Rudi Klein was a scrap dealer and obsessed car collector. Nobody owned a larger collection of rarities than this eccentric. But he didn’t look after his treasures, instead letting them rot in the California sun.

As a young man, Rudi Klein emigrated first to Canada and later to the USA. There he started a strange business: he started buying up expensive accident cars. His first model was a Mercedes 300 SL. The broken cars cost almost nothing. Shortly thereafter, he began acquiring prominently owned vehicles for his car salvage, such as Tony Curtis’ Rolls-Royce convertible. On a large scale, Klein struck in the first oil crisis. He bought noble gas guzzlers with large engines. After the end of the crisis, he resold them at a profit.

Strange business practice

His classic car and spare parts empire was initially a trade, but Rudi Klein was an oddball and eccentric who was reluctant to part with his treasures. He hated greedy souvenir hunters, and while his business looked more like an endless junkyard, he knew the value of every single grille.

His camp in South Central Los Angeles had grown to 16,000 square feet when Klein died in 2001. Full of car treasures hoping for better times there under the dust, dirt and bird droppings. Shielded from the outside by high walls, only a few insiders knew that the largest open-air mausoleum of automotive treasures in the whole world was hidden there. The dimensions of the car park are unimaginable: Klein is said to have owned 200 Porsche 356s alone. He hoarded priceless one-offs, like Rudolf Caracciola’s 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K Roadster sedan. The volume “Junk Yard” was created during a visit during Rudi Klein’s lifetime. The photos of the rotting dream car lead into a surreal parallel world of rust and chipped paint in the middle of Los Angeles.

Intentionally unkempt

Klein’s business decisions were inscrutable. He sunk millions investing in a new luxury car brand, but was considered a tough negotiator when it came to his wrecks. If he didn’t like a customer or if a potential buyer made a mistake with an unsuitable answer, Klein simply asked for twice as much or didn’t sell anything at all.

BMW is said to have tried to acquire lost classics for the factory collection, but for some reason Klein did not want to sell the cars to the manufacturer, they continued to rot. It would have been easy to better protect and cover the expensive cars. Klein had no interest in that either, just as little as in restorations. “I prefer them in the original,” was his brief explanation. After his death, his sons gradually dissolved the collection.

Junk Yard – dream cars on the scrap yard – Dieter Rebmann,‎ Roland Löwisch

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