Story by Pete Vack
Color photos by Jim Salerno
After a brief illness, Kyle Fleming passed away on March 26th,2017. This article originally appeared in “Viale Ciro Menotti” in 2010 but we think serves well as a tribute.
757-499-5170: Anyone who has dealt with Kyle Fleming knows this number by heart. There is no second line and 5170 is always busy. There is no type of recording device. After forty years the number is still the same and still only one incoming line. As a nod toward modernity there are now three phones, one on the wall and two remotes.
Fleming once joked that getting in touch with him is like standing in line for a buffet; everybody’s in a hurry until they get there. “This way everyone has the same opportunity to contact me. I tried the leave a message routine but things got messed up and some people weren’t called back and that caused more problems.”
If you get through to this number you will quickly memorize, odds are Pat will answer. “I’m sorry but Kyle is on a run to the Post office, can I have him call you when he returns?” The voice is cultivated, polite, but firm. Pat has been Kyle’s companion since, well, she won’t say how long but a good while now. A good while. And when he broke his back—twice now, carrying unusually heavy Maserati parts—Pat, a Certified Nursing Assistant, was there for him, taking care of him, keeping the business going. Kyle is indispensable when it comes to Maserati owners; Pat is indispensable to Kyle.
Into the barn came and went treasures. “There’s not much in there now,” Kyle said recently. “Just a bunch of Maserati stuff that’s hard to move.
At other times, Pat will tell the eager caller that Kyle is at the barn. This takes on an entirely different perspective, much more agricultural in nature. A Maserati barn? What would a Kyle Fleming barn be like? What would be in such a barn? The barn is in Portsmouth, quite a drive from his two story home in Virginia Beach where he has both lived and worked since 1970. The last time this writer was in the barn he helped push a reluctant Fiat Otto Vu belonging to Gordon Edwards, into the dubious structure. An Otto Vu? Oh yes, with a steel Rapi body and a Mille Miglia wire seal still attached to the steering column.
For years, into the barn came and went treasures. “There’s not much in there now,” Kyle said recently. “Just a bunch of Maserati stuff that’s hard to move.” Well, yes and no. Two Quattroportes, just now beginning to be fashionable, are hidden beneath a variety of foreign objects. A Bora or Merak—at this point of deconstruction it hardly matters which—sits alone, everyone ignoring its pleas for help. There are engines and transmissions, rear ends, headers and exhausts from a wonderful variety of Italian cars, be they Ferrari, Alfa or most abundantly, Maserati in both six and eight cylinder configurations. Outside there is a particular kind of plant, known locally as the BiTurbo Bush, one Maserati lost to nature and destined not to be restored anytime soon, or ever. Another tough one will be the 3500 coupe, this one sitting inside, just as rough a Maserati as there ever was. But unlike the Turbo Bush, this one will probably be restored by braver souls than we.
Though Fleming deals primarily in used parts, there were many occasions when if the need justified the cost, he’d go to Italy and visit a variety of cottage industries to get new parts made up for a particular car. It was neither easy nor particularly fruitful, but in line with Fleming’s need to provide expert service for just about anything in the way of Maserati. “You tend to end up with too many of any one item, offsetting any potential gains. And how many sets of A6G pistons does the world really need?”
“The Maserati had English dirt under the fenders so they quarantined it—put a big quarantine sign on it in fact.”
Fleming just seemed to trip into the car business. One of the first cars he was involved with was a Maserati, one of the most gorgeous Maseratis ever to set a wheel in motion. At the time, it was not seen as such. The time was the early 1970s, and through an ad in an English magazine Fleming found a Frua bodied A6G/54G.T. (s/n 2103) for $650. “I had a problem with customs in Wilmington Delaware, he recalled. “The car had English dirt under the fenders so they quarantined it—put a big quarantine sign on it in fact. Finally, we got the dirt off and they let it officially come into the U.S.”
The delicious and now debugged Frua was offered it to this writer a year or so later but remains one of the cars that got away. It did move, however, eventually going to Tim Ritter, who then sold it to Canadian architect Colin Craig. With every new owner the price went up until it got to John Bookout. Now worth at least a half million, maybe more and has apparently passed to a new owner for an undisclosed amount of money.
From then on, Fleming became intimately familiar with almost every kind of post war Maserati one could image, even the Bi Turbos. Fleming has an acute sense of mechanics, yet has never been a mechanic as such. He instantly recognizes pieces and bits and parts from any Maserati, and at the same time instinctively knows how they should work in the jigsaw puzzle that is an engine.
In a world oozing with questionable characters, one of Fleming’s main claims to fame is his inherent goodness and honesty.
