All posts by Jim Resnick

Jim Resnick began his career as a writer, reporter and photographer for magazines including Vette, Hot Rod, Chevy High Performance and Car Craft. In 1996, he launched Bimmer Magazine as its editor-in-chief. He also was technical editor of Sports Car International. Later, he did public relations and marketing for Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Jaguar Land Rover, and thus brings a unique perspective to his reporting and writing. He also is a “recovering” racer and guitarist.

Big bang: Dawn broke on factory-built racing Corvette with historic SR-2 (now for sale)

1956 Chevrolet Corvette SR-2 offered for sale for $6.885 million | photos courtesy 'Corvette' Mike Vietro
1956 Chevrolet Corvette SR-2 offered for sale for $6.885 million | photos courtesy ‘Corvette’ Mike Vietro

‘If the 1960s was the Golden Age of motorsport, the 1950s was the Turning Point.” Or so I wrote in an article nearly a quarter-century ago in Vette Magazine. I was referring to the Corvette SR-2 factory-built racer of 1956. It was the first racing Corvette of its kind, making it the original vine from which a rich and flavorful vineyard grew.

I was reacquainted with the SR-2 recently when I sat down with “Corvette” Mike Vietro, a broker and sales specialist in the Corvette hobby. The SR-2’s current owner has tasked Vietro to sell the vintage racer and the number is big: $6.885 million.

But is it really a big number? Consider that this is the first – the very first – purpose-built Corvette race car. It was conceived and built by an in-house team including GM design chief Harley Earl and Corvette engineering legend Zora Duntov. And it was the result of a veiled threat.

SR-2 retored to its original look and configuration
SR-2 retored to its original look and configuration

Jerome Earl, Harley’s son, competed in SCCA road racing. But in a Ferrari.

Chevrolet division chief Ed Cole called Harley Earl into his office one Monday. The conversation, well, more of a command, supposedly went something like this:

“I saw your son racing over the weekend. Why is he in a Ferrari? He should be racing a Corvette. Fix it.”

And thus began the first purpose-built racing Corvette project done internally, all for the design boss’ son. Three SR-2s were built. One was a show car that kept the initial iteration of a low, central trunk-mounted fin. The other mimicked this high-finned Jerome Earl car, though painted red with white accents.

Over a short period beginning in May, 1956, Chevy developed the blue SR-2, and it evolved quickly, as all race cars do. A variety of brake components were tested, including discs, but Cerametalix drum brakes were fitted before any racetrack combat. The low, centrally located tail fin was quickly scrapped in favor of an offset fin behind the driver, clearly inspired by the Jaguar D-type.

Up front, the SR-2 originally had an early 265 cubic-inch small-block V8, drastically overfed by a pair of four-barrel carburetors. Duntov and his merry men found that combination never worked as well as hoped; the displacement and camshaft timing were mismatched to the fuel system. Having introduced the new small-block Chevy V8 just one year prior, Duntov spent as much time in dyno cells working on getting new engine combinations right as he did sleeping.

Cole was an engineer by training and wanted fuel injection on production cars, especially the Corvette. GM had lab-tested a variety of injection systems dating to the very early ’50s, but the impressive Mercedes-Benz 300SL setup lit a fire under the developmental arse. GM engineers worked around the clock on the injection system now that they had a real racing schedule to meet.

The SR-2 was a perfect opportunity to sneak some future-tech past an audience who was well read on hot rodding, engineering and racing. Duntov and his supporting engineer, John Dolza, finally worked out the fuel injection’s metering problems. The SR-2 got the earliest Rochester fuel injection unit seen in public.

283-cid V8 pumped out 310 hp
283-cid V8 pumped out 310 hp

Dyno tests showed 310 horsepower from the 283-cid V8 with standard exhaust manifolds. The SR-2 hit 152.866 mph in the flying mile on the sand at Daytona Beach in February 1957, bested only by a Jaguar D-type, a car that clearly inspired the SR-2’s revised fin.

