Category archives: Features

Irvine Cars and Coffee is classic, exotic car showcase

Photos by Vince Bodiford

Cars and Coffee in Irvine is likely the worst-kept car secret in Southern California.

“We prefer to keep it low-profile and not stir up lots of media attention,” is how John Clinard, semi-retired Ford Motor Company media rep, explained things to me. Ford “hosts” the event early Saturday mornings at the parking lot sandwiched between the Ford and Mazda headquarters. To make things easy on your GPS, it’s at 7905 Gateway Boulevard.

Considering that manufacturers often “secretly” show up with world-premiered concept cars, and about 300 other SoCal exotics and collectibles arrive each Saturday at the crack of dawn, plus several hundred enthusiasts, I think it’s safe to say that the cat is out of the bag.

I don’t mind getting up so damn early.”

— Ezekiel Wheeler

There are lots of Cars and Coffee gatherings around the country, but the Irvine gathering is the froth at the top of the event espresso. For example, last weekend Nissan dropped by with the IDx Freeflow and IDx Nismo concepts, cars which had made their world debut at the North American International (Detroit) Auto Show just a few weeks earlier. On a quick tour of Southern California, which included a stop at Motor Trend headquarters, it became clear that carmakers consider this Irvine cars and coffee crowd something of a focus group. As they well should — many of them have offices and design centers just minutes from this weekly gathering.

Among the big stars such as the Nissan concepts and a few million-dollar Ferrari’s, there is a large assortment of interesting cars that speaks directly to the spirit of the Southern California car culture — American muscle cars alongside vintage Porsches, alongside lowriders, next to European collectibles, beach cruisers, motorcycles, and everything in between.

Since I live in SoCal, this is my “local” Cars and Coffee and I’m always impressed how different the cars and people are from week to week. On this particular Saturday, I was most impressed with the owner of the custom hot-rod who brought his Girl Scout daughter along. She set up a stand selling Girl Scout cookies — which, I might add, sold out by the end of the morning.IMG_20140201_070403

As car folks go, this crowd is in the top 1 percent of the hobby.

“For me, Cars and Coffee is an oasis for enthusiasts, and you never know what’s going to turn up. It’s also one of the last gatherings where you can watch kids and adults alike fall in love with cars,” said Ezekiel Wheeler, himself a top automotive editor and photographer, adding, “which reminds me of why I don’t mind getting up so damn early.”

More information about Cars and Coffee Irvine can be found at

(Editor’s note: Do you have a weekly or monthly gathering of the car clan in your area? Please use the Share Your Story tab to let us know about it so we can share your show with everyone.)

Leake’s Sevenoaks: New generation starting to drive collector car marketplace

New generation riding in on cars it wanted in high school | Leake photo
New generation arriving in pursuit of cars (such as this ’78 Trans Am) it wanted in high school | Leake photo

There’s a generational shift taking place in the classic car marketplace.

“If you drove into high school parking lots in the late ’70s and ’80s and into the early ’90s, everyone was into four-wheel (4×4) stuff and what were called ‘rice rockets’,” said Richard Sevenoaks, president of Leake Auction Company and, for our purposes, our lecturer for what we’ll call the Classic Car Marketplace 101.

Once upon a time, Sevenoaks reminded, classic cars were only those produced prior to World War II.

“It wasn’t until the early ‘80s that we start seeing the advent of the post-war car,” he said. “Prior to that, cars of the ’60s and ’70s were just used cars.

We’re seeing guys who were in high school in the ’70s and ’80s.”

— Richard Sevenoaks


“But suddenly we start seeing young folks — at least they… well, we were young then — who remembered the ’68 Shelby or the Firebird that Joe had in high school and who came to auctions and say, ‘that’s what I’m going to get’.

“Now,” Sevenoaks added, “we’re seeing guys who were in high school in the ’70s and ’80s.”

And, he said, it’s not just at auctions such as his.

“Go to a cars and coffee. We had a booth at cars and coffee in Dallas and in Oklahoma City last weekend. The demographics are 18 to 34 years of age. It’s amazing how young the folks are.

“There’s a whole new generation coming that we in the auction business have to capture. We just approved a budget for digital advertising in the social media world that skews young.”

Sevenoaks compared the auction companies’ position to that of a surfer riding big waves.

