Marconi Automotive Museum: Learn, Earn, Return

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 08/2016
  • posted in: Great Garages

Dick Marconi’s dad taught him to learn, earn, then return.

He’s done well at all three as the founder of Herbalife, custom vitamins, food supplements and weight-loss products. Today, you’ll often find him at the Marconi Automotive Museum in Tustin, California, 1302 Industrial Drive, sharing the importance of this trio of concepts, helping at-risk children and discussing cars.

As the Gary, Indiana, native built the company, he acquired a variety of cars at a cost of about $30 million. Today, the museum has approximately 75 automobiles and 20 motorcycles, donated by him to the Marconi Foundation for Kids, housed at the museum, a former salad oil manufacturing facility purchased in 1994.

Most of the net proceeds generated from the museum, including event rentals and awards dinners, go to local charities through the Foundation. The goal is to raise $1 million annually for at-risk young people. Some of the benefitting organizations are Olive Crest, Drug Use is Life Abuse, ChildHelp, Orangewood and Covenant House.

Marconi has also raced as Marconi Racing, participating in Formula Ford, Formula Atlantic and Formula 5000 divisions. In 1994 he raced in the Long Beach Grand Prix, at 57 the oldest driver ever to qualify. He finished 8th.

“We do get new vehicles every once in a while when somebody wants to showcase their hotrod or classic in the museum, and it’ll be housed in the museum for a few months depending on the owner’s wishes,” says Shannon Randol, marketing coordinator. “It’s a nice mixture, including rare and one-of-a-kind makes and models. And there’s a lot of race history within the museum and unique pieces of history from boxer Oscar De La Hoya and Steve McQueen memorabilia.

The collection includes Ferraris, some very rare, Lamborghinis and Porches, American muscle classics, and historic open wheel race cars, such as Keke Rosberg’s pink Formula Atlantic series winner, Mario Andretti’s ’94 Phoenix Oval Indy winner and Michael Schumacher’s early-career F1 Ferrari.

Other cars include a 1996 Ferrari FX, one of seven, this one for the Prince of Brunei; a legendary 1954 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing; two Ford GTs; three Lolas; two De Tomaso Panteras; the 1982 Formula One World Champion; a 1990 Ken Bernstein dragster in which he broke the 300-mph barrier; and a Ferrari Testarossa, F40 and F50. Motorcycles include examples by Ducati, Harley Davidson and Honda.

Marconi and his crew invited us in to see some of the cars:

•1950 Ferrari 195S –– The classic was originally built as a 166 Inter Touring Coupe, and its engine was advanced to Tipo 195 specs and restored by Enzo Motors of Anaheim, California. Dick Marconi and son John raced it in the 1988 Millie Miglia, the prestigious 1,000-mile circuit through the streets of Italy. The father-and-son team was 1 of 50 nonItalian applicants accepted out of 4,000 applicants.

•1993 Ferrari 348 TB –– Purchased new in 1994, the Prancing Stallion was driven by the Foundation CEO Priscilla Marconi, the first woman to race in the 348 Challenge series. For this, a more powerful (320-horse) engine was installed, with a different exhaust system, slick tires, better brakes and upgraded aerodynamics.

Only 100 348 TBs were made; 12 of the 100 were built in 1992, and the remaining 88 were produced in 1993. The Serie Speciale was the first and only 348 model to wear the prancing horse logo on the front grill but not on the rear, Marconi explains.

•1969 Fiat 850 Spider –– Designed by Bertone, the 850 evolved from the very successful Fiat 600. Famous fight cut man Chuck Bodak, hometown friend of Dick Marconi, donated it to the museum.

For four years, he decoupaged the vehicle with a history of his boxing career. He worked with greats such as Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, Tommy Hearns, Julio Cesar Chavez and Oscar De La Hoya and was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in the late ’90s.

The two men grew up together in Indiana, where Chuck taught Dick the sport of boxing. “Chuck was a very colorful guy,” Randol says. “He would give you the shirt off his back.” He died in 2009.

•Ferrari 365 GTBS/4 Spider –– Ferrari had Pininfarina design the Daytona Spider, and production was limited to just 122 cars. Scaglietti transformed the 365 into a Spider, requiring several modifications that replaced the coupe’s fiberglass inner fenders and rear bulkhead with steel counterparts. In its time, the Daytona held the production speed record of 180 mph and was described as “the best sports car in the world” by Road & Track magazine.

•2006 Chip Foose Hemisfear –– “It’s ‘Hemisfear’ because when Chip Foose was designing it, the huge HEMI engine in the back called for it in its name,” Randol says. “MOPAR wouldn’t allow him to use the name, hence ‘Hemi’s Fear.’” The 6.4-liter Hemi powers the car to 0-60 times in four seconds.

For Foose’s senior-year graduation project at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, he built a one-fifth- scale model of the car. “The model became the inspiration for the Plymouth Prowler when Chevy saw his winning design,” Randol says.

“The guy who owns the Hemisfear lives in British Columbia. He can’t bring it into the country because it doesn’t have a front bumper,” she says. “He tried to have it shipped in pieces through mail, but it got rejected, and that’s why he houses it at The Marconi.”

Only 50 of these were built and only two are called a Hemisfear. The first one, in green, is owned by Foose, and the second is in the museum. The rest are called Chip’s Coupe.

•1996 Ferrari 456 Spyder –– With a custom red-leather interior, this was originally ordered from Ferrari by Sonny Bono as a gift for Cher. The story goes that Sonny thought if he bought her a Ferrari she would leave rocker Greg Allman and return to him. The automotive apple didn’t work, and Marconi purchased it.

The public can see the museum Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.−4:30 p.m.; a $5 donation for anyone over age 12 is suggested. As the museum is sometimes rented out as an event space, please check or call 714.258.3001 before visiting.

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