For Keith Busse, 2004 was a good year for building his Corvette collection.
That was the year three different styles of the General Motors sports car were designated as pace cars for the Indianapolis 500.
“I'm the only one who has all three of them,” he told The Journal Gazette this week.
Next month, someone else will get the opportunity to own the rare threesome, as well as 13 other Busse-owned Corvette Indy pace cars he is putting up for auction.
His collection of pacers from 1978 to 2017 will go on the block during the spring sale of Mecum Auctions from May 15 to 19 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis.
After 30 years of dedicated gathering, Busse, 74, cofounder and retired chairman of the board of Fort Wayne's Steel Dynamics Inc., has a car collection that some call unique.
John Kraman, who does television commentary for Mecum, is one.
“What he has done is something that nobody else has done,” Kraman said Tuesday. “We do a lot of (auctioning) of collections, but this one stands out because you combine an extreme passion with a very narrow focus and a specific vision for assembling a collection that can never be duplicated.”
Busse's pace car collection is unusual because Corvettes have led the pack at the Indy 500 only 14 times. Only a handful of pace cars are ever made.
Not all his cars actually paced the race, Busse said – some were used at the track in other ways. Four models – 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 – were specially authorized by GM to be duplicated by him using the styling decals and paint colors of those years, he said.
But they're kind of a family.
“When I made the decision to sell them all, I couldn't sleep that night,” Busse said. “There's 30 years of collecting there, but when you make the decision, you can't look back.”
Busse said he believed GM and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway each had complete sets of the pacers, but recently he learned that may no longer be the case. The Speedway still maintains a complete set of cars that paced the race.
Not wanting to oversell his collection, “I used to say I had the only full collection in private hands,” he said.
But he feels he had taken the collection as far as he could and wanted to steer his efforts in a different direction.
Busse said rumors have been circulating that GM is re-engineering the Corvette. A new model that will likely be a pace car will be out in a year or two. Busse said he wouldn't mind owning the first of the new pace cars. “That makes this a good break point,” he said.
David Morton, Mecum spokesman, said the date and time the gavel goes down on Busse's cars has not been set. But he said the auction is likely to take place on the afternoon of May 19 because of its importance.
The auction also is likely to be televised on NBC Sports Network, which broadcasts Mecum auctions live, Morton said, adding the auction will be slightly different from most.
The collection will be offered as a single lot, he said, and, only if it does not sell for the desired price will the cars be offered separately or in groups.
Busse said he is contributing money from the auction to the Keith Busse Automotive and Classic Art Foundation, which will donate it to various area charitable causes. Trine University in Angola and the University of Saint Francis, Busse's alma mater, are likely to benefit, he said.
Asked why he was selling the Vettes, Busse laughed and said “the real answer” is that he's running out of space to store his collection.
He'll hardly be without automotive companions. His collection includes other Corvettes, “three or four” muscle cars, “two or three” vintage collectibles and five exotic sports cars – a Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Porsche and an Aston Martin.
Morton declined to speculate on what the Corvettes will bring. But Busse said he expects the cars will go between $1 million and $2 million.
The fleet leaves today for Indianapolis and a photo shoot at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
“I think they will go as a package, but I know some guys who want them individually,” Busse said. “At auctions, crazy things happen.”