The Segerstrom Collection Is The Largest Shelby Collection You’ve Never Heard Of
It’s not often that someone’s able to secretly stockpile some of the world’s rarest ponies under one roof, yet for the last 30 years that’s exactly what Rae and Ted Segerstrom have been doing in Irvine, California.
Ted’s the scion of a multi-generational farming and real estate dynasty, which in and of itself is interesting enough to read about, but what makes their story all the sweeter is that they’ve been doing all of this as a final living testament to the cause they support so dearly, Shriners International Hospitals For Children.
I was lucky enough to be granted access recently, and the incredibly humble Ted and Rae found some time to sit down and chat about how they got to where they are today.
Ted Gushue: How did the Segerstroms end up in Irvine of all places?
Ted Segerstrom: Yeah, I’m fourth generation. Great grandfather got out to the United States from Sweden about 1880 and settled in Wisconsin, in the St. Paul area back there working for the railroad. He came out here on vacation and found the land was very good for farming and moved 11 kids. Then he finally got out here into the Orange County area about 1898. He started growing, at least 20 acres of land, started growing lima beans, large lima beans. Accumulated up to about 2,200 acres.
TS: Yeah. He had 6 boys and 5 girls, so there was your workforce. My grandpa was the youngest of 11. He was born in 1908. By the time they got it all out here and got it going, they ended up being the largest producers of lima beans in the United States.
TG: Do you know why lima beans?
TS: I don’t know. You ever try white lima beans? They’re good for you. They’re better than a cheeseburger [laughs].
TG: You dry them out so they keep longer, right?
TS: Yeah, you could keep them in the warehouse. If the price goes down, you don’t have to sell them, they’re dry crop and they sit just fine.
TG: So you don’t currently work with lima beans obviously, but did your father?
TS: Yeah, third generation was my dad, and he’s passed, and his cousin this past year. Almost a year ago. We still have 30 acres of farm out here. Essentially, it got to the point where the farmland was okay in terms of profitability, but California started booming and development was coming to this area and it paid more than the beans did [laughs].
TG: Of course, yeah.
TS: The freeway came through and all that. It was a good deal for California and for us, our family. My son’s fifth generation, so is my daughter, and she has an 11-year-old, that’s 6 generations. We’re staying here, still farming for just a little over 100 years now.
TG: You’re an institution.
TS: His original second home was built right over here at Fairview and 405 Freeway. Built in 1915 and still standing.
TG: Do you know what the first car your family ever bought was?
TS: Buick. The reason Buick, down there in Santa Ana, they had a long-term relationship with them. Everybody drove Buicks.
TG: When’d you buy your first Mustang? What was your first car you ever drove?
TS: Probably an old 1940 Dodge truck, being around 10. On the farm it was fun, because you can drive in the field, you could drive tractors all over the place in the field. Go down the road from one field to another. Didn’t need a license.
My first car was a hand-me-down ’66 Mustang from my older sister. After a couple of years, I didn’t like how little power it had and I found this ’72 Mach 1 at the Ford dealership. Yeah, I love that body style.
My wife and I, we dated back in high school, different schools, but we had a joint organization we belonged to. Our first date in my ’72 Mach, we got in a wreck. Guy changes lanes from the right lane and stops in front, totaled.
TG: What was the first car that you bought as a collector?
TS: Probably in ’84, ’85, I picked up the first ’67 GT 500.
TG: At that point, had you established a relationship with Carroll Shelby?
TS: No. He was out of touch. In fact, I don’t think he was even in the United States. He wrapped up here in ’69, and went down to Africa for 13 years. Came back when he was tired of people copying his body style and not getting a piece of the action, from what I hear. Can’t blame him, but he came back here and started pounding on those Cobras, the GT 350 and all that stuff.
Rae Segerstrom: I think the first time you met Carroll Shelby was in ’04. January or February.
TG: What did he say to you? “So you’re the guys buying all my cars?!”
TS: No, not back then. We had gotten to know Gary Patterson quite well over there. He was the vice president. We were there visiting him out there in Vegas one time, and he took us in the showroom of the warehouse there. He’s got this aluminum body Cobra sitting there. I was like, “Gary, what’s going on with that?” He goes, “That’s the last of the series. That’s the 1000 series. That factory number is 1002. The guy hadn’t finished paying for it. In fact, he put it on eBay today.” Really?
We go back to the hotel, and there he is. Stopped the auction. I gave Shelby the money, because this guy just wanted to get his money back. They built out number 1002 for us. Couple years later, 1001 came up for auction. It was a real sleeper. Those were the two lowest production Cobra numbers in history.
With the 1000 series, that was the last series. The first Cobras were the 2000 series. The 3000 series was the first 427s, and 4000 was fiberglass body, 5000 is Series 1. 6 and 7000 are 289s and 427s, whatever you wanted. Working with Shelby, as we had over the years, we acquired the first of every series, except for the 2000.
TG: What drives you to collect?
