Joseph and Margie Cassini Make Great Drives at Hilton Head

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 10/2014
  • posted in: Great Garages

Beware, says New Jersey’s Joseph Cassini III: Karts as kids can lead to car-itis as an adult.

As a boy, Cassini started out building go-karts with cast-off lawn mowers and chain saws. Today, this self-described obsession with automobiles continues for the retired lawyer and judge, as he showcases four of his 14 collectibles at the 13th Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance (HHIMF).

Combining the automotive, motorsports and enthusiast lifestyles, the annual festival begins in Georgia at the Savannah Speed Classic, Oct. 24–26, hosted by The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa, and continues at the renowned golf-destination resort, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Nov. 1–2, where the culminating Concours d’Elegance is scheduled for Nov. 2 at the Port Royal Golf Club.

At HHIMF, the New Jersey resident, his wife, Margie, and his family will present a 1927 Isotta Fraschini, 1931 Duesenberg and two one-off cars, a 1934 Packard Convertible Victoria, and a 1930 Minerva AL.

Highline Autos readers may remember this gorgeous ’34 Packard, which won Best in Show at last year’s Pebble Beach Concours –– the first win for the great American luxury car builder there since 1977. In 2004, the Cassini family won Best in Show with their 1938 Horch Special Roadster.

For 18 years, the family has participated in shows and car events in the U.S. and Europe, and they’re often in tours and road rallies, such as the Pebble Beach Motoring Classic and, in Arizona, the Copper State 1000.

“The car hobby is truly a common denominator. By that I mean, no matter what your profession, your background or your lifestyle, it brings people together just for their passion for automobiles,” says Cassini, a University of Notre Dame Law School alumnus who served 23 years as a New Jersey Superior Court trial judge.

“It also brings you to great venues such as Pebble Beach and Hilton Head,” he adds. “We have made many life-long friends from all over the world because of the hobby.”

‘Car-itis’ Starts with a Rare Bird from California

Cassini’s father owned a construction company: “On Saturdays, I would go to the construction garage to help the mechanics work on the equipment or, better yet, drive a truck around the facility,” he says. “In short, I’ve loved cars my whole life.”

He began collecting in 1976 on a post-graduation trip to California and a tour on Highway 1. “During this trip, I purchased a 1956 T-Bird and continued to collect 1950s and 1960s cars for the next 15-plus years.

In the early 1990s, he attended his first Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) event and was introduced to pre-war classics. “I decided at that time I would change direction and focus more on them,” he says.

Most of the family collection is at their 19th/20th century home, once part of a working farm. “There is an original carriage house on the property where they stored and serviced the carriages and kept the horses,” he says. “It is in this building that we keep most of our cars –– neat that decades later the building still houses horsepower, just a different kind.”

He notes this is a family affair, supported by his wife, Margie, and daughter, Caroline, who has already judged at events such as St. John’s and the Celebration of Automobiles at Indianapolis and is scheduled to judge this year at Radnor Hunt as well as the HHIMF.

He’s even founded a concours, the Edison Concours d’Elegance, which will take place Oct. 16–18 at the 23-room home of Thomas A. Edison, Glenmont, in northeast New Jersey where he and his wife lived for 43 years.

“Pick a few special cars? My problem is that I love them all –– and once you get ‘car-itis’, there is no cure.” Here’s a short guided tour of the Cassinis’ spectacular four-wheel infirmary for the incurable:

1927 Isotta Fraschini 8A S Roadster — “About 950 models of the 950 Tipo 8A’s were built during the 1925–1931 production run. I first saw the car at the Christie auction at Pebble Beach in 2001, and I loved its style.

“The car was bodied by Fleetwood, of Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, making it one of the very few Isottas bodied by an American Company. My car was actually ordered by Rudolf Valentino, the silent film star. However, he died before he could take delivery.

“The car has so many outstanding features but the hood ornament is unique, it is in the shape of a Cobra. The reason being is that during the building of the car Valentino was filming the movie Cobra. The coachbuilders thought the Cobra hood ornament would give the car a personal touch.

“There are only two Isottas that were bodied by Fleetwood in the Roadster body style or for that matter just two bodied by them in total. The other car does exist. Our car is the only one that participates in Concours events.”

1931 Duesenberg Model J — “With coachwork by Derham Body Co. and design by the great Gordon Buehrig, this Duesey is one of seven Derham Toursters produced. We have owned this car since 2001, and before we had it restored in 2012, we drove it in numerous tours most notably, the Pebble Beach Motoring Classic from Seattle to Pebble Beach.

“Upon its restoration this car was also a nominee for Best in Show at Pebble in 2012. The car is Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club (ACD) certified and won Best in Show at the demanding ACD Annual Reunion in 2012. It also won Best in Show at the St. John’s Concours in 2013 and was the poster car for the Stan Hywett Concours last month.”

1934 Packard Convertible Victoria 1108 — “Individual Custom by Dietrich. This car is stunning. It won Best in Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2013. This car is a ‘one-off,’ meaning it is the only car in the world with this particular body style. It was originally purchased by a very wealthy man from Puerto Rico who had the car shipped there from New York City. The car remained in Puerto Rico for the next 30 years.

“It was brought back to the U.S. by an Air Force serviceman in the mid-1960s. I purchased the car in 2011 and immediately commissioned a body-off, frame-up restoration by RM Automotive Restorations of Canada. There were nearly 14,000 man hours spent in restoring the car back to its past glory. From every angle this car has the ‘WOW’ factor going for it. Sexy and Graceful!” And,

1930 Minerva AL — “A three-position cabriolet by Van Den Plas, this is also a one-of-a- kind car and is the only cabriolet of Minerva ALs in existence. This car was also shown at the Pebble Beach Concours and a nominee for Best in Show.”

“The car has a sensational exterior color combination and a beautiful interior. The dashboard is like jewelry. The car is further enhanced by an exceptional period tool kit in the truck as well as fitted luggage.”

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