The Mercury News: Carmel Valley Couple Join Vintage Car Rental Craze

Classic Car Week, the all-encompassing presentation on the Monterey Peninsula of all things automotive, revitalizes itself yearly. Many auction and collection names remain the same. But newcomers, including Heather and Rob Gardner, help the collective refresh.

The Gardners, who live in Carmel Valley, don’t host a rally, auction or concours. But they could.

Instead, the couple will experience their first year of the nearly two-week gathering as owners of Monterey Touring Vehicles (montereytouringvehicles.com). Rob, a physician, and Heather, a research scientist, recently decided their fleet of 36 vintage cars is best served when driven.

“We’ve owned a 1978 Volkswagen Bug for years,” said Heather Gardner. “The business came about with frustration of modern cars, the technology, the expense of fixing them. It was funny. My husband’s car was broken down and my car had a flat. We went into the garage and started the little bug. It starts every time.”

“We just looked at each other and said, ‘That’s it. We need to get more classic cars. Those are going to be our daily drivers. We drive around the peninsula. What could be more fun?'”

As the Gardners began to collect cars, friends and family started to the drive them.

While celebrating Thanksgiving last year, the couple realized the cars they’d acquired should be driven as often as possible. The idea for a classic car rental business was born.

Once legal and insurance hurdles were cleared, Monterey Touring Vehicles’ website was launched to the public in May.
The Gardner’s collection is varied — muscle cars to kit cars and classic convertibles to an 81-year-old Mercedes limousine. The business has a new 10,000-square-foot location in Monterey so potential customers can view the fleet.

Interest is expected to be strong during Classic Car Week, Aug. 17-26. And while Monterey Touring Rentals isn’t officially hosting an event, it’s a sponsor of the Prancing Ponies Car Show (Aug. 22) and Legends of Auto Gala Dinner (Aug. 23).
“It’s extremely expensive, but we said, ‘you know what? It’s worth it,” Gardner said. “This is what people should be doing. When they come to Monterey, they should be driving a fun classic car during the experience.”

The Gardners have three children, including two teenage boys. They’re unfamiliar with some of the equipment on the family’s vehicle fleet, notably cigarette lighters.

“What we did was take some of the cars to a high school auto shop final,” said Gardner. “It was at Monterey Peninsula College. Some of the kids got into the cars and then asked, ‘How do we get out of here?’ What do I do with this? Is this a handle?”
The Gardners have updated the vehicles, with safety the top priority in the fleet.

“We are trying to keep everything as authentic as we possibly can,” Gardner said. “This is our community; it’s where we live. All of the cars have been upgraded with disc brakes. We put rack and pinion steering in the VW. So we are trying under the hood to make everything as safe as we possibly can.”

Gardner says customers’ choices have been surprising.”It’s been all over the map,” she said. “We’ve been extremely surprised. We’ve had locals and a lot of people from out of town and out of the country. It’s been for the experience, for a wedding anniversary, Father’s Day and just because.”

A 1965 Ford Mustang GT and 1965 Ford Shelby Cobra replica have been the most requested rentals.

“What we are doing is absolutely insane; I realize that,” said Gardner. “You don’t have to remind me. We keep saying, ‘You know what? If it doesn’t work, we have a million dollar car fleet.'”