a big wheel now


As an actor, Elliot Cuker got tired people telling him that something about him—his nose, maybe — made him wrong for a role.

"I found (acting] very humiliating," Cuker, 52, said. "It was out of control."

That emotional battle, combined with the uncertainty all actors face over the arrival of their next paycheck, sent Cuker looking for a solution. He found his answer in cars. Today, he's the head of Cooper Classic Cars.

Although he appeared in a handful of small Off-Broadway productions , Cuker felt as if he had lost the handle on his future. However, being a "typical crazy artist," he also wasn't overwhelmed at the prospects of entering the business world.

His move from off the stage to behind the wheel happened in 1979. Using his "acting" skills — along with a used Bentley and a fictitious name — he launched a limo service.

The car company owner — the person callers would get when making a reservation—was Elliot Cooper, who had a distinctly British accent. But the guy who did the driving was named Cuker.

Limo driving soon led to wheeling and dealing in classic cars — where he learned he could easily double his money. He later gave up the limo business after growing tired of dealing with the chauffeurs he hired and devoted his energy to full-time car sales and restoration.

Throughout, Cuker understood one thing: Cars can change a person's image. "I realized that when I drove in with a Bentley, the whole  world  changes,"  said  the  gregarious businessman. "I realized I loved nothing more than the sheer pleasure of power and the ability to manipulate people with that power."

Cuker peddles the used cars he call "classics". The least-expensive ride among his fleet, which is housed in a former Greenwich Village church, is a 1965 Mustang convertible  that goes for about $5,000. The most expensive? A 1965 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III convertible with a price tag well north of $100,000.

No surprise, his buyers aren't your average Joes. For example, Cuker said he's sold 30 cars — "expensive ones" — to the King of Morocco. "These cars are art and reflect a man's way of thinking at the time," he said from his office overlooking a portion or his stable. "The beauty is much more integral to the design."

A millionare a few time over, Cuker still longs for the stage. He's back making the rounds of' casting agents, hoping to land work in Film or TV with little success. Seems that even with all money it still takes a modicum of talent to make it these days.

"I thought this," he said gesturing to his cars, "would be a little bridge, and it lasted 15 or 16 years. Essentially, I'm an wanna-be artist. Right now, my main interest, my emotional interest, is in pursuing acting and to finish that circle."

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