Being an editor at AutoWeek magazine in the 1980s and ‘90s meant frequent trips to Los Angeles on various assignments. I think our office manager thought it was strange that I’d always request her to make my room reservation in Redondo or another of the beach communities south of LAX rather than in LA proper.
I had my reasons. I liked the more relaxed atmosphere and the informal dining I found in the beach communities, but to tell the truth, the primary reason for my preferred lodging location was the opportunity to drive past the Vasek Polak Porsche dealership and to stare at the amazing racing cars displayed on the other side of the showroom big windows.
For a kid who grew up in the rural Midwest, pouring each Sunday over the “sports cars” listings in the classified advertising section of the Chicago newspapers, getting to see not only real sports cars but real racing sports cars was a treat.
For those who don’t or perhaps are too young to remember, Vasek Polak was injured while fighting the Nazis during World War II, and he later escaped from communist-run Czechoslovakia in 1949, and found work as a motor pool mechanic for the U.S. Army in West Germany.
In 1951, he found his way to the US, opened an auto-repair shop in New York City and working as a mechanic at Max Hoffman’s famous import dealership.
Like so many others in the post-war period, he would move to California, opening an automotive repair shop in Manhattan Beach in 1958 and, a year later, turning that shop into not only the first stand-alone Porsche dealership in the US, but through the 1960s and into the ‘70s, into the center of American racing for the Porsche brand.
Polak had been involved in motorsports since the 1930s, winning a Czechoslovakian national motorcycle racing championship and then racing on four wheels after the war. He competed as a driver in the fledgling but increasingly fierce California sports car competition, but focused on engine-building and preparing cars for others to race. Those others included the likes of Jack McAfee, Roger Penske, Bob Holbert, George Follmer, Jerry Titus, Milt Minter, Joe Bonnier, and many others.
Through the years, Polak would add other import-brand dealerships to his company’s portfolio before his death in 1997, at the age of 82, several weeks after being severely injured in a crash while driving on Germany’s autobahn.
What triggers this fit of nostalgia is a news release announcing a forthcoming book about Vasek Polak and his career and his car collection written by his granddaughter, Maurie Polak.
The news release notes that the Vasek Polak Collection’s online store and its limited-edition offerings goes live December 1 and that Maurie and her father, Vasek, son of Vasek Polak Sr., will be at the 2022 Porsche and Vintage VW literature, toy, model and memorabilia swap meet, the 38th annual such event, which is scheduled for February 26, 2022, at the LAX Airport Hilton.