Comedian Jay Leno has a rival or two when it comes to renowned car collections.
Paradise Valley’s bestselling author Clive Cussler, 88, and wife Janet, 73, have their own collection in the Scottsdale Airpark and it’s filled with Packards, Duesenbergs and Caddies.
Clive Cussler is the author or co-author of more than 50 books in five best-selling series, including Dirk Pitt, NUMA Files, Oregon Files, Isaac Bell, and Sam and Remi Fargo. His nonfiction works include “Built for Adventure: The Classic Automobiles of Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt,” plus “The Sea Hunters” and “The Sea Hunters II.”
He has earned his fortune not only by writing. He is also the founder and the chairman of the National Underwater and Marine Agency, which has discovered more than 60 shipwreck sites.
Married for more than a decade to Janet, Clive’s original collection of 180 cars are now owned by his kids and housed in The Cussler Museum in Colorado.
Janet is quite the car collector on her own and has 48 collectibles in the Airpark’s “Janet Cussler Car Collection,” which is devoted to the conservancy of rare and classic automobiles from around the world.
The sprawling 7,500-square-foot space, which can double as a venue, holds spectacular classic pre-war cars, a library with Clive’s books and memorabilia, classic car memorabilia, and two airplanes.
Janet says she opened the car museum after Clive gifted her with an unusual birthday present two years ago.
“I had a birthday and for that birthday I got a fire engine—a real live fire engine,” she said.
“She couldn’t believe it,” Clive added.
This wasn’t any old fire engine; however, it was the “Rolls Royce of fire engines, a 1917 Ahrens Fox,” he said.
“I came home and it was sitting in the driveway,” she recalled. “I was floored and my comment was that it ‘wouldn’t fit in my jewelry box.’”
He suggested she buy a bigger jewelry box.
“To drive this thing, you need three Marines who are able to bench press 300 pounds,” she said. “It is gorgeous, though.”
After she checked out the fire engine, Janet said, “That’s when I bought a bigger ‘box’ – a warehouse in the Scottsdale Airpark about four years ago. By the time we found it, we bought another warehouse. Then we bought the one next door, and the one next door. This past January we bought the warehouse across the alley. We have four warehouses now.”
At the Scottsdale Airpark, each warehouse is about 2,800 square feet.
“All the warehouses are connected,” she said. “All are in proximity of one another and each flow into the other.”
But don’t rush over quite yet.
“Currently it’s just a private museum and venue, but not open to the public,” Janet said. “The plan is to open it up to the public at some point. I said to Clive, ‘These girls (the cars) need to learn to support themselves, so we decided to make it into a venue.
“Right now, we don’t have it open as a daily business; at this point, we want to have it as a venue for people, or groups who want a tour. They can make an appointment and tour the cars. It’s great for charities. We do Make-A-Wish events, and can-do dinners and cocktails parties.”
Janet calls the museum a dual effort.
“It’s our baby -- we do it together,” she said. “It’s quite amazing what we can sweep into a day. We are having fun and enjoying what we are doing.”
“We have someone full time who takes care of them and services them,” he said. “We also have a service that comes in once a month to clean them. Every six months we take them out and run them.”
There are also some cars with a celebrity connection that make their hobby even more fascinating.
For example, they own the Duesenberg that was used in the 1959 film starring Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis “Some Like it Hot.”
“I bought it and love it,” he said. “You see it at the beginning of the movie. We also have a Marmon that was used in a Grace Kelly film.”
Janet has a car from a celebrity, too,
“I bought a car from the Jack Palance collection,” she said. “It’s a Cadillac 1914 that’s called an ‘opera coupe.’ It’s charming and set up so there is a front seat for the man of the house and in the back is more room for the woman and her skirts and hat. There’s an ice bucket for champagne for when they would go to the event.”
“It’s very cool, and it’s funny because it’s so charming because when you think of Jack Palance you think of him as a big bad guy.”
During their regular errand runs and daily life, they do drive something more moderate – a new Maserati SUV “that is the daily grocery car.”
Still writing, Clive works in his on-site studio most of the day but when Janet asks if he wants to go see the cars, he’s ready.
His newest offering, “Journey of the Pharaohs,” will hit shelves in March. In the meantime, the cars take front and center for the Cusslers, which is fine by them. They’re having fun with it. When Janet told Clive she didn’t have a stagecoach, he bought a rare Concord.
In the end, they agreed: “If it ain’t fun, it ain’t worth doing… and we’re having so much fun.”