Roanoke Times Bill Gates

Christiansburg car collection catching the eye of Bill Gates, NASCAR drivers and movie studios
By Jacob Demmit


Billionaire Bill Gates (left) and Warren Buffet took a spin recently in a 1991 Nissan Figaro that belongs to Christiansburg native
Gary Duncan, whose "working hobby" of collecting and selling classic cars is keeping him busy.
Courtesy of Max Knies

CHRISTIANSBURG - Car dealership owner Gary Duncan doesn't remember which of his 1991 Nissan Figaros Bill Gates and Warren Buffett took for a spin.

All 125 that he owns look the same, the lifelong car salesman and collector admits, realizing in that moment that he probably could have charged a premium if he sold the car after its brush with fame. But he never wrote down the identification number.

"I'm not going to do that," Duncan said. "That's not what this is about."

Duncan's now famous car collection, which has grown above 900 vehicles, began as a hobby, grew into a business and is now making its way to the silver screen. Activity has revved up since publicity increased earlier this year, including a July story in The Roanoke Times as well as features by the automotive industry publication Jalopnik, among others.

A handful of film production companies - including Bill Gates' blog Gates Notes - have reached out because Duncan is able to provide vehicles that others can't.

Of course, he has some sports cars and Rolls Royces in his Christiansburg warehouse, which has been featured in magazines around the world. But Duncan also owns a nostalgia-inducing 1972 Gremlin, 1984 Oldsmobile, 1990 GMC Suburban and 2001 Toyota Spyder - all looking like they did the day they rolled off the assembly line.

Duncan even has a fleet of Japanese fire trucks and a 1956 Volkswagen Beetle with seven miles on the odometer.

No matter the decade or appearance a film crew is looking for, Duncan can probably loan or sell whatever they need.

Duncan says one large production company used two 1990 model vehicles for a blockbuster movie. He heard it was part of the "Avengers" series, but he hasn't spotted his cars in any of the final cuts yet.

A couple other production companies have expressed interest. Some are international, others in the U.S. Sometimes they rent and return the vehicles later, sometimes they buy outright so they can wreck the cars while they film.

Joe Gibbs Racing was the most recent visitor, sending a crew down to Christiansburg to film retro Toyotas last month. That's what NASCAR driver Daniel Suarez races, but Director of Sponsorships Maggie Martin said it can be hard to find good Toyota collections for promotional videos.

"I'm more used to the European, small cars," Suarez said between takes during a recent filming session. "Here, you can see everything. I've seen cars I've never seen before in my life."

Duncan wasn't sure why Gates Notes wanted the Figaros, a car that was only produced in Japan in 1991. But Duncan said he was more than happy to send a handful out to Omaha when he got the call from the production company.

Gates posted the final product to YouTube on June 19. In the opening shot, Gates and Buffett pull up to an Omaha candy shop in one of Duncan's mint green Figaros. The billionaires then walk through the store, talking about their childhoods and stopping to play pinball.

Duncan understands now why his collection is attractive to studios, but it wasn't part of the plan. He began collecting as a hobby and then sold some of the cars under the business Duncan Imports and Classic Cars when he realized there was strong demand.

He calls it a working hobby now, but the business side of things is growing more important with each sale. Visitors come in from all over, and Duncan has hired staff to help sell the vehicles while he replenishes supply from his computer with online foreign auctions.

Duncan estimates he may be one of the largest importers of antique vehicles in the U.S.

Before Suarez's visit, NASCAR driver Joey Logano stopped by one day to buy a Figaro for his wife, Martin said. Racing analyst Rutledge Wood has also taken the tour.

"Now the word is spreading and it's getting bigger and bigger," Martin, a Radford native, said. "Who would know this is tucked away in Christiansburg?"