Touring the Hagerty Insurance Private Car Collection

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

Nestled in the untamed wilds of Northern Michigan, or more specifically the charming mini-metropolis of Traverse City, is a world-class collection of vintage cars you’ve probably never seen or even heard of before.

Informally referred to as The Hagerty Garage, this eclectic group of vehicles is comprised of about 25 autos plus a handful of antique motorcycles, some boats and a few outboard motors for a little variety. This private collection is the property of Hagerty Insurance, the largest classic car insurer in the world.

The firm is headquartered in Traverse City and employs around 700 people. They have offices across the U.S. and Canada as well as a branch in the UK that serves Europe.

Jonathan Klinger, public relations manager at Hagerty and my tour guide explained that the collection has three overarching themes. There are cars that have been in the Hagerty family, vehicles restored by Hagerty kids and automobiles with local history. The beautiful red 1967 Porsche 911 S for instance was rebuilt by company CEO McKeel Hagerty. “Some of these cars have been in the family since the ‘60s,” Klinger said.

One vehicle with particular local significance is a 1948 Ford convertible. Nicknamed the “Dunesmobile,” this fully restored drop-top was actually used to take tourists for thrill rides across Sleeping Bear Dunes in the Northwestern corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. It was part of a fleet of 10 such Fords and is the last known survivor.

Another real eye-catcher is a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS 396. Painted bright orange this car is impossible to ignore. Curiously it was actually restored by Hagerty employees. Klinger said the company has a special program that allows any worker to get their hands dirty in the garage.

This particular Camaro was totaled in a crash, but instead of scrapping it the company decided restoration was the right thing to do. So far employees have brought three cars back to life in just four years but this ’69 took two years of work to be roadworthy once again because of the damage it sustained

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Setting Hagerty’s vehicular assemblage apart from other car collections is that these beauties are anything but trailer queens; they actually get used. In fact the company hosts special events where they teach kids how to drive cars with manual transmissions and they do it with some of their vintage vehicles. How cool is that? I even got to test drive a 1915 Ford Model T, which was an unreal experience.

Understandably not everything sees regular use. Klinger said, “The only car that doesn’t get driven much is the E-Type Jag.” He said it’s 100 percent origianl and is simply too special to risk getting damaged.

And Klinger knows a thing or two about driving old iron. He gained notoriety for using a 1930 Ford Model A sedan as his only road-going transportation for an entire year. He put the car through every kind of weather imaginable from rain and snow to baking-hot temperatures and covered salt-covered roads. The project was called 365 Days of A and it concluded a couple years back.

But when asked which car topped his list Klinger said, “My personal favorite is that 1917 peerless, hands down. For me as a car enthusiast I love the early cars, even pre World War I … I’m always amazed at the early technology.” This green beauty is powered by a cutting-edge-for-the-time V8 engine, which was tremendously powerful in its day.

He also has a personal connection to this two-seat behemoth, which sits about as tall as a bar stool and has a cockpit that’s narrower than a laundry basket. In fact it’s so tight in order to operate the clutch pedal you have to remove your left shoe!

Upping its sentimental importance, Klinger said he knew the previous owner before the car was acquired by Hagerty. Additionally he campaigns it in The Great Race, a long-distance, controlled-speed, endurance competition for vintage cars. Accordingly this Peerless is fitted with special analog timing devices for making precise speed and distance calculations. And after riding shotgun around the block it’s easy to see why this is his top choice; it makes glorious noises!

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“As time goes on this collection will slowly grow and evolve,” said Klinger thanks in part to the company’s employee restoration program. He also said, “The reason that this collection exits, it’s kind of part of the DNA of the company, the DNA of the family.”

The founder, Frank Hagerty, who recently passed away, got started in this business back in 1984 by insuring wooden boats. He did that at a time when other insurance companies wouldn’t touch them with a 10-foot yardarm. Klinger said they were viewed as “floating pieces of firewood filled with gas”

Over the years his company grew, fueled by customer service and common-sense coverage. Klinger said, “This business was built by a family of car enthusiasts not by a family of insurance enthusiasts.” This is something that’s immediately obvious after taking a peek inside The Hagerty Garage.

GALLERY: The Hagerty Garage

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for AutoGuide.com. When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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  • Tom Rostkowski Tom Rostkowski on Apr 12, 2023

    Craig, I know; Carl Andresen passed away. I'm the mechanic that did a lot of work on the restoration of the Dunesmobile for Sleeping Bear. I have some restoration photos and don't know if, Carl was able to share. In his memory, I'd like to send them if you wish. Just send me an E-mail address so, I can forward them. Tom Rostkowski

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