“All the auctions, ours included, have had record years,” he said. “We are riding the proverbial wave.

“But you paddle out, ride the big one, but then you have to paddle back out and hope you can ride the next one. You’re always looking over your shoulder for the next big set coming in.”

Fortunately for the auction companies, it doesn’t look as though they’ll have to wait very long for the next big wave to arrive.

And it’s not only happening among car collectors, Sevenoaks added. His family-owned company is entering its third generation as well. His father-in-law, Jim Leake, founded the auction company (officially in 1972, though he’d held a couple of stand-alone sales starting as early as 1964).

Sevenoaks and his wife, Leake’s daughter, Nancy, have been in charge since 1989. Now their children and children-in-law are taking on important roles — and bringing along their friends.

Friends who remember fondly those 4x4s, those hot imports, the now-classic pickup trucks and those Smokey and the Bandit Pontiac Trans Ams they couldn’t have back when they were in high school.

But the surge of new and younger classic car customers isn’t the only wave Leake auctions is riding at the moment.

Leake opens its 2014 auction calendar February 21-22 at Oklahoma City and then goes to Dallas for a sale April 25-26.

“Because of the oil economy, Oklahoma City is a boom town,” Sevenoaks said. “We go through these cycles every 15-20 years in Oklahoma and Texas. Oklahoma City has a new 60-story tower (building) in downtown, and the Thunder basketball team is going great. Dallas is another boom town because of the oil economy. We’ve done an auction there in the fall and we’ve added another and we’ll do two there for the foreseeable future.”

Leake’s Oklahoma City auction has grown so much it now has cars in three buildings at the OKC fairgrounds. But that will change, Sevenoaks said.

“At the end of this year, they’re knocking down one of the three buildings we use and building a new 250,000-square-foot building. That will allow us to put all the cars in one building instead of three. That will be a big plus for us.”

In the meantime, and to move 500 cars across the block in two days, Leake will have two lanes selling at the same time both days of its Oklahoma City auction.

“We’re doing that instead of having to start on Thursday or to take only 30 seconds per car. We want to take our time and give every car a fair shot at getting sold.”

It’s a really big dog in the Model T world.”

— Richard Sevenoaks


Among those cars are a rare 1921 Mercury Speedster, a 1958 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL, several 1950s-late-1970s pickup trucks, a “good selection” of customs and street rods and, for those of a certain age, a ’78 Trans-Am and a 1977 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser.

Sevenoaks said that when Leake began advertising the ’21 Mercury, “we started getting telephone calls from people asking us if we knew what we had. The Horseless Carriage people were calling. The car is built on a Model T chassis but went to the Mercury factory to have a special Mercury body that made it a Speedster. There are documents and it’s a really big dog in the Model T world.”

Sevenoaks said every classic car collector in Oklahoma and Texas wants a classic pickup truck. “There’s a lot of interest right now in 1970-73 Chevy C10s,” he said.

Two other highly modified vehicles at the auction deserve some special mention, he said: a 1935 Ford Radical show truck and the 1940 Ford “Imagination” custom show truck with a supercharged 455-cid V8 engine mounted not under the hood but in the pickup bed.


Future classic: Pontiac Firebird’s final years

The 2002 Trans Am Collector Edition has shown rising values at auction. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)
The 2002 Trans Am Collector Edition has shown rising values at auction. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)


The final four years of the Pontiac Firebird also marked the last gasp of the classic muscle-car era that started in the 1960s. Like its corporate cousin of Chevy Camaro, the Firebird rode the ups and downs of the horsepower wars with boundless enthusiasm.

The last of the fourth generation of Firebirds that were introduced in 1993, the 1998 models received an expressive front-end restyling and honeycomb taillights that continued through the end of the line. A bit over the top for some, but spot on for others.

The 1998-2002 Firebirds managed to up the ante in performance despite strangling environmental restrictions and a young driving public whose attention was turning elsewhere. Formula and Trans Am models were treated to the latest Corvette LS1 small-block V8 along with an aluminum driveshaft and dual-piston front-brake calipers.

