Rick's passion for automotive brochures began at age
nine. "My father was a Superintendent of Schools
and he went to the next town which was big enough to
have an automobile dealer to see about a bus that the
school had ordered. Of course they were not just a truck
dealer, but a car dealer also, and he left me at the
showroom end of the building while he went and did his
business -- and I discovered that they had catalogs
showing all the different models that you could take
away with you! What a revelation -- and why didn't I
know about this before? I only got a few before the
war because, if the dealers had any catalogs left at
the end of a model year, they saved them. But that's
how I got started."
It all began in 1941...
On Dec. 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor was bombed and America
went to war. With 1942 car models just appearing in
the showrooms, a black cloud descended on the auto industry.
Automobile assembly lines began to produce tanks, airplanes,
jeeps, trucks and a wide range of military supplies
and weapons. Amid this bleak picture of turmoil a 10-year
old boy rushed from dealership to dealership scouring
the last remnants of literature ahead of rapidly closing
doors. Salesmen gladly handed over their brochures .
. . dealer albums . . . anything the enthusiastic youth
could carry off.
With automotive dealership shelves and cabinets open
to him, Rick found literature often dating back well
into the 1930's. And so began a literature collecting
hobby which spanned over fifty years and filled two
warehouses and a home with over 1,000,000 items. "My
parents were 'accommodating' about the stacks of literature
that I collected", Rick laughed. "They didn't
really object since I did have a room of my own. So
I could stack it under the bed and in the closet. They
realized that I could draw because, when we had a ball
game after school, I would squat down where all the
cars were lined up and make sketches of the cars and
they looked real enough that you could tell what they
"During the war years we had paper drives and the
schools were in charge of the drives", Rick related.
"The paper went into sheds behind the schools.
People really believed in this and they went through
their barns and they had all kinds of old magazines
that they had stacked away -- back to World War I. So
I got quite a few rare ads. If I hadn't been so patriotic
I would have saved the whole magazines. I don't think
that we would have lost the war over it -- but I felt
that I should only keep the ad pages."
To be an automobile designer...
"At the time I appreciated and wanted to look at
the different types of advertising because of course,
each company tried to show their car in the best light
they could and have something distinctive about their
ads so that you would know it was their ad and not somebody
else's without reading the name at the bottom of the
page. It was my hope to be an automobile designer. However,
at that time, you could submit all the illustrations
you wanted to the manufacturers and, as soon as they
opened a package and saw that they were drawings, they
would ship them right back to you."
Rick spoke of joining an early brochure collecting club,
the "Auto Maniacs of America, Inc." (later
"Auto Enthusiasts International"), serving
on their Honorary Advisory Board twice, and occasionally
paying an exorbitant price of up to $18 for brochures
(which today sell for several hundred dollars).
"When the war ended I found that there would be
a new batch of fantastic catalogs every year to enjoy
and to keep and to compare", Rick said. "Very
soon after World War II ended there was a club composed
of people who collected automobile literature called
'Auto Maniacs'. I joined and found that -- for a lot
of money to me, but comparatively little money - you
could get older material as well. I was much more interested
in how styling progressed during the 3O's than in merely
getting one year at a time as they came off the production
line in the 40's."
Because of this resource, "there are quite a few
impressive catalogs because of their size, or colorful
ones, or rare ones in my collection", Rick said,
"but very few that just for their own sake in illustrations
are beautiful. One would be the complete catalog of
1942 Lincolns. They had the Zephyr, the Continental
and the Custom. The illustration that they used that
year to show all of the different body styles was the
car against a darker background of the same color with
a spotlight playing on it. It was very effective and
the cars weren't too exaggerated. And of course the
car itself was very handsomely proportioned. As for
the catalog, it being 1942, there were fewer catalogs
available in the first place and it was large -- 16x11,
just huge - so if one became available it was going
to be very expensive. You could pick up a complete and
very nice 1942 Oldsmobile catalog inexpensively. The
Lincoln would have cost much more. Even if I had found
one it would have been have been out of my price range.
I did, however, find a Mexican version which was printed
on cheaper paper and in Spanish for less than one-quarter
the cost of the U.S. version. Nobody wanted the version
you couldn't read even though the illustrations were
Without considering the magnitude of the task that he
set himself, Rick said, "My goal was to collect
at least one of every piece of literature that was produced
since 1930. I had already visited the Detroit Library
and found that they only kept what they were given.
They didn't even try to get the current year's material,
so I figured that there probably wasn't any place in
this whole country that had a complete history from
the manufacturer's point of view. And, obviously, so
many companies were going out of business that you couldn't
get anything from them."
