The Candle Man Can
Early on a recent Sunday morning I caught up with Michael Kittredge at his compound in Leverett, Massachusetts. Kittredge, a dyed-in-the-wool car guy, met me at one of the outposts on his property. In true fashion, he was driving a Porsche—a 2009 Porsche 911 S4 Targa, to be exact. With a wry grin, he says “follow me!”
We rip up the private roads that snake all around his estate, ending at his 10,660-square-foot car barn. He invites me inside and, pulling up a couple of chairs, we sit down in the middle of the barn’s main floor for a little car talk.
Let me preface this by saying that this isn’t just any car barn. We’re surrounded by more than 50 automobiles, all of which have a specific meaning and strike a particular passion with Kittredge.
“The candle gods have been good to me,” says Kittredge, reflecting on his path to success. He is truly a self-made man. As a kid without enough money to buy his mother a Christmas present, young Michael took to making candles out of crayons heated on his mom’s wood-fired kitchen stove. The candles were a hit and, after honing his paraffin skills, he had a vision: quality scented candles crafted in the Yankee tradition. Many years later, with good old-fashioned hard work and perseverance, his vision was manifested as the Yankee Candle Company, headquartered in South Deerfield, Massachusetts.
At its peak and under Kittredge’s direction, the company soon became Massachusetts’s number two tourist spot, second only to Boston’s Faneuil Hall. After 29 years at the helm, Kittredge decided it was time to take a rest from the rigors of running the candle company and enjoy life. He sold the company in 1998.
Growing up, Kittredge was always attracted to automobiles. He remembers when most of the local “rebel guys” were driving ’57 Chevys with Hurst shifters; he was captivated by a Porsche 356 that his girlfriend’s father drove. “It was small and clean, without all the clutter of American cars,” he recalls. “I was a guitarist in a rock band and our drummer was really into foreign cars. As we would ride around together on our way to gigs, he used to call out, ‘MGBGT! Jaguar XKE! TR4 IRS!’ I was like, ‘what was that?’ At first, they all looked the same to me but after awhile, I was able to make clear distinctions.”
When the time came for Kittredge to get his first car, his parents surprised him with a ’59 Ford. “A big, black Ford with fins,” he says. “I was sixteen-and-a-half, playing in my band and, honestly, I couldn’t see myself driving this thing. I hated it. I wouldn’t drive it and it sat in the driveway.”
The car created a lot of controversy between Kittredge and his folks. “They paid a hundred bucks for the thing, so I asked my Dad, if I could sell it at a profit, would he let me? He laughed and said sure, if you think you can make money on it, go for it. So I whipped out the Fantastic and toothbrushes to clean up the charcoal grey interior, only to find that it was actually sky blue!” After weeks of cleaning and detailing, Kittredge sold the car for $300. “My parents were floored,” he says. “I took the $300 and bought an old, English white 1960 MGA coupe with a million dings on it. I didn’t care—I was driving a sports car to high school.”
After lot of work smoothing out the dings and dents with Bondo, and days of sanding, it was time for a paint job. Not able to afford the $29 for a professional job, Kittredge was off to Zayre to buy some red spray paint. Not having enough to coat the entire car, Kittredge was soon sporting a bright-red MGA with a white top. After about a week, the sun had faded the paint and the Bondo was showing up as blisters, but Kittredge still didn’t care. He had a sports car.
When he was 17, Kittredge saw a ’67 Porsche 912 in the window of Potter Sports Cars in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. “I was with my drummer,” says Kittredge. “We saw this sleek, silver car in the showroom window and we were enamored. We went in expecting to get kicked out.” It must have been a slow day because not only were Kittredge and his drummer not kicked out, but Kittredge worked up the nerve to ask the salesman for a test drive. “I found myself with my drummer out on a test drive in a 1967 Porsche 912. This was my first drive in a Porsche and it was a great day, to say the least. Since then and to this day, the Porsche bug has bitten me!”
Flash-forward to today and Kittredge is certainly in a position to fulfill his passion of car collecting. “Every car in here has a meaning to me; I drive them all, and they are all registered and ready to go,” he says. “I go on errands, drive my kids to school or take a long road trip.” Kittredge likens his car collection to an art collection: “Every car in here is a ‘statue’ to me, representing the best mankind has developed, injecting the art form with mechanical engineering. The automobile has certainly changed the world in the past 100 years, and my collection represents a glimpse into what I perceive as variations of a beautiful art form.”
Kittredge’s biggest regret? “I don’t get to drive them enough,” he admits. “There are only so many Sundays, and life is short, so that’s why I enjoy them every chance I get.”
Kittredge and his longtime confidant and automotive wing man, Barre Tozloski, discuss the posture of his 1956 Jaguar XK-140 at the 2010 British Invasion in Stowe, Vermont. Later that day, the Jag won first in class. Above, left to right: Michael Kittredge poses with his 1967 Porsche 912 and 2005 Carrera GT. Kittredge’s collection includes MGs, Ferraris, Morgans, Aston Martins, Triumphs, Rolls-Royces, Jaguars and Bentleys. The only stipulation to his collecting is “never a car older than me.”