Category archives: Commentary

Solved on Sunday: Supercars (Yenko and ZL1 Camaros) and Superman

(Editor’s note: In conjunction with Road Ready Inspections, we offer this space each week so you can ask questions about your classic car or about the hobby in general. Submit your questions in the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer them! )

Question, What’s the difference between a 1969 Yenko Camaro and a 1969 ZL1 Camaro? Ferry F. Continue reading

Amelia Island calls for my first Florida concours weekend

European classics at last year’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance | Neil Rashba photos
European classics at last year’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance | Neil Rashba

The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is often called the Pebble Beach of the East, which pays homage to the Monterey granddaddy-of-all U.S. concours and puts Amelia Island into perspective for its huge level of success, both in popularity and prestige. Continue reading

Solved on Sunday: Your classic car questions answered

(Editor’s note: In conjunction with Road Ready Inspections, we offer this space each week so you can ask questions about your classic car or about the hobby in general. Submit your questions in the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer them! )

Question,  from Ken McNeil

I have a question about matching numbers. I hear the term a lot and some people care and some don’t. What is the big deal with matching numbers and how does that affect what a car is worth? Continue reading

Rising Sun, indeed: Japanese cars being sought by collectors, concours and museums

1190 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo joins Simeone museum collection | Simeone museum photo
1990 Nissan 300ZX joins Simeone museum collection | Simeone museum photo

Recently, the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum announced the first Japanese sports car to join its permanent collection. No the car is not a BRE 240Z or a Bob Sharp Racing 280ZX raced by Paul Newman. Instead, it is a 1990 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo. Continue reading

‘Unsafe at Any Speed’ hits 50 years; targeted Corvair dangers, sparked consumerism and cost me a ride

The 1960 Chevy Corvair was innovative but unsafe, according to Ralph Nader | photos
The 1960 Chevy Corvair was innovative but unsafe, according to Ralph Nader | photos

As the book Unsafe at Any Speed, Ralph Nader’s seminal assault on the Chevrolet Corvair and a complacent U.S. auto industry, marks its 50th anniversary this year, I can’t help but recall how it not only had a profound effect on the future of automobiles but also on my own automotive aspirations.

Like most teenage boys, my favorite part of the newspaper was the used-car classified ads (that was before they pretty much all went online), which I would scan intently every afternoon, looking for great, cheap heaps that I possibly could afford.

I soon discovered that just a few years after Nader’s attack, used Corvairs had hit bottom in values. I thought they were cool so I began saving up for one.

But no. When mom got wind of my plan, she had a fit and absolutely forbade me from having anything to do with those rear-engine death traps. She was a voracious reader and quite familiar with Unsafe at Any Speed. Arguing was futile, so I moved on to other heaps.

The redesigned second-gen Corvair addressed handling concerns
The redesigned second-gen Corvair addressed handling concerns

Nader’s book was a revelation for most people when it hit the shelves with a bang in 1965. Although the activist lawyer targeted Corvair for its safety failings – mainly regarding its swing-axle rear suspension that created deadly handling deficiencies – Unsafe at Any Speed took the entire industry to task for what Nader considered a total disregard for passenger safety.

Automotive styling and performance were the big draws for new cars while safety ranked low among consumer concerns. A steady annual death rate of 10s of thousands of people did not seem to have much of an impact.

This was when interiors had chromed steel handles and protruding buttons that would gouge and tear in a crash, hard-surface dashboards that would bash heads, and stiff steering columns aimed directly at the driver’s sternum. Modest drum brakes would fade when hot and slip when wet, roofs would collapse in a rollover, and there was a blasé attitude toward such basic safety features as seat belts. Crumple zones? Ha.

Corvair convertibles are popular collector cars
Corvair convertibles are popular collector cars

Many people felt the innovative Corvair was unfairly targeted by Nader, that they were no more dangerous than plenty of other cars on the road. And after all, Volkswagen Beetles had swing axles (eventually changed to add universal joints). As did the Porsche 356 sports cars, which experienced so much success on the race track. So, too, did another racing stalwart, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing.

But Corvair was different because of the heavy six-cylinder engine nestled behind its rear axle. Designed to emulate the VWs and Porsches, Corvair sought to boost performance by upping the size of its air-cooled powerplant. But the extreme rear weight bias combined with the swing axles proved to be a bad combination; the outside rear wheel could tuck under during hard cornering, resulting in possible loss of control.

