Category archives: Commentary

Chart provides entertaining perspective on what makes cars appealing at auction

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Did you know that 28 percent of the vehicles offered for auction in January at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale sale were red? Or that 19 percent were black? And if you add in the 16 percent that were blue, those three colors covered more than half the lots that crossed the block?

But get this: Among the cars that sold, those which brought the most money were painted black, followed by silver, yellow, blue, red, orange, white and green.

Or did you know that cars with darker-colored interiors sold for nearly $10,000 more on average than those with lighter-colored passenger compartments?

Or did you know that vehicles with manual transmissions brought more than $10,000 on average compared to those with automatics?

Says who? Says Spork Marketing, a data-driven Internet marketing company from Denver. Spork’s staff spent 30 hours analyzing the results of Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale sale and produced a colorful, informative and entertaining graphic display. The chart was produced on behalf of Spork’s client, H&H Classic Parts, a Bentonville, Ark., business that sells some 20,000 parts from more than 120 producers to people restoring or maintaining classic Chevrolet vehicles.

We hope it’s interesting and entertaining, and possibly gives them room for thought.”

— Spork spokesperson

 

While knowing that every visit to a client’s website doesn’t result in a sale, a  Spork Marketing spokesperson explained that the goal in producing the Barrett-Jackson chart was to generate increased traffic for HHClassic.com. One hope is that the chart demonstrates, she said, that H&H “is invested in thought leadership and wants to have an impact on the industry.”

The chart, the spokesperson added, isn’t “all-encompassing, an end-all and be-all, but it is interesting and gives somebody collecting cars a view of what’s current for 2014 and maybe they can glean something from it.

“We hope it’s interesting and entertaining, and possibly gives them room for thought.”

For example, were you preparing a car to sell at Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale, you might have been wise to paint that car black or silver — or even yellow — and to make sure the interior was darker rather than lighter in shade. Oh, and as the chart notes, there was a 20-percent premium for vehicles with manual gearboxes.

To enhance the statistical significance of its research, Spork eliminated the top and bottom five percent of vehicles in line with standard statistical deviations. However, it could be that Plymouths sold for more on average than Dodges, Chevys, Fords or Pontiacs simply because the quality of the Plymouths in the Barrett-Jackson catalog was particularly strong.

Or maybe Barrett-Jackson bidders just really like Mopar products.

Or maybe Chevys really are worth nearly $10 grand more than Fords. Or maybe there simply were a lot of Fords for sale and that brought down the average price.

Whatever, the chart is interesting and informative, and we’re guessing it also is likely to spark some interesting conversations over the work bench and at cruise-ins. Perhaps even in the “Share your thoughts!” box below.

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Hooves? No, Clydesdales had four wheels (and other things we learned reading McFarland books)

Photo by Larry Edsall
Photo by Larry Edsall

Think “Clydesdale” and the images that probably come to mind are those strong and majestic horses in the Budweiser beer commercials. But did you know that a couple of decades before the Anheuser-Busch brewery trotted out its now iconic horse-drawn wagons in 1933, the Clydesdale was the emblem of a car company?

Well, not exactly a car company, but the Clydesdale Motor Truck Company?

I’d never heard of Clydesdale trucks, let alone their “Driver Under the Hood” engine governor system or their pioneering work in diesel technology, until receiving notice of a new book, The Clydesdale Motor Truck Company An Illustrated History, 1917-1939, from what has become my favorite book publisher, and if you really like classic cars, should become yours as well: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Based in Jefferson, a small Blue Ridge town in northwestern North Carolina near the state’s borders with Tennessee and Virginia, McFarland was founded in 1979 by Robert McFarland Franklin to publish library-oriented reference books and “scholarly monographs on a variety of subjects,” according to the company’s website. McFarland publishes about 400 books a year, several of them on automotive history.

I’ve read more than two dozen of McFarland’s automotive books and have seven more on my “yet to read” stack (see photo).

Among those I’ve yet to read is one of McFarland’s newest, Tiffany Willey Middleton and James M. Semon’s book on Clydesdale.  Although, I have peeked into the book enough to learn that while the Clydesdale Motor Truck Co. used the big work horse as its emblem, the company’s name really traces to Clyde, Ohio, where it was founded and where Middleton was born.

Semon, whose specialty is the history of railroads, also is from Ohio.

