A Legend in Imperial Collecting:

Doc Bullock and his 150 Chryslers

by Kenyon Wills, December 2009

Imperial Home Page -> Literature-> Articles->Doc Bullock

When I got my first 1960 Imperial in 1994, the car was roadworthy, but just barely. I lived in San Francisco, and word of mouth took me to Doc Bullock, a retired pediatrician living in Saratoga, CA, about 45 miles away in Silicon Valley (near the present day Apple Computer campus).

Upon arrival, I was treated to a strange sight indeed - a rather unusual property filled with thousands of parts taken exclusively off of Imperials. This is a snap-shot of one of the more unusual episodes in car collecting that I've seen.

Doc Bullock was a child of the depression, and that period of American history imprinted its participants in many ways that in today's world of plenty seem strange, but are unforgettable once one has met a "Depression Baby".

As it was explained to me, Doc Bullock was feisty and wound up looking out for himself at a young age, collecting bottles and glass and other materials to support himself. This created a strong ability to see value in things that others routinely discard. Doc boot-strapped himself up and eventually put himself through medical school to become a successful pediatrician.

The story picks back up again in 1970, when Doc and his wife Cathy bought their "Ranch House" in Saratoga. The house is located in the San Francisco - San Jose corridor, which is now fully developed and very suburban. At the time, the area was more rural, and there was a stable and large equestrian area out back. As other properties were developed around their house, the Bullock place kept the enormous back yard and stable. The entire property is about the size of a soccer or football field.

At the time, the property was chosen because Doc, as the collector that he was, had too many vehicles for the previous location, and this prompted the move.

By the mid 1970's, there was the first oil shock and people were shedding their larger, older cars in droves. Being a collector, Doc had a long association with Chrysler products, having purchased a 1946 Chrysler that figured prominently in his young adult life.

Doc's dedication to Chrysler products stemmed from his conviction that they were better engineered, higher quality cars than their contemporaries. He was especially impressed with the Imperial line because they were as close to a high-quality, hand-built luxury car as you could get in a mass-produced domestic vehicle. Some of the points he like to make were that the leather was always top of the line, thick hides in well designed interiors of cars that were powered by incredibly well designed engines and transmissions with comfortable suspensions. The torsion-bar front suspension in particular gave the 1957+ cars a feeling of being smaller and more nimble than any car of that size had a right to be.

One thing let to another, and with used cars in good to pristine condition being sold or even given away, no collector or Depression Baby worth his salt could pass up out-of-fashion luxury cars for next to nothing, and so Imperials started to populate the property.

Eventually, Doc started to focus on getting one of each body style for each year: Coupe, Convertible, and 4-door LeBaron, the fully optioned, top of the luxury line. He was quick to point out that although people were nutty for convertibles later, that the LeBaron was always the best and that he favored them for their incredibly quiet interiors (convertibles without the modern insulated top can be quite loud inside with the top up).

He also disliked the coupes and convertibles because they shared the same longer doors which look much more proportional when the same greenhouse has only two doors as a 4-door. The reasoning here was that the longer doors were terribly impractical in parking lots or in other close-quarters, and only someone that has driven both would be in a position to make that observation.

Doc was certainly qualified to be a judge of the merits of various years - he wound up with 155 of them at the height of his empire. Cars started to find him, and he was well known to the local car dealerships, especially Normandin's, who would take cars in on trade or need to get parts and not know what to do. Doc was the go-to person for Imperial in the area.

The SF Bay Area also had a thriving club of Imperial owners, and the cars on Doc's property single-handedly supported dozens of owners of these cars. The Northern California Imperial Owners Club at one time was sponsoring annual meets all over the state in conjunction with a Central Valley and Southern California chapter, and their statewide meets continue to be the largest such events in the world.

In the 1980's and 1990's, club membership was at an all time high, with hundreds of members locally and other owners subscribing to the newsletters from all over the world as they had few resources to support the cars that Chrysler had discontinued building and supporting.

By the late 1980's the time had come to add an addition to the Bullock house, and when the building inspector went to the property, he took one look out the back window at a sea of cars and declared that there would be no building permit issued unless and until the cars were gone from the property! I'm not so sure, but I suspect that the Bullock property had been a matter of discussion for some years, and the application for the building permit may have been the opportunity that the local government was waiting for, but anyway, the choice had to be made, and the decision was that the house would be extended.

Doc being who he was, decided that he didn't much like the government telling him that he had to do this, but he did love his wife, Cathy very much and took a middle path.

Rather than throw away all of the cars on the property, which he proudly reminded people had all driven in under their own power, Doc decided to take them apart and put them in his stables.

He hired 4 men that had come up from Mexico and they worked 5 days a week for a little over a year in 1989/1990 to dismantle the vast majority of the cars. The parts were stacked on heavy duty wooden shelving in the stable according to their use and type, and the rest of the metal was recycled as scrap, with most of the car bodies being crushed and hauled away after being completely stripped.

In front of the stable In stable stuffed full of parts

A side note to all of this was that at one time, Doc decided that he wanted to belong to the Antique Automobile Club. To be a bonafide member, one must own a car made in 1915 or earlier. Doc was faced with a decision: a 1914 Pierce Arrow or a 1915 Ford Model T.

When I spoke to him, he sighed as he explained that, and figuratively clapped his hand to his forehead over that decision. The Model T was produced to the tune of millions of units, and the Pierce was a much scarcer car. When the decision was made, both of the vehicles were collectors oddities and not worth very much. Little would Doc know that the pierce would skyrocket in value, but that was in the future.

The other antique car on the property was a simply Monstorous 1912 Stearns Touring Car. It had three rows of overstuffed seating and was incredibly tall and long in comparison to modern cars. Doc was very impressed by an "automatic starter" that was fitted to the car. When running, there was a way to wind up a spring somehow using the engine's power so that the energy could be stored. When it came time to restart the car, one could pull a lever to release the spring, thereby spinning the engine once and if ignition, spark advance, and choke were set right, the car would presumably start without the need to crank the engine manually - a big deal at that point in time.

Unfortunately we don't have any photos of the car at this time besides the back of it in the Stable, so if you are the current owner (it shipped to the East Coast), we'd be pleased to hear from you.

Kenyon's '70 Imperial tucked up under another shed.

The following photos are of the various cars (including the 1970 that I would come to own that were in the yard circa 1990. I suspect that this is about mid-way through the dismantling process. Remember that all vehicles got there under their own power in a "used" condition, and that the dis-assembly was done by hand on the ones that weren't sold or given to other collectors.

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