Joe Buzzetta is serious about sports car racing and the importance of preserving its history. Tucked away in Smithtown is his sports car collection—works of art in their own right.
Joe Buzzetta is the founder of the Competition Auto Group, Long Island’s leading family-owned and operated dealership group, which includes: Competition BMW, Mercedes-Benz of Smithtown, Competition Subaru, Mercedes-Benz of Huntington and Competition Infiniti.
His spirit of competition comes from a long and successful career of championship sports car racing. Since his retirement, he has dedicated many of his resources to preserving the sport’s storied heritage while maintaining his competitive edge.
Joe’s racing career began in the 1950s while he was in stationed in Frankfurt, Germany, with the U.S. Army. Before his deployment he already knew a lot about sports cars and was thrilled to get the chance to drive on the narrow, curvy roads of Europe, so unlike the typical straight, flat courses in the States.
During his career, which spanned from 1958 to 1969, Buzzetta was a very visible presence on the racetracks in Europe and the United States, when professional sports car racing was reaching its zenith.
His reputation as a serious, competitive driver led Porsche to offer Joe the coveted position as their first American factory driver. And he delivered, steering Porsche to the pinnacle of racecar dominance from 1965 to 1969.
In 1967, Buzzetta experienced the most exciting moment of his career, when he crossed the finish line in first place at Nürburgring, Germany’s most prestigious sports car race.
After 1,000 kilometers (more than 600 miles) of charging through the twisting roads of the German countryside, which included navigating 176 sharp turns over some eight hours, Buzzetta gave Porsche their first overall win in more than a decade, all the sweeter because the race was on their home turf.
But Buzzetta was not only a championship racecar driver, he was also an astute businessman.
In 1966 he negotiated one of the earliest racing sponsorships between a driver and a corporation. After the Robert Bosch Corporation signed on as Buzzetta’s sponsor, their partnership generated a slew of personal appearances and press coverage that raised Joe’s profile and fostered his reputation as a fierce competitor in both endurance and sports car racing.
In this physically demanding sport, Joe was lucky. The only injuries he suffered from racing were a few broken ribs. But many of his former teammates weren’t as fortunate—as he knows all too well. Referring to a photograph taken after a 1968 race at Florida’s fabled Sebring International Raceway, Joe observes, “Half of those guys were killed in races between ’68 and ’70. I figured it was time for me to get out.”
Joe also had a wife and three children who wanted him to stop racing while he was healthy. So in 1970, Joe retired from competitive racing, but never lost his passion for fast cars.
During his career as a professional driver, Joe had amassed hundreds of pieces of memorabilia, including rare and original photographs, posters, badges, miniature cars and other collectibles from the sport he loved.
To house this unique array of stunning visual history, he built a climate-controlled showroom. Few collections in the world can compare to it; with a fiberglass Porsche to match the ones he drove during the 1960s: the 904, 906, 907, 908 and his favorite, the 910, the same racing model he drove to victory at Nürburgring. The cars are pristine and are in top-notch condition.
“They are drivable and ready to go,” he says.
Joe has a dynamic presence. Though he is a formidable competitor, he also has a sentimental side, which came out as he explained the history of each car in his collection, beginning with his 1959 Porsche Convertible D.
1959 PORSCHE CONVERTIBLE D
“This car is very significant to me,” he admits. “When I was stationed in Germany, my wife and I were very young, 21 and 18. I squeezed enough money from our wedding to buy my first Porsche. I did very well in four races, and then I wrecked it. I couldn’t fix the car so I ordered another one, and I raced that car with a lot of success. I found this one a few years ago in California and had it restored, so it’s a duplicate of my first Porsche.”
The Porsche 907 (#49) is the rarest car in the collection.
“This car is very valuable,” Joe says. “They only made 13 of these in the world. It’s a very rare car. It was a winner in the 1968 Sebring race, and it did well in other races, too. That’s important for a car like this. The wins elevate its value.”
The Porsche 908/2 (#4) is the fastest in his collection and raced at Daytona.
PORSCHE 904 CARERRA GTS
Won 1st Place in its class at Daytona in 1966.
This Porsche 906 (#7) has a long and storied history and is one of only 62 in the world.
“I raced it in ’66 for the factory, sold it and then bought it back,” Joe recalls. “I restored it and raced it for a few years, sold it again, and then bought it back and did another total restoration.”
1955 300 SL MERCEDES-BENZ GULLWING
“The Gull Wing is one of the most iconic and beautiful sportscars ever made. It’s an important addition to my collection because of our Mercedes-Benz franchise and it’s an historic car.”
1971 CHEVRON B19
Buzzetta uses this English sportscar in vintage races. “It handles really well and is very fast. It’s fun to drive.”
1984 FERRARI 512 BBi
“I ordered this car special from Italy, and picked it up in Milan with my son Joe,” he says. “We spent a week driving it around in Europe. It only has 5,800 miles on it. It’s beautiful.”
An exhibit that was shown in 2011 at the Saratoga Automobile Museum in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. takes up an entire wall of Buzzetta’s museum.
The exhibit, “Porsche: 60 Years of Speed and Style in North America,” chronicled Joe’s entire career, highlighting his 1967 Nürburgring endurance race.
After his retirement, Joe was instrumental in bringing a relatively new and exciting spectator sport to the public’s attention. He put his competitive spirit and inherent drive to win into play and began competing in vintage sports car racing and is now known as a big player in the sport.
With a successful career built on making split-second decisions behind the wheel, his instincts made him into a man who runs his own race. Joe is in competition with no one.