A menacing black 2001 Trans Am with the WS6 package. (Photo: General Motors)
A menacing black 2001 Trans Am WS6. (Photo: General Motors)

In standard trim, the V8 package cranked out 310 horsepower and 340 pound-feet of torque. But those in the know ordered their Firebirds with the high-performance WS6 Ram Air option that boosted horsepower to 325 and torque to 350 pound-feet. Plus, it added the most audacious quartet of hood scoops ever seen on a production car

In glossy black and with its massive rear spoiler that looked like the turned-up collar of an automotive Dracula, they have a bulging presence that’s hard to ignore.

The Trans Am WS6 cars from 1998-2002 already have shown strength at collector-car auctions, and their values should rise as overall interest in Detroit muscle comes roaring back after the market collapse of 2008. Witness the recent gains of Trans Ams from the “Smokey and the Bandit” days.

Non-WS6 Firebirds from the final years have languished, most becoming just used-up old cars or falling prey to extreme customizing efforts. In great original condition, they should see some upside in the future. Those equipped with the Hurst-shifter six-speed manuals are favored over the automatic versions.

High-quality Trans Ams in standard trim could see rising values. (Photo: General Motors)
High-quality Trans Ams in standard trim could see future gains. (Photo: General Motors)

A 205-horsepower V6 was also available for lesser Firebirds, but those values are expected to lag accordingly.

The last hurrah for the Pontiac Firebird was the 2002 Collector Edition Trans Am – known as CETA to their fans – with all of the coupes and convertibles equipped with the WS6 package and painted an aggressive shade of bright yellow. A relatively toned-down rendition of the emblematic “screaming chicken” motif from earlier years flows over the hood and onto the flanks. These attention grabbers have done fairly well at auction, with sales reaching the mid-30s at Barrett-Jackson sales.

For the final 2002 model year, all WS6-equipped Firebirds were produced in fairly high numbers, which does affect their values. Many of them were squirreled away with low miles by those expecting a big return in the future for the last-year performance Firebirds.

In terms of rarity, only a limited number of WS6 coupes and convertibles – something in the order of around 250 – were produced during the 1998 model year, and these are becoming noticed by collectors.

Future classic: Toyota FJ40

This FJ40 brought $71,500 at Bonhams Arizona auction |Photos by Larry Edsall
This FJ40 brought $71,500 at Bonhams Arizona auction |Photos by Larry Edsall

When we decided to launch a weekly series entitled “Future Classics,” one of the first vehicles on our list was the Toyota FJ40.

However, while wandering through the tents, buildings and parking lots of vehicles being offered up for bids during Arizona Auction Week, we wondered if the FJ might not be a future classic but already a classic.

We counted 14 of them in the Barrett-Jackson catalog. There also were a couple at Russo and Steele, one at Silver (plus an FJ45 pickup version), and even Bonhams, RM and Gooding & Company each had one FJ cross its block.

But we still feel justified in calling the FJ40 a future classic.

For one thing, they have yet to be included in the Hagerty Price Guide of collectible cars, which lists only Toyota’s 2000GT, 1980 Celica Supra and the various and ensuing Supras (which became a separate model line) as classics.

On the other hand, the Kelley Blue Book Official Guide for Early Model Cars does include 1963-83 FJ40s, and notes that you can expect as much as $53,900 for one in excellent condition.

Prices at the Arizona auctions ranged from the very high teens to $101,750 for a 1977 FJ40 Land Cruiser at RM. The 1978 model at Bonhams brought $71,500. Typically, however, prices were in the $25,000 to $50,000 range.

1966 FJ40 at Russo and Steele
1966 FJ40 at Russo and Steele

Although they aren’t include in Hagerty’s price guide (something we figure will change with the next edition of that book), McKeel Hagerty will tell you that early SUVs and classic pickups are the up-and-coming collector vehicles, in part because they’re cool, in part because they’re versatile (you can still actually use them on a frequent basis), and in part because they’re still affordable.

OK, so they’re a little less affordable at classic car auctions, but you can find them at classic car dealerships, used car lots and being sold by private owners for less than $20,000.

The FJ40 traces its roots back to the original Jeeps that carried U.S. soldiers in World War II. When the U.S. military found itself fighting a few years later on the Korean peninsula, the Army hired Toyota to produce an updated version, one better suited to the rugged, hilly Korean topography.

That original BJ (B stood for the Toyota engine and J for Jeep) was succeeded by the FJ series, first an FJ20 and then the FJ40, which soon became the vehicle of choice for people around the world who had to deal with mountains, deserts, jungles and other extreme and unpaved environments.