"And the people who were still in the business
of making cars had not kept their own history which
was brought home to me again in 1982 when General Motors
cooperated with Automobile Quarterly to do their book,
General Motors; The First Seventy-Five Years. The advertising
had been farmed out to advertising agencies ever since
the pre-teens and, when General Motors would fire one
and hire someone else, all those pictures and material
that they had printed went to the agency."
"Supposedly they could have saved photographs that
were taken over the years in the company files. Did
they do that? I don't know? Nobody will admit to having
them. So they have some for some years, but others they
have absolutely nothing on. When they did the book they
had to get outside help and we were the logical publishers
since we had not only done articles on many different
General Motors cars but by that time had done three
or four books with complete histories on some of their
cars. So we had many of the pictures that they needed
for their book in our files already."
"Ford Motor Company was far, far better. They have
gigantic files of factory photos which they have hung
on to over the years. Unfortunately, the last time I
checked, it was being run by a couple of women who had
little or no interest in cars and didn't recognize what
they were looking at. So if you asked for a 1942 Special
series they would go to that file and get it out and
you could buy a print but, if it was not that series
and not that year, you could tell them about it but
they wouldn't change it because they wouldn't fool with
the files and the mistake wouldn't get corrected and
you never would get the car that you were after."
Rick, The Artist...
During this time, Rick graduated from Homer Rural High
School in Homerville, Ohio, in May of 1950 and studied
commercial art layout at Cooper School of Art, graduating
in Oct. of 1952. On an application for employment in
Aug. of 1953 Rick stated that his desire was to work
"in advertising or illustrating" and he was
willing to work for $1.25/hour. During this period he
took his first photographs of cars. And in 1952 he bought
his first car, a 1942 Dodge Convertible with "blackout"
trim. Most of the cars that he owned during his lifetime
were open roadsters, including an MG-TD.
Art fascinated Rick and early car brochures are truly
works of art, but his focus on collecting was the historical
aspect - a history that he realized was being lost as
brochures were thrown away. As he set out to preserve
history one aspect of collecting led to another. Contacts,
and friendships, were developed between collectors throughout
the world - Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Japan,
Mexico, Poland, Russia, Spain . . . to name a few.
"The most interesting experiences I've had involved
finding and corresponding with people elsewhere",
Rick said, "because it often resulted in friendships,
not just the trading of literature." These friendships
led to the completion of a passport application indicating
his desire to visit Japan in 1984.
"Apparently the idea of making lists of people
who have common interests -- such as toy trains -- is
not a recent one, but goes clear back to the 40's",
Rick said. "I joined several independent auto clubs.
I did not seek out foreign people, but they belonged
to a club, or got this list about people in the U.S.
who were interested in cars. I received letters and/or
catalogs of what they had for sale or trade. Over the
years some worked out -- some I have literally been
corresponding with for over thirty years -- and others
phased out in a month or two. Most of these people have
been ones whom I traded with rather than buying things
from various continents."
"Before the war very few foreign cars were sold
in the U.S.", Rick recalled, "and those that
were sold were in New York and Los Angeles so you would
have had to be right there where the dealers were located
to get any material. Immediately after the war, however,
they were so eager in Europe to export cars that even
a letter written in longhand -- and my longhand has
always been terrible -- brought packages with catalogs
in them. Three or four dozen from England . . . a few
from Germany . . . the post-war Minerva which was actually
an English car built under license in Belgium. Most
people in the auto collecting business have never even
heard that there was a post-war Minerva or that this
company built and sold cars."
The French Connection...
"If only I could have written in French I could
have gotten a lot more", he lamented, "but
there is only one postwar year in which I got many French
catalogs. That year I wrote to the producers of the
Paris Auto show, enclosed some actual money and asked
if they would send someone around to the various stalls
and stands to pick up the catalogs and send them to
me. So they went to all the French stands only and sent
me a packet of information. I doubt that anyone would
do that today, even if you paid them. It was a revelation
to see all of these cars that we never saw anything
about in our publications."
The Japanese Connection...
"My initial correspondent and trader in Japan turned
out to be a very vigorous writer there and he was pleased
to find someone whom he could rely on to send him auto
material from the U.S. It went on for many years starting
in the early 60's. The very first round of Japanese
cars that were actually usable cars that could be sold
anywhere other than the U.S., because we needed big
cars, were in the middle to late 50's. After fifteen
or twenty years he suddenly stopped sending anything
or writing. I thought perhaps the cost of postage had
gone up and he couldn't afford to send packages anymore.
It also occurred to me that, since he was a young man
before the war, he could be a fairly elderly man by
this time. I never did find out exactly why he stopped
but, some years later, when Toyota printed a flyer about
their own museum, he was named as the curator. If he
is an elderly man he is still very active. But I wrote
to him there and did not get an answer."
