Classy Chassis -- Gordon Apker Finds A Fountain Of Youth In A Collection Of Classic Cars

Gordon Apker never ate much pizza, but he's always had a real passion for collecting cars.

Two years ago, he sold his interest in 30-odd Shakey's Pizza restaurants he either owned outright or franchised. At 48, an age when most people are still struggling to make a buck, he's got all the dough he needs.

Apker stores his 50 classic and muscle cars in a large but unpretentious-looking building at one end of his 5 1/2-acre, waterfront estate in Des Moines.

"We call it the chicken coop," his wife, Claudia, said of the structure. It has no windows and was used by an earlier owner to raise peacocks and exotic birds.

Apker, who once had 70 cars in his private collection, keeps a crew of four men in his barn-turned-showroom to maintain the vehicles, which are started up and moved on a regular basis.

"I kid them all the time (that) I want to go to work for me so I can stay here and play with the cars," said Apker. He arranges private tours for senior citizens, church organizations and car clubs, as well as fund-raisers for food banks and groups like the Seattle Symphony.


The Apker Affair d'Elegance car show held every August to benefit Children's Hospital and Medical Center is the crowning point of the social season in the semi-rural Zenith area.

Now in its 16th year, it was turned into a benefit for the hospital in 1984.

"We always say we're going to do it one more year," said Apker, who was 14 when he bought his first car, a 1936 Ford sedan, for $10. "You look at one of these crack babies twitching . . . you feel guilty after a while," he said, referring to children born to mothers on drugs.

"It seemed like a good thing to do," said his wife, a volunteer at the hospital and member of its Guild Association board of trustees.

This is no penny-ante undertaking. Over the past nine years, the Apkers, with help from the Des Moines auxiliary, have used the car show to raise some $214,000 for Children's Hospital. It is one of the hospital's largest and most successful fund-raisers.

"It's definitely in the top 10 percent," said Maribeth Martin, director of the hospital's Guild Association projects. "There are very few projects that raise as much money on an annual basis."

This summer's one-day show emphasizing old trucks raised more than $30,000, with tickets going for $25 per person. Last year, it amassed $35,000, and in 1990 when the original Fleetwoods serenaded car enthusiasts, it took in $45,000.

Three years ago, 2,500 invited guests came to the benefit car show to eye not only the cars in Apker's collection, but 250 other vintage automobiles brought in by other collectors. Total value of the cars, which compete for trophies, was an estimated $15 million.

Guests viewed 250 vehicles this year, many of them parked on pastureland where Claudia Apker's pet llamas - Knickers, Monotone and Marmon (named after a vintage 16-cylinder auto long coveted by her husband) - usually roam.

This month, the Apkers are hosting a tour and dinner in his showpiece barn for members of the Mercedes Club. Upwards of 150 Mercedes owners from around the globe are expected to attend.

Parked amid a glitzy atmosphere of mirror tiles and neon lights, his collection includes a 1947 Oldsmobile he bought from his Pacific Lutheran University roommate Greg Hinton. Hinton now is a Mount Vernon car dealer.

Near the Olds sits a 1956 Chrysler Imperial, a replacement for the model he drove while attending college in the 1960s. His own Chrysler was destroyed in a wreck in 1964.

One room of the barn is filled with rare and valuable Packards, Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, Cords, Auburns and Duesenbergs. Apker declines to say how much they're worth.

"There's a story that goes with all of them; that's what's so neat about them," he said. "That was Clark Gable's old car," he said, pointing to a red Packard convertible with California license plates.

Claudia's favorite is a Rolls Phantom 1 Trouville that was built for Vincent Riggeo of New York, chairman of the board for American Tobacco, during the Depression in 1930. Screaming class distinction, the vehicle, with 38,000 miles on it, is painted in two tones of tobacco brown and has silver-plated running boards and walnut and mahogany door panels. Riggeo's diamond and gold initials are affixed to the back-seat window.


Also exhibited in the barn are a 1958 Edsel and an air-conditioned 1956 Packard Caribbean convertible. Only 105 of the latter were built, Apker said, and the only other two with air conditioning were destroyed when Iraqi forces marched into Kuwait. They had been built for the emir.

Re-created in another area of the barn is the Veltex service station in Tacoma where Apker toiled as a college student. It includes the gas pump from the station registering 36.3 cents per gallon, a Pepsi-Cola cooler and an office displaying the famous Marilyn Monroe calendar picture and the first Playboy magazine centerfold.

Apker recalls when the company that owned the gas station went bankrupt, throwing him out of a job. "I went home and didn't know what I was going to do," he said. "Two weeks later, I went to work for Shakey's (as assistant manager of the Lakewood store) so it all worked out."

Three years later, in 1967, he said he skipped graduation ceremonies at PLU to open his first Shakey's on Southwest 148th Street in Burien. "I still own the building," he said.

Apker was the largest franchisee of Shakey's Pizza restaurants. His company, Monarch Foods Inc., was sold in 1990 for a sum that neither Apker nor Shakey's executives would disclose.

He founded Monarch Foods when he and two partners met Sherwood "Shakey" Anderson and put down $12,000 to gain franchise rights to all Shakey's restaurants west of the Mississippi. He eventually bought out his partners.

Shakey's sold its rights to own the franchises in Washington to Apker several several ago.

Even in semi-retirement, Apker is busy. He retained ownership of Monarch Construction Co. of Seattle, whose president is Jon Peterson, a PLU classmate who later became vice president of finance for Apker's restaurant-management company.

Monarch recently finished the 250-room Embassy Suites Hotel in Lynnwood. The company also is working on four schools in Washington and may contract to do commercial-building projects in Nevada and Alaska.

Apker had formed another construction company, Monarch's predecessor, to build his five-level house on the Des Moines waterfront in the early '70s. "I remember it had 92 corners in the foundations," said Apker, who acted as his own general contractor.

With Peterson in charge at Monarch, Apker has plenty of time to spend at car shows around the country and relax at his other home at Lake Chelan. Recently, he was a judge at a show in Pebble Beach, Calif., to benefit United Good Neighbors. Soon, he'll be scooting off to Denver, where he'll drive his 1930 Bentley in a 1,000-mile road rally to help the widows and orphaned children of Colorado State Patrol officers.

Apker, whose high-powered cars from the 1960s and 1970s were featured in Forbes magazine three years ago, also has "three or four" Mercedes for his personal use.

"Gordon collects cars and I collect animals," said Claudia Apker, who raises Nubian goats and breeds the jet-black German shepherd watchdogs that roam the grounds of their estate by night.