Chevota? Toyota FJ40 with Chevy V8 engine
Chevota? Toyota FJ40 with Chevy V8 engine at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale 2014


A Grand National showcase of beauty for all to behold

Photos by Vince Bodiford

Barry Meguiar would move barely six feet before being stopped by the next mob of fans and gear heads. “What’s your favorite car, Barry?” “Which one is The Most Beautiful Roadster?” “Did you see the Rat Rods?” “Is this going to be on TV?”

We met up with Barry and his wife Karen in Building 8 as they were earnestly trying to just get from one hall to the next. Throngs of fans delayed that progress, and we managed to visit for a few minutes and talk about the show — this grand daddy of them all — the Grand National Roadster Show. Arranged in a series of 1930s-era WPA-built buildings at the Pomona Fairplex, this show is a patchwork of the American hot-rod culture, right in the back yard of its Southern California birthplace.

The Grand National Roadster Show (GNRS) has a way of placing legends such as Barry Meguiar on equal footing with the guys who turn wrenches, spray color, and stitch interiors of the greatest custom cars the world will see… for this year, at least. During our visit, we found that legends of the car world were stacked up like cordwood — car builders George Barris, Gary Wales, Bonneville streamliner builder Steven Fuller (son of IHRA Hall of Famer Kent Fuller) — roamed the halls.

A solid California show, the GNRS attracts national interest with the likes of “Pee Wee” Wentz (Pee Wee’s Speed Shop) of Danville, Virginia joining a large contingent of out-of-state big-name car builders at the show.

It was here in 1996 that one of those amazing creations in metal and fabric elevated its builder — Boyd Coddington — to superstar status.

But the show is less of a Who’s Who of the Roadster, Custom and Hot Rod world, and more about placing the real stars at center stage — the cars themselves.

GNRS mixes up the most beautiful with the most loved, placing the half-million-dollar-plus creations indoors while outside it lines up the prized single-car possession of regular car guys from all over California. Together, they offer something for everyone as the show attracts one of the largest car enthusiast crowds anywhere.

And it is here that the very best of custom cars make their debut, adding their measure of horsepower to the car culture.

The GNRS is in its 65th year. Once known as the Oakland Roadster Show, it is the longest running indoor car show in the world. It’s been held at the Fairplex in Pomona for the 10th consecutive year — and Southern Californians have adopted this show as the nerve center of the local car culture.

Featuring most types of cars you can imagine, ranging from custom Hot Rods, Lowriders, race cars, motorcycles and Rat Rods.

Back in the day, we never had cars like that.

— Pee Wee Wentz

As for car shows,  this one is huge, with thousands of cars, hundreds of vendors, and even more attendees. While much of the nation battles blizzards and freezing temperatures, the Pomona show boasts nearly 80-degree sunshine days.

Pee Wee Wentz doesn’t much like Rat Rods.

“It’s a pretty good idea to finish your car before you bring it to a car show…” he said, referencing the unfinished, trashy, rusted-out look of the fading fad of Rat Rods.

“I’ll be glad to see them go. Back in the day, we never had cars like that. Rat Rods are a new thing,” he said.

You might be well advised to get a Tetanus shot before driving a Rat Rod, which goes hand-in-hand with the resurgent Rockabilly grunge culture that many hope is making only a brief appearance in the hobby.

However, the same would have been said a decade ago about Lowriders, but they have gained respectability and desirability among collectors outside of the traditional Lowrider community, with many appearing in important private collections.

Photo courtesy Grand National Roadster Show
Photo courtesy Grand National Roadster Show

The big attraction at GNRS is what is among the most prestigious car awards in North America; think best-in-show at Pebble Beach, except for hot rods. This year the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster Award (see photo) goes to the Chip Foose-designed, Troy Trepanier Rad Rides by Troy-build uber-rare 1935 Chevy Phaeton owned by Wes Rydell’s Rydell Toy Shop in Grand Forks, N.D.

Awards such as this are really a product and choice of the judges on the ground, as everyone had his or her own favorites. Indeed, 92 official awards were presented in a variety of classes and categories for the cars and the motorcycles.