"Ads in the classified sections of some automotive
publications in the 60's and 70's had people in Japan
who placed ads seeking people to trade literature with.
I answered some of those ads and worked with a couple
of people for awhile. That dwindled down to nothing
pretty soon, because they didn't realize what it entailed.
So I started writing directly to the manufacturers and,
for another fifteen or eighteen years, they were quite
cooperative in sending their domestic catalogs."
When asked if there were one or two pieces of literature
in his collection that were exciting "finds"
at the time he obtained them, such as the Minerva, Rick
laughed, "I didn't realize at the time I got the
Minerva brochure that I should be excited. I didn't
realize that they were only going to last one year.
After doing this for 25-30 years I realized that there
were a few cars that I was very interested in that I
had nothing on. So I finally gritted my teeth and was
willing to pay to get the material. But it doesn't work
out that way. If something is unobtainable it is because
there wasn't very much available in the first place
and nobody cared about the car in the second place.
A good example is the Windsor which the Moon Company,
when their sales dwindled, renamed from the Moon to
the Windsor White Prince for two years, then went out
"It was the fear of lawsuits", Rick said,
"because, as soon as they brought out their advertising
for the cars in the catalog for 1929, they heard from
the Royal family's solicitors. They were told, I'm sure
in very proper terms, that if they didn't cease using
the Prince of Wale's likeness and his motto and his
emblem on their cars and in their advertising they would
be taken very drastically to court. It seems to me to
have been the incredible height of gall to put a foreign,
next in line to the throne's, personage on your advertising
without even writing and asking, 'Can we do this?'"
"The Moon Company quickly changed their advertising
and hubcaps, etc., to where it just said Windsor. It
was a very expensive thing for them to do when they
didn't have money for advertising in the first place.
But the newspapers were so kind in those days. They
didn't attack companies like they do today. So I sought
any material on the Windsor and Windsor White Prince
to fill that gap. Since they had no money for advertising,
the only ads they placed were in newspapers and I had
no access to newspapers in 1929 and 1930."
"Being "rare", though, doesn't make a
sales brochure valuable in and of itself if interested
collectors/historians haven't heard of it, but ALL sales
literature and prospectus (where else would one see
the Tucker Torpedo 2-door model that was never built?),
especially that for "failed" car companies,
deserves to be saved. Auto history is vague enough as
For today's collectors, Rick advised, "the accumulation
of things from abroad worked very well until recently.
There are more people today in Europe than ever before
who want to trade material, but it's really weird what
you're liable to get in return. In Germany I'm thinking
of all the different models that they build and sell
that they don't send here. Mercedes-Benz, for example,
has two different types of stretched sedans. One is
used for high officials and the wealthy and the other
is used for taxis all over the world. They don't sell
them here so we can't get any information on them and
I couldn't get the person I was trading with to send
me any information on those cars. He wanted to send
me literature on cars that were unusual to him -- the
Japanese makes that were being sold in Germany. It is
unique to see a Japanese make in the German language!"
Rick did not limit his collection to standard makes
and models of cars. He was interested in every aspect
of transportation - electrical, industrial and marine
vehicles, three-wheelers and golf cars, as well as exotic,
luxury and concept cars, taxi cabs, police vehicles,
ambulances and hearses.
One of the highlights of his career occurred in 1972
when Rick was hired to take his first car photographs
for Automobile Quarterly. "Some of the coincidences
[in my life] were pretty extreme", he recalled.
"The very week, for instance that I got together
a selection of photographs that I had taken and sent
them to Automobile Quarterly they had had someone contact
them about me and were contacting me about doing something
for them. There are so many billions of people in the
world that it is very unusual that something like that
should happen." Over the years he worked as Staff
Photographer and dozens of articles were done based
on his photography.
"Most of my memorable days have to do with photographing
cars", Rick reminisced. "I must have met every
possible type of human being (excepting, possibly a
Siamese-twin or a confessed axe murderer) in the course
of finding and shooting old cars." Rick literally
took hundreds of thousands of photographs in his lifetime
-- "I'm one of the people who has kept Kodak in
business", he once said. Hundreds were used to
illustrate articles in Automobile Quarterly.
Even when very ill Rick never lost his sense of humor
as is evidenced in this Dec. 2001 Christmas card. Rick
lost a battle to cancer and passed away on Feb. 17,
2002 at 8:18 p.m. and his ashes were scattered at sea
per his wishes. His parents and sister preceded him
In 1996, McLellan's Automotive History acquired the
Rick Lenz collection. Rick's wish and legacy was for
his literature to go into the hands of collectors all
over the world who share his passion and will continue
to preserve the history of transportation. He will be
remembered for his endless devotion to the hobby.