The core Corvette team also figured out other meaningful bits on the SR-2 that later went into limited production for privateer racers. Chief among them was RPO (Regular Production Option) 684, a suspension package which included higher spring rates (from 300 lbs./in. to 340 in front; and from 329 lbs./in. to 357 in the rear), larger anti-roll bars, stiffer shocks and a much quicker-ratio steering box. In addition, a little thing called Positraction debuted with RPO 684. It was first tested and validated on this very SR-2, to the never-ending thanks, admiration, 60-foot times and corner exit speeds of generations of racers that followed, both at the drag strip and on road courses.

After a short season in 1957 when Paul O’Shea and Pete Lovely took 16th overall at Sebring and Jerome Earl entered Nassau Speed Week in the Bahamas, Jim Jeffords purchased the SR-2. Jeffords modified and repainted it, christening it “Purple People Eater,” one of several such named racers he fielded over the years. Jeffords won the SCCA’s B-Production championship in 1958.

A year later, the old SR-2/Purple People Eater landed at Indianapolis’ Bud Gates Chevrolet – a station stop for many interesting cars over the years – for sale at $3,600.

Despite changing hands five times, the car has always retained a comprehensive binder full of pertinent documents illustrating its interesting and important provenance, complete with photos of as many as 17 GM styling studio staff and engineers cramming to get bodywork done in May, 1956.

In 1986, Rich Mason purchased the car and carefully brought the SR-2 back to its 1957 glory. And glorify it he did, vintage racing the car extensively over the following two decades and entering it in many top shows, where it won a truckload of awards.

With the luxury of 20/20 hindsight, we can see the SR-2 is truly one of one. And if rare (and real) L88 Corvettes fetch well into the millions of dollars at auction, the first of the breed should command more. For if there were no SR-2, there would never have been some other magic numbers that give enthusiasts goosebumps. Numbers like Z06, Z07, L88, Z51, ZL-1 and ZR-1.

Asking price determined by interesting formula
Asking price determined by interesting formula

But still, the really big number of today seems very specific. I asked Vietro how he came up with the $6.885 million figure.

“It’s one of one, even though two other SR-2s were built,” said Vietro. “This is the one all the development work took place on. It’s the one that was raced, and by serious racers. And you couldn’t dream of better documentation.”

Also, consider that the last offer – refused – for one of the five Corvette Grand Sports racers was more than $12 million. From a factory involvement standpoint, the SR-2 is the next-most significant racer behind the Grand Sports. Vietro therefore thinks the SR-2 ought to be worth at least half. There’s also psychology in not having a neat, tidy number.

Magic numbers. And $6.885 million might be another magic one.


Barn finds, Cuban cars draw panelists’ attention

Panelists (from left): Hagerty, Carini, Oscar Pereda of Michelin and Menneto | Jim Resnick photos
Panelists (from left): Hagerty, Carini, Oscar Pereda of Michelin and Menneto | Jim Resnick photos

Russo and Steele auctions hosted a seminar Friday designed to help some car owners understand how to extract the most value from their classic vehicles when they decide to sell at auction.

Barn Find cars
With so many “barn find” cars in the news lately, the panel began with that subject and how to treat them, their values — which seem to be at an all-time high — and what they mean for the collector hobby in general.

“With barn find cars, what you do with it depends totally on what kind of car it is,” said Jim Menneto of Hemmings Motor News. “If you find a 1937 Mercedes tucked away in obscurity that’s in operational condition and original, I’d think twice about doing anything to it. On the other hand, if you find a similar 1977 Chevy, that’s a totally different story.”

Hagerty makes a point
Hagerty makes a point

“You have to ask yourself what you want any classic to be,” said McKeel Hagerty of the insurance company that bears his family’s name, “because putting some things right on certain older cars swill be prohibitively expensive, like chrome on 1950s cars like Cadillacs. Rechroming parts is so expensive now. Redoing a ’59 Caddy will run you $30,000 in chrome-plating alone.”

“It’s rare to find a car in a barn that’s worth a damn,” chuckled Wayne Carini, owner of F40 Motorsports and host of the television show Chasing Classic Cars.