McFarland books not only are well-written histories — often with appendices, vehicle specifications, chapter notes, bibliographies and complete indexes – but they are wonderfully illustrated histories as well, though by their nature most of the photographs are black and white.

I’ve also thumbed through American Automobiles of the Brass Era: Essential Specifications of 4,000+ Gasoline Powered Passenger Cars, 1906-1915, with a Statistical and Historical Overview, by Robert D. Dluhy. While short on words and pictures, it’s chock full of charts and statistical tables.

For example, a 1907 American Napier 18/20hp Nike Runabout sat two, had a four-cylinder engine with a 3.5-inch bore, 4-inch stroke, displaced 153.9 cubic inches, produced 18 horsepower, had a 90-inch wheelbase, was steered from the right-seat position, was priced at $2,250, rode on 32 x 3.5-inch tires, and weighed 1,500 pounds.

And there is similar information for more than 4,000 such vehicles from that period.

In that pile of books I’ve yet to read, you might notice Gold Thunder, Autobiography of a NASCAR Champion, by Rex White as told to Anne B. Jones. While I haven’t read it, I have read several other McFarland books on motorsports, including a couple of early accounts about NASCAR, a book on American sports car racing in the 1950s, a history of the auto races held in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park from 1908-1911, and the amazing biography of Joan Newton Cuneo, the Lyn St. James or Danica Patrick of her era, which was 1905-1915.

I also made mention of McFarland publishing scholarly books. The Corvette in Literature and Culture: Symbolic Dimensions of America’s Sports Car actually started out as author Jerry W. Passon’s Ph.D. dissertation at Southern Illinois University.

As I said before, if you’re into classic cars and their specifications and corporate histories, or into the early history of auto racing, McFarland probably should be your favorite publisher as well.

To learn more about McFarland and its books, visit the www.mcfarlandbooks.com website.

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Reading this could win you a free classic car book

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Did you know that the names of nine Spanish cities — Cordoba, Granada, Ibiza, Leon, Malaga, Marbella, Rondo, Seville and Toledo — have been appropriated by automakers for their own vehicles?

You no doubt know that England’s national racing color was green and Italy’s was red. You even may know that Spain’s was red with a yellow hood. But did you know the national racing color assigned to Jordan was brown, or that Egypt’s color was purple?

Neither did I until I spent a dollar Sunday to buy a copy of Chapman’s Car Compendium: The Essential Book of Car Facts and Trivia. When British auto writer Giles Chapman wrote his book in 2007, it cost $21.95 to buy a copy.

Seven years later, it carried a $2 sticker at the 58th annual VNSA (now known as the Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association but originally the Visiting Nurse Service Auxiliary association) Used Book Sale in the huge Exhibit Hall at the Arizona State Fairgrounds.

There are somewhere around half-a-million books available at the sale, and all of them have been separated into one of 27 categories to make finding what you want that much easier. I usually go to the sale Sunday after church, partly because the church I attend is 25 blocks east of downtown Phoenix and the fairgrounds is 19 blocks west of downtown, partly because on Sunday almost all the books are half price.

In addition to Chapman’s book of car facts, I bought a copy of Cars of the World in Color, by J.D. Scheel, translated by D. Cook-Radmore and illustrated by Verner Hancke.

I paid a whole $1.50 for this book but, after all, it is a first edition, begins with a 35-page historical survey of automotive history, has color illustrations of everything from an 1875 Markus to a 1962 Pontiac Tempest, and concludes with 10 gorgeous illustrations of famous auto races.

And even though I already have a copy, I also bought Driven: The American Four-Wheels Love Affair, because it was written (in 1977) by my former publisher and AutoWeek mentor Leon Mandel.

I also bought a book on the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, three books on baseball (including a collection of baseball stories by Zane Grey, the minor-league player turned Western novelist) and, as a gift for one of my daughters and her daughter, Clues for Real Life: The Classic Wit & Wisdom of Nancy Drew.

And for those eight books and the hours of enlightenment and entertainment they’ll provide, I spent a grand total of $7.50.

Actually, though, I’ll be spending a little more than that. As I mentioned, I already have a copy of Leon’s book, Driven. So here’s what I’m going to do: Use the comments section (Share your thoughts) below to share the title of your favorite automotive book and I’ll enter your name into a drawing. If you win, you’ll get my “barn-found” copy of Leon’s book.

Did someone really pay half-a-million for dirt and grime?

