What a Concept!

  • Shaun Tolson

When Joe Bortz was 8 years old, his father bought him a bicycle. This was no ordinary bicycle; it was a newspaper-delivery model—one with a smaller front wheel, which was necessary to accommodate a large frame-mounted basket just below the handlebars. Whether or not the bike was the elder Bortz’s idea of a subtle hint remains a mystery. Bortz never picked up a paper route, but the bike still saw plenty of use.

As a boy, Bortz was fascinated by automobiles, and he spent his afternoons riding his bike to the different dealerships in town, collecting advertising materials for the manufacturers’ current and—in some cases—upcoming models. As he grew older, the young auto enthusiast ventured farther from home, taking the bus into Chicago to see General Motors’ annual Motorama auto shows during the 1950s. It was there that Bortz first encountered the automakers’ concept cars, then called “dream cars,” and from then on he was hooked.

Bortz’s career as a collector began in the early 1960s, when, as a 20-year-old, he bought what he describes as an “old car.” He doesn’t specify the make or model and perhaps that’s the point. According to the now-72-year-old, there’s an evolutionary process that occurs with all forms of collecting, and he says that in that regard, automobiles are similar to wine. “You have to find out what you like,” he says.

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