There were other complaints that targeted Corvair’s general handling because of the heavy rear and lightly loaded front wheels. There was talk about the car’s heat exchangers that provided warm air to the interior; they could rust and perforate, allowing engine exhaust to enter the passenger compartment.

The Corvair pickup was built on the same chassis as the passemger car
The Corvair pickup was built on the same chassis as the passemger car

Chevrolet redesigned Corvair for 1965 with fully independent rear suspension that was a vast improvement over the swing axles, as well as making other fixes. That came perhaps in reaction to the Nader complaints or just as part of product development. But despite the new car’s advancement and lauds from the press and public, sales never recovered and Corvair was axed after the 1969 model year.

Nader’s book had a huge effect, launching a major safety push for automobiles that continues today with all kinds of advanced testing of every production vehicle to mitigate the dangers of traveling in them. Multiple airbags, three-point seatbelts, hardened passenger compartments and electronic controls have helped raise the survivability rate in even the worst crashes.

Unsafe at Any Speed also sparked a movement we know as consumerism, exemplified by such publications as Consumer Reports, and a pervasive awareness of safety and reliability in all sorts of products, from washing machines to baby food.

Corvairs these days are recognized as collector cars, maybe not terribly valuable but they do have a strong following. Performance models such as the Monza and turbocharged Corsa, as well as the funky station wagon and the van and pickup versions, are gaining interest among collectors who appreciate their inherent value as uniquely styled and fun-driving cars, even if they’re not the safest cars on the road.



What RM Sotheby’s deal means to the classic car hobby

2013 auction in New York City was a preview of what's to come | RM Sotheby's photos
2013 auction in New York City was a preview of what’s to come | RM Sotheby’s photos

Sotheby’s acquisition of a 25 percent stake in RM Auctions is big news for high-end car collectors, but what does it mean to the hobby in general?

First of all, this is a deal that has been long in the making. RM and Sotheby’s have partnered in a limited capacity for a number of years. The high point of this evolving partnership until Wednesday was their combined sale in New York City in 2013.

I had the pleasure of attending the New York Art of the Automobile sale and was simply blown away by the presentation. The cars were treated as the art objects that they were, and that translated into almost $63 million in sales within two hours. This was an astounding result and something we in the hobby had never seen before.

Sotheby's Bill Ruprecht and RM's Rob Myers
Sotheby’s Bill Ruprecht and RM’s Rob Myers

This formal partnership of the two companies, now known as RM Sotheby’s, also is something that we in the hobby have not seen previously. It combines one of the greatest collector-car auction companies with one of the oldest and most well-respected traditional auction companies. That creates a tour de force in the collectibles marketplace.

“The partnership with Sotheby’s takes what we do and expands it to its full potential, adding Sotheby’s more than 300 years of experience in the auction business to ours,” Alain Squindo, vice president of RM Auctions, told me. “It offers cross-promotional opportunities that effectively let the company become a consolidated collecting conduit for the high-dollar collector market in general.”

Now that the partnership between these two companies is official, what can we expect to see for the broader car hobby?

Well, first and foremost, I think that this partnership is likely to mean that the slowdown or correction in the classic car hobby is not likely to happen any time soon. This partnership adds an additional level of legitimacy to the idea of cars as art. and that is a market that tends not to correct. In fact, I think we are getting closer to seeing our first 100-million-dollar car sell at auction than we were a few years ago, and we definitely will see more world-record prices and big sales totals next month at Amelia Island and in August at Monterey.

Of course, I am talking largely about top-tier collector cars – think Ferrari 250 Testarossas, Bugattis, L88 Corvettes and Jaguar D-types. But this will not exclude the lower end of the market.

Cars as art at historic RM, Sotheby's 2013 sale
Cars as art at historic RM, Sotheby’s 2013 sale

In the fine-art world, some artwork fetches as much as hundreds of millions of dollars, but there also is artwork that sells in the thousand-dollar range, and even such less-rare pieces that are considered significant continue to increase in value along with the top tier of the market.

Historically, this correlation has not always worked in the car hobby, but I think this is about to change. We already have seen hints of it happening in the past few years. I think that now we will see a broader effect on collector cars that are a bit more ordinary as well, with cars such as the Triumph TR4, classic Ford Mustang and even the MGB affected in a positive way as far as values are concerned.

Second, this partnership has the potential to expand and broaden the entire collector-car market to a much larger audience then ever before.

Finally, this partnership sets up RM as the world leader of collector-car auction companies. While many people, including me, have said that RM was the leader for years, this new partnership solidifies the idea. With the worldwide reach and exposure that the partnership offers, the new RM Sotheby’s company will be hard to beat.

