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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Mustang Museum Roars to Life

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Ted Segerstrom recalls his father tossing him the keys to a tractor and telling him to drive the machine across the family farm in Costa Mesa.

Segerstrom was 10 years old at the time.

“A 10-year-old driving a truck in the field—you cannot get hurt!” Segerstrom laughed.

Segerstrom has loved vehicles ever since. In October, he and his wife, Rae Segerstrom, opened the Segerstrom Shelby Event Center in Irvine near the intersection of the San Diego (405) and Santa Ana (5) freeways.

It’s a notable addition to Orange County’s collection of museums featuring vintage cars, joining Tustin’s Marconi Automotive Museum, which holds a reported $30 million in collector cars, and Santa Ana’s Lyon Air Museum next to John Wayne Airport, which includes a 1939 Mercedes-Benz used by Adolph Hitler among other vehicles, as well as vintage aircraft.

The Shelby Event Center has close to 80 vintage vehicles owned by Segerstrom, including 63 currently on its floor, many with a price tag topping $1 million or more. The cars range from the rarest Gt500kr convertibles, to a Ford 1942 version of the army’s Jeep, complete with the original antenna.

The museum also features vintage gas pumps from the 1910s and 1920s that “are like art deco.” Route 66 signs line the walls as do plenty of photos such as the Mustang factory lines and actor Steve McQueen in a Mustang.

Some of the cars are believed to have belonged to Frank Sinatra’s famous Rat Pack, according to Segerstrom.

Other items at the museum include flags that landed on the moon and were sold by astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin.

About 400 attended the museum’s grand opening in October.

Could it be a competitor to the famous Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles?

“Petersen has the world’s finest collection,” Segerstrom said, adding “They’re a lot bigger than we are. They’re 200,000 square feet. We have 42,000 square feet.”

Vintage Family

Segerstrom and his wife are part of the Segerstrom family that built Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza, one of the world’s most famous shopping centers. Last year, it ranked No. 1 again on the Business Journal’s annual list of Orange County shopping centers, reporting $1.6 billion in taxable sales for the year ended June 30.

Ted’s father, Hal, served as managing partner of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons with his first cousin, Henry Segerstrom, until his death in 1994. Henry Segerstrom died in 2015.

Ted Segerstrom’s sister, Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, is a managing partner of the family firm.

Ted Segerstrom worked in the family business for decades handling its property management affairs. About 20 years ago, he retired from day-to-day operations and has pursued his passion of collecting Shelby Mustangs, often traveling in an RV around the country to attend auctions.

He knows well the history of the Mustang, explaining that when the famous auto executive Lee Iacocca first introduced the car, he knew he had an image problem.

“It was known as a secretary’s car,” recalled Segerstrom during a tour of his museum given to the Orange County Business Journal. “Iacocca asked Carroll for help.”

Carroll refers to the legendary Carroll Shelby, who won the 1959 Le Mans and whose name adorns the center.

Shelby would receive Mustang shells from the Ford factory and modify them from the ground up, increasing the horsepower from 200 to 305 and rebuilding the suspension.

“He made a race car out of it,” Segerstrom said.

Shelby produced about 14,000 of these cars in the 1960s, compared to the 200,000 Mustangs built by Ford.

In fact, Ford asked Shelby to build cars for Le Mans 24-hour race, a venture that was the subject of a critically-acclaimed 2019 movie, “Ford v Ferrari.” 

“They downplayed him in that movie,” said Segerstrom, who said Shelby was quite the gregarious character.

The Shelby Shadow

As a teenager, Segerstrom picked up a 1966 Mustang hand-me-down from his older sister. Ted passed it on to his little sister and it was eventually sold.

“We grew up in Shelby’s shadow. All my friends had Mustangs of different years. We were Ford fanatics. We always had a dream of finding an old 1965 Cobra in a barn somewhere with a few miles on it.

“Cobra at that time was the fastest car in the world,” Segerstrom explained. “He put that big 427 in that thing. There was nothing that could touch it. A 700 to 800 horsepower motor in a 1,400 pound frame. Gone! We grew up in that.”

Nowadays, his museum has the three lowest production numbers on the Cobra.

“That was a coup,” Segerstrom said.

Sexy Cars

Segerstrom bought his first Shelby in 1986 followed a few years later by a 1968 KR convertible.

Why is Segerstrom so intrigued by Shelby Mustangs? “I get that asked a lot and I’m not sure why,” he said. “They’re sexy cars. They’re valuable.”

Rae and Ted Segerstrom are big fans not just of the cars, but also of Shelby, who signed one of the cars that sits in the museum.

“Once we got to know Carroll, they meant more to us,” Rae Segerstrom said. “He didn’t understand why people collected his cars.”

“He’s a man who did so much for America, from training pilots in World War II to auto manufacturing,” added Ted Segerstrom.

The couple also bought a car originally owned by Carroll Shelby himself.

“We picked it up and didn’t tell anyone for eight or nine years.”

The Shriner Way

The Segerstroms previously housed their car collection in a private, 25,000-square-foot warehouse near John Wayne airport. That building was sold several years ago to a housing developer.

The couple decided to turn their new location at 5 Whatney, bought about five years ago, into a museum to raise funds for Pasadena’s Shriners for Children Medical Center, which provides comprehensive medical, surgical and rehabilitative care to children up to age 18 with orthopedic conditions, burn scars, and cleft lip and palate. It provides the services regardless of a family’s ability to 

pay.

The couple has long been supporters of the Shriners.

“This museum is the best way to make the public aware of the Shriners’ hospital,” Segerstrom said.

In December, the center hosted Shelby American’s unveiling its 2022 Gt500KR for the car’s 60th anniversary. Production of the car, which has more than 900 horsepower, will be limited to 60.

Weddings

Among the center’s many unique features is a special section for Hertz, which at one time rented Mustangs that needed “both feet to hit the brakes.”

“Kids would rent them on Fridays and bring them back on Monday,” Segerstrom said. “The smart kids rented them for the weekend, took out 305 horse power Shelby motor and replaced them with stock motors. Hertz employees wouldn’t know the difference.”

The museum is available for corporate events and visits by school children who can learn about American manufacturing.

The couple have also set it up for weddings, pointing out a gorgeous staircase. They’ve installed bride and groom suites that include a gas pump, a pool table in shape of a car and an “escape hatch.”

“There’s a nice spiral staircase. You can either come in this way or run away,” Segerstrom said.

“Come here and make some memories. Learn about a pretty terrific guy who did all sorts of things.” 

The Thunderbird Fan

Rae Segerstrom has invested thousands of hours along with her husband Ted to open the Segerstrom Shelby Event Center.

However, her favorite car isn’t a Shelby Mustang. Instead, it’s a 1956 Ford Thunderbird. Ted Segerstrom one year gave the car as a present, where it now sits in the museum.

“My neighbor had one when I was growing up and I fell in love with it,” Rae Segerstrom said.  

She knows a lot about the industry, saying her father taught her how to rebuild an engine.

“I remember going out and changing the oil and the brake pads. My dad said these were things girls need to know.”

Even though she nowadays prefers driving Cadillac Escalades, she relishes visiting the museum.

“We enjoy coming here and seeing the cars,” she said. “We enjoy people getting enjoyment out of it.”

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