At Los Angeles International Airport two days after the show, Pee Wee Wentz was preparing to board his return flight to Virginia with his hot-rod builder son Jay, and grandson Tyler. In an elegant, southern drawl, he said, “I think I’ll come back out next year. For Hot Rods in January, there’s no better place.”

And knowing the creations nearing completion at his speed shop, he might just bring something out for the next show.


Future classic: Toyota Supra

The third-generation Toyota Supra gained size and power. (Photo: Toyota)
The third-generation Toyota Supra gained size and power. (Photo: Toyota)


Everybody down to the youngest of gearheads knows about the fourth generation Toyota Supra, primarily because of its many appearances in popular video games as well as the “The Fast and the Furious” film series.

With its basket-handle rear spoiler and powerful twin-turbo inline-six engine, the final Supra model (made from 1993 to 1998) has long been subjected to overwrought sport-compact customization, for better or worse. The Supras that survive intact are likely assured a role as future classics on the world’s auction stages.

The original Celica Supra raised the bar for Toyota styling. (Photo: Toyota)
The original Celica Supra raised the bar for Toyota styling. (Photo: Toyota)

But what of the earlier models, the three generations of Supra built from 1979 through 1992? These are also pretty cool sports coupes, all powered by Toyota’s slick and torquey inline-six engine.

The first generation of Supra, now known as the Mark I and produced from 1979 through 1981, is particularly appealing because of its attractively detailed styling, one of the best mainstream production designs from the late 1970s.

Starting off as a slightly longer and upscale version of the Celica sports coupe – stretched to accommodate the inline 6 and named the Celica Supra – the first generation stepped up style and performance to compete with the highly successful 240Z from arch rival Datsun (now Nissan).

The Mark II Celica Supra was restyled with hideaway headlights. (Photo: Toyota)
The Mark II Celica Supra was restyled with hideaway headlights. (Photo: Toyota)

Horsepower from the 2.6-liter six seems paltry by today’s standards at 110, raised to 116 in its final production year, but Celica Supra Mark I was lightweight and still enjoys a reputation as a gutsy performer.

The second generation, or Mark II, was also a variation of the Celica. The styling is more streamlined and features the hideaway headlights that were so popular in those days. Toyota boasted that the suspension was tuned by Lotus, and power was raised with a 2.8-liter six producing 145 horsepower, moving up to 161 in its final 1986 model year.

The Mark III continued the styling trend set by the previous version, but it was now based on a new platform, and Celica was dropped from its name. There was also a major boost for the inline six in size and power, moving up to 3.0 liters and 230 horsepower. But the Mark III gained weight, hitting around 3,500 pounds, which somewhat dulled performance.

The final Supra could be powered by a 320-horsepower turbo six. (Photo: Toyota)
The final Supra could be powered by a 320-horsepower turbo six. (Photo: Toyota)

The exotic Mark IV raised Supra’s profile considerably, particularly with the twin-turbo six that boasted 320 horsepower in standard trim. The final Supra enjoyed a lengthy run from 1992-1998 (with Japanese home-market models continuing through 2002)

Toyota has already set a precedent for the collectability of Japanese sports cars, with the rare 2000GT of the 1960s now commanding prices in the high six figures. It’s the only vintage car series from the Land of the Rising Sun to regularly achieve those lofty results. It has also raised the respectability of its more-humble Asian brethren, including the Supra.

Selling your classic car without selling out to the IRS

John Draneas reminds classic car owners to make sure things are OK at tax time|Photos by Larry Edsall
John Draneas reminds classic car owners to make sure things are OK at tax time|Photos by Larry Edsall

You’ve just sold your classic car and you’re ecstatic because the check you received was for a nice amount more than you paid when you bought the car. But how much of that profit can you keep?

“If you sell a car and make money, you’re supposed to pay taxes on it,” said John Draneas, an attorney and car collector who writes about the legal issues of classic cars for Sports Car Market magazine. Draneas made the keynote presentation at the magazine’s inaugural Scottsdale Insider’s Seminar held at the Gooding & Company auction venue.

“The Taxman and Your Collector Cars — How Do You Keep Them Apart?” was the subject of Draneas’ address to an audience that overflowed the seating area.

Draneas told the audience that the Internal Revenue Service “likes to make a splash” with its investigations. He explained that wealthy car collectors who don’t pay full and proper taxes are just the sort of people whom the IRS targets to show as examples.

