License to Thrill: Miami's Dezer Automobile Museum
While touring this collection of more than 1,000 classic and eclectic vehicles, you'll swear you're seeing something right out of a James Bond or Batman movie. And that's because you are.
By Steven Winston
Michael Dezer's 1949 Plymouth didn't stay gray for long.
His father owned a rental car agency near his home in Israel, so he got to see all types of cars from the '40s and '50s. But this one was different. He bought this one. This one was his.
Eager to transform his new car into a real hot rod, Dezer painted over it – dark blue on the top and light blue on the bottom. And when he was through, it was like no other car in Tel Aviv.
When Dezer, then 18, purchased the Plymouth from a local doctor in 1959, his love affair with the automobile was just beginning. More than 50 years later, the Israeli-American real estate developer now houses a collection in North Miami of about 1,200 vehicles – from cars straight out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to classic Schwinn bicycles.
In fact, the Dezer Collection is the largest private exhibition of vintage automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles, scooters and fantasy vehicles in the world – with planes, helicopters, submarines and a Russian T-55 tank thrown in for good measure. The museum, which opened in February, encompasses more than 225,000 square feet and has an estimated value upward of $80 million.
Dezer is a self-professed addict of postwar American pop culture. Accordingly, his facility has party and event rooms with '50s paraphernalia and a '50s diner where Elvis still lives and where you can eat in "cars" as if you were in a drive-in. Here, you'll find gasoline and automobile signs from companies that haven't existed in 50 years.
"As I got older, I really fell in love with that time period and with the great American cars from that period," Dezer says. "To me, it spoke of America and the freedom to hit the open road. And when I was able to, I started collecting cars from that period."
But the Dezer Collection is hardly restricted to the '40s and '50s.
The museum is home to the largest collection of Bond items anywhere, much of which were brought here by Doug Redenius, the Dezer Collection's managing director/curator. Redenius is former vice president of the Ian Fleming Foundation (named for the creator of the fictional spy), and the museum includes 15,000 items from his Bond collection.
Here, you can find the iridescent green Jaguar that villain Zao drives in 2002's Die Another Day – complete with mounted machine gun and missile launchers. There's the T-55 Russian tank that Pierce Brosnan drives in GoldenEye, the helicopter flown in From Russia With Love and the jet owned by one of the original Bond bad guy, Goldfinger.
And that's just the tip of the Bondberg.
You'll also find the small, three-wheeled taxi, called a "Tuk Tuk," that henchman Gobinda used to chase Bond in Octopussy. Plus, there are two Aston Martins from The Living Daylights, the space shuttle from Moonraker, Q's boat from The World Is Not Enough – and the two-passenger plane from Licence to Kill that, according to Redenius, sat outside on U.S. 1 for 20 years as a prop for an advertisement for a long-forgotten sky diving business.
The Bond section, however, is just one of nine exhibitions. There's a Hollywood section, with items such as Diana Rigg's Lotus from The Avengers and Mel Gibson's black Ford Falcon from Mad Max. If you're a fan of Burn Notice, you'll love the pink Jeep. And if you saw Starsky and Hutch, you'll recognize the Gran Torino. The car from the Green Hornet movie is here as well, along with 14 Batmobiles from the TV show and the movies. And so is Tom Selleck's red Ferrari from Magnum, P.I.
Something from the lighter side? How about Grandpa Munster's car? Or the "Mase-rocky" from The Flintstones movie?
The Dezer Collection includes a 37-foot-long pink Mercedes convertible with a heart-shaped hot tub, as seen on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It also features the world's smallest drivable car, a Bamby Peel (4 feet 5 inches long, 3 feet 3 inches wide and 3 feet 10 inches high), of which fewer than a hundred were made in Great Britain in 1963.
"You'd be amazed where we find some of these cars," Dezer says. "You can find them at auctions and car shows, where someone is really anxious to sell. We found our first Duesenberg that way 25 years ago. The car was worth $500,000, but we paid $81,000. We bought one of our Batmobiles from an elderly woman who needed the money. We've even found some cars on eBay. And sometimes, people just find us."
Dezer loves all his cars. But there's a gleam in his eye when he speaks of his favorites: the classics from the '40s and '50s, the ones he fell in love with as a teenager.
"My hope is that the collection gives other people the same pleasure it gives me," Dezer says. "Even after so many years, I still get a great kick out of it. And I still enjoy occasionally taking one of them out on the road!"
When You Go
The Dezer Collection, located at 2000 NE 146th St. in North Miami, is open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The collection is divided over two buildings, and regular admission to a single building is $25 for adults, $10 for children and $15 for seniors. Regular admission to both buildings is $40 for adults, $15 for children and $25 for seniors. Tickets and special offers are available at dezercollection.com. For more information, call 305-354-7680.