“They’re great as long as they’ve been maintained to some degree,” he continued. “Sometimes, I travel to look at a barn car and I can’t even tell what kind of car it is, it’s so dilapidated. And then it’s clearly not worth the time or effort. I’d say that if you are in the market for a collectible car, don’t expect to make the find of the century. It’s not going to happen and you’ll have wasted time you could have spent enjoying your car.”

“I think we need to make a distinction between a preservation-class car and a typical barn find,” said Hagerty. “I’ve been judging preservation-class cars at Pebble Beach for about 15 years and there are differences. Barn finds are often too far gone to keep as you found them. Also, Europeans appreciate preserved cars quite a bit more than we do here in the U.S., so if you’re interested in marketing your car abroad, don’t overlook that fact.”

All the experts were unanimous on one overriding fact. If you have a car that can remain well preserved without a restoration, think hard and long before restoring it because it can only be original once. And this goes to the main point of the whole discussion panel’s purpose: An original car will see greater value and appreciation over the long haul than a perfectly restored car.

You can find 50 highly restored cars in concours condition. But a preserved or survivor car is simultaneously original-spec and unique. Preservation cars wear years and use nobly.

Hagerty said another way to think about selective restoration work on a car and how it affects value.

“If just some work is done,” he says, “like a partial repaint or a repainted body but the interior retains its original, highly aged upholstery, does everything still appear to have aged together? That is something I look for personally, but something that also matters to a car’s value. I think the marketplace will note that and the car’s value will suffer.”

Cuban cars
With the Obama administration recently making the historic decision moving toward opening official relations with Cuba, the panel turned to the question about whether this opens up an opportunity to find older classics.

“Well, under communist rule, if the Cuban government found out you had a valuable car or one that post-dated Castro, they’d come and take it,” said Carini. “At one time, there were significant interesting cars in Cuba like Gullwing Mercedes, Ferraris, old race cars and rare American iron. But it’s very likely all those were extracted decades ago.”

Carini said that special cars were broken apart back then.

“Special interest cars in Cuba just after the revolution were often dismantled with the engine tucked away in one place, wheels in another location, bodies in yet another and so on, so that they wouldn’t be noticed by the government and taken away.”

Hagerty said that old American cars still running in Cuba — and often are featured in photos on the news or Internet, but are held together with chewing gum and bailing wire.

“The people running those old cars have gone through several generations of major repairs and parts,” said Hagerty. “And these are field repairs, for sure, often done without lathes to fabricate new parts – only using manual files.” It’s truly remarkable how Cuban mechanics and drivers have kept those old cars going, but it does not bode well for the collector seeking opportunities.

“It makes Cuba the Galapagos Island of the car world because of that isolation,” Hagerty says. “What they have there now bears almost no relation to the progenitor car species.”

Buy them now
There are some modern cars that will have collectible potential, and the panel couldn’t resist talking about them. The BMW Z8 and the already-rising Ford GT are fairly well-known as collectibles, but the experts also had some new suggestions.

“Both the Ferrari 550 and 575 Maranello are cars that will likely ascend in value,” remarked Hagerty. “And just watch what happens with Ferrari 308s and Testarossas.”

Indeed, the whole group agreed that cars from the 1970s will rise in value, and in some cases, have already started.

Menetto continued that thought: “On modern cars, it really comes down to low production numbers,” he said. “If there were few to begin with, there will be even fewer to end with.”



Restore or modify? Experts offers suggestions to muscle car buyers

(From left), Pickering, Comer, Bomstead and Carlson discuss muscle cars | James Resnick photo
(From left), Pickering, Comer, Bomstead and Carlson discuss muscle cars | James Resnick photo

The greatest thing about car collecting is not the speed, the swoopy designs, the history, the visible progress of technology or the togetherness and camaraderie of like-minded people. Nope. The single best thing is that there’s something for everyone.

In all of my years hanging around cars, be they old or new, race or street, big or small, cheap or more dear than the Gross National Product of a small country, no one has ever said, “There just isn’t a car out there for me.”

Well, okay, only three guys ever said that: Preston Tucker, Carroll Shelby and Ferruccio Lamborghini, and, though it’s possible, it’s highly unlikely that you are about to start your own car company.

