Lyon Estate Car Collection Tour was Two Hours of Perfection

If you are a fan of automotive perfection you could not have enjoyed anything more than our two-hour visit to the fantasy world of the Lyon Estate Car Collection.

LCOC and Imperial Club members and friends are all smiles after touring the collection in this John Walcek photo.

Any one of the dozens of spectacular vehicles on display could be a concours winner. Indeed, there were numerous awards and trophies displayed throughout the building. Our experience started at the very gate of the vast 134-acre Coto de Caza estate that was home to the late General William Lyon, a legend in his own time in several fields.

General Lyon (1923—2020) served in WWII and eventually became Commander of the U.S. Air Force reserve.  In 1954 he established William Lyon Homes and over the next 60 years built more than 100,000 homes in California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. 

His own residence is built on a Coto de Caza hill overlooking a lovely tract of homes below. 

The house itself had garage space for 10 vehicles. But given his love of beautiful cars, that was not nearly enough. He constructed a 25,000 square foot building architecturally designed to match the house where he kept one of the most significant private automobile collections in the world. Thanks to our friend JIm Ayres, about 30 California car buffs and friends from LCOC and the Southern California Imperial Owners Inc. got to see it all. The structure is a gorgeous venue with interior columns, glazed brick and marble floors and art deco-style chandeliers that provides the proper setting for the automotive jewels displayed within.

Purpose-built structure is fitting venue for Lyon Estate Collection.
Marble floors and art deco chandeliers provide glittering backdrop for automotive jewels.

An eclectic collection ranging from a 1908 Bugatti, to Rolls-Royces, Mercedes, Buicks, Cadillacs, Chryslers, Packards, Fords, Porches, Italian and English sports cars, a Cord and, of course, Duesenbergs was on view. A few of these classics are below.

There was even a pair of miniatures.

Nancy Cottrell examines Ferrari mini for size.

One car of special interest to LCOC members was a 1946 Lincoln Continental sporting its original dark green paint and cabriolet top.

1946 Lincoln Continental sparkles in its original paint and cabriolet top.

The cars were not only special in their own right, but many had famous histories or owners prior to becoming part of the Lyon Collection. Perhaps the most amazing fact is that a single curator maintains the entire collection in a pristine condition and ensures the cars are driven regularly!

AirCal MD-80 model sits discreetly on a corner shelf.

Somewhat overshadowed by the fabulous car collection is the Lyon memorabilia displayed throughout the building. Tucked away discreetly on a high shelf in a corner is a scale model of the Long Beach-built McDonnell Douglas MD-80 once operated by AirCal. Lyon and a partner bought the regional airline out of bankruptcy in 1981 for $61.5 million, about the price of two MD-80s at the time. After five years they sold the airline for $225 million. The homebuilding business was equally successful and by the late 1980s Lyon had made the Forbes list of 400 richest Americans. Had he survived Lyon would have turned 100 years old in March of this year. However, he passed away peacefully in May 2020 after a long and influential life.

His son Bill Lyon has carried on his car legacy, even adding to the original collection. The estate is not open to the public but private tours may be booked by special arrangement. The Lyon Museum, located off the tarmac at John Wayne Airport displays several of the Lyon Collection vehicles on a rotating basis along with World War II artifacts and aircraft. Members of the public are welcomed there to share in the amazing life of General William Lyon, a war veteran and true American entrepreneur.

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