SAVIGNY-LES-BEAUNE, FRANCE: At the ripe young age of 87, Michael Pont has become a collector’s collector. As the owner of Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune in the Burgundy wine country of France for more than four decades, Michael Pont is the proud owner of the world’s largest private fleet of fighter jets according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
As if 110 warplanes weren’t enough to suit the flights of fancy for the eccentric former French air force pilot, he also owns a 1970s hovercraft, a warehouse of approximately 20 old firetrucks, some 200 antique motorbikes and 36 race cars.
The Tax Man Cometh
As with so many owners of large estates and castles in Europe and the United Kingdom, outlandish taxes often make it virtually impossible for proprietors to maintain their holdings, frequently stealing a family’s personal legacies as well as treasured links to that of the country.
Consequently, landholders oftentimes resort to all manner of revenue-producing ideas to preserve their heritage; vineyards, tours, museums, accommodations and, even, safari parks are among the money-making schemes.
When Michael Pont became interested in acquiring retired military aircraft, it was not initially his plan to turn his chateau into an outdoor museum, even though the property was only attracting about 50 to 100 visitors each year.
Vintage War Plan Collection
Coming from a military background, the warplane collection was more an act of nostalgia to preserve the history of flight during important conflicts that altered the course of history. Rather than watch the airborne relics being melted down and recycled into beer cans, Pont decided to save as many of his flying friends as possible. Before long, his personal collection of vintage military aircraft became second to none.
So dedicated did Pont become in his pursuit, that he recalls having to dismantle one aircraft by himself on a runway in Djibouti and then rebuilding it when he returned to the chateau.
As a result of Pont’s efforts, today Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune attracts about 40,000 visitors each year, including 35,000 paying customers.
Finding new prizes around the world
Once he became “hooked”, Pont searched high and low throughout Europe, including Russia, and Africa to find precious new additions for his prized collection.
Whenever he found a new jet, Pont would hire a team of mechanics to lovingly dismantle the aircraft, before renting a crane to transport it back to France in pieces.
In his youth, prior to joining the French military, Pont spent his time driving race cars, so his spirit of adventure and interest in all things motorized and mechanical comes naturally.
Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune history
The chateau itself was built for the Duke of Eudes in 1340. A mere 138 years later, after the invasion of Burgundy by Louis XI in his conflict with Marie of Burgundy, the castle was dismantled. It wasn’t until the early 17th century when it was restored.
In 1972, the property was purchased by a winegrower/operator of a nearby estate. Today, the 66-acre vineyard still thrives with some vintages that date as far back as 600 years.
Despite the success of the chateau’s wine production, Michael Pont had the vision early on to realize the potential for his private air force since all military bases in France is off-limits to the public. His aircraft collection, therefore allows people to get up close and personal with historic planes, cars and other vintage vehicles that might otherwise be inaccessible to the average person.
When most people think of French chateaus, they conjure images of royalty, aristocracy, culture, literature, architecture, art and a history that is deep and rich.
One thing they do not imagine, however, is a living outdoor museum. A museum lush with 110 fighter jets, nearly 40 classic race cars, a collection of motorcycles and don’t forget that hovercraft.
And that’s the “plane” truth.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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