Which brings us to the American Car Collector magazine seminar held during Arizolna Auction Week. “Restore or Modify?” asks the question you must ask of yourself before buying anything: “What do you plan on doing with your collector muscle car?”

In so doing, you quickly figure out to not be trigger happy. Not with a purchase. Not with a restoration.

Colin Comer, a Shelby expert and ACC dditor-at-large joined contributors B. Mitchell Carlson, Carl Bomstead and ACC editor Jim Pickering to discuss it all, plus to pick some winners for the future in the muscle car segment.

“A car is original only once,” said Comer. “I advise people that with an old muscle car, reversible modifications that improve some function or aspect of the car are fine. But if it’s a mostly original car, don’t do anything that will damage its collectability in the future.”

Some examples Comer offered of reversible modifications that result in real-world improvements are modern tires, points-free ignition, updating fuel systems to withstand modern ethanol-laced fuels that erode gaskets and other rubber and brake linings.

On the subject of modern brakes, and specifically front disc-brake conversions, Comer does not recommend them to most people with older muscle cars. He cites his own experience on the street (and even in vintage car road racing) with updated drums brakes using modern linings for both shoes and drums, plus larger wheel cylinders to actuate the shoes and braided steel brake lines.

He also recommends replacing an old driveshaft that’s likely out of balance at today’s elevated steady highway speeds with a modern aluminum driveshaft.

“This can make a shocking difference in highway ride quality,” he said.

The experts also are cautious on some oil and fluid selections for old muscle cars.

“Today, we have much better fluids and oils than we did even in the 1970s, but be careful with the oil you choose for old transmissions,” Comer warned. “Brass synchromesh rings, as used in vintage manual transmissions, are not compatible with modern GL5 transmission fluid.”

All GL5 lube has some level of sulfur, which attacks brass. Over time, the synchros then fail.

A GL4 brew of fluid specifically formulated to work with old brass synchros is a must. For differential oil, Comer still believes in good old-fashioned oil made from dead dinosaurs.

Many enthusiasts who want to drive frequently or long distance have looked into a fuel injection conversion to improve mileage. The panel recommends giving the old trusty carburetor a chance to work first, rebuilding and re-jetting them to work better with our modern ethanol-laced fuel. Even if you need to bring or ship your old carb to an expert for this procedure, it’s far cheaper than an EFI conversion and it may just satisfy your need. Plus, there’s no involved and possibly invasive wiring and fuel-feed surgery needed.

As for predictions, the panel provided some vision into future values at several price categories for American classics:

Carl Bomstead: Carroll Shelby GT Golf Cart (Carl says it’s rare and fast!)

B. Mitchell Carlson: 1980-86 Ford Bronco XLT 4×4 (unmodified, must be 4WD as 2WD models are not nearly as desirable)

Colin Comer: 1986-93 Fox-body 5.0-liter Mustang LX or GT 5-speed (especially the 4-headlight early models)

Jim Pickering: 1973-87 Chevy and GMC pickups trucks (must be very clean; getting very popular among collectors; higher trim packages more desirable; short beds are more valuable)

Carl Bomstead: 1953 Kaiser Dragon (one year only and just 1277 were built)

B. Mitchell Carlson: post-WWII Willys M38 & M38A1 (authentically restored)

Colin Comer: 1986-93 Fox-body Saleen Mustang (very fun to drive even by today’s standards; racing pedigree; the GT350 of the ’80s & early ’90s)

Jim Pickering: 1990-95 Corvette ZR-1 (very fast & well-rounded; unique exotic connection with Lotus; racing history; tons of notoriety at the time)

Carl Bomstead: 1965 Buick Riviera (landmark design; universally well-regarded)

B. Mitchell Carlson: Pickups with tailfins like the 1957-59 Dodge Sweptside and 1955-57 Chevy Cameo (finned cars have leveled or started declining yet these pickups are rising; crowd-pleasers; younger audiences perceive them as cool and not mere tools) and/or 2012-13 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca (the last and best solid axle all-around high performance car; racing pedigree; first reuse of “Boss 302″)

