Barbie dolls. PEZ dispensers. Coca-Cola memorabilia. Star Wars figurines. The categories for collectibles are vast. In the case of Erin Hutchinson, it’s cars. Hutchinson, the founder and CEO of Vehicle Vault, recalls her affinity for automobiles beginning as a tween growing up in Texas.
“My parents love to tell a story that when I was about twelve, I started talking about cars. At that age, I remember dreaming about being able to drive and what my first car might be. It’s funny because I have two girls, nine and twelve, and I’m starting to look forward to what they’ll be driving when they are sixteen,” says the automotive enthusiast.
In 2012, her interest in starting a car collection accelerated to the point where her parents, Lou and Tanis, and she began talking about procuring a small collection the three could enjoy. That idea evolved into owning a more extensive, permanent collection and construction of their facility in Parker began in earnest with the museum opening in 2014.
To start their collection, the family decided on a trio of cars—a 1969 Z-28 Chevy Camaro, a 1960 Bentley S2 and a 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge.
“The Fathom Green with white stripes Camaro was always my favorite, so it was the very first car we purchased to kick off the collection. The Bentley is one that my mother really loves, and then we bought the GTO Judge, which we named Judge Judy,” Hutchinson adds.
Of the nearly 60 vehicles in the collection now, many are named, with most having feminine monikers, a practice thought to have begun centuries ago with sailing ships. Hutchinson believes the origin is associated with the beauty, the curves and the sexiness of the cars, referencing Barbie the Bentley, Molly the Maserati, Ethel the Edsel, Lola the Pink Cadillac and Doris the McLaren 720S as examples in the Vehicle Vault.
Erin and her parents have acquired more than 90 percent of their cars from the January Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction held in Scottsdale, Arizona. Lou and Tanis have decided to take a backseat in the decision-making, and at the 2023 auction, Erin and her husband Nate will take over the keys to the car-buying castle.
“We’ve made decisions on what cars to get as a family for over a decade. But my parents said, ‘It’s time to pass the baton to you,’” Hutchinson says. “So now, Nate and I will go to the Barrett-Jackson in January.” She describes the experience as like nothing else, with its excitement, buzz and fast-paced structure. She’s hopeful of finding something in the staging lanes to add to the collection, like a 1958 Edsel Pacer.
Hutchinson is not alone in her enthusiasm for cars, as evidenced by the traffic the museum has enjoyed since its opening in 2014. Comprised of permanent and rotating exhibits of cars from every decade since the turn of the 20th century, the vehicles appeal to aficionados and nonchalant visitors alike.
The exhibits illustrate the historical significance of each decade, the progression of the auto-mobile, the engineering feats achieved at that time, and how America and the world now have the technological advancements seen in today’s vehicles. A great example is the front-wheel drive capability in the 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton, a breakthrough introduced in 1929 by the then Indiana-based company in its Cord L-29.
A self-guided tour, where visitors quickly lose track of time studying the backstory of each vehicle, also reveals cars rarely seen, such as the 1954 Mercedes-Benz Gullwing 300SL and four notable convertibles—the custom “Orange Crush” 1969 Chevy Camaro, the 1954 Kaiser Fraiser 161, the custom 1962 Corvette and the 1968 Shelby GT500. On Hutchinson’s wish list for additions to the collection are a 1928 Bugatti Boattail, a 1937-39 Delahaye 135 and a 1937 Talbot-Lago T150-C SS.
“One of my favorite things is sharing automotive history with visitors. We get so many people saying, ‘I’m not really a car person, I’m just here with a friend or with my dad,’” says Hutchinson. “But those are the people I love seeing on the way out because everyone has their favorite car memories, even if they don’t realize it.”
Vehicle Vault, Parker