But what are the proper taxes on the sale of your classic car?

“Keep really good, detailed records,” Draneas advised, explaining that if you have owned a classic car for a year or longer, your profit is considered a long-term capital gain and is taxed at a lower rate than if you owned the car for less than a year.

How much lower? Twenty percent versus 39.6 percent. Oh, and that’s by the federal government; state taxes also apply.

The amount of taxable profit is based not simply on the difference in the money you paid for the car and the money you received when you sold it. You can subtract any selling expenses and any restoration costs (provided, of course, you have kept those good, detailed records).

draneas4But what about the 28-percent federal tax on “collectibles”? Don’t worry, Draneas said, because federal tax law does not include cars within the definition of collectibles (which he said is a fact that escapes the notice of some accountants).

OK, so you sell a classic you’ve owned more than a year and you pay 20 percent in federal taxes on the profit. That’s it, right? Not quite. There is a new net investment income tax of 3.8 percent on anyone making $200,000 or more per year. Plus, there is the matter of state income taxes.

Or, Draneas said, you can take advantage of the 1031 lifetime exchange to defer your tax.

How does a 1031 exchange work? Either before the hammer falls at an auction or before you receive your check from a private sale, you transfer ownership of your vehicle to an “accommodator,” who sells the car and holds the money. You then have as many as 45 days to find a car or cars you want to buy with that money.

The accommodator actually makes that transaction as well, using the money from the sale of your car. You don’t see any of the cash but you do get your new car and you pay no tax.

If the car you want to buy costs more than the car you sold, you can add your own cash to complete the transaction.

Whew! Well, not quite, because there are sales taxes to consider. For example, buy a car at an auction in Arizona and drive it away, and you must pay Arizona sales tax. But have that same car shipped to your home outside Arizona and you don’t pay Arizona sales tax, though you will have to pay the sales tax in your home state.

Unless that home state is Oregon, where there is no sales tax. Draneas said that to encourage people to buy vacation homes in Oregon, state law allows the registration of any vehicle. The owner of that vehicle doesn’t have to reside in Oregon, but the car does.

The thought is that you leave a car at your vacation home to use while you’re in Oregon on vacation. The law allows you to drive the car anywhere you want, but it also requires that you bring it back to Oregon when it is not in use.

Or course, he said, driving that car outside Oregon, especially within your state of residence, likely means you are violating the law in your home state, which may require residents to register their cars where they actually live.

There is another alternative, he said, which explains why you see Montana license plates on so many classic cars. Montana will register any vehicle owned by an LLC established in Montana, where many counties have no sales taxes.

Draneas said some people think obtaining a car dealer’s license also allows them to avoid sales taxes, but for collectors, that would mean lying to their states, and it can making insuring the cars very difficult. It also eliminates the capital gains tax break or allowing a 1031 exchange.


After Draneas’ keynote, a panel of  Sports Car Market staffers — (from left) Keith Martin, Simone Kidston, Carl Bomstead, Donald Osborne and Steve Serio — discussed classic cars as blue-chip investments, and then led audience members on guided tours of vehicles available at the Gooding & Company auction, each panelist focusing on his area of expertise, from American sports and muscle to Ferraris and late-model European exotics.








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.”

Blue-chip muscle cars on the rise, seminar experts say


1969 COPO Camaro | Photos by Bob Golfen
1969 COPO Camaro | Photos by Bob Golfen

The rise and fall and rise again of blue-chip American muscle cars was the topic of a pair of seminars under the backdrop of Arizona classic-car auction week.

Rare and powerful muscle cars once again are hot commodities, according to the panels of classic-car experts, with the best low-production examples surging ahead in values during the past couple of years after taking a beating in the aftermath of the U.S. financial collapse of 2008.

“These are really the last of the great collectible America cars,” said Colin Comer, author and noted collector. “They are the supercharged Duesenbergs of our generation.”

The first seminar, “The Muscle Car Market – Today and Tomorrow” hosted by American Car Collector magazine and MidAmerica Motorworks at the Barrett-Jackson auction site, included the viewpoints of Comer, an ACC columnist and the author of Million Dollar Muscle Cars, who also delivered the keynote speech; B. Mitchell Carlson, ACC columnist and auction analyst; John L. Stein, ACC contributor and Corvette columnist; and Jim Pickering, ACC managing editor, who served as moderator.

