Incredible Feats

How this self-made millionaire started a classic car empire out of his garage

How a high-school dropout became a millionaire and the king of classic cars
How a high-school dropout became a millionaire and the king of classic cars

Enough billion-dollar companies like Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have gotten their start in garages that it's easy to start thinking about the space once reserved for cars as a breeding ground for great business ideas.

For Rob Myers, founder of the the world's leading automobile restorer and auction house, RM Auctions, his garage was both. It was the perfect place to launch a car-focused start-up.

Born the son of a factory worker in Chatham, Ontario, Myers had to work from an early age to supplement his family's income.

"When I was 6-years-old I was pouring yards and yards of cement — I knew how to pour cement better than most 20-year-olds," he says. "If I wanted to have a motorcycle when I was 16-years-old, I had to figure out a way to earn the money."

Rob Myers cruises in a beautifully restored Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster worth over $1 million.

By 14, he had discovered a pretty consistent revenue stream that set the path for his future career. "I used to go around the junkyards and pick out bicycles," Myers recalls. "I'd bring them home, paint the frames, fix the wheels … I sold hundreds of used bicycles." Then a job as a cart collector at a local Kmart offered higher pay.

After realizing a promotion to manager would require a high school diploma he didn't have, Myers couldn't shake the desire to go back to restoring.

Rob Myers started his passion project out of a one-car garage in Chatham, Ontario as the founder and sole employee.
RM Sotheby's | Rob Myers

Junkyard bicycle projects led to second-hand motorcycle restorations. Motorcycle restorations led to custom work on the side, which fueled the idea to open a body shop full-time.

Myers' father, who was worried about his prospects, helped line up a factory job for his son, but Myers backed out at the last minute.

"I just couldn't see myself spending my life in a factory. … I've got to be an entrepreneur and I had that spirit in me," Myers says. "My dad about had a nervous breakdown."

In 1978, Myers opened his own 40-foot-by-80-foot garage where he started out restoring the old cars his father's friends would bring by. After racking up more than a few satisfied customers, word spread. Myers expanded into bodywork.

The RM Classic Car Exhibit is a 37,000-square-foot showroom which boasts some of the company's best restorations and prospects.

"Then before you know it seven, eight years later, I'm getting Duesenbergs from people in California to do for them, and I'm getting a job from Australia," he says. As business picked up, he added an auction service.

The once tiny garage became a mecca for classic automobile aficionados, pumping out hundreds of million-dollar restorations a year and racking up no fewer than six Best of Show awards at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

In a Montery, California auction, RM Sotheby's achieved over $117 million in auction sales thanks in part to this LeMans Champion 1955 Jaguar D-Type, which set a world record for most expensive British car sold at auction ($21.8 million.)
RM Sotheby's | CNBC

"I think if my dad was around today he would realize I've made the right decision," he says with a smile. But Myers isn't finished.

In 2015, the same year the RM group posted $593 million in combined auction sales, Myers finalized a deal to partner with historic auctioneering company Sotheby's.

Now, he reflects, "it's really cool to be a 60-year-old old guy that started in Chatham, Ontario, when I was 18-years-old and be able to sit here today and say our restoration shop is the finest in the world."

"If you do things because you love them, the money comes secondary," he adds. "It's the work that brings the happiness."

— Video by CNBC's Mary Stevens

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