Exploring Mr. Ed's car cache
If you were in the market to go fast during the 1960s, help came in the form of Mr. Ed.
Not to be confused with the popular equine, Ed Schoenthaler was a top-selling salesman who dealt strictly in V-8 horsepower. He worked at Brigance Chevrolet in Oak Park from 1965 to 1970.
"The nickname came from a long last name that was hard to pronounce," the Oak Brook resident said. "I was very fortunate to get started during the glory days of muscle cars."
Schoenthaler sold truckloads of Chevy's high-performance offerings, including COPO and Z28 Camaros, 396 Chevelles and Novas, Yenko Novas and L88 Corvettes. His thorough knowledge of the products and passion for the industry quickly launched his career.
After a stint in management, he made the transition in 1977 to become a Ford dealer and later owned several other brand's dealerships. He retired from the business in 2009 but his four-wheeled passion didn't subside.
After being around so much cool iron for all those years, it's only natural that Ed and his wife, Judy, would accumulate a few prestigious pieces for their own. "We kept adding cars to our collection and storage space was becoming a serious issue," Schoenthaler said.
In November 2002 they settled on a warehouse setting for their future garage mahal. They acquired an 11,000-square-foot facility close to their home and one equipped with high ceilings.
The Schoenthalers installed triple catch basins for proper draining of fluids and sealed the concrete floors to make them impervious to any type of gasoline. Proper lighting was mounted to best show off their toys. Plain walls suffice for most enthusiasts but the couple saw theirs quite literally as a large blank canvas.
"We wanted a gigantic painted mural to serve as a proper backdrop for the vehicles. Something that would really immerse the viewer into the past," he said.
They hired local artist Kevin Hay to create a 1930s Chicago scene along the two-story walls. What started off as a five-week project quickly turned into a four-month undertaking, but the wait was well worth it.
"He did a beautiful job, inserting a lot of fun humor with some of the characters and places. You have to look carefully to discover them all," Schoenthaler said.
With the infrastructure complete, Ed and Judy wasted no time in parking their pedigreed vehicles inside. His background may be the great cruisers from the 1960s but Ed's dream machines are from an even earlier time. "During my sales days I got to play and work with the contemporary high-performance cars. But even then my passion was for prewar classics."
Strolling around the impressive, museum-like space, you'll find such pristine rolling rarities as a 1938 Horch Parade Phaeton, industrial designer Brook Stevens' personal 1929 Cord Speedster and a 1919 Daytona Speedster prototype. Most autos in their collection have been shown at prestigious events and Concours d'Elegances around the country and continue to bring home trophies.
Ed and Judy have shown their cars at events in Pebble Beach and Amelia Island, Fla.; Hilton Head, S.C.; the Concours d'Elegance of America near Detroit; and the Glenmoor Gathering near Canton, Ohio.
When the couple, or lucky spectators, have their fill of gazing through the car gallery, the Schoenthalers have several interior rooms jammed with even more dazzling treats. One showcases auto related artwork, tin toys, hood ornaments, awards and other motoring memorabilia, while another houses an elaborate model train layout.
"I love all the things that I loved when I was a kid. As a small boy I had a Lionel layout so that was a must-have," Schoenthaler said.
His overwhelming grown-up layout features several train lines, lifting hot air balloons and an amusement park with functioning roller coaster.
"We love the cars and drive all of them. Despite many being national show winners, we'll hop in and take them out for outings like breakfast dates and Saturday morning cruises. Using them is an important part of collecting."
Despite their garage being museum quality, they do make it available for others to enjoy. Several times a year they extend invitations to area car clubs, charities and enthusiasts.
"We are eager to share our hobby and pass on the passion for the old vehicles."