Photos by Larry Edsall
Photos by Larry Edsall

What do we do when we erase patina, when we cover over the historic evidence of the object’s travel through time to the present day? What do we do when we eliminate the very finger prints of the past by restoring cars to “original,” or “improving” them to make them better drivers or more successful racers? Once the evidence of an object’s travel through time disappears, history disappears. For an historical object to lose its history is to lose its reality, the only thing of any great value in the first place.

Miles Collier, The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles

If you’ve ever watched Antiques Roadshow on your local PBS television station, you no doubt have seen the reaction when one of the Keno brothers tells someone their family-heirloom, circa-1750 Queen Anne cherrywood bookcase on desk is worth $5,000 —  its value would be $120,000 had grandpa not refinished it.

Can you imagine one of them saying the same thing to the owner of a classic car while it is displayed on the fairway at Pebble Beach, where the brothers — experts not only in old furniture but in old cars — serve as judges?

Don’t laugh. It could happen.

In fact, it already has, perhaps not at Pebble Beach but at the recent Arizona auctions.

We quote Miles Collier, automotive historian and passionate preservationist, and mention that cherry-wood case and desk in the aftermath of the recent classic car auctions in Arizona. At Gooding & Company’s Scottsdale auction someone paid nearly $1.9 million for a dirty, dusty 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL “gullwing” with ripped interior and torn headliner that had been found after being parked for several decades in a garage. At that very same auction, someone, presumably someone else, bought a seemingly identical, black-with-red interior ’56 gullwing, except this one had been completely restored with gleaming paint, gorgeous interior and was ready for the road — and yet it sold for a mere $1.4 million.Did someone really pay half a million dollars for dust and wear and tear?

Which car is with more: Unrestored or restored?
Which car is with more: Unrestored “barn-find” or fully restored version?

“It was a very significant car in that it was an ‘unknown’ car to the collecting hobby and that’s certainly worth something,” said Garth Hammers, a car specialist at Gooding. “It had its original paint, and that probably should be in boldface print. They made 1,400 gullwings, and how many still have their original paint? Twenty, maybe 25.

“We have pretty stark and equal comparisons at this auction,” he added, noting the pair of black-and-red gullwings in the same catalog.

“The fact is, the original car is less replaceable than the restored car.  I drove the restored car more than 100 miles and it is the best-driving Gullwing I’ve ever been in. Everything was perfectly attended to and dialed in.

“But the car originally was red with a plaid interior. There’s a premium for original black cars, just like there is for original Rudge cars. Black was not as rare a color as you might think, I think they made around 100 of them. But over the years, a number have been painted other colors. Now, more and more are going back to their original color combinations (which can add $100,000 to the vehicle’s price when it is sold).”

Combine originality and rarity with a car that had been forgotten in storage for several decades and collectors get excited.

“It was the market speaking on an iconic car that has not been restored,” Hammers said.contrastgooding

And that dusty gullwing wasn’t the only unrestored car that drew a lot of attention — and money — at Goodings’ Scottsdale auction. A dingy (can any Ferrari really be termed “dingy?”) 1967 Ferrari 330 GTS that had been parked in a garage in Pennsylvania since an engine fire in 1969 sold for more than $2 million.

The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles was published in 2012 by the Simeone Automotive Foundation and presented the case for preservation instead of restoration. Collier and the Keno brothers wrote chapters for the book. Last fall, Collier and Leslie Keno were part of a panel that spoke about the Art of the Automobile before the RM/Sotheby’s auction in New York City.

As Collier noted in New York, “The vast majority of restorations are not original restorations. They are re-restorations of cars already restored once, twice, three times.”

What Collier and others like is the growing trend in the classic car hobby to apply “archival standards” that preserve rather than recreate history.

At that same seminar, Peter Mullin, who in addition to his own collection and museum is chairman of the Petersen Automobile Museum, said that in the last few years, collectors in the United States have “awakened to the fact that you ought to preserve things if they’re still in their original state.

You put your hands on the steering wheel that Rene Dryfus set a record with and you don’t want to change that.”

— Peter Mullin

 

“You spend a quarter-of-a-milion or $350,000 restoring,” Mullin said, “and it’s worth less than if you hadn’t done anything to it.

“We’re very much in the mode of appreciating originality, provenance. Original leather smells different. You put your hands on the steering wheel that Rene Dryfus set a record with and you don’t want to change that.

“But,” he added, “(unlike collectors in Europe) the U.S. has come to the table slowly on this subject.”

