By Eric Barton
City & Shore Magazine
Stephen Plaster grew up in Missouri not far from a stretch of Route 66, so it’s no surprise muscle cars became his thing. But there was one car that got him started down that road, and he spotted it for the first time when he was 13.
You’d be forgiven for not remembering the 1969 Mercury Cougar Eliminator, considering it was a limited production special. Plaster was infatuated with the rumble of the 428 Cobra jet engine.
“It had spoilers and stripes, and that was something you just didn’t see much back then,” Plaster says.
By the time he turned 16, Mercury no longer made the Eliminator. It took Plaster most of a lifetime before he had one, although he had to build it. Last year, he bought a convertible Cougar and converted it into an “Eliminator clone,” adding the requisite stripes and spoiler. “Cleared up one of those bucket-list items, that’s for sure,” Plaster says.
There isn’t much left on that bucket list, as far as cars are concerned. Plaster, who splits his time now between South Florida and his home in southwest Missouri, counts about 500 cars in his holdings.
The choicest of those cars will be on display at the 14th-annual Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance, an event Plaster says has grown to be one of the finest car shows in the country. He’ll be bringing a ’37 Packard vying for top honors, a car that illustrates the culmination of two generations of car collecting in Plaster’s family.
Plaster’s late father, Robert W. Plaster, grew up in Missouri during the Depression, always wanting but unable to afford a car. The elder Plaster became a carpenter “at a time when nothing was really getting built” but learned quick how to run a business. In 1963 he started Empire Gas Corporation with “zero customers,” his son recalls. It grew rapidly and, within eight years, he listed it on the New York Stock Exchange. When he sold it in 1997, it had grown to the largest propane distribution company in the country.
Through all that time, Robert W. Plaster fed that desire he had when he was young by investing in classic cars. It was never a collection as much as it was an investment, a constantly rotating list of cars he’d buy low and sell high. “The fact that he couldn’t have one when he was young was definitely a motivating factor for him,” Stephen Plaster says.
On his 13th birthday, Stephen Plaster got his first car as a Christmas gift, a ’47 Willys Jeep with two settings: “wide open or stop.” It’s the only car in Plaster’s holdings with sentimental value and it’s not for sale.
After joining his father’s company, Plaster joined him in acquiring cars, often turning them around years later as the values went up. He sends a few from his collection to about one car show a month. But the Boca Concours remains one of his favorites. “Boca is one of the fastest-growing shows and it’s become one of the most respected shows in the country,” Plaster says.
For this year’s show, Russell Glace, operations chairman and senior board member for the Boca Concours, helped pick the 20 cars Plaster will be showing. Among them is the 1937 Mercedes 540K Cabriolet A that Plaster brought back to showroom condition at Evergreen Historic Automobiles, a restoration shop he owns in Missouri. He’ll also be showing a 1937 Packard Model 1504 Roadster, likely a contender for Best in Show, an award one of Plaster’s cars, a 1933 Isotta Fraschini, won last year.
Through the years, Plaster and his father concentrated mostly on convertibles because, historically, they have appreciated the quickest. Because non-convertibles have never been their focus, Stephen Plaster says he never went hard after his boyhood crush until an Eliminator finally came up in an auction last year.
He still has a short list of cars he’s after, though. He’s been on the hunt for a Ford Model F, a more luxurious version of the Model T made for just two years. He’s also in the market for a ’31 Auburn Speedster, with a V12 engine “boat-tail” back end that sweeps to a dramatic point.
Finding the car he’s always been looking for is a feeling he says is like nothing else he’s done. “It still feels good to find that rare car you’ve always been looking for,” Plaster says. “I don’t know how to describe the feeling of buying one that you’ve worked years to find. It’s like living a dream.”
For more on the 14th-annual Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance, Feb. 7-9 at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, visit www.BocaCDE.com.
PHOTO: The 1937 Packard Twelve 1507 Coupe Roadster that Stephen Plaster is bringing to the Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance this year. (Courtesy)