The second seminar, entitled “Under the Hood of the Muscle Car Market” and sponsored by Hagerty Classic Car Insurance at the Penske Racing Museum, included Wayne Carini, veteran classic-car specialist and TV personality; Comer; Donnie Gould, president of Auctions America by RM; Ken Lingenfelter, owner of Lingenfelter Performance Engineering; Matt Stone, automotive writer and author; John Kraman, consignment director for Mecum Auctions; John Bemis, sales director for Russo and Steele auctions; and Dave Kinney, columnist and classic-car appraiser.

Prices for muscle cars were expected to be solid during the Arizona auctions, although the rising tide will not lift all boats, Comer noted. The cars with special provenance of limited production and performance, such as 1965 Shelby GT350s and 1969 Yenko Camaros, have been returning to their previous record values, but the more-common examples of Detroit muscle have remained flat.

The rising values only include those cars that have been verified as real and unaltered since leaving the factory. Comer noted. “The stuff that’s not pure, that’s not authenticated” will continue to struggle.  Resto-mods and “tributes” to famous performance cars – not to mention outright fraudulent representations – will remain flat.

Still, the prospects this year are good, said Kinney.  “I think 2014 is the year we could see a pretty strong turnaround.”

True car people are driving the market. The speculators are gone.”

— Wayne Carini

At both seminars, graphics were shown to illustrate the boost in prices for the best muscle cars since around 2011, drawn from the American Car Collector and Hagerty price guides. But they also showed those that have not recovered.  One example mentioned was the 1970 Chevelle SS 454, which plummeted in worth after 2008 and has yet to come back.

The multi-million values of 1970-era Hemi ‘Cuda and Challenger convertibles will likely never return was a consensus among the panelists.  That was an anomalous bubble pushed up by a group of investors who had cornered the market on the Plymouth and Dodge muscle cars, skewing their values until the inevitable burst, several of the experts remarked.  Buyers still shy away from high prices for those cars.

“These were a couple of guys trading baseball cards,” Comer said.

Another Mopar product that has been languishing despite rarity and uniqueness is the Plymouth Superbird/Dodge Daytona, the NASCAR homologation specials with the soaring rear wings and oddly aerodynamic noses and scoops.  Matt Stone pointed out that these were “an important part of muscle car history.”

“They have lots of wings and things, and they were built for just one thing: cheating on NASCAR ovals,” Stone said.

But the look is too controversial for many.

“I think the reason these cars don’t do better is because most guys have wives,” Comer said. “I know I would be sleeping out in the garage if I brought home one of these.

Some of the top muscle cars mentioned by the panelists that are coming back strong in the current market include:

  • 1969 Yenko Camaro
  • 1969 Camaro Z/28
  • 1967 Corvette 427
  • 1965 Mustang Shelby GT350
  • 1970 Mustang Shelby GT350
  • 1973 Pontiac Trans-AM 455 Super Duty

Some others picked by the panelists that are underpriced but could see resurgence in value are:

  • 1968-70 American Motors AMX 390
  • 1969 COPO Camaro
  • 1966-68 Shelby GT350s
  • 1957 Corvette “Airbox,” fuel injected with cold-air intake
  • 1967-68 Yenko Camaros
  • 1965 Buick Riviera GS
  • 1969 Mustang Boss 429
  • 1969 Shelby GT500
  • 1969 Ford Talladega/Mercury Cyclone Spoiler
  • 1965-66 Impala SS 396

Some other takeaways from the muscle-car seminars:

“True car people are driving the market,” Carini said. “The speculators are gone,”

“The survivor-car aspect is the most important part of the market,” Comer said. “If you have a nice original car, don’t do anything to it.”

“The cars that are moving the market today are the ones with histories that we know,” Bemis said.

“Anything with a connection with Smoky and the Bandit is hot, it’s smoking,” Stone said, referring to the Pontiac Firebird Trans Ams of the mid-to-late 1970s. “Good low-budget fun.”

And the comment that generated the most applause during the seminars: “If you’re buying a car purely for investment, you are doing the wrong thing,” Kinney said.  “Buy it because you love it.”