Inside Paul Walker's Treasure Trove of Collector Cars
The real fate of the Furious star's personal collection.
SCOTTSDALE, Arizona—The massive folding door encompasses nearly one whole wall of the hangar. A push of a button sends power to a system of humming pulleys and cables that slowly, tediously raises the enormous barricade out of the way. You would normally see a private jet parked here, but today the hangar houses the cars left behind and mostly untouched after their owner, actor Paul Walker, died more than six years ago, in November 2013. All are scheduled for sale at Barrett-Jackson's 2020 Scottsdale auction in January.
It's impossible to think of Walker and not recall the wildly successful Fast and Furious movie franchise that made him a hero to legions of fans. As Brian O'Conner, an undercover cop whose assignment to break up illegal Los Angeles street racing gangs ultimately endears him to the scene, Walker helped to transform car culture. He played other roles in his onscreen career, of course, some arguably better developed and grittier than O'Conner was. But he would always be best known for the Fast and Furious films.
Like Steve McQueen and Paul Newman before him, Walker proved he wasn't just another good-looking actor, but also a talented wheelman and knowledgeable enthusiast, often requesting to do his own driving stunts for movies and reviewing Fast and Furious scripts for accuracy when it came to automotive dialogue. He was so into cars that he co-owned Valencia, California-based tuning shop Always Evolving. But like James Dean 58 years prior, a freak road crash in a Porsche (unlike Dean, Walker was a passenger) cost him his life. Walker was 40 years old.
By that time the tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed Sunland, California, native had made millions of dollars on a wild ride through Hollywood. Walker began acting at the age of two and continued through his formative years, taking walk-on roles mainly in commercials and television shows. By high school, he resented that this work interfered with sports and socializing, and he sought to step back from the camera, spending most of his days surfing the SoCal coast. But soon, adulthood realities came calling, and, with meager finances and a daughter, Meadow, on the way, Walker reluctantly returned to acting. Today, the Fast and Furious franchise has grossed more than $5 billion at the box office across eight movies, seven of which featured Brian O'Conner, his final appearance a posthumous one.
The role made Walker a wealthy man and a household name to a certain demographic, but as his close friend and production partner Brandon Birtell says, the money didn't change him much.
"If a car was too fancy, he was embarrassed," Birtell tells us. "He didn't want any attention. He mostly drove trucks around as daily drivers. There weren't any vanity cars, they all had a use and a purpose. Some of his cars were track cars, some were projects, some were maybe cars he wanted to have when he was younger."
That's evident strolling among the cars in Walker's personal collection. He certainly had the means to build an extravagant fleet, but wild, mega-horsepower exotics and blingy badges weren't his thing. Instead of a fleet of Ferraris and Lamborghinis for valet parking in front of Los Angeles' trendiest clubs, there quietly sits a quintet of white 1995 BMW M3 Lightweight Editions, of which the company only built 126. Why five? Birtell explains, "He thought they were really special, and he knew they were going to go up in value. A lot of people told him, 'You're crazy, that's never going to happen,' but he was totally right. He was very proud that he had accumulated the biggest collection of those Lightweights." Mileage on the five cars varies from a mere 4,600 to just more than 41,000, but frankly, none look too far removed from new.
As the story goes, the Lightweight Edition E36 M3 was a special U.S. model designed to homologate a competition version for the Firestone Firehawk road-racing series. BMW started by replacing the doors with lighter aluminum versions, fitting thinner carpet, cloth seats, and carbon interior trim, and ditching such niceties as sound deadening, air conditioning, and a stereo. It added racy graphics, a front splitter, and a larger rear wing. Power remained the standard 240 hp from the U.S.-spec S50 3.0-liter inline-six, but the engines that found their way into Lightweight models were handpicked from the assembly line and had 200 fewer pounds to push around than the standard M3. How could we resist a quick drive?
Although the aluminum pieces shave crucial mass off this M3, the doors still shut with authority. A good old-fashioned key quickly fires the traditional BMW engine into a mellow baritone idle. After letting the car warm up properly, a couple of runs through the first few gears reveals a stiff clutch and a sharp, focused car that still feels quick today. The growly, high-strung exhaust note recalls the days of Ultimate Driving Machines and a brand philosophy that has sadly gone by the wayside. Regardless, the car is comfortable and composed, easy to drive, and totally suitable for daily use—if you'd ever consider using a genuine example of one of these rare birds for such tasks.
Perhaps the original, box-flared E30-series M3s are more your speed. Walker had two of those, as well, a 32,000-mile 1988 example and a creampuff 1991, the final year of production for the model in the U.S., with a not-even-broken-in 6,500 miles showing. It's a virtual time-warp example of one of BMW's most revered performance cars; while its naturally aspirated 2.3.-liter inline-four makes just 195 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque, the car is so uniquely built to homologate the brand's period DTM race car that it's doubtful BMW has built a more pure road car since.
