Every Car Has A Story
Flying Cars, Driving in The Ocean
Bruce Wanta’s imagination influences his love of cars
By Blake Siebe December 7, 2023
Bruce Wanta developed a knack for the mechanical from his family’s bike shop. He fell in love with cars because his father also presided over a driving school.
At a very young age, Wanta had a list of distinctive vehicles he wanted to own. At the top was the Maserati Bora, a magnificent creation designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Italdesign. Wanta, though, had other things he wanted to accomplish.
After putting himself through school, first at Bellevue College and then the University of Michigan, he returned to Seattle and bootstrapped his industrial controls manufacturing company (chances are, if you have ever bought anything made in volume or in a factory, the automation controls came from Spectrum Controls, which he recently sold after 40 years).
He’s dedicated himself to family, traveling, and supporting live theatre from Broadway performances to the Village in Issaquah. Then, 15 years ago — with his wife’s blessing — he began scratching his automotive itch and began collecting cars.
Wanta recently participated at Bonneville Speed Week on the vast salt flats of Utah, where most land speed record attempts have been made since the early 1900s. His car of choice for the event is a modified 1928 Model A Pickup Truck, where he runs a 2.0L motor and competes with engines similar in size. His ultimate goal is to exceed 150 mph (he peaked at 135 mph this year).
In a chance encounter, I crossed paths with Wanta several years ago at a holiday function amid his automotive sanctuary. Here, I discovered the true essence of his spirit; he’s a collector not only of cars but of history and human connection. Among the gleaming chrome and deep lacquered machines, the tapestry of historical documents, collectibles, and memorabilia captured my curiosity the most.
What inspired your interest in cars?
I got hooked on cars when I walked past the magazine racks at the grocery store. Before I was a teenager, my mom would let me put a copy of Road & Track in the grocery cart to take home and read. I loved pouring through the performance features of the cars and graphs that showed the acceleration curve.
What’s the story behind your first car?
My first car was a 1973 Mustang Fastback. It was my high school graduation present. Although I graduated in 1974, I didn’t like the new Mustang IIs. So, I searched local dealers to find a used one from the prior generation. I was fortunate to come across one that was only a year old with 10,000 miles. I owned it until a year after I graduated college — my job required a sedan to entertain clients, and the backseat of the Mustang didn’t come close to meeting the intent. I drove the car from Bellevue to Michigan each year for college. The 10 miles-per-gallon was hard on my student budget, but it was well worth it to have a set of wheels on campus.
What’s your favorite car to drive and why?
I drive each car for the unique experience it provides. However, when I get a new car, it tends to get more attention just because I want to spend time getting a feel for it and enjoying it. Right now, that car is a 1964 ½ Mustang convertible that I built with Troy Ladd at Hollywood Hot Rods over the last three years.
The car was built to enjoy at our home on Maui. It’s a Restomod that has subtle cosmetic changes to the interior and exterior that bring you back to the emotional feel of the original car. However, the bumpers have been tucked in, the body lines have been tidied up, and the paint was done by Mick’s Paint. It is way beyond anything the factory ever did. I call the color “Makena Teal” because it was picked to match the color of the ocean on Maui. The interior was made by Mark Lopez and has the feeling of the original Pony interior. Subtle changes include a full leather interior, which included wrapping the dash and door panels. The hidden cup holders preserve the stock appearance, and the vinyl woodgrain was upgraded with real bamboo in keeping with the island theme of the car. The mechanical changes were more significant, including upgrades to the suspension and drive train so it will drive like a modern performance car. I imagine cruising along the beach on Maui with the top down. The smell and sight of the ocean on a sunny day — just like a magazine ad from the 60s. What could be more fun?
What’s a feature from old cars that you wish modern cars had?
A sense of elegance. Very few cars make a statement when you look at them — other than the shape was designed for fuel economy.
When I think of elegance, I think of the long hoods of the Duesenberg model J from the late 20s through the 30s, or maybe the cars of the 50s from Detroit that grew bigger fins every year. The point wasn’t just to get someplace, it was to arrive in style.
If you could have any car throughout history, what would it be?
A Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic. It’s a ridiculously expensive and rare car, but in my mind, it is the ultimate expression of style combined with performance (for its period).
The car epitomized the French art deco cars of that period, with a sweeping teardrop body that looks like it’s going fast even when standing still. It was an engineering marvel with a powerful straight 8 engine and a lightweight body made of Electron, an alloy of magnesium and aluminum. Because the magnesium couldn’t be welded without catching on fire, the panels were joined with riveted spines that ran down the length of the body.
If you’re brand loyal, which do you prefer and why?
If you look at my collection, you will see more Fords than anything else. It probably started because of my love for Mustangs. I have three today, and another one coming next year. I’m also a huge fan of Ford GT’s. I have a couple different versions of that model and they are amazing to drive.
Some might think in today’s “buy it online” world that brand loyalty doesn’t matter. But that’s not really true. Some of the most amazing cars on the road today are only purchased by loyal customers. I was recently invited to a private unveiling of Ford’s new Mustang GTD, which will race at LeMans. You can’t just walk into the Ford dealer and buy one. Ford allocates them to clients (who) will really use and share them.
When you’re looking to buy a car, what are the most important features to you?
I don’t buy cars for a particular feature. I buy cars for what they were when they were made. If the car is a modern performance car, I drive it for that feeling. If it’s a pre-war car, I think about how it was designed and used when it was introduced and drive it with that in mind.
Is there a classic car from a movie you wish you could drive?
It must be a Bond car. I know the purists would pick the Aston Martins. However, I really want to drive that Lotus Esprit into the ocean and have it turn into a submarine.
If you could introduce any feature to a car you own, what would it be?
Flying. I was promised a flying car as a kid and I’m still waiting! As much as anything, I’m hoping all the other drivers use the flying cars, so the roads are open to me.
What would be your dream route/roads to drive and why?
Though it is a bit cliché, probably Route 66. I love the notion of crossing a big section of the country. When we moved from Wisconsin to Washington, and then when I went to college in Michigan, I drove across the country many times, and really enjoyed the sense of seeing the country from the perspective of the highway.
An image that often comes to mind from one of those trips was pulling into a gas station in the middle of North Dakota with nothing for miles in any direction. The only other people at the station were a group of young men gathered around a car they were working on. That car was a part of their social fabric, and it made me smile.