Donald Osborne, one of the best known personalities in the collector car world, is having the time of his life.
An automotive consultant, historian and accredited appraiser, Osborne is scheduled to return to the Forest Grove Concours d'Elegance as a presenter on Sunday, July 21. With a large following from his appearances on the TV shows "What's My Car Worth" and "Jay Leno's Garage," Osborne maintains a hectic schedule, traveling frequently from his California home to car auctions and collector shows around the world.
"I am blessed by my life," Osborne told the Portland Tribune with the infectious laugh he is noted for. "The Forest Grove show is always a highlight of my summer. I look forward to it every year."
As one of the few African Americans on the shows and at the events, Osborne admits he has met relatively few people of color in the field historically dominated by older, rich white men. But when asked if he has ever felt like a pioneer, he replied, "Not really," because he has so much in common with everyone else — a passion for automobiles based on a combination of style, history, engineering and practicality.
"It all comes together with cars," Osborne said.
It also helps that he has a background in art, like many serious car collectors. Osborne was an art major in high school and became a classically trained baritone opera singer. His solo career culminated in his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in 1985. He still has a deep interest in everything Italian, including Renaissance art.
Besides that, Osborne said he is interested in all kinds of automobiles, and he goes to other kinds of shows with more diverse participants, too.
"The typical cars and coffee gathering will have a more mixed crowd, but they are equally passionate about their cars and that's what we have in common. I can always find something to talk about," said Osborne, who praises the Forest Grove show for opening itself up to modified and custom cars several years ago.
"Forest Grove always has such a good mix of people who are passionate about automobiles. Some people might be put off by the concept of a Concours d'Elegance, but they wouldn't be if they understood it's all about being passionate about automobiles," Osborne said.
At the same time, Osborne admits that some of the people he's worked with have tried to portray him as a fish out of water. A magazine he declined to identify once assigned him to cover a tuner car show, perhaps figuring his refined tastes would be comically at odds with the younger, more street-oriented participants. He is also known for his high fashion sense and bow ties.
"I agreed, but said don't prewrite the story. I had a great time. All their cars were still works in progress, and we talked about what they were going to do next," Osborne said.
When Osborne asked the participants if they were interested in collector cars, he was concerned by their answers.
"Seven out of eight said they were interested in collector cars, but they defined them as an older car you restore to its original condition and then don't drive. They've received the wrong message, and we need to do something about that. All cars need to be driven, including collector cars," Osborne said.
Osborne said he has always been interested in automobiles, beginning as a child growing up in New York City before his parents even owned one. He started out reading car magazines and building car models with his brothers. His interest persisted through several previous careers before he became a professional automotive appraiser 14 years ago. After opera, he went into retail, communications, advertising and marketing, and branding.
"I really didn't plan any of my careers, and as a mature adult, I now realize they were all leading up to what I'm doing now. Cars were always in the background. I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing if I didn't have an interest in the arts, understand the pressure of retail, and know communications and television production," Osborne said.
Osborne also is an accomplished writer whose first book, "Stile Transatlantico/Transatlantic Style: A Romance of Chrome & Fins" (Coachbuilt Press), documents the creative exchange between Italy and America in mid-century automotive design. His articles also have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines.
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