HomeCar CultureLifestyle2017 fires and floods destroy collector cars

2017 fires and floods destroy collector cars


The year of disaster. That’s what many people (even the ones not in politics or show business) are calling 2017 as it lurches to a close.

For classic car people, the 2017 fires and floods will be remembered for their destruction that not only took lives and destroyed homes but wrecked countless cherished vehicles. Floods in Texas and the southeastern U.S. inundated collector cars, trucks and motorcycles during August and early September as monster hurricanes swept the regions.

2017 fires and floods destroy collector cars | Journal
A sports coupe abandoned in the flood | Courtesy of the Houston Chronicle

Then the motorized carnage moved to the West Coast, where a series of catastrophic wildfires roared through California communities destroying everything in their paths, including any number of irreplaceable vintage vehicles.

The exact number is difficult to ascertain, although an estimated 500,000 vehicles of all types were wrecked in the Houston area during the flooding. Insurance companies estimate that possibly 10,000 collector vehicles were lost in the floods.

2017 fires and floods destroy collector cars | Journal
Restored Buick Wildcat was reduced to scrap metal | Scott Birdsall

While the fire losses of special vehicles were most likely fewer, the ones that were burned up in the fires were more irretrievably lost than those that were flooded. Cars that were submerged still hold out the possibility of refurbishment or at least recoverable parts, but the ones subjected to the California infernos have been burned, melted, warped and charred beyond redemption.

The photos that came out of California of scorched vehicles surrounded by the ravaged remains of homes told the tale of the violent blazes that rushed into neighborhoods leaving people little time to escape with their lives, much less their possessions. Again, this meant the fires were more destructive to the vehicles; in the flooded areas earlier in the year, people were given ample warning to evacuate and many of them were able to relocate their collector cars to safe locations before the hurricanes arrived.

2017 fires and floods destroy collector cars | Journal
Nothing was left after the fires roared through | Scott Birdsall

Not so with the fires that roared down through canyons, whipped by Santa Ana winds into gigantic, torch-like plumes. Many of the California neighborhoods that were devastated were in affluent areas where vintage-car collecting would be fairly common.

The stories were recounted after the fires by owners already saddened by the loss of their homes and their neighbors’ homes. The destruction of special vehicles in some cases focused the sense that their treasured belongings were gone forever, turned into piles of rubble and ash.

Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.


  1. My family and the next door neighbor alone lost a few collector vehicles in the Atlas Peak California fire.
    Restored 1948 Indian Chief
    restored Cushman Ice cream scooter
    three low-mile Harley Toppers
    62 Falcon Ranchero
    63 Falcon Sedan Delivery 260 4-speed!
    Mustang California Special 1968 GTCS
    67 Mustang Coupe
    Neighbor lost two Corvettes
    The other a Corniche and a Carerra
    Many Many more close to home here in the Napa Valley


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