Howard Lengert has two passions--cars and planes. Though he didn't aim to have his own airport, or to claim the largest collection of Rolls Royce and Bentley cars in Canada, that's where Lengert's loves have led him.
"I have a 2,000-foot lighted runway and room in the hangars for 14 planes--open year-round," said the 78 year-old life-long Leduc County resident, who still regularly flies his own two-seater Ercoupe--just for fun. "I used to fly for business in the prairies, to repair equipment for the carpet/furnace-cleaning trucks I had built. The planes were a tool to get me around--no other way I could've done it. But I got paid doing what I like."
Lengert's aerodrome--called Maple Lane Farm--is impressive, even more so with the addition of an air traffic tower and single engine plane mounted high to beckon fellow aviators. But flying is only a fraction of what consumes the spry senior, who still lives on the 160-acre property first homesteaded by Lengert's grandfather in 1912 and where his parents farmed and he and three sisters grew up. When it comes down to most of the 30 varied buildings on the site, it's all about cars.
A one-of-a-kind collection
"The cars are part of me. I live, eat and sleep Rolls-Royce, every day," said Lengert, who bought his first Rolls-Royce, a 1930 Phantom II, in 1967 at age 24 (by auctioning the family's collection of early Canadiana--lamps, spinning wheels--and getting a bank loan to cover the rest of the $5,000 cost). "That was the first and only time I got a loan to buy a car, and I'm now at 18 Rolls-Royces and three Bentleys."
Lengert said because he never married, he focused his life on all the things he enjoys. He's toured the British factory where Rolls-Royces are still made today, and gathers up Rolls Royce accessories when he sees them (like posh picnic baskets filled with cutlery and dishes--for enjoying a leisurely and refined drive in the country, one presumes).
"They are a luxury car but it's not the cost or prestige--it's the quality I'm interested in," said Lengert. "The fit and finish is the best of materials--from walnut and other woods to wool carpeting and leather or brocade interiors. And they are bespoke--fully customizeable cars with almost unlimited extras. I enjoy every aspect of a Rolls-Royce."
Lengert said he's only once paid over $100,000 for a Rolls--a treasured model with rare caning on the doors. His collection includes a 1929 20-horsepower Boattail Speedster, a 1930 Phantom I built in Springfield, Massachusetts, and a pre-war Wraith--one of just 491 such cars made.
Lengert laughs that he doesn't even wear his blue jeans for driving--he has black pants for that--because he feels a duty to properly represent the brand. "I don't buy the cars to sell them. I fix them to drive them. I feel like I'm friends with each car."
Collection inspires community connections
A friend of the human sort, James Spur, helps Lengert get every car moving in the warm seasons, for at least a zip up and down the runway. Spur and fellow Rolls Royce enthusiast Mel Knight spend occasional days with Lengert working on the cars, which each have their own maintenance/log book for noting every screw tightened or spark plug replaced. While Lengert brings parts in from England at times, he usually already has what's needed: after all, he bought the entire parts department of Edmonton's Rolls-Royce dealership when it shut down years ago.
"Howard is generous and warm-hearted. Though he's a bachelor farmer who--in a way--has had a life of solitude, the collections give him a purpose and sense of community," said Spur, noting that it's the connections Lengert makes around his interests that are as important as the objects themselves.
"Howard thrives on the social aspect of it all--the car and flying clubs he's part of--and that sense of purpose works on multiple levels. There's joy from individual pieces and the uniqueness of the collection as a whole, but also from commitments and relationships he's built. I think that's especially important as we age."
A Lasting Legacy
Because he wants the cars to stay together, Lengert is donating his collection to the soon-to-open Rolls-Royce Museum at the Leduc West Antique Society Heritage Museum. Lengert himself built the museum structure that will house the cars, and already has 13 of his cars at the site.
"People are surprised to see a collection of this magnitude so local. They expect to see something like this in the U.S. or overseas, not in Alberta," he said. "I'm working to get a Canadian cultural property designation so the cars will always be kept together."
Lengert still hopes to add at least one of the two Rolls-Royce models he doesn't have. The Phantom !V is out of reach, he said, because only 18 were built between 1950-56 for the British Royals and heads of state. But he'd like to get his hands on a Phantom V.
"Maybe somebody will donate one to the collection."
And if he chooses to keep one, Lengerts said it'll be his '59 Silver Cloud. "That'll be the last one to go. I just like the traditional styling, power brakes and steering."
In the meantime, Lengert sometimes gives visiting car clubs or those who discover him online a tour of his collection and other antiques at the farm--there's even a visitor's guest book to sign. But Lengert said he knows those days will end.
"Eventually, I will have to sell the farm, but the museum--and cars--will keep going. We've arranged for a mechanic to take care of the cars when I'm no longer able to. I'm glad we'll preserve a part of history."