Last year vintage car collector Jim Ratsoy unleashed a big bit of news that shook the industry with reactions of both excitement and sadness. Excitement, because he was selling his collection 125 vintage automobiles, likely the largest private collection in Canada. Sadness, because Ratsoy is a passionate and highly-admired collector throughout North America. It was the end of an era.
Ratsoy has been restoring cars since 1959, with a Model T Ford, in running condition, he bought from a farmer. In 1957, after his father passed away, Ratsoy took over the family car dealership and soon expanded the business to four dealerships in Richmond, BC. To say his vintage car collection has grown since then is an understatement. It includes a bevy of Ford convertibles from nearly every year through the 1930, 1940s and the early 1950s, including a red ‘51, the first car Ratsoy ever owned. There is a stunning 1931 Cadillac V12 convertible without a single misplaced detail from its original build for a Chicago car show 80 years ago. Ratsoy is so fond of the all-original parts in an otherwise impeccable, 1906 Stevens Touring, he refuses to replace the seat covers as the 100-year-old horse hair spilling out testifies to the car’s purity. Two showrooms cover 30,000-square feet of space, decorated with staggering collections of automobile memorabilia, plus a fully-staffed workshop where Ratsoy has personally restored half of the cars in his collection.
But with his age, Ratsoy says the time has simply come to let it all go. “It’s not that I want to do it, but there just comes a time,” he says. “It’s something you have to face.”
In a perfect world Ratsoy will see a single buyer buy his entire collection of 125 automobiles, with an estimated value between $9 and $12 million, and keep it in the Lower Mainland.
For someone who’s been in the car business for as long as Ratsoy, he’s seen the trends in restoration change as much as the cars themselves. He feels today’s enthusiast needs a high amount of passion to justify the financial sacrifice, and he worries budding restorers, as he once was, are priced out of the market before they can get started.
“It’s become a big business. Fifteen years ago there wasn’t many in the business. Most people who get into it learn some lessons they’re not aware of it.”
However, there are trade-offs with today’s market too. The soaring popularity of car restoration has created a wealth of resources, and with the internet it’s become a snap to find them. Ratsoy offers one bit of advice for anyone starting out: keep it pure, and focus on the car itself, not its history.
“I don’t care whose ass has sat in it,” he says. “In some cases, especially stateside, they’ll promote something like that quite heavily. And someone will fall into that trap. It’s just a car. It doesn’t matter who owned it. It’s about the restoration; what you produce, not who’s owned it and who hasn’t owned it.”
Ratsoy’s passion is palpable. A visit to his website, grandpasoldcars.ca, reveals approximately 75 articles he’s written on automobile history, specific cars, lines, companies and their founders. Over the years he’s shared his knowledge with other enthusiasts as best he could, and in return their reactions helped shape his collection.
“I used to have expensive cars, but I got rid of almost everyone because it didn’t relate to people. They would get excited when they found a car that a cousin or a dad had once owned, but when they saw the expensive cars they would just say, ‘this is nice,’ but they didn’t know what it was all about. It was an awakening for me. You had to see it happen.”
Few have left Ratsoy’s exhibit without an emotional reaction. One visitor who posted their experience online at yelp.com said he had to keep reminding himself that this was a private collection, not a museum’s. He was referring not just to the vintage cars, but the collection of jukeboxes, player pianos, radio paraphernalia, phonographs, pinball machines and gas pumps -- all in working order.
“I can't begin to tell you how extensive this collection is,” writes the visitor. “ There were some elderly people reminiscing about the good old days while having all of the gadgets and ancient electronic innovations trigger memories of when they were first released.”
Unfortunately, none of his children or grandchildren adopted his passion for vintage cars, and the number of mechanics he’s shared his knowledge with is limited. He says it’s hard to teach today, as mechanics now are usually “replacers; they’re not fixers.”
But a big reason he’s sad to see the collection go is the annual Rosewood Manor Garden Party, an annual fundraising event held on Ratsoy’s property with proceeds going to Alzheimer’s and dementia care for the manor’s residents. In its 10 years, the garden party has become one of the most talked-about social events in the lower mainland, enticing car enthusiasts and the general public with gourmet meals and live entertainment set against the backdrop of Canada’s largest private car collection. Through auction donations of goods and services from individuals and businesses, the party has raised more than $2 million to date for Rosewood Manor.
Alzheimer's care is a special interest of Ratsoy’s, as his wife, Marcia, has lived with the disease at Rosewood Manor for almost five years.
“She used to say she would rather go than let that happen to her,” says Ratsoy. “But it comes on gradually and you don’t realize it’s coming on until you just slip away.”
At their Richmond home they built together, Marcia and Jim had hosted hundreds of gatherings over the years. Car clubs, individual enthusiasts and the general public will certainly miss their hospitality and the absence of their magnificent collection of cars, but they will never be forgotten.
“I enjoy people, no matter what I’ve done,” says Ratsoy. “I’ve been in the car business since ‘57. Although it becomes a headache sometimes, when you enjoy people it’s worth it.