Slowly, but surely. Hammers noted that judges at a major concours d’elegance, the Elegance at Hershey, last year awarded best-in-show honors to an unrestored car, Robert and Sandra Bahre’s 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300B Touring Spider. The car was repainted in 1950 but otherwise had been left as is.

It was only the third time such a car had won such honors. In 1989, another Bahre car, a 1934 Packard 1108 sport phaeton with LeBaron bodywork, was best American car at the Meadow Brook concours in Michigan. In 2010, yet another of the Bahres’ cars, a 1940 Duesenberg SJ with Rollson coachwork, was honored as the best “domestic” car at the Fairfield County (Conn.) concours, where Mullin’s 1931 Bugatti Type 54 got the other Grand Prix d’Honneur award as best “foreign” car.

Bob Bahre, said Jeff Orwig, curator of the Bahre Collection, “has a philosophy that a great car is a great car regardless of its condition, and if it’s an unrestored car, that makes it greater yet.

“He had the foresight to figure this out some 30 years ago. When he found cars, their lack of perfection didn’t phase him.”Orwig said Bahre had a group of cars that didn’t leave the building because the hosts of shows and concours didn’t find them pretty enough. “Anyone else would have restored or sold them,” Orwig said.

Instead, Orwig said, when others also began to see the beauty through the dust, “suddenly, he (Bahre) is a hero.

Orwig said the cars are cleaned and kept in good mechanical working condition and can be driven.

“You change fluids and belts, the normal mechanical maintenance,” he said. “If a component fails, you make it functional without impacting its outward appearance unless you absolutely have to.

“They’re only original once,” Orwig said of Bahre’s philosophy.alfaconcours1

Or maybe not… The inaugural Arizona Concours d’Elegance was held on the eve of Arizona Auction Week. Among the cars arrayed on the lawns within the Arizona Biltmore was the world’s oldest remaining Alfa-Romeo, a 1921 Alfa-Romeo G1, that looked like it had just completed the Mille Miglia race (see photo).

In fact, the former racing car had been converted for regular road use after its racing career and later served as a farm implement in Australia. But when Tony Shooshani of Beverly Hills, Calif., bought the car in 2012, he thought its history should be preserved so he asked Craig Calder of FastCars Ltd. in Redondo Beach to do what Shooshani calls a “destoration” to return the car to its original look and operating capabilities.

The Alfa won an award last summer in the pre-war open-wheel racing class at Pebble Beach. Shooshani hopes to drive the car on the modern Mille in Italy, and to continue show it for several more years before letting it live out the rest of its life in an Italian car museum.

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Strong Arizona auctions set the stage for solid 2014

A rare 1967 Corvette L88 coupe at Barrett-Jackson hit $3.85 million, the top American-car sale during Arizona Auction Week. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)
A rare 1967 Corvette L88 coupe at Barrett-Jackson hit $3.85 million, the top American-car sale during Arizona Auction Week. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)

Arizona auction week started off the 2014 collector-car calendar with a bang. The six auctions sold 2,312 vehicles for a total of nearly $249 million and an average price of $107,096, all significant gains over 2013 results.

The premium auction houses – RM, Gooding and Bonhams – stepped up with great collections of cars, and the 43rd annual Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale had the highest number of cars and highest total results in its history. Barrett-Jackson was so big, it made the Guinness Book of World Records.

There was even a classy new starting point for auction week, the first-ever Arizona Concours d’Elegance at the Arizona Biltmore Resort.

The Arizona auctions are considered a bellwether for the year ahead, so last week’s huge success bodes well for collector-car sales and values during 2014. As Corky Coker of Coker Tires said during one of the week’s many classic-car seminars: collecting old cars has become less of a hobby and more of an industry.

A 1958 250 GT LWB California Spider soared  at RM in Phoenix to a $8.8 million sale. (Photo: Bob Golfen)
A 1958 250 GT LWB California Spider soared at RM in Phoenix to an $8.8 million sale. (Photo: Bob Golfen)

While there are just about as many stories and lessons learned as there are vehicles on the dockets, here are a few observations from a hectic week:

Rising tide of values goes across the board – There were more than two dozen sales that reached over a million dollars during the week, but prices for more-modest cars and trucks also had strong gains this year.

The $25,000 to $50,000 range shows a healthy market of cars for regular Joes, although the price of entry has sailed upstream, leaving many left behind.

