, a 2016 Bentley Mulsanne and most recently, a 2016 Aston Martin DB9 he bought a couple of weeks ago in Minneapolis that quickly brings on visions of James Bond.

Lee Murphy (in shorts) poses with his 1988 Rolls-Royce Corniche II, a car he has called “one of the most beautiful ever made.” Courtesy of Lee Murphy

He calls a 1988 Rolls-Royce Corniche II “one of the most beautiful cars ever made.” He bought that car from another local Rolls-Royce collector, Tom Burgess, in Geneva.

Each car has a story behind it. Murphy says his 1963 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III was initially delivered to Mrs. Robert McCormick, the widow of the longtime Chicago Tribune publisher and newspaper baron Robert R. McCormick.

Lee Murphy posing with his 1963 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III, a vintage vehicle previously owned by Mrs. Robert McCormick, widow of Tribune publisher and newspaper baron Robert McCormick. He was showing the car at the Geneva Concours d'Elegance show two years ago. Courtesy of Lee Murphy

“She lived in Washington, D.C., for many years and owned the car into the 1980s,” Murphy said. “It was driven mostly by a chauffeur for her.”

Through the research and purchasing process, Murphy holds tight to waiting for the car’s value to drop. First, it’s less of a blow to the bank account when he can find an old Rolls-Royce in excellent condition in the $20,000 range. Second, he wants the best deal possible, not because he intends to sell his cars, but because he does not sell his cars.

“Sure enough, if you are willing to wait five to 10 years for these cars to depreciate, and they do that at a fast rate, you can buy these cars that are totally luxury for what you would spend on an ordinary, intermediate car,” Murphy said.

“After that first car, I started thinking this (collecting) would be fun to get into,” he added. “So, I found some Rolls-Royce dealers in the area and dived in.”

It triggered the classic car bug in Murphy. He admitted that “owning one was not enough.” He started to see that he was possibly missing out on some great Rolls-Royce deals, so he bought more — and the facility to store them — to essentially create a luxury car museum.

But why not sell a couple on occasion to make a profit?

“That would be a good way to think,” Murphy admitted. “But I’m not that mercenary and often ignore the future and turnover possibility. I am not that financially smart.

“For me, it’s more of an emotional thing,” he added. “If I like the looks of a car and remember when it first came out, that’s what is important. I am driven more by emotion than any dollar-and-cents calculation of eventual profits.”

Lee Murphy shows the innterior of 2008 Bentley Continental GT. Courtesy of Lee Murphy

Even though he’s relatively new to the car collecting game, Murphy, a lifelong journalist who works as a freelance writer for Crain’s Chicago Business, has used his journalism skills to research the classic car world. It’s left him with a few specific loves about the vehicles that catch his eye.

“I love all of my cars,” he said. “But, first and foremost, I like English cars.”

This explains why a few of Murphy’s cars are the type often seen used by the Royal Family at important events, including the funeral procession of Princess Diana.

Lee Murphy standing by his 1977 Daimler limousine, also at a recent Geneva Concours d'Elegance show. Courtesy of Lee Murphy

Murphy also highly prefers 12-cylinder engines with plenty of horsepower and speed when hunting for a car.

He’s shown cars the past few summers at the Geneva Concours d’Elegance show, where he believes many collectors think the same way he does about showing their love for cars instead of luring potential buyers.

It’s been a satisfying way for Murphy to scratch the luxury car itch he first developed as a kid when vacationing with his family in Monte Carlo, where he saw a line of Rolls-Royces dropping off people at a casino.

Years later, he saw several Hollywood bigwigs pulling up at a hotel in Palm Springs in the fanciest cars available to folks with a lot of money. He figured that was not a bad way to spend a life.

He may not have ended up as a Hollywood studio CEO, but he can play the part anytime he hops into one of his vintage luxury cars. He who waits is a winner, indeed.

Heard wife’s recommendation

I’d have a nice pile of cash if I had a dollar for every time my wife has spotted an empty storefront in a strip mall or retail building and said, “They should put a Nordstrom Rack in there.”

It turns out that a news release or any media coverage from more than a month ago slipped past us because Seattle-based Nordstrom Inc. announced that it planned to open a Nordstrom Rack in Geneva in the spring of 2025.

So, it’s a year away, but somebody finally heard my wife’s recommendation. She obviously likes the store, even though her visits to one have been few and far between because we are not in the Oak Brook or Naperville area too often when it comes to shopping. But she’ll ask to poke around inside a Nordstrom Rack anytime we are near one.

The Nordstrom Rack in Geneva will take up residency at the 25,000-square-foot empty Bed Bath & Beyond location at 1584 S. Randall Road in the Randall Square shopping strip with PetSmart, Marshalls, Ulta, Michael’s and Old Navy locations.

Nordstrom says its Nordstrom Rack brand offers shoppers discounts on clothing, shoes, and home and beauty products sold at Nordstrom stores. The word “discounts” fairly often catches my wife’s attention.

Beware the Ides

The Norris Cultural Arts Center was packed with many older folks last Friday when the original members of The Ides of March celebrated their 60th year together with the support of an orchestra.

It was a great trip down memory lane and again confirmed that those of us who have spent our lives in Chicago and its suburbs have had a musical genius among us in Ides frontman Jim Peterik — and his bandmates are certainly no slouches.

Fans surely enjoy the hits that drove this band to stardom in “Vehicle” and “Eye of the Tiger,” which Peterik wrote for his other band, Survivor. That one became an instant classic associated with the “Rocky” movies.

My favorite tune of the night was “Is This Love,” which Peterik wrote for Survivor. Peterik started it on acoustic guitar with the orchestra on this night before the others joined in. With that sort of composition, it was a sweet, moving melody that ended as a foot-tapping rocker.

Besides being impressed and happy these guys are still plugging away with great music, I also learned something about myself and other fans.

It was probably by design that the concert ended without an encore, but a bunch of fans in their 60s, 70s and, most likely, some in their 80s, weren’t quite as boisterous in clamoring for an encore as they might have been in their 20s. It was more like a standing ovation that hit the mute button.

I suppose it’s just part of the passing of time, which the Ides proved can still be a lot of fun.

Let there be light

We may be in line for an incredible outbreak of cicadas this summer, but the news is not all bad for being outdoors — especially at night.

Space weather forecasters predict that folks in Illinois could see more displays of an aurora borealis or northern lights.

It’s happening because of holes in the Earth’s magnetic field, which is just another odd thing happening with our planet.

What they don’t tell us is that it is pretty cloudy around these parts more often than not, so it’s possible we’ll never get a bonus viewing of the mostly green but sometimes pink, purple, and red lights that most weather forecasters regularly see around the North Pole.

Still, March is supposed to be one of the better months for the northern lights to do their thing, with October being the other.

Dave Heun can be reached at

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