TS: We grew up with it as kids. Shelby was doing his big thing in the ’60s, we grew up, and they’re popular cars, good investment cars. We liked them, they ran fast. Fast cars, fast women. That was us growing up.
TG: Everyone has a different answer to that question, and it’s always related to when they developed their taste for cars. That usually ends up being the car that dictates a lot of peoples’ collections.
TS: Yeah. I couldn’t do anything with my first car. Dad wouldn’t let me. Put a little cam in it after a while, learned how to open up a 289. Worked on it that way.
Growing up on the farm like we did, we’d do our own maintenance on the tractors. All of the guys that were working here, they all rebuilt their own car engines and stuff so we had a built-in tool box there for the entire barn and all of the help we could get so you just progressed quickly in your mechanical ability. I liked the body style, and the performance of the car. They were eventually going to be a good investment, and they have turned out good.
What made me do it or stay with Cobras and Shelbys? I don’t know. I think because Mr. Shelby was still around, still making news stories and stuff.
TG: Have you ever owned anything from Europe or collected anything from there?
TS: I had a BMW years ago. That was about it. Stayed with American.
TG: What is the most valuable car you owned, to you, not to the market?
TS: My red ’68 [GT500]KR. My young daughter died in ’93 and she liked that car. We kept it. Tim’s [Tim Lea Restoration] got it, he’s going back through it to make sure it’s all correct. That would be her memory in that one. Then it went from there. The KRs were really nice, comfortable, easy to drive, fast cars.
After a while you get married and you settle down a little bit. That put a little damper on those cars after a while. That’s why we got the BMW. It’s hard to put a baby car seat in a Cobra, facing the right direction [laughs].
TG: Yeah, I’d imagine so. How many cars total are in the collection then?
TS: Counting everything, I think, there’s 78. Now we’ve got 2 new ones so it’s up to 80. We got the 2 new Mach 1’s a couple of days ago.
TG: How many cars are you buying a year?
TS: I don’t know, there’s no number. It’s just whatever comes up. If we had more room we might do more but if there’s really no meaning behind them, and you’re just looking to acquire numbers, you could do that any day. We like to go for the rarer models, the hard-to-find ones, and preserve those. That’s what it all comes down to right now, is preserving the history and doing it correct, getting the right part puts on, the original date parts, if they’re available. That’s the way they came from the factory and that’s the way they should be.
TG: Do you work at all with the Petersen Museum or any other museums like that?
TS: No, we’re just private here. The city came in and says, “You need a business permit.”
I go, “What for?”
They go, “What do you do here?”
I said, “Nothing. I don’t make anything. I don’t sell anything. This is a Tim Allen garage on steroids.”
They get all upset but that’s what it is. Are we ready to unveil the collection to the world? Getting really close to it. Test the waters. Long-term plans for this place, my wife and I want to start an event center, because you can see up front there [in a cardboard mock-up], I’ve got the 10,000’ free that we can have parties and nice events at. It would be nice, start a foundation. The foundation beneficiary would be the Shriners Children’s Hospital up in Pasadena. That’s our lifelong commitment to them.
TG: Talk a little bit about that too, and also what your wife Rae is doing, because I think that’s important.
TS: The Shriners across the nation, back in the ’20s and ’30s, decided that they needed a real purpose, and they started their first children’s hospital. No one is turned away. It’s all free. All of the Shriners in the United States support and basically pay for all of that. I grew up with the Masonic Youth, DeMolay. That’s where I met Rae, she was with the Job’s Daughters back then. I stayed active in, took a little bit of a time off on that, and then got back into the blue lodge a couple of a years ago. Now I’m a 32nd Degree Mason, Scottish Rite member, member of the El Bekal Shrine up in Anaheim. We drive our little Tin Lizzie cars out here. They’re little Model T go karts. We drive those in the parades. They’re fun.
RS: We support 22 hospitals.
TS: We sponsor 22 hospitals across the country, one in Canada, one in Mexico. They’re all free to the kids. They started out with a burn ward, and that was right at the current procedures to help those kids. It was all free and they did some fantastic work. Then they got into cleft palates, things like that, bowed legs. It’s a worthwhile concept, and we bought into it and made it our life’s dream.
If we ever get an event center going, that will support that. The city allocated a whole bunch of housing units years ago and now they’re running out. They’re down to 400 or so, so land around here has a double zoning for industrial and residential. They came knocking on the front door.
“No, no. I don’t want to sell, I don’t want to move.”
The damn price kept going up, and you’d be stupid not to take it, so now we’ve got to find a new home. A little bigger maybe, maybe a little smaller, I don’t know.
TG: Well, the beauty is, a collection like this has its own gravity. You can create a mecca out of it and people will come from long distances. It’s not like the Petersen has to be a centrally-located thing because they’re hoping to get foot traffic from people who happen to be in the Arts District in Los Angeles, but if you have some of the world’s rarest Mustangs, that’s a draw.