As usual, spending more up front for a well-restored or highly preserved original will pay off in the long run. Restoration costs are through the roof these days and can quickly take the bloom off a bargain purchase price.

“Barn finds” cast magic spell – Preservation verses restoration was a hot topic of conversation, with most savvy collectors heeding the old adage: It’s only original once. A well-preserved car or truck is a thing of beauty, with an air of authenticity and patina that cannot be duplicated.

But there is a flip side to that, as Sports Car Market and American Car Collector publisher Keith Martin observed, “There’s a difference between a preserved car and a nasty old thing.”

A 'barn find' 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL reached a surprising $1.88 million at Gooding. (Photo: Bob Golfen)
A ‘barn find’ 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL reached a surprising $1.88 million at Gooding. (Photo: Bob Golfen)

And the debate is on after the sales of two rare and valuable “barn finds” at the Gooding auction in Scottsdale. Both results were very surprising, to say the least, because while they were highly desirable cars at the top of the pecking order, neither of them were very appealing. Though original dirt does have its charm.

The first over the block on Friday was a dusty, musty 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing that shocked with a $1.88 million selling price, including auction fee. That should buy you the very best restored Gullwing (steel body, not alloy) and seemed excessive for this survivor. Indeed, several beautifully restored examples sold for much less during the week.

The other one, a 1967 Ferrari 330 GTS Spider, soared to exceed $2 million, including fee. This car was a crispy critter, the victim of an engine fire and many decades of subsequent storage. It was in no way preserved and deserves an extensive – and no-doubt wildly expensive – restoration. According to the price guides, the Ferrari is already fully priced for one that’s in top condition.

So there you go. Such is the romantic lure of the great “barn find.”

Ferrari prices are on fire – Beyond the lofty price tag of the soot-smudged 330 GTS, the top sale of the week was a mighty $8.8 million, including fee, for a 1958 250 GT LWB California Spider, a record result and the highest-ever sale at an Arizona classic-car auction. All the Ferraris were hitting big numbers, going well into seven figures for anything of any rarity and history.

The famed 1969 Chevrolet Corvette #57 Rebel L88 convertible sold for $2.86 million. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)
The famed 1969 Chevrolet Corvette #57 Rebel L88 convertible sold for $2.86 million. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)

Dinos are rocking the house, with a 1973 246 GTS hitting a lofty $500k at Gooding. Even such high-production runabouts as the 308 climbed into six figures; a 1976 fiberglass 308 GTB sold for $114,400 at Bonhams.

Likewise Corvettes – Barrett-Jackson, always Nirvana for aficionados of the Chevy sports car, hit the ceiling with the sales of two very rare and special Corvettes: the 1969 race-winning Corvette dubbed The Rebel, which sold for $2.86 million, and an ultra-rare 560-horsepower 1967 L88 coupe that hit the heights at $3.85 million, becoming far and away the highest-priced Corvette ever sold at auction.

But Corvettes across the board were fetching premium prices as well. For example, among the top sales at Russo & Steele in Scottsdale were a 1971 454 SS convertible sold for $250,250 and a 1953 roadster for $225,500.

Many classic-car hobbyists are feeling priced out of the auction scene, and with good reason. There still are some worthwhile deals out there, and many examples of American muscle cars seem underpriced, but by and large, it takes deep pockets to buy anything of value.

For those still able to take part, 2014 should be a golden year for classic-car auctions if nothing bad happens to dampen prices, such as war, pestilence or another economic collapse like the one that killed the market in 2008. We have now fully recovered from that downturn.

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Arizona bids for title of best wintertime car show

Photo by Larry Edsall
Photo by Larry Edsall

For many people, the annual classic car auction week in Arizona presents a wonderful opportunity (1) to escape way-too-cold weather and (2) to buy or sell classic cars. But for many more people, the auctions are simply one of the biggest and best classic and exotic car shows on the planet.

For example, where else can you see not one, not two, but nine Mercedes-Benz 300SLs, including five with gull-wing doors?

Where else can you see 39 Ferraris, including a 1951 212 Export Berlinetta and a 1952 212 Inter Coupe, as well as four 250 GTs, one of them a California Spider?

Or three Model J Duesenbergs?