Colin Comer: 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 (just announced; will be both a driving and investment value; will sell out quickly)

Jim Pickering: 2015 Dodge Challenger or Charger Hellcat (manic modern muscle; possibly a high-water mark with 707hp; already huge notoriety)

Carl Bomstead: 1954 Kaiser Darrin (just 435 built; seem to be at every auction)

B. Mitchell Carlson: 1963-65 Corvette with fuel injection (appeal more greatly to European sports car collectors than just about any other American car; at a low ebb in valuation right now)

Colin Comer: 1967 Shelby GT350 (last Shelbys made in California; possibly the best looking of the Shelby Mustangs)

Jim Pickering: 1969-70 Plymouth Road Runner Hemi

Carl Bomstead: 1958 Dodge 300D Convertible with fuel injection (only 191 total D convertibles with 50 alive today, 20 of which had fuel injection)

B. Mitchell Carlson: 2005-06 Ford GT (the last great mid-engine, V8 supercar with a clutch pedal; the new one just announced could improve the values of the 2005-’06 model; nobody thought at the time these would become collectible, but they’ve risen phenomenally and steadily)

Colin Comer: 1965 Shelby GT350 (defined Shelby’s success early; low production – 521 total; racing pedigree; parts are cheap)

Jim Pickering: 1969 Chevy Camaro ZL1 (interest in the originals is going to be boosted by the new modern ZL1)


Pratte’s automobilia collection drops green flag on Barrett-Jackson

Two-sided 1930s' neon  sign with lighted wings spans 106 inches. It sold Saturday for  $20,000 | Jim Resnick photos
Two-sided 1930s’ neon sign with lighted wings spans 106 inches. It sold Saturday for $20,000 | Jim Resnick photos

While the much-ballyhooed car collection from builder/developer Ron Pratte goes up for auction at Barrett-Jackson starting Tuesday, some 1,500 items – that’s 10 times as voluminous as the Pratte car collection – already are being sold from the Pratte collection. Those items include vintage signs, period neon, gas pumps, gas globes, parts testers, rare pedal cars plus motorcycle ephemera and Americana.

Pratte’s private but well-known museum in Chandler, Arizona was a bastion of automobile romance in the grandest fashion. Well, it was until he put every last nut, bolt, carburetor and hood ornament up for sale through Barrett-Jackson. Imagine that phone call.

Pratte's automobilia collection up for bidding at Barrett-Jackson
Pratte’s automobilia collection up for bidding at Barrett-Jackson

“Hi, Craig? It’s Ron Pratte.”
“Hi Ron.”
“Craig, I’m done with the cars. The cars, the signs, the bikes, the globes. Everything. I want you to sell it all for me. A hundred-forty cars and 1,500 pieces of automobilia.”

Like Chief Brody’s classic line to Quint in that famous scene from Jaws when Brody first encounters the shark, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” becomes, for Jackson, “You’re gonna need a longer week.”

And so the whole Pratte flotilla marched its way up to Barrett-Jackson for one last moment of mobile togetherness.

And that actually makes the point of a wide-ranging collection even more clear for us. America in the 20th Century broke barriers, broke records, broke many societal shackles that restricted people in the 19th Century. Many of those personal restrictions – for women even more so than for men – first ended with sheer mobility. Getting around. The car is freedom.

No country embraced that freedom with as much zeal as did America. Ron Pratte understood and celebrated that ingenuity, that freedom, the best of that wander lust. Now that his huge homage to the most colorful and widely loved cars of the past century (a lair of flair, as it were) sits empty, shorn of cars and car things, the contents will hopefully spread the same automotive gospel to many more as the collection itself informs, liberates, entertains and focuses people on the best we can do.

The sale of Pratte’s automobilia began Saturday and continues today and Monday.