At about the same time Kyle’s regular job as the manager of a very large hotel golf course complex in Virginia Beach was competing for his attention and losing. Fleming would end up with very used things like Ferrari 250 cabriolets and stuff them around the golf course for safe keeping. Wisely, he decided to go into parts and brokering full time. He soon hooked up with a Dutch collector, Joop Stolze, who was and is always on the lookout for weird foreign cars. Traveling far and wide to see a ‘find’ he’d look it over, take a few brief notes of its condition (he paid particular attention to body trim, details, interiors and hard to find body parts). He’d then call Stolze and describe the car over the phone. No photos. Ever. Not film or poloroid or digital. The details were in his head (he has a photographic memory). The information Fleming provided to Stolze were correct and thorough, shipping arrangements always complete and timely. Says Stolze, “With Kyle, I never had any problems!” Stolze knew what he was getting right down to the missing Touring emblem.
Fleming began building a reputation as an honest broker and patron saint, (“Father Fleming” some called him). According to Stolze, “he is the nicest most honest guy I ever met and seems almost too good for this world,” sentiments echoed by many others. In a world oozing with questionable characters, one of Fleming’s main claims to fame is his inherent goodness and honesty.
For years Fleming has happily climbed up into his white Chevy van, license plate reading “Ghibli”, and embarked upon a trip to deliver or pickup cars or parts from all over the U.S.
Virginia Beach maybe well known for it’s luxurious stretch of Atlantic beach, but the southeastern tip of Virginia has always been a bit out of the way. It is at least two hours from Interstate 95—well off the beaten path. For years Fleming has happily climbed up into his white Ford van, license plate reading “Ghibli”, hitched up the trailer and embarked upon a trip to deliver or pick up cars or parts from all over the U.S. Ivan Ruiz remembers one such trip. “I needed to convert a Ghibli spyder from automatic to 5-speed and Kyle had all the parts to do the conversion. The ZF gearbox is rather large and heavy and Kyle found it easier to simply load the dozens of parts in his van and head south from Virginia Beach to Atlanta (not exactly around the corner!). I am sure he had other deliveries to make but that is what I call door to door service.” But that was not all. Fleming brought along an extremely rare Ghibli Ansa quad pipe exhaust, just in case Ivan needed it, avoiding massive shipping fees. “Lucky me quickly picked it up and I still have it wrapped up waiting for the right Ghibli to come along.”
On another occasion, Fleming found a Maserati 430 sitting idle in Virginia Beach, taken in trade for something else and they just wanted to get rid of it. Fleming remembered that Colin Craig was given to appreciating such things, call gave him a call. “It needed some sorting; the initial price was ridiculously cheap; but it has become the Maserati of choice for my wife – Joan Hendriks – who loves the car,” wrote Craig. Craig would buy four different Maserati projects from Kyle, tons of parts including a full, brand new interior for an early Maserati Quattroporte.
He is a great raconteur, keeping dinner parties flowing with laughter until the dawn and always has a keen eye for the girls.
Ribald is a word not often used today. And if one were to use the term ribald and refined to describe the same object or person it would sound contradictory, in the same fashion as “honest broker”. But like the honest broker he actually is, Fleming is a contradiction being both ribald and refined, often at exactly the same time. It is not fair to provide examples in a family magazine, but Fleming’s sense of humor is often off color with distinctive erudition. He is a great story teller, a raconteur, keeping dinner parties flowing with laughter until the dawn and always has a keen eye for the girls. Stolze and Fleming once entered a Dutch rally with a TR3 with the top down and Kyle was supposed to navigate, i.e., to read the map. It started out fine until girls started to take notice of the Triumph. Kyle started waving. The girls waved back. There were more girls. More waving, forgetting the map. Now totally lost, Stolze yelled at Fleming, “You are supposed to read the map!” But all he got was laughter and a lame excuse. “Well the girls are all waving to me and it’s not polite not to wave back, is it?”
“His life focus seems to be people, helping people, enjoying them, and sharing his knowledge and expertise with them.”
Many years ago, Fleming told this author that the Ghibli Spyder he had was his retirement portfolio. It was sold long before the funds were needed for retirement. A Ferrari Lusso was sold off years ago. 3500s were a dime a dozen as they took a brief vacation in Virginia. The Frua A6G was another car that could have put Fleming on easy street. The Ferraris along would fill a photo album of cars which would have made him wealthy. He makes a good living but never moved from his modest two story house in the suburbs of Virginia Beach, he never hit the main vein, never struck it rich, never quit working. And never wanted to. Everyone we contacted had the same, unclear and non-logical thought on the matter. Kyle doesn’t really care about money. He is not driven by money. Even his business is not run by the need for increased profit. Like many of us, he never complains about what could have been, he is too busy for if onlys. Joop Stolze noted that “Kyle just loves the old cars. He’s not like the dealers who are in it only for the money.” Colin Craig, who originally coined Kyle as “Father Fleming” put it this way: “His life focus seems to be people, helping people, enjoying them, and sharing his knowledge and expertise with them.”
Something perhaps to remember when waiting impatiently for 757-499-5170 to be answered.