Or cars with bodywork by not only by Touring, Franay, Zagato, Scaglietti, Vignale, Bertone, Ghia, Murphy, LeBaron, Brewster, Mulliner, Gangloff, Chapron, Figoni et Falachi, Scaglietti and all the Farinas — Stablimenti, Pinin and Pininfarina — but by the Rippon Brothers and the Ringbrothers?

Or cars formerly or currently owned by the likes of Nick Cage, Gregory Peck, Ray Milland, Roy Rogers, John Dodge (that’s Dodge as in the car company), James Gandolfini, Winthrop Rockefeller, Richard Carpenter, Simon Cowell,  Matthew Fox, Rudolph Valentino’s manager, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Carroll Shelby or even Dr. Jonas Salk?

You also can see (or even buy) the Testarossa used in Michael Jackson’s Bad Pepsi promo and the herringbone tweed jacket Steve McQueen wore in Bullitt.

There are a Bugatti that raced at Monaco in 1930, the Osca that won the Index of Performance at Sebring in 1960, one of Jim Hall’s 1966 Chaparral 1 racers, Shelby’s race-winning 1963 King Cobra racer, Donna Mae Mims’ pink H-Production national championship 1959 Austin-Healey Sprite, the “longtail” McLaren F1 GTR Global GT racer, a Sox & Martin A/FX Hemi ‘Cuda, the 1998 Ferrari F300 that Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine used for testing, and not only the Snake & Mongoose funny cars but the trucks that carried them to the drag strips.

And those numbers and those lists come only from perusing the thick, glossy, printed and heavy catalogs for the RM, Gooding & Co., Bonhams and Barrett-Jackson Salon Collection/Series 5000 portion of the Arizona auction week.

We have yet to click through Russo and Steele’s 409-page online catalog or the ginormous printed catalog for the rest of Barrett-Jackson’s 1400-car docket. And don’t forget that Mitch Silver will have an additional 350 or so vehicles out at Fort McDowell for your viewing (and even bidding) pleasure.

Photo courtesy Arizona concours
Photo courtesy Arizona concours

Nor do those numbers include the cars to be arrayed around the lawns at the Arizona Biltmore for the inaugural Arizona Concours d’Elegance that kicks off auction week on Sunday.

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Finally! ‘Reality’ TV promises to get real about classic cars as Corky hits the backroads

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Like me, are you appalled, even downright angry about the way television portrays the classic car hobby?

Click on your big screen and start surfing the channels and before long what you’ll see is someone buying a classic car as cheaply as possible, hauling it back to their shop, slapping on some paint, doing minimal mechanical and interior work, and then flipping the thing with one goal in mind — maximized profit.

Sure, everyone likes to make a profit when they sell something. But the classic car hobbyists I know are in this because they love the cars — and the search for the cars — and they love restoring and even maintaining them, getting them running again and looking great. For the most part, they sell them with a degree of reluctance, often only so they can begin the pursuit of their next project.

The find-fix-flip format we see on so many of the classic car “reality” television programs is the polar opposite of what I see when I look at the classic car hobby.  I get more than irritated when I see such shows, and I rarely watch them for more than a few minutes.

But that will change very soon, because I plan to tune in for the debut of Backroad Gold, Corky Coker’s new show.

From what Corky has shared with me, his show sounds like the classic car version of American Pickers, which is less about buying and selling than it is about educating us to America’s antiques and introducing us to the characters who have been caretakers to artifacts of our historic heritage. 

Backroad Gold debuts February 5 — and then runs for at least eight more episodes — on the Travel channel. The program follows Coker and company as they search for cars, motorcycles, old gasoline pumps, road signs and such.

Why am I optimistic about Backroad Gold? Because of Corky, who is about as genuine a classic car hobbyist as you’re ever likely to find. Oh, sure, he’s also part of what I call the classic car industry, the auction houses, insurers, transportation providers and parts producers who supply the things that classic car hobbyists need and buy to pursue the hobby. In Corky’s case, those things are Coker Tires, tires that offer the look of vintage rubber but that also provide the safety and engineering advances of modern tire technology.

But that’s just Corky’s day job. His passion is finding, restoring and driving old cars and motorcycles, and being an evangelist for the hobby.

When The Great Race, the annual cross-country rally for classic cars, appeared to be faltering, Corky bought it, pumped it up and put it back on solid footing. He resurrected the famed Honest Charley Speed Shop & Garage. He helped launch the Collectors Foundation that supports car restoration education in high schools and colleges.