Eye candy: Horseless Carriage Club Tour

Photos by Jim Resnick

Editor’s note: Earlier in this week, we presented Jim Resnick’s report on the Horseless Carriage Club of America, which held its 2014 national convention in southern Arizona. In addition to meetings, the group did daily drives, visiting sites such as the Fairbank ghost town, Kartchner caverns, the historic mining center of Bisbee, the Mexican border, the old settlement (now an artist community) of Tubac, and Tombstone and the OK Corral. This ‘Eye candy’ focuses on the drive and visit to Tombstone.

Horseless Carriage Club celebrates the class of brass

On the road in Arizona with the Horseless Carriage Club of America | Photos by Jim Resnick
On the road in Arizona with the Horseless Carriage Club of America | Photos by Jim Resnick

The chuffing and clattering charm of pre-1916 automobiledom comes alive when The Horseless Carriage Club of America gets together. Their “tours” with Brass Era cars saunter throughout America and soon, internationally, with rumors bubbling of a tour through Ireland. Part rolling museum, part living history, part mobile art, these automotive elder statesmen are all of the above.

In mid-February, Ford Model Ts, Buicks, REOs, Cadlliacs, Abbot Detroits, Chalmerses, Mitchells, Maxwells and Renaults gathered their owners for a week-long fling in the Arizona desert where they can flex their low-rpm muscle. Pre-selected low-traffic routes to and from a home base in Sierra Vista, south of Tucson, recapture an era before world wars, before fuel injection and before an Interstate highway system siphoned most of the challenge, adventure and romance out of the road.

The most significant component of pre-1916 automobiles’ charm –- and simultaneously, their biggest limiting factor –- is no uniformity in configuration or engineering.

IMG_4523 - 2“There was little commonality in the industry,” Alan Travis, a member from Wisconsin, said during a little confab before setting off for a long day’s drive.

In that era, if you manufactured a car, you literally manufactured just about every part on the car, except perhaps its tires. There was an enormous variance in engineering solutions to common issues. One extreme example was the Adams-Farwell, which used a rotary engine, but not like the rotary we understand today. It had a stationary crank mounted vertically in the frame and the engine’s cylinder cases rotated around it like satellites. Clearly, the brass era was an engineer’s delight.

“Also, if you wanted the best car in 1905, you bought European,” said Travis. “The business climate there was much better for success with these new contraptions. Imagine that in 1905, Cadillac only had single-cylinder motors. Several years later, though, they were ‘The Standard of the World’ with the first electric starter, ignition and lighting, and then the first with a series-produced V8 engine.”

Often, if you do need parts, you’re going to machine them yourself.”

— Bill Ottemann


Until 1912, most cars in the United States were actually right-hand-drive for several reasons. First, horse-drawn carriages were always controlled from the right side. Second, road conditions and signage was universally suspect. Most roads were still dirt or worse. You needed a very clear line of sight to the roads’ edge, especially when oncoming traffic approached to see what kind of trouble awaited you. Third, European cars –- which were about 10 years’ more advanced in metallurgy, engineering and organization at the time than domestics –- were largely right-hand-drive.

When Ford’s Model T debuted in 1909, it was left-hand-drive and the T’s bombshell success steered almost the whole industry.

“This Brass Era section of the old car hobby has been pretty level, perhaps gaining somewhat,” said Bill Ottemann, the Horseless Carriage club’s president. “Where most clubs have gone down in memberships, we’ve increased slightly, but this hobby is kind of limited. Most people don’t have the time to devote to it. It’s more time-consuming because there are so few specialists really conversant with how these cars work. They all work differently! Often, if you do need parts, you’re going to machine them yourself or rely on another owner with the tools to machine them.

Horseless Club members dance to the beat of a different drum.

Better put, they drive to the rhythm of a slow-turning engine. And the world’s richer for it.

About The Horseless Carriage Club of America: Started in 1937 in Los Angeles, the club has always been keenly interested in welcoming even non-owners to socialize and find which cars appeal most to prospective members. Members are tinkerers, engineers, some who have no mechanical ability and some old hot rodders. But the common thread among members is that everyone loves keeping these old Brass Era cars running. The National Club does three to four tours per year. Through the 40-50 regional chapters, the club holds a total of around 200 local tours each year. see for more information.