We climb aboard to get a feel for what a nearly new example drives like. The big four spins into life and has a distinctive idle, not unlike the slightly larger 2.5-liter four found in Porsche's 944. A racing style Getrag dogleg gearbox puts first gear down and to the left of the H pattern—the idea being that it won't be needed on a track once underway. There's no way this car can match its younger sibling for outright grunt, but the nimble, taut, uncompromising feel of these original M3s is incomparable to later M products. Like the newer Lightweight, there's no intimidation factor despite its sharp attributes. There's something to be said for the airy cabin, classically thin A-pillars, and the feeling of spaciousness found in what is a small car by today's bloated standards.
With the M3 safely back in the hangar, we make our way over to a scruffy-looking, gutted, and caged Nissan R32 Skyline GT-R fitted with a Sparco racing seat and a rare and pricey OS Giken OS-88 six-speed sequential transmission. A drift car in the making, perhaps? The car's floor still has a few parts and pieces apparently waiting assembly, looking every bit the interrupted project that it is. Skylines were allegedly one of Walker's favorite models.
"I remember going with him to pick up a Skyline," Birtell recalls. "He was lucky to be one of the first guys, because of the Fast films, being able to get one of these cars. He was stoked about that. I remember us picking it up at the shop and driving it home with him, it was a blast. He loved that car."
Birtell says Walker's love of all things with wheels started when he was young. His dad, Paul Walker III, was a contributor to Easy Rider magazine in the 1970s. "I think he was always that way, growing up, tinkering on stuff," Birtell says. "His grandfather and father gave him an appreciation for that."
Makes sense, then, that along another wall stands a trio of motorcycles including a custom Harley-Davidson that, according to Birtell, Walker built with a member of Road Dog Customs throughout the filming of Fast 4. Elsewhere, a Ford Bronco Eddie Bauer edition is just the kind of vehicle Walker would have driven anonymously through the Southern California streets en route to his secluded, multi-acre Santa Barbara homestead where he could relax and ride ATVs and dirt bikes in the golden hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
There are a pair of 1960s Chevrolet wagons, an unfinished Nova project, suspended in time, with ripped seats and faded paint. In the cargo area sits a dingy roadster hardtop with the name Roger Rodas on it. Rodas, also killed in the crash with Walker, was the driver of the Porsche Carrera GT that fateful November day and co-owner of Always Evolving. Meanwhile, a shiny burgundy two-door Chevelle wagon looks ready to go anywhere, a perfect low-key classic car for an actor whose fame drew public crowds.
For Fast and Furious fans, the auction's star will undoubtedly be the 2009 Nissan 370Z that was once immortalized as Gisele's ride in Fast Five. Later purchased by Always Evolving, Walker had the car modified to its present state with teal graphics, Volk TE37 wheels, and a giant rear wing. The 370Z was one of the cars on display at Always Evolving's holiday toy drive, the event Walker attended just before his death. Today, the Nissan looks completely unchanged, and a quick drive reveals a car set up for the track. It's low and stiff and is fitted with a quick-release steering wheel and a narrow, deeply bolstered race seat. But the brash sound of the 3.7-liter VQ six through the custom exhaust reminds us what fun these engines really are. It feels quicker than even the mighty M3 Lightweight, as it should with nearly 100 more horsepower to its name.
Not everything Walker owned is here. There are a total of 21 cars, trucks, and motorcycles being sold after his family kept a few cars as keepsakes. But after years of grieving and processing, it was important to the family that these cars wouldn't sit idle, collecting dust for years to come. The best place for them is in the hands of enthusiasts who will enjoy them not just for their inherent value, but also for their connection to a late superstar enthusiast.
"I think a piece of Paul, his spirit, is in some of those cars," Birtell says. "And I think that's a special connection to the people who are going to love them and appreciate them as much as he did."
The Paul Walker Collection includes:
- 1963 Chevrolet Nova Wagon
- 1964 Chevrolet Chevelle Wagon
- 1967 Chevrolet II Nova
- 1988 BMW M3 E30
- 1989 Nissan R32 Skyline Race Car
- 1991 BMW M3 E30 Coupe
- 1995 BMW M3 E36 Lightweight
- 1995 BMW M3 E36 Lightweight
- 1995 BMW M3 E36 Lightweight
- 1995 BMW M3 E36 Lightweight
- 1995 BMW M3 E36 Lightweight (factory LTW wing with race-livery delete)
- 1995 Ford Bronco SUV
- 2000 Audi S4
- 2003 Ford F250 Pickup
- 2004 GMC Sierra 1500 Pickup
- 2005 Harley-Davidson RS Motorcycle
- 2006 Toyota Tundra Pickup
- 2008 Suzuki Motorcycle
- 2009 Nissan 370Z
- 2011 BMW Motorcycle
- 2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302S Race Car
Barrett-Jackson's 2020 Scottsdale auction takes place Jan 11-19, 2020 at Westworld in Scottsdale, AZ. For more information, visit barrett-jackson.com