“I grew up in the back seat of a 1910 REO,” he says of riding along with his mom and dad on the old Glidden Tours.

On the new television show, Corky hits the backroads in pursuit of more than just neglected classics. Corky is a car guy, but also a people person, and part of his mission is to introduce the world to what he calls the real Americans.

“The real people of America are on the backroads,” he said, sharing just one example we’ll see on the show — twin 78-year-old brothers who have protected a V12-powered 1934 Pierce-Arrow sedan in their dairy barn for more than 40 years.

As for the cars he finds and is able to buy, “We’re able to restore them and put them back into play,” he said.

The “we” he mentions includes Corky; his father, Harold; his daughter, Casey; her husband, Greg; and Hal, the “head wrench” back in the shop.

Casey said that throughout her life, her dad has been “bringing home all this weird crap.

“I see labor and man hours and cost,” she added. “He sees a jewel.”

Corky’s personality isn’t the only thing that promises to separate his show from the others. For one thing, he’s playing with his own money, not with funding provided by a television production company. For another, instead of flipping the cars once they’re restored, Corky’s tendency, and perhaps his lament, is to keep them because parting with them would be painful.

As I said, this is a real car guy.

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‘Year at a Glance’ provides a fresh perspective

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Believe it or not, the first hammer of the first sale at the first auction of 2014 falls sometime today, at Dave Rupp’s Fort Lauderdale Beach sale in Florida.

But as the auction action starts anew in a new year, it can be entertaining if not enlightening to take a quick look back at one interesting snapshot of 2013. That snapshot comes in the form of a delightful “Year at a Glance” chart put together by the folks at RM Auctions.

Note: This chart involves only those auctions organized by RM. Nonetheless, it offers a perspective on the classic car hobby and industry that’s noteworthy — and then some.

For example, if you parked nose to tail all of the 879 vehicles sold last year by RM — and those 879 vehicles include a 1932 Garwood boat that was 28 feet in length — they’d form a single line 2.5 miles long.

Of those 879 vehicles, 288 — nearly one out of three — sold for more than their pre-sale estimates.

Bidding on cars and automobilia at RM sales was done by 3,779 people from 52 countries, which makes it a good thing that RM auctioneer Max Girado not only speaks English but is fluent in French, Spanish and Italian as well.

By the way, Girado also is an RM car specialist, which means he not only knows about cars, but he drives them, and drives them passionately. Last year, RM staffers participated in a dozen classic car rallies.

To get to those rallies and to vintage races and to their various auctions last year, RM staffers flew more than 1.5 million miles.

Speaking of miles, the longest distance a car traveled to be auctioned by RM was 6,738 miles. Based on restrictions imposed by classic car insurers, we’re guessing that car was flown, not driven, from its garage to the auction venue.

What was the most popular color among the 879 vehicles sold last year by RM? Red.

But that probably comes as no surprise if you look at what appears to be a bar code in the lower lefthand corner of the chart and realize that those bars represent the sales for 2013 by marque (based on dollars, not number of vehicles). By far the brand generating the most dollars/euros/pounds was Ferrari, followed by Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, Duesenberg and Porsche.

Those brands comprised the top five. Next came Jaguar, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce, Talbot-Lago and Shelby. Rounding out the top 20 were Packard, Cadillac, Ford, Bugatti, Delahaye, Chrysler, Chevrolet, McLaren, Lamborghini and — how’s this for a surprise — Toyota!

Who says Japanese cars aren’t emerging as collectible classics?

So, those are my reactions to the RM chart. What about it caught your eye? And who out there volunteers to produce a similar chart at the end of 2014 rounding up not just one auction company’s results but all the classic car auctions?

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Starting the new year off the right way

Photos by Larry Edsall
Photos by Larry Edsall

Dana Mecum told me the other day that people who work within the classic car industry tend to forget that while it is the cars that draw people into the hobby, it is the people they meet that keep them actively involved.

“I see talk and interviews of the boom in the hobby and the industry and people credit it to a lot of different things,” said Mecum, who owns Mecum Auctions.  “But what I haven’t seen mentioned is what I think is the biggest reason for the growth — the social and entertainment value.

“People come [to auctions] not only to buy and sell but to see their friends. There’s a social aspect, a camaraderie.”

I got to experience some of that camaraderie yesterday during at Stephanie and Bud’s 13th annual New Year’s Day Drive.