1909 Sears
1909 Sears

Four for the road:

Jim & Donna Bunch of Glendale, Ariz., were miraculously reunited with a 1909 Sears that had left Donna’s family for 55 years. On a lark after joining the Horseless Carriage Club, Donna searched for the car her grandfather owned back in Pennsylvania when he was a big political campaigner. After verifying a few details, they knew they found the exact car. Her grandfather had painted his name on the back, his initials across the sides and the Sears had two Pennsylvania state inspection stickers under the seat. They began a campaign of their own, lobbying the then-present owner to sell it back to the original family. After a multitude of calls and e-mails, the owner relented: “Between you, your family and all the others always calling, I can’t take it anymore! I’ll sell it to you for what I have in it.” Three years hence, Jim and Donna bring it out for special occasions, though it’s too slow even for Horseless tours, so they trailer it to events.

1911 Chalmers
1911 Chalmer

Keene Brewer bought his 1911 Chalmers Model 30 M Touring after it won the Ansel Adams award at Pebble Beach in 1996, but he found it wouldn’t go up a hill very well. It won at Pebble but you could tell it had no grease anywhere and was a looker, not a runner. Brewer redid the entire car mechanically and is now a regular on Horseless Club tours.


1912 Abbott-Detroit
1912 Abbott-Detroit

Robert Trenley restored his 1912 Abbott-Detroit roadster in the early 1990s. It’s powered by a 350-cubic-inch, four-cylinder engine rated at 44 hp whereas a Model T of the time made 20 hp; very powerful for the period. This Abbot-Detroit won the President’s Choice award at the 1996 Tour of the Century in Wisconsin, competing against more than 200 other Brass Era cars.

1911 Cadillac
1911 Cadillac

Bill Paul’s 1911 Cadillac Model 30 had been in dead storage for 80 years. The car’s second owner bought it in 1927 to deliver newspapers in Beverly Hills, Calif.,and Bill has the photos to prove it, along with the original sales receipt from the Cadillac dealer in Los Angeles. The only items replaced on the car from new are the mats on the running boards (they turned to dust), the top (replaced in 1960) and the tires. It is otherwise completely original with the paint brought back to life with tons of elbow grease and the brass revived with treatments of muriatic acid. As for the engine, Bill freed it up and rebuilt the original parts. It fired up on the second crank.

 Editor’s note: Tune in Saturday for an ‘Eye candy’ photo gallery from the Tour.

Natural selection: How to choose a professional restorer for your classic

(From left)) Bobby Smith, Alan Taylor, Lance Coren | Photo by Jim Resnick
(From left)) Bobby Smith, Alan Taylor, Lance Coren | Photo by Jim Resnick

It is difficult enough boiling down your classic car obsession to a manageable, affordable group of cars. But it is just as time-intensive when you need to find the most capable and conscientious professional shop to take on your restoration work.

To that end, Russo and Steele Auctions hosted The Art of Vintage Restoration seminar during Arizona Auction Week with three noted experts: Bobby Smith, who specializes in classic Ferraris; Alan Taylor, who specializes in pre-war collectible cars; Lance Coren, official appraiser for both Ferrari North America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Russo and Steele’s Drew Alcazar was moderator

“The most common mistake I see is that customers don’t have a complete game plan at the outset,” said Coren.

“That game plan should describe what you want to do with the car. Do you intend to show it at certified shows for points? That means the restoration needs to be done as more of an art piece for correctness than anything else and is a very different process with different materials and hours than for a car being primarily driven, rallied or having the family pile in for road trips.”

Having a total game plan also prevents mission creep.

Approach a restoration as a labor of love because there’s only a small chance you’ll recoup the cost.”

— Alan Taylor

Once you’ve defined the game plan for yourself, the shop you choose should agree to that plan and neither of you should deviate from it. Both parties must agree to the approximate cost and the time frame. All other details about the restoration follow that lead of overall goal and become secondary to the game plan.

Deciding on what shop to use becomes your next big question. The experts agree that you must first do your due diligence.

“Talk to previous customers, ask around at events. Simply do the research on the shop for the type of work you’re thinking about,” said Coren.

