Allen Unique Autos: Classics in Colorado

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 06/2015
  • posted in: Great Garages

Here’s a car collection with a woman’s touch –– a woman who also enjoys touching foot to floor.

Owned by Tammy Allen, Allen Unique Autos comprises approximately 100 vehicles, about 80 of which are on display at any one time in Grand Junction, Colorado, 250 miles west-southwest of Denver.

The collection is unique for a few reasons, says Preston Patterson, the museum curator. “For one, there aren’t a lot of female car collectors out there, and the decor definitely reflects a woman’s touch. There is also quite a bit to see besides the cars.” 

Automobilia includes signs, gas pumps, and tools, but car-unrelated pieces are displayed such as antiques, cash registers to medical equipment, and even Queen Victoria’s traveling event throne.  

A mini wax museum includes about 20 life-size wax figures purchased from a museum that closed down and auctioned them. “Some of them ‘go’ with some of the cars; others are here just because,” Preston says.  They have figures of Clark Gable (a car lover, for sure), Humphrey Bogart, Sophia Loren, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Alfred Hitchcock and Madonna. Also Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are dancing, and Laurel and Hardy sitting on a park bench.

Vignettes from specific films include John Wayne in a scene and Gary Cooper in High Noon; Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner in The Ten Commandments; Judy Garland on the yellow brick road; and Spock and Captain Kirk on Enterprise bridge.  

Allen has always had a few old cars, but there wasn’t really an actual collection until about eight years ago, so most of the cars were acquired between 2008 and 2010, the year the museum opened that December.

“Tammy inherited her love of cars from her father, Bill Allen, a businessman who always had nice cars and kept them up meticulously,” he says. “He has a small collection of his own, as does his other daughter, Shannon, so cars are definitely a family affair.”

The collection is an eclectic mix without any one theme: There’s “something for everyone.” If she looks for one element in particular, it’s cars with stories: famous first owners or historic interest, Patterson says. 

Among these are a 1921 Milburn Electric, one of approximately 50 known to exist; a 1957 Cadillac by Boyd Coddington; a 1954 Chevy 210 built by Jesse James on Monster Garage; a 1966 VW shorty bus restored by Gas Monkey Garage on the TV series Fast & Loud; a 1954 Kaiser Darrin; a 2009 Ford Mustang Lee Iacocca 45th Anniversary Edition, 1 of 45 built and the only one supercharged; a 1962 Austin Beach Mini (1 of 37); a 1937 Cord 812; a 1938 Cadillac V-16; a 1954 Nash-Healey LeMans (1 of 90); a 1953 Buick Skylark; and a 1956 Messerschmitt KR175.

 •1963 Pontiac Ambulance –– This is the car purportedly used to take President Kennedy’s remains from Air Force One to Bethesda Naval Hospital for autopsy. Those old enough can remember the somber chilling scene in November 1963 of Jackie deplaning and the coffin being placed in the ambulance: Unforgettable, etched.

“Tammy purchased it from the winning bidder at the Scottsdale Barrett-Jackson auction in January 2011. She bid on the car but didn’t win, then came down with a case of nonbuyer’s remorse and bought the car from the winning bidder.”

Purportedly? Here’s the story: The ambulance was discovered in 1980 in a federal General Services Administration (GSA) warehouse and was eventually donated to the JFK Presidential Library in Massachusetts.

“The Kennedy family asked that it be destroyed, because they didn’t like to keep morbid artifacts from the JFK or RFK assassinations,” Preston says. “And, there are pictures of an ambulance being crushed in a Boston junkyard in 1986, so it would seem to be an open-and-shut-case.”

However, when this car in the Allen Unique Autos collection was auctioned four years ago, the consignor produced a copy of a letter, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, linking the car’s serial number to the original Navy registration number of 94-49196 for the vehicle that transported the body of the dead president. That number is visible in photos and film from the day of the crushing.  

“However, the letter was written from the office of the surgeon general to Superior Coach Corporation to request information about the car as part of the assassination investigation,” Preston says. “As the ambulance was used long after the assassination took place, there was really no reason to write such a letter, and so its authenticity has been called into question.”

He has doubts that the car was crushed, though, supporting the authenticity of this vehicle. “The fact that it took six years for them to get around to crushing it is a red flag for me,” he says.  

The second issue? “Although a car was clearly crushed that day, no documentation was surrendered. If you’ve ever junked a car, you know that you have to surrender the title, registration and anything that could be used to establish ownership, and that was not done.”  

Thirdly, the state of the car. “The Navy registration number was originally painted on both front doors and the tailgate of the authentic ambulance. In the pictures from the crushing, the numbers on the doors have been painted over, and while the number on the tailgate is the correct one, the tailgate was smashed in.”

Here’s his take: “Someone with ties to the JFK library recognized the historical significance of the ambulance, waited for another one to come on the market, switched out the smashed tailgate, destroyed the other car to comply with the family’s wishes and went underground with the real one. It’s purely speculation on my part, but it’s the only way I think the real car could have survived.”

•1967 ‘Herbie’ Volkswagen Beetle –– An original screen-used car from the 1969 The Love Bug. More than 100 Beetles were used in making the four original Herbie films, but many were destroyed in stunts or modified to the point of being unusable on the road. Tammy purchased it from the legendary customizer, George Barris, who consulted with Disney Studios on the design of the Herbie cars.

•1966 His & Hers Ford Mustang Convertibles –– Both were customized by Barris for Sonny and Cher after being gifted by Ford to the singing couple, presumably, in search of publicity. Two cars were taken off the San Jose assembly line and given to George Barris for customization.  

These touches include bifurcated grilles with Cibie headlights, suede side panels, shaved door handles, recessed Thunderbird taillights, and fur interiors. Sonny’s car has the four-barrel 289, Cher’s the two-barrel V-8, but the cars are otherwise very similar other than the color schemes. 

•1979 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II –– Originally owned by actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, this RR is equipped with a 6.75-liter V-8. “It’s a gift from Tammy’s dad, and one of the cars she’s had the longest,” Preston says.

•2008 Dodge Viper Hurst Editions –– Fifty Special Edition vipers were built for the 50th anniversary of Hurst; most were either black or white with gold stripes. The first coupe and the first convertible were painted a special matte gold. Tammy bought the coupe at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale in 2009, then purchased the convertible from Woodhouse Dodge to complete the pair.

•1913 ‘King T’ roadster –– Built by Don Tognotti in 1964, the custom features a 327 Chevy V-8, chromed custom tube frame and Wild Lavender paint by Gene Winfield. This is an AMBR, Oakland Roadster Show and Winter Nationals Auto Fair winner, the last award in 1964. In its day, model kits were made of the car.  

Allen Unique Autos is open to the public, 9−5 Monday through Friday and 11−5 on Saturday. Visitors can also be accommodated by prior arrangement. Admission is $8 for adults (13+) and $5 for children (5−12). Children 4 and under are admitted free. Free admission is provided to veterans and active-duty military. For more, see or call 970.263.7410.

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