Bud is a former vintage racer who still restores and drives and shows sports cars. Stephanie may not turn wrenches, but in her own ways she’s as active in the hobby as he is. Each New Year’s Day, they invite a bunch of old and new friends who also have classic or exotic cars to assemble for a continental breakfast in Bud’s Car Room — his office in which his desk is surrounded on three sides by part of his collection of sports car.

After breakfast, and once Stephanie gets people to stop talking to each other for a few minutes, everyone climbs into their cars and heads west on a specified route through cactus-studded desert to Wickenburg for lunch at Rancho de los Caballeros, a historic Western-style resort.

The New Year’s Day Drive may have started as an alternative to sitting around and watching all the college football bowl games, but after more than a dozen years people pretty much have forgotten about those games. They’d rather talk cars and drive them across the desert and then talk some more over lunch tables. And then drive those cars back home.

Speaking of the drive, it turns out that New Year’s Day morning is a great time to exercise your classic or exotic car. Or any other car for that matter. I discovered this a couple of decades ago when I worked at AutoWeek magazine. Each New Year’s Eve, I snatch something cool out of our test fleet so I could drive it with, let’s call it enthusiasm the following day.

Why? Because I realized the drunks are still sleeping off their New Year’s Eve hangovers (and for the most part the police who had been keeping a eye on them are sleeping in as well). Meanwhile, the football fans are perched in front of their televisions, watching the Rose Parade and enjoying a pre-game indoor tailgating.

And, New Year’s Day being a holiday, the semis aren’t out and about. All of which means the roads are empty, except for us.

Yesterday, us included perhaps half a dozen Ferraris — including a 328 GTS, a Testarossa and even a Daytona — a Mercedes-Benz 280 SL cabriolet, a 1960 Jaguar 150 S, a few Porsches (one of them the 1962 Porsche 356 S coupe owned by fellow ClassicCars.com Blog writer Bob Golfen). a 1972 Citroen DS 21, a couple of Lamborghinis, a Lister, a Corvette, and my friend John Priddy’s 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza in which I got to ride along.

Cars and Coffee gatherings have become a national classic car phenomenon. Wouldn’t it be nice if the same thing happened across the country with New Year’s Day Drives?

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Are we looking at the wrong scoreboard? Dana Mecum thinks we are

Photos by Larry Edsall
Photos by Larry Edsall

When we report to you about classic car auctions,  we tend to focus on the highest dollar sales figures: Which auction house sold the most expensive car in Monterey? Which auction house took in the most money in Arizona?

Dana Mecum thinks we’re looking at the wrong scoreboard.

mecum7Mecum points out that when the OEMs — the original equipment auto makers who produce the cars that might someday become classics — when the auto manufacturers tally up their monthly and annual scorecards, “No. 1 is whomever produced and sold the most cars.”

That’s the most as in volume, not as in the most expensive.

Of course, Mecum likes keeping score by volume rather than by dollars because Mecum Auctions is the classic car volume leader.

“CNN reported that 19,000 cars were offered at classic car auctions in 2013,” Mecum said. “Well, we offered 12,000 of them. That’s 65 percent of the market.”

Mecum added that he’s not claiming that big a slice of the marketplace. Instead, he said, “I think their number was low. I think it’s more like 24,000 or 25,000 vehicles.”

But that still leaves Mecum controlling half of the classic car auction market, at least in terms of total vehicles.

Mecum said his perspective is based in part because of his personal experience. “My father has been selling cars for more than 60 years,” he said. “In the 1960s, he was the largest wholesale fleet dealer in the world. I’ve always been around large groups of cars. Five-hundred cars. Two-thousand cars.”

While the auto makers continued to focus on volume, “years ago, people in the collector car industry started counting success by dollar volume,” Mecum said. “I disagreed.”

While Mecum agrees that dollars are one way to keep score, they are not the only way. Nonetheless, he’s willing to play that game.

“If you take what I call the major auction companies and go to the dollar volume,” Mecum said, “there are four that sell more than $25 million a year: Us, Barrett-Jackson, RM and Gooding.

“If you take those four and the number of cars sold, we’re at 70 percent [of the market]. If you take the dollar volume, we’re [still] at about 35 percent.”

Mecum chuckles at those who try to make the classic car marketplace more complicated than it is.

“It’s such a basically simple industry,” he said. “It runs on middle-school economics: Supply and demand.”

Sounds to me as if Mecum definitely is into the supply side of the economic equation. What do you think?

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