“When I visit a shop,” Smith said, “I look for three things. First, I look in the trash. If I see lots of wasted scrap metal or beer cans or materials in the garbage that really seem odd, that tells me something. Second, does the shop have the proper equipment for the type of work you’re considering? Lastly, I look for a system of parts tracking and packaging that’s organized and clearly labelled.

“You can also inspect projects in the shop. I believe in finding a shop that specializes in your type or brand of car. If you’ve got a 1964 Pontiac GTO, don’t go to a shop that specializes in 1950s and ‘60s Ferraris. They won’t know your car.”

When it comes to cost, you must be realistic.

Alan Taylor: “In today’s economy everyone should approach a restoration as a labor of love because there’s only a small chance you’ll recoup the cost upon selling the car.”

Coren agreed: “Are you in this for profit or heart? If your answer is profit, you’ll have little chance of success. If your answer is for the love of the car, the people and for the history, there’s no better hobby.”

So you think you want to go vintage racing? Here’s some advice from the experts

(From left) Mike McGovern, Chris Hines, Brian Ferrin Drew Alcazar, Lyn St. James, D. Randy Riggs | Photo by Jim Resnick
Mike McGovern, Chris Hines, Brian Ferrin Drew Alcazar, Lyn St. James, D. Randy Riggs | Photo by Jim Resnick

There are more cliches about auto racing than you can shake a stick at in a month of Sundays. But when it comes to racing classic cars – “vintage racing” is the universally accepted term – the cliches end and something religious happens.

Russo & Steele Auctions held an informative seminar on vintage racing during Arizona Auction Week, on how to get started and what to expect.

The panel of experts included: former IndyCar, IMSA and SCCA racer Lyn St. James; long-time Bob Bondurant School chief racing instructor and IMSA, NASA and NASCAR veteran Mike McGovern; D. Randy Riggs, editor-in-chief of Vintage Motorsport magazine and also an experienced racer; Brian Ferrin, who races an ex-George Follmer SCCA Trans-Am Boss 302 Mustang; Chris Hines, president of ArrowLane Racing; and Drew Alcazar, CEO of Russo and Steele and himself a vintage racer.

There’s no money, no points… It’s only about the fun.”

— Brian Ferrin

“It’s like magic,” said St. James. “When you get into a rhythm with the car and with your competitors on track it becomes one part dance, one part race, one part spiritual connection to your own racing heroes and one part illicit narcotic. It’s the thing that great musical soloists achieve at the height of their creativity. You forget all your troubles.”

“Vintage racing is not at all like racing a modern car professionally,” Ferrin added. “There’s no money, no points, lap times don’t really matter. All you get at the end of the day is a trophy and a slap on the back. Maybe a cold beer. It’s only about the fun.”

Make no mistake, however. It is still fast and still dangerous.

“Dangerous enough to be thrilling and to require a basic skill set and understanding of road racing theories and racecraft,” McGovern cautioned.

All the experts implore would-be vintage racers to attend a professional racing school such as Bondurant’s or Skip Barber’s, schools where you are taught the fundamentals of road racing, gain seat time and receive direct feedback. The best part about taking a pro course is that you’ll know with certitude if this is something you really want to do. You may find it’s not. If that’s the case, just think of the money and time you just saved yourself by taking the course.

If you do take the plunge, all experts agree you should spend more to prepare yourself as a driver than in modifying your car for greater performance. You are the biggest performance variable and will make the biggest difference when on the track, not a huge engine.

“When you’re picking a car of a particular era, speak to the people racing that vintage machine and the pro shops that maintain them, what their class is like and what it takes to maintain the vehicle,” said Riggs. “This will help determine which era is for you and hopefully your wallet can follow your heart.”

The group also agreed that you should plan for a track support crew of some sort to help with loading, tire changing and other work done at the track. These could be friends, family or a pro shop.

The group also expressed uniformity on the upside of vintage racing. Besides the fun of racing itself, the biggest plus is the camaraderie. Hanging out with other racers who you simply cannot avoid and would never choose to.

Ferrin closed: “They are simply the best people in the world.”