Notable Loss: John W. Rich Sr. (1925-2011)
Before his death last month, John Rich amassed one of the most eclectic and best known private collections of historic automobiles in America. Find out what fueled Rich’s passion for vehicle preservation and—the question on the minds of many—what’s in store for the remarkable cars at Rich’s JWR Automobile Museum.
As the CEO of several companies, including Reading Anthracite Company, Jack Rich certainly had the means to pursue any passion that struck his fancy. He was always very passionate about cars, says friend and colleague Mark Lizweskie, but it wasn’t until 30 years ago that an experience nudged him into the world of the collector.
“His oldest son, John, was injured in a high school football game and Jack bought him a Ford Model A to restore — a project for his son to do while he was recuperating,” says Lizweskie.
Along with his son, Rich recruited his own father to help with the restoration of that first Model A. Soon more historic vehicles would follow, including a 1947 Chrysler Windsor convertible, the same sort of car Rich purchased after WWII and used when courting his wife, Rose.
“A lot of people buy cars as an investment or because someone tells them they should have a particular car in their collection. Jack bought what he liked. It didn’t matter if it was a Buick or a Bugatti. As a collector, he was very non-discriminatory.”
Roughly 15 years ago, after years of purchasing various cars and storing them in different garages, Rich broke ground in Frackville, Pennsylvania, on what is now the 22,000 square foot facility housing the JWR Automobile Museum and restoration shop. Lizweskie became the chief curator of the remarkable 85-car collection of large brass-era automobiles and cars that capture the essence of historically important American and foreign classics. Together, Rich and Lizweskie spent the last decade displaying these automobiles at CCCA Grand Classics as well as concours throughout the United States.
“There were years that we did nearly two dozen events every season,” says Lizweskie, who says the concours-quality vehicles in the Rich collection span from the early 1900s through the late 1960s. Among the Mustangs and Thunderbirds, the Flatheads, and marques such as Ferrari, Bugatti, Jaguar, MG, and Morgan, Rich’s collection includes a 1910 American Underslung Traveler, 1926 Rolls-Royce Springfield Silver Ghost Piccadilly Roadster, 1932 Delage D8-SS Cabriolet by Chapron, 1939 Horch 853a Cabriolet, 1939/47 Rolls-Royce Phantom III ‘Vutotal’ Cabriolet by Labourdette, and a 1948 Delahaye 135M Cabriolet by Figoni et Falaschi.
The collection has always been private; however, Rich did open the museum on numerous occasions for certain groups, clubs, and charitable events. He was among the founders of The Elegance at Hershey. Despite all the elegant concours across the country that Rich regularly attended, Lizewskie says that Hershey was always very dear to his boss.
The Rich family intends to continue preserving the JWR Automobile Museum and promoting the remarkable collection, according to Lizewskie, who has plans set this year to attend Amelia Island—where he’ll be showing a 1928 Mercedes Benz Type S boat-tail roadster—and Pebble Beach where Rich’s 1939 Delage D8-120 S parallel door cabriolet convertible will be on hand.
Jack Rich passed away December 30, 2011, at University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. He was 86. If you would like to learn more about the JWR Automobile Museum, go to http://www.jwrautomuseum.com/links.html.