TS: It’s the draw. If you get into bed with a school district, you can have field trips here, interactive type of displays that the kids can use. There are thousands of those out there, we just haven’t really researched it all yet. Do you make it a history of transportation? Do you get a Model T and show the history of cars as he [Henry Ford] grew up? My Ford Jeeps, those were made by Henry Ford. Are they the 40s or 42? Where would you put them in there? If you go out and get a bunch of Ford cars that are 1910, 20, 30, 40, on up, but we didn’t really want to do that. The Shelbys are nice. They’re valuable. They’re really a big piece of history. We could relate to that as we grew up in the ’60s.
It’s fun. In the beginning, you’re going to have a big draw of people cause you’re the new kid on the block, but then you want to focus more on the event side of it. What’re you providing for someone to have a wedding or something out here? We’re still trying to define all of that but we need to find a new home. We’ll get out of here first and then we’ll take the next step.
TG: Are there any cars that you’ve tried to acquire that you haven’t been able to?
TS: No, not really.
Rae: Not yet.
TS: Not yet, yeah. The 2007-8, when the economy took a dive, there were a lot of them that came out of the woodwork. Guys had other pet projects or a favorite car from a kid and they had to sell it to pay off the mortgages, stuff like that. It was a buyers’ market, and you could be selective. That’s how we got all five of the yellow KRs. They were available.
TG: Talk to me about that. Just the fact that you’ve owned all 5 of those is pretty spectacular.
TS: Well, we kind of went after them. We liked the white tops. They were 4-speed, air conditioning, convertibles and they made 3 with the white roof and 2 with the black roof. We picked up 1 of the white ones several years ago. The second one’s history has come up and shown that it was destroyed… because no one has seen it for 45 years.
Then the gentleman that owned the third one, he was back east, he knew what he had. He passed away here a while back and his daughter got the car. It took us about 18 months of negotiating with her to see if she wanted to sell it and complete the package, and during that 18 months we were able to find number 2. It wasn’t destroyed. The guy had it in his garage, trying to do a home restoration on it. We talked to him for a while and worked things out, ended up getting all 3.
The black ones with the stripes, those aren’t original stripes. Somebody added those on there. It’s a good car, pretty sound on it. The other black one was pretty rough and it was going to take some time…but where else are you going to find all five of them? You want them all in one place. This is preservation of the history. It needs to be done, it needs to be shown. It’s a little piece of our lives and we look at all of the new cars now that are 10 times faster than these old things were. It’s kind of nice with the sound deadening for the road and you can hear your radio. The new ones have cruise control. I like that.
Those are what we kind of strive at. We have the only ’68 KR that was made for Hertz Rental Company. They made 1 GT500, we found that. Then we found the first Paxton.
TG: Tell me about the (factory supercharged) Paxton.
TS: Our buddy back in Boston got the phone call. A kid out here in Oakland was saying, “Hey, I’m getting divorced. It’s an automatic, factory Paxton.”
Our broker just started laughing, “Yeah, yeah. Sure.”
“Oh no, here’s the serial number. Here’s the Shelby ID number.”
He said, “Really?” …and took the next red eye out here.
The history on that car is in ’66 they made 11 factory Paxtons and they were all 4-speeds except for 1. 1 was an automatic. One was white, and one was Carroll’s. He loved it because he was driving around L.A. streets with an automatic 400 horsepower car. Then he sold it in ’67, and a young boy up in Oakland bought it and drove it around for a few years and then something happened to the motor and he put it away in his garage, where he still lives. It’s like a time capsule.
There’s like 6 or 7,000 original miles on it. He’s getting divorced and the wife kind of knew what he had and wanted a piece of it. He said, “No.”
He just undercut her. Our broker buddy was able to make a deal with him and we brought it home. Not too many people know we have it. It’s been gone for a long time too. No one’s seen it. We just enjoy the chase. If we can find something that’s historic and nobody has seen it, let’s answer some questions with this.
The other fun one that we want to find someday would be Jim Morrison’s ’67 GT500. In fact, our broker buddy back there has the original pics with Jim’s name on it, but nobody has seen the car since 1968. There’s a nice video of him doing a bunch of donuts in it. Nobody knows where that car is.
Are we building a one-of-a-kind museum? No, not really, but it has some highlights, some specialties. If we get it up and going, it’ll be great. We have so much stuff that’s collected in boxes in storage. We didn’t have room here. We didn’t have enough power to run it. Finally, when the offers started going higher and higher on the property, “Okay.” We caved.
RS: Now’s the time for us to expand and try and get what we want to be able to do what we want. We spent the year on the road bringing cars home because we had them spread all over the country. The longest time we were ever home during that year was 10 days. The rest of the time, we were on the road picking up cars so we could bring them home.
Before any car came in here, we washed them ourselves, then brought it in and detailed it, and put it somewhere in here until the next cars came in, and then we did that one. It’s a labor of love, and we can’t wait to share it with the world.