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Under the hood: Don Klein

September 30th, 2010 by Stu

Pictured: Automotive journalist, author, historian, consummate marketer and enthusiast Don Klein and his ’73 Dino 246

I stepped off the train, threw on my shades and took a big gulp of clean, country air. The temperature felt more like July than late September, but the multi-colored leaves lining the trees were clearly a sign Autumn was taking hold. I focused my attention on the parking lot and immediately spotted my pal Don Klein, waiting patiently for me in his yellow ’73 Dino 246. It’s not like I could have missed him…the car stood out like a speed addict at a Grateful Dead concert in the small, working class town of Dover. After exchanging pleasantries and sliding into the rich leather buckets, Don immediately launched into the plan for the day. First we were going to stop by the mechanic’s shop in order to pick up one of his other vintage Ferraris, a 1967 330 GTC that had just been reupholstered. I’m no math whiz or anything but unless we’re dealing with autonomous vehicles, there must be at least 2 drivers in order to drive 2 vintage sports cars at the same time. Uhm, this could get interesting.

More pics, video and getting to know Don after the jump

You obviously have car-obsessed blood running through your veins. Where did this all come from?

Probably a former life.  My father treated cars as accessories and my mother never got her license.  I have no idea where my love of cars came from.  My mother told me my first word was “Sedoto,” which is how i tried to say Desoto, which is the make of car my father had when i was 2.

What is it that moves you about automobiles after all these years?

Anybody reading Man on the Move understands what it is about cars that moves me.

Your career has been diverse in its scope but narrow in its automotive focus – copywriter, ad agency owner, magazine publisher, journalist – tell us a little bit about your experiences along the way.

The common denominators in my career have always been independence and creative expression.  In that sense, my career has been narrow in scope … all of my “jobs” have involved creative expression, and I’ve been my own boss since I turned 29.  Maybe that’s why I love cars so much … they encompass both independence and creativity.

How on earth did you come up with an idea as unique as the AMG Challenge? Would you say this paved the way for consumer driving events from other automakers?

No, it was just the opposite. Porsche and BMW (among others) had similar programs in place. But at the time (late 90’s) MBUSA didn’t have any customer programs involving cars.  They sponsored tennis, golf, fashion and other activities, but nothing that overtly focused on their products. It took me four years to get them to realize that some of their customers actually liked to use their cars on the race track.  Rob Allan, who was in charge of AMG at MBUSA at the time, was a great ally. Together, we got the program launched, and it was a great success.

You frequently write articles about amazing road trips in even more amazing automobiles. Share the love…what would you say are your top 5 driving destinations or favorite back roads?

Colorado Rockies, Litchfield County. CT (where I live), Amalfi coast in Italy, Texas hill country and Skyline Drive.

What is the inspiration behind your collection – after all, a GTO isn’t exactly cut from the same cloth as a Ferrari.

No, and steak isn’t lobster, but I like them both. When I was in high school, I wanted a ’64 GTO just like my classmate Chip Chalmers had. When I got to college I saw my first Ferrari and wanted one of those too (a Lusso that I saw at JFK airport, only it was called Idlewild then).  The lust factor was almost identical, but i can’t explain it.  But if you look at the collections owned by guys like Jay Leno and my buddy Bruce Meyer, you’ll see that they’re pretty eclectic, too. Only theirs are real collections. Mine fits in a 4-car garage.

Tell us about that old race car sitting in your garage…we know you’re not too far from Limerock Raceway.

One reason why my wife and I bought our house 20 years ago is because it’s close to Lime Rock. I used to do about 20 events a year back then, so I had my mechanic, Bill Pollard of SportAuto, convert my ’75 308 GT4 into a track car. Then we got Michaela a spec Miata.  Both are great for Lime Rock, which is a short track with lots of turns. But they’re not really competitive at big tracks like Watkins Glen.

You have several fabulous vintage cars – which one is your favorite and why?

Shhhh! They’re all sensitive and I don’t want to get them upset!  We sold our ’65 275 GTB two years ago, and the 330 got very insecure and made me get it a complete mechanical restoration.  I love them all.  But not as much as my grand kids.

What are your thoughts on some of the newer stuff on the market?

I think it’s harder for individual manufacturers to keep their identity today than it was back in the sixties.  Aerodynamics tend to breed similarity in body shapes, and there are just so many component manufacturers out there, so, for example, you find the same Getrag transmissions in a number of competitive makes.  I recently reviewed the AMG SLS for Sports Car Market, and while I think it’s an amazingly cool car, I found myself longing for the driver/road connection of its ancestor, the original mid-fifties 300 SLs.  Maybe it’s just because I’m an old fart.

We dig the aviator shades. Overall, how would you define your personal style?

I have none. But my wife Michaela has enough for both of us. She gave me the Aviators.

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