Sam Mann’s inventions brought him his success, but it’s his cars that brought him fame. He, along with his wife of 43 years, Emily, is the only living being with four Best of Show trophies from the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. He took the top award with a 1932 Chrysler LeBaron-body Speedster—a car designed and built for Walter Chrysler himself—in 1991; a 1938 Delage D8-120 de Villars Cabriolet in 1996; a 1934 Voisin C15 Ets Saliot Roadster in 2002; and a 1937 Delage Portout Aerodynamic Coupe in 2005. He keeps them all—along with a Duesenberg that Carole Lombard and Clark Gable romanced in, and scores of other dazzling classic cars—in his garage in Englewood, N.J., where he resides when he’s not at his Malibu home. Trained as an industrial designer, he’s a trustee at the highly-ranked Art Center College of Design in Pasadena—a position that he uses to mentor students and encourage young designers to think of making and marketing a product as an alternative to getting a job. If anyone knows how to do that it’s Mann, who has been issued “somewhere around 80” patents, including one for a safe, quick and sterile system for piercing ears in a retail environment that is now used worldwide; another for hair removal devices; and one for shaving gel for men that doesn’t require water. The U.S. government loved the latter so much that it bought the patent to use the product in its military. After the inventor sold his company, Inverness, in 1997 [Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway now owns it], he stayed on a few years to fulfill his commitment. Now retired but still busy—yes, he’ll show again at Pebble this August—this 80-year-old originator barely slowed down to drive us through his day.
7:30 A.M. – 8:30 A.M. I get up. I work out at our home for about an hour.
8:30 A.M. I make breakfast—a smoothie of one sort or the other—have a cup of coffee and peruse the New York Times, which is an hour’s worth of time. I read the front page, then the editorial section and then the business section. Once a week, I read the science section. I see what my office requirements are. I don’t have a business anymore—but I do. I have a collection of over 50 cars and a half-dozen of others that are under restoration. I have a couple of inventions that I’ve worked on since retiring. I’m close to commercializing one, and the other I’m still working on. If I can commercialize it, fine; but frankly, the objective is to just do it. I’m too old to care if I go out and make a business. I have sons whom I’m interested in having become entrepreneurs. They have skills, but not the products. [The inventions are] just things that intrigue me. As my wife says, “It keeps your head working.”
9:30 A.M. – 4 P.M. I go into the home office. In the course of my day there are a lot of details of things that have to be handled. People call who want advice or to chat. I go into the shop and see what’s going on. I have a restoration and maintenance shop here. All of the cars are on our property. We’re always doing maintenance, modification or refinement. I have one mechanic who works full time and another who works part time. I used to do my own restorations before I really built the company that required all of my time. I got to a point where I had less patience than the people working with me—and less skills.
We’re getting a 1937 Delahaye ready for the Concours. It’s built on the chassis of arguably the most famous race car in French history: the “Million Franc Delahaye” that won the Prix du Million in 1937. It’s a very exciting car with unique racecar engineering. We’ve researched it for originality and correctness. Press articles of the day called the color electric blue, a very light silver blue. I’ve had it about 17 or 18 years. It was built as a race car in 1937 to meet both the new race formula of engine size at the time, and to beat the Germans in the Prix du Million. The French government and the Automobile Club of France put up one million francs for the [French automobile] constructor who could beat the German time at Montlhéry. This 12-cylinder race car, driven by René Dreyfus won the prize and won several races in the following year. Then came the hostilities. The race car was hidden away for the duration of the war. In 1946, a customer of Delahaye purchased the race car, removed the coachwork and ordered a roadster body be built in its place. The car remained this way until 1980, when the roadster body was removed and a new race car body installed. I raced this exciting car for a number of years; two years ago we returned the roadster body to the chassis and began its restoration. This car has such a fascinating history.
I get offered cars from time to time. In fact, we just bought a couple. Or I’ll sell something to keep kind of active. We do a lot of touring. We probably drive between 5,000 and 7,000 miles a year in old cars, mostly organized events. For about 13 years, I raced. We’re kind of involved in every aspect of vintage cars.
During the “work” day, I do take a break. I’ll either go out for lunch and meet a friend or have something with my guys. When I retired, I promised my wife it was not for lunch.
4 P.M. We have a lovely property here. If it’s a nice day, I usually try to force myself to stop working and go and read a book. I read science, technology, history books and biographies. Lately I’ve been researching what people write in [wedding] vows and the whole ceremony process. I’m officiating at a friend’s wedding on July 11. It’s mixed religions; she’s Jewish and he’s Catholic. I spent $65 to become an ordained minister on the Internet. I’ve been married 43 years, so [my life’s] fallen into a bit of a marital routine. Researching vows and reading all of the romance-speak has helped invigorate things.
6 P.M. I cook dinner sometimes. I love pasta. I have several recipes. I love beef stroganoff, chicken paprikash and things with sauces. I don’t do that much cooking, but I do help clean up. I grew up with that. My father participated in the house and all of my kids do the same. Our three boys are married and live on the West Coast.
8 P.M. We might watch some television or a movie if we’re not at the opera or theater with friends. We talk or read more of the paper. I don’t know where the time goes. I occasionally video chat with our grandkids [using] iChat or Facetime.
11 P.M. We go to bed usually talking about skiing or sailing, two of our other passions we enjoy when we’re no longer in car season.