The Showman

The Amazing Johnathan

A lot of people start collecting cars as a way to preserve happier times in their lives. But not John Edward Szeles, better known in these parts as comedian/magician The Amazing Johnathan.

Even though he’s a Detroit native, Szeles didn’t get into cars until about 10 years ago when he surprised his wife with a 1957 Porsche. He had it all set up: The car was gift-wrapped, waiting for her in their driveway when they returned to Las Vegas from a trip to Los Angeles. “Unfortunately, that was the time she picked to tell me she wanted a divorce,” he says.

So the wife was gone, but the car stayed. And as he drove it around, Johnathan noticed that it attracted a lot of attention. He bought another car, one that resonated with his youth: a Pontiac GTO convertible like the one his sister’s boyfriend used to drive. He bought more, and suddenly he had a collection. Collections tend to expand to the size of whatever contains them. His grew to more than 20 cars, and so he built a nostalgic place to store them: the Amazing Underground, a detailed re-creation of the Gratiot Drive-In Theater in Detroit where the young Szeles worked first as an usher and later as a projectionist.

It’s actually a warehouse near the airport, but the detailed murals, planetarium projector, theater-size screen and even live crickets create a convincing illusion that you’re watching a movie al fresco, from the seat of a classic car at the now-demolished suburban Detroit landmark. It’s very Vegas.

The cars aren’t just props; he drives them. Lately, it’s a 1961 Corvette that has his attention. “There is just no bullshit about that car,” he says, “no power steering, no power brakes. It is what you make it. You have to really concentrate and be part of the car. It becomes part of you when you drive it.”