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the splurge

Elvis Presley memorabilia collector Branko Kavcic, right, with an Elvis impersonator and his Stutz Blackhawk in the background

This continues our series called The Splurge, where we take a look at how entrepreneurs have spent their money on indulgences – purchases that may be interesting, fun, satisfying or enjoyable, but not necessary!

Branko Kavcic has never forgotten the first time he laid eyes on Elvis Presley.

It was 1968 and Mr. Kavcic, a recently arrived 22-year-old machinist from Dornberk, Slovenia (then part of Yugoslavia), was watching a movie on television at his brother's Toronto home. Mr. Kavcic was mesmerized by the dark-haired, charismatic, cliff-diving star of the 1963 musical comedy hit, Fun in Acapulco.

A lifelong fan of The King was born.

"To me, he was something special," Mr. Kavcic recalls. "This guy was different, so gentle, so nice looking, and he sang like a violin."

In the more than four decades since that powerful first impression took hold, the founder and president of Brado Precision Machines & Tool Co., a Concord, Ont.-based metal manufacturing and technology firm, has amassed a collection of Elvis memorabilia on which he estimates that he has spent close to $100,000.

That figure doesn't include the thousands more he spent on his most prized possession: the very first prototype of the 1969 Stutz Blackhawk. Mr. Presley, a car collector, was the first to buy the luxury vehicle  (though his was the second prototype), eventually owning several and forever becoming linked with it.

Filling two rooms in Mr. Kavcic's Vaughan, Ont., home, the other Elvis items range from books, records, CDs, posters, figurines and musical instruments to commemorative wines, plates and coins.

Mr. Kavcic's compulsion to surround himself with all things King began after his first trip to Memphis in 1981.

"When we saw Graceland, oh, my God, what a special [moment]. That time [my interest] started [to get] more serious… something was pulling me like a magnet to go see Elvis," recalls Mr. Kavcic, who started Brado Precision in 1974 with little more than a power saw and quickly built a company as a manufacturer of quality injection moldings for the automotive industry.

When the economic downturn hit the car market in 2008, Mr. Kavcic switched his focus to the oil industry, specializing in agitator shafts and parts for industrial pumps. He says business at his 15-employee company has doubled in the past four years.

His success has afforded Mr. Kavcic the means to scour local shops and markets for new items to add to his collection every time he travels to Memphis, an annual event for the past decade. He says he's known in the Elvis community for snapping up "hundreds or thousands" of dollars' worth of pieces on a whim.

Among his prized possessions, Mr. Kavcic points to a $4,000 replica of Mr. Presley's signature TCB ring – the abbreviation of the "Taking Care of Business" motto that the famed singer and actor adopted. Mr. Presley commissioned one of his jewellers, Lowell Hays, to design the gold and diamond showstopper bearing his slogan in 1975.

Though cheap copies of the ring circulate like bad Elvis impersonators at a Graceland revival, Mr. Kavcic splurged on a 14-karat gold version made from the original mold, which comes with its own authenticity papers, purchased at an Elvis festival in Memphis eight years ago. Because counterfeit items flood the collectors' market, Mr. Kavcic says he makes sure his more expensive purchases come with proof of authenticity.

That's how he knows a $2,800 studded belt he picked up at last summer's Collingwood Elvis Festival was made by B & K Enterprises Costume Co. Inc., which supplied the legendary performer with some of his most memorable stage accessories.

Among other favoured items, Mr. Kavcic also points to two dozen limited-edition silk shirts, ranging in price from $150 to $400 apiece, crafted by Lansky Bros., the Memphis-based clothiers made famous for having helped tailor The King's signature look.

A lifelong car fanatic, it's fitting that the item Mr. Kavcic considers to be the crown jewel of his collection is the original prototype of the 1969 Stutz Blackhawk made famous by Mr. Presley.

Stutz Motor Co. was a U.S. manufacturer of luxury cars that, during its heyday, enjoyed the reputation as a favourite ride of Hollywood's A-list entertainers.

Though the company stopped production in the mid-1930s, New York banker James O'Donnell revived the flagging brand in 1968. Stutz spent more than $300,000 to manufacture the first Blackhawk prototype.

A savvy marketer, Mr. O'Donnell invited Mr. Presley to test-drive the original 1969 Stutz Blackhawk prototype, a sleek, hand-built coupe that Mr.O'Donnell hoped would rival the Rolls Royce.

The singer, a dedicated car collector, was reportedly so taken by the Blackhawk that he wanted to buy it off the lot, but it wasn't for sale. Instead, Mr. Presley purchased the model's second prototype for $26,500 in October, 1970, becoming the first person to own the new Blackhawk and forever connecting the car to his name.

Mr. O'Donnell kept the original car for himself, but in 2002, his brother sold the car to Stutz collector Greg Ryckman. Two years later, the Blackhawk was back on the market.

Mr. Kavcic made an impulse purchase of the car when he attended the Toronto Spring International Classic Car Auction in April, 2004.

With his eye on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, the 64-year-old nearly bypassed a special exhibit featuring the original 1969 Blackhawk prototype for sale. The last price he heard called out for the car was $80,000. But that apparently didn't meet its reserve pricing because the next day, the car was still for sale.

Mr. Kavcic says that, in order to find out what the reserve price was, he had to put down $22,000 blindly. He did, was told the reserve price, and paid it. He will not divulge what he actually paid for the car.

One month after taking the vehicle home, Mr. Kavcic was invited to display his Stutz in front of Graceland. He hired four security guards and purchased an 18-wheeler just to transport the vehicle to Memphis.

Since then, Mr. Kavcic has toured the car at major Elvis festivals across North America, and has been featured on an episode of the TV show Dream Car Garage .

The car has also brought him a great deal of attention on the Elvis circuit. He now counts Elvis notables such as Sonny West, Mr. Presley's former bodyguard, among close friends.

While he keeps the Stutz locked up for most of the year in a storage unit, Mr. Kavcic still considers this splurge the best money he's ever spent.

"People are calling me from museums [saying] that they would like to buy it," he says. "But I'm not saying a price because I don't think I will ever sell it."

But since he purchased the car, Mr. Kavcic says the desire to take his collection to the next level has kicked into high gear.

"It's a kind of sickness if you look at it that way. I want to have things which are close to him. If I could buy something from, let's say, Graceland, I would buy it right away…because it's from his house," he says.

He delights in all of his purchases. "In business, if you're not happy, you won't make it. So make yourself happy."

Special to The Globe and Mail

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