Is this good for the collector-car hobby or will it be “ruined” for the average collector?

I think that in the longer term, it will prove to be beneficial for the hobby. While the cars we love will become increasing more valuable and more difficult for some to purchase, we also will see many desirable cars with needs being saved and brought up to the next level simply because doing so is much less of a losing proposition than it had been in the past.

This will mean that there will be more really good examples available of the cars we love, making finding and purchasing a really good MGTD, 1957 Chevy Bel Air or other more-affordable classic an easier thing to do.

The more negative voices in the hobby will bemoan this trend with such comments as, “I used to be in the car hobby but have been priced out of it.” While there is some truth in that, the reality is that this always has been the case with anything that is rare or collectible.

The solution for collectors of modest means is to target cars that are significant while still being affordable. So if you cannot buy a Jaguar E-type Series 1, then maybe you could consider a Datsun 240Z. These cars are still quite affordable, and there are many other similar opportunities out there if you look around.

This translates into dollars as the perception solidifies. People looking to sell the best cars will go to RM Sotheby’s first, and buyers looking for the best cars available also will look there first.

So what should you do if you are a part of the greater and more-affordable segments of the hobby? Well, you should continue to buy the cars you love and enjoy them as much as possible while they continue to increase in value.

1960 Ferrari 400 Superamerica SWB cabriolet
1960 Ferrari 400 Superamerica SWB cabriolet

We will see the beginnings of what’s next for our hobby at the first sale from the new partnered company at the RM Sotheby’s Amelia Island auction March 14. The star lot is a 1960 Ferrari 400 Superamerica SWB Cabriolet by Pinin Farina. The pre-auction estimate is from $6 million to $7 million dollars. We would not be surprised at all if the car surpasses the estimate.


Do classic cars get a parking place in the sale of collectibles at auction?

1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sells for auction-record $28.5 million at Bonhams' Quail sale |f Bob Golfen photo
1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sells for auction-record $38.1 million at Bonhams’ Quail sale | Bob Golfen photo

‘It’s no secret that the… market is as strong as it’s ever been with dozens of new records… achieved in 2014.”

I put that sentence within quotes because I didn’t write it. I read it, and now I’m sharing it. I stumbled across it on, where Eileen Kinsella was writing not about the classic car market but about the overall market for collectible objects.

Her opening paragraph continued, “But the hunger for the best of the best by the world’s so-called trophy hunters extends to a wide range of categories including wine, watches, photography, and older historic works such as antiquities and Old Master paintings. Here are the top-selling objects — and the often intriguing stories that accompany them — in each of these categories.”

Manet painting sold for $65 million | Christie's photo
Manet painting sold for $65.1 million | image courtesy of Christie’s

She proceeded to devote a paragraph each to the works of art, Chinese porcelain, jewelry, wine and photography that brought the most money at auction in 2014.

Which got me to wondering: Where might classic cars fit into the auction-price hierarchy?

So inserting the most paid at auction last year for an automobile — which occurred at Bonhams’ The Quail sale in August— to Kinsella’s list, here are what turns out to be the highest auction prices paid in the various categories in 2014:

  1. Modern art: Alberto Giacometti Chariot (sculpture), $100.965 million
  2. Postwar and Contemporary art: Andy Warhol, Triple Elvis, $81.9 million
  3. Impressionist art: Edouard Manet Le Preintemps, $65.1 million
  4. * Bonus: J.M.W. Turner Rome, from Mount Aventine, $47.4 million
  5. American art: Georgia O’Keeffe, Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, $44.4 million
  6. Automobile: 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, $38.115 million
  7. Chinese Porcelain: The Meiyintang Chicken Cup, $36 million
  8. Jewels: Bunny Mellon’s Blue Diamond (9.75 carat), $32.6 million (hammer price)
  9. Watches: Patek Philippe, Henry Graves Supercomplication, $24 million
  10. Old Masters: Francesco Guardi, Venice, The Bacino di San Marco with the Piazzetta and the Doge’s Palace, $16.9 million
  11. Wine: (114-bottle) Superlot of Romance-Conti, $1.6 million ($14,121 per bottle)
  12. Photography: Alvin Langdon Coburn Shadows and Reflections, $965,000

* Listed as bonus because Turner is not officially considered an Old Master, but the price was the most paid at auction for any pre-20th century British artist’s work.

Make of the list what you will, but I thought it was interesting and notable that the most expensive car slots into the middle of the world of collectibles.larry-sig