Steve Linden, whose collectible car passion shifted into an appraisal business with a top gear reputation, died shortly after his last Classic Car Doctor column was published in Newsday. He was 65.
Linden’s expertise on vintage and muscle cars was his passport to adventures with rich, famous and average car buffs, family and friends said.
He visited warehouses across the country, hidden in the middle of nowhere, reached with cryptic instructions, like turn at the third tree and take a tiny road to an underground garage holding $20 million in autos. He helped start an auto museum in Kuwait and managed an import of Cadillacs in Australia. He spoke on trends at the Concours d’Elegance, the global competition for collectible cars.
“There was always a kind of wonderment when he would call me up and say ‘You’ll never believe the kind of cars I’m seeing,’ ” said business partner and college friend Peter Neumann.
“He always found joy in understanding the cars themselves, the history and the development of the technology,” said Neumann.
Linden, of Patchogue Village, died April 27 after being diagnosed with a rare and aggressive bladder cancer in January.
Reliability was his trademark, those who knew him said. “Early is on time and on time is late,” was a common refrain, his wife, Pamela Linden, said. “He never wanted to keep somebody waiting because that would mean he was unreliable. He said what he would do and did what he said.”
After restoring, buying and selling hundreds of cars, his credibility zoomed in 2008 when celebrity car collector Jay Leno invited him to his garage for a video appearance to promote Linden’s new book. "Car Collecting: Everything You Need to Know" stemmed from the appraiser’s concern for people being cheated and overpaying as interest in vintage cars boomed. He could get dozens of calls before starting work in the mornings and often gave free advice, family and friends said.
“He wasn’t in it for the last bit of money,” said his friend Joe Buzzetta, a car dealership owner. “He was in it to do an honest job. He did it because he liked to do the right thing and help people.”
The boost from Leno underlined Linden’s pitch in 2010 for a column of car essays and advice in Newsday’s advertising section. In one column, he voiced his opinion about classics tucked under tarp for most of the year: “We own ‘driver quality’ cars. These cars are not afraid of the cold and they can be cleaned if they get dirty. So why don’t we use them year-round?”
He stunned readers in his March 3 column by bidding goodbye in the last paragraph.
One fan wrote back in an email, “You have always extended the courtesy of responding to my emails to you and not just with a form letter.”
“Your stories,” another wrote, “have taught me many lessons about life . . . and the sheer enjoyment an inanimate object can bring.”
Linden’s experience with mechanics started young. As a toddler, he handed tools to his father as he repaired the family car at their Oceanside home. At 13, he commuted before school in his small motorboat to a job at a nearby boatyard, where he scraped barnacles off vessels, painted and helped boaters. In high school, he worked nights pumping gas.
He graduated with a psychology degree in 1979 from Stony Brook University, worked in his father’s lithograph business, then started a printing business.
He launched his appraisal consultancy in 1990. At one point, he edited Hemmings Motor News, a monthly magazine considered the “bible” for collectible car enthusiasts. He leased his vehicles to the film and media industry for shoots, including a Bob Dylan documentary in which a close-up of Linden’s leg was the singer-songwriter starting up a Triumph motorcycle, and an Italian Vogue centerpiece of a scantily clad model posed against Linden’s car — a red 1972 Mercury Cougar convertible that his father had owned.
His other deep loves were his son, Joshua, whose weekly Eagle Scout meets he attended for years, and animals, especially dogs, which he could never pass without petting.
Linden said her husband demonstrated “absolute loyalty” to family, friends, his network of specialists and even his Cougar, which now goes to his son.
“My heart skipped a beat for 30 years every time he walked into the room,” she said. “He was such a good person and extremely generous.”
Besides his wife, Linden is survived by his son, Joshua of Austin, Texas.
He was cremated, and a memorial service was held Thursday at Robertaccio Funeral Home in Patchogue. Donations may be made to Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown.