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Vintage cars fuel alum’s passion

Kurtis Lochmiller 2008

Alumnus Kurtis Lochmiller collects vintage Shelby Cobras and Mustangs. Photo: Michael Richmond

Kurtis Lochmiller turns the key on his 1965 Shelby AC Cobra. The car lets out the automotive equivalent of a cough but doesn’t turn over. Ordinarily, that would be a sign of ultimate mechanical failure. But this isn’t an ordinary car.

The Shelby Automotive Company produced the cars in Los Angeles during the 1960s, but their legend continues to grow. Comedian Bill Cosby was given one and returned it because it was too fast to control. The result was his hit album Bill Cosby 200 MPH. A modified Cobra was sold at auction in 2007 for a record $5.5 million.

Lochmiller (BA economics ’75) gives the key another turn. This time, spark, oxygen and gasoline come together and the garage fills with the kind of throaty rumble that instantly snaps the necks of car buffs. He revs the engine a few times, punctuating the still morning air with eight-cylinder, 427-cubic-inch, 660-horsepower exclamation points.

For Lochmiller, the smell of spent gasoline is the perfume of his love affair with his Shelby Cobra and his collection of vintage Shelby Mustangs. He freely admits that he got rich simply to fuel his car habit.

Today, as a successful Denver-area real estate developer, property manager and entrepreneur, he can easily indulge in his passion.

“My wife tells me that it’s better to bring home a red car rather than a redhead,” Lochmiller says, a grin spreading from ear to ear.

As a kid, Lochmiller moved around a lot owing to his father’s job at a trucking company. To hear him rattle off the places he lived makes an Army brat’s life seem sedentary.

Because of this upbringing, Lochmiller learned to make friends quickly, a skill that still serves him in business.

During a stint in Southern California, Lochmiller gravitated to the car culture. Working on cars. Working to get money to pay for cars. Drag racing cars. Cruising for chicks in cars. Talking with buddies about cars. Dreaming about cars.

“You gotta remember, this was Southern California in the 1960s. It was all about drag racing, the Beach Boys and car stuff,” the 55-year-old explains. “Today, the kids have Nintendo and computers. When I was a kid, there were only three stations on the TV, but we had cars.”

Lochmiller got an after-school job and saved enough money to buy a used Shelby Mustang for $2,500 in 1968.

In addition to producing the exotic Cobras, Shelby Automotive built an industry around souping up and reselling Ford’s popular Mustang muscle car. The cars were faster and more powerful than factory Mustangs.

Bob Dallas, president of the Early Mustang Club in Denver, says Shelby made around 15,000 Mustangs during the latter half of the 1960s. They were in high demand during their day because they were ready-made race cars. Their scarcity and popularity breed an enthusiastic fan base today, even though Ford has never stopped building stock Mustangs.

“It’s the perfect formula for a collector’s car,” Dallas says.

That first Shelby Mustang won Lochmiller more than a few drag races. When he moved to Colorado during high school, Lochmiller cruised 16th Street in the car and drag raced down Peoria Street while the cops looked on from the city limits.

Through the years, Lochmiller purchased more Shelby Mustangs. Nowadays, he keeps three of them in a special garage a grease squirt away from his house in Cherry Hills Village.

The collection includes a 1967 GT 500 Shelby Mustang, a 1966 GT 350 Hertz, a 1966 GT 350 and a 1965 GT 350. Think of Steve McQueen racing over the hills of San Francisco in Bullitt. The cars have lots of metal and chrome, get horrible gas mileage, go really fast and have standard transmissions. They evoke a time when teenage men were judged by their wheels in the heydays of the American muscle car culture.

“I see myself as a caretaker,” Lochmiller admits. “But they’ve become so valuable that you don’t want to drive them, and that’s what I hate.”

Lochmiller keeps the rest of his dozen or so cars in a Denver warehouse. It’s an international automotive bonanza: a Ferrari Testarossa that looks like it came straight out of “Miami Vice” and a Ford GT40 that feels more like a fighter jet than a horseless carriage. And then are his 930 and 997 turbo Porsches.

Lochmiller’s wife of 28 years learned early on that cars were going to be a big part of their life together.

“When I first met Kurt, he would pick me up for dates in a different kind of car every time,” says Susan Lochmiller. “At the time, he couldn’t afford more than one car, so he was always trading cars.”

Lochmiller got started with expensive European exotics after his first job out of DU. He had gone to work for Shell Oil in Alaska and Montana. After four years in the wilds, Lochmiller returned to Denver with lots of money in his pocket and a new car on his mind.

Before he even got a place to live, he bought a Ferrari Dino and developed a habit of driving really, really fast. He has the speeding tickets to prove it. One of Wyoming’s finest clocked Lochmiller going 180 mph in a 55 mph zone in the early 1980s.

“What’s amazing,” Lochmiller notes, “is that people today complain about how slow I drive.”

Lochmiller traded his corporate job for what would become a successful career in real estate. He currently runs Kurtex Management.

“When someone chooses a career, the hardest thing for them to say is, ‘I’m in it for the money,'” Lochmiller says. “Well, I am in it for the money. That’s how I pay for my cars.”

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