Category archives: Features

RM offers ‘fantastic things’ at Monaco auction

Ferrari 275 GTB Competition has racing history | Car owner photo courtesy RM Auctions
1966 Ferrari Dino 206S has racing history | Car owner photo courtesy RM Auctions

Wouldn’t you just hate to work for RM Auctions? Each May, on an alternating basis, you face having to travel either to picturesque Lake Como in northern Italy or to the Principality of Monaco on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Of course, there’s a lot of work to do while you’re there, organizing a major international classic car auction. This year, that auction is at Monaco on May 10 in conjunction with the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique vintage racing weekend.

“This is our third year in Monaco,” said Gord Duff, one of RM’s car specialists. “It’s been hugely successful for us, exceeded our expectations.

“Obviously,” he added, in keeping with the venue, “it’s very driven toward sports cars and race cars.

“And it makes it more special that it’s every other year.”

The biannual sale at Lake Como is held in conjunction with the annual Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, which takes place this year — for the 85th year — from May 23-25. As its name indicates, the main event is one of the world’s most prestigious concours d’elegance, which this year focuses on cars of the period of The Great Gatsby.

In addition to the various classes for cars, the event at Lake Como includes for the fourth year the Concorso di Motociclete for two-wheel vehicles. Thirty-five classic motorcycles will be on display after making a police-escorted parade along the lakeshore road.

From RM’s perspective, both are amazing venues, but Monaco provides room for about 90 lots to be sold, while the grounds at Villa d’Este can accommodate only around 40 vehicles.

“We’re right around 90 cars this year,” Duff said, “and there are some fantastic things.”

At Monaco, for example:

  • A 1966 Ferrari Dino 206S first raced in hill climbs by Italian nobleman Eduardo Lualdi Gabardi, who won overall or in class 22 times, and which has had the same ownership for some 40 years;
  • A 1968 Ferrari 275 GTB competition car that Duff said is one of 12 and perhaps the most original remaining, having never been in an accident or restored, just maintained and repainted when needed;
  • A 1959 Ferrari 250 GT Series I cabriolet, one of the last — the 36th of 40 — built and freshly restored;
  • “The James Hunt car,” or as Duff put it, “a piece of history,” the 1974 Hesketh 308 Formula One racer driven by F1 champions James Hunt in 1974 (yes, it’s the car made famous by Hunt’s late-race pass in the Silverstone International Trophy Race) and Alan Jones in 1975;
  • A 1956 Maserati 450S prototype by Fantuzzi that has had only three owners since new after being the works entry driven by Stirling Moss in the Mille Miglia;
  • A 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/C with Scaglietti bodywork that was the ninth of only 12 built;
  • A 1989 Ferrari F1-89 F1 racer that was John Barnard’s first design for Ferrari and was raced by Gerhard Berger;
  • The 1966 Brabham-Repco BT20 that won the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix;
  • A 1954 Bentley R-Type Continental fastback that is 1 of 3 with bodywork by Franay;
  • A 1957 Porsche 356 A Carrera 1500 GS/GT coupe by Reutter;
  • A 1955 Lancia Aurelia B24S Spider America by Pinin Farina;
  • The “Via,” a 1958 Riva Tritone originally owned by Prince Ranier III of Monaco and Grace Kelly;
  • The “Swift II,” a 1964 Ariston that also was used along the French Riviera.

The age range of vehicles goes from a 1926 Bugatti Type 35B Grand Prix racer to a pair of 2012 models — a Ferrari 599 GTO and a Ferrari 599 SA Aperta.


5 of the most influential classic designs

Certain cars just won’t recede into the automotive fossil record. Designers (particularly those from their company of origin) keep going back to the well. And why not? It’s almost impossible to top the cars on this list:

1.1967 Toyota 2000 GT: The gorgeous Toyota 2000 GT sports car was a giant commercial flop when it was introduced. The status of Japanese cars in the U.S. market at the time was roughly the equivalent of Korean cars about 15 years ago, and a Japanese car that cost more than a Jaguar E-Type, a Corvette or a Porsche 911 found few takers. Just over 300 were built and the model’s failure continues to haunt Toyota. The roofline and greenhouse of the 1967 2000GT show up almost unaltered in the latest Toyota sports car concept, the FT-1. Incidentally, Toyota has probably had the last laugh here as the 2000 GT is now the only Japanese collectible car worth $1 million.
2.1967 Cadillac Eldorado: The ’67 Eldorado is one of the great overlooked post-war American classics. A Bill Mitchell design triumph, it’s an ageless design that wouldn’t look out of place in a showroom today, particularly since Cadillac continues to revisit the ’67 Eldo rear end, one of the greatest ¾-views of all time.
3.1954 Jeep CJ-5: The original Jeep CJ may well be the most knocked-off vehicle of all time, inspiring the likes of the Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser, Nissan Patrol, Suzuki Samurai, etc., not to mention, of course, the current Jeep Wrangler.
4.Jaguar E-Type: The E-Type was one of the prime influences for the above-mentioned Toyota as well as the famous Datsun 240Z. Its extreme long hood, short rear deck design and covered headlight styling cues also continue to show up in Jaguar’s own products like the XK8 and the new F-Type. After all, it was by rival Enzo Ferrari’s own admission the most beautiful car in the world | Jesse Pilarski photo
5.1965 Ford Mustang Fastback: Long before Ford went retro with the 2005 Mustang, they knocked off their own design for the original pony car with the European Ford Capri. Toyota went one step further with the 1973 Celica Liftback, a virtual ¾-scale replica of the Mustang Fastback. Even upper-crust Aston Martin with its V8 Vantage model of the 1970s went to the Mustang well. The 2015 Mustang still sports design cues from the original 1965 Mustang fastback | Sicnag photo

Multiple Choice: Original or contemporary ‘Black Bess’ Bugatti?

You can buy this Veyron 'Black Bess' for a mere $3 million | Bugatti photo
You can buy this Veyron ‘Black Bess’ for a mere $3 million | Bugatti photos
Aviator Garros' 1913 Type 18 'Black Bess'
Aviator Garros’ 1913 Type 18 ‘Black Bess’

Bugatti is doing a series of six Legends Edition  Veyrons, and the latest pays homage to the original Bugatti Type 18, known as “Black Bess,” that was delivered to a French aviator more than a century ago.

Unveiled at the recent Beijing auto show next to its namesake, the “Black Bess” Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse Legend model is one of three to be built and offered for sale for a mere $3 million. The car is the fifth in the Legends series to be offered so far by Bugatti.

Bugatti claims the original Black Bess was “the first-ever street-legal super sports car.”

“Over the course of its history, Bugatti has not only been responsible for crafting enormously successful race cars, but has also created some outstanding road vehicles,” Wolfgang Schreiber, president of Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S., said in a news release. “As the fastest road vehicle of its time, the Type 18 was in a class of its own. It truly is the legitimate forerunner for the Veyron, and is therefore a Bugatti Legend.”

Powered by a 5.0-liter, 4-cylinder, overhead-cam inline engine that pumped out more than 100 horsepower, even with its chain-drive system, the original “Black Bess” could reach a top speed of 100 miles per hour.

Ettore Bugatti drove the Type 18 prototype to victory in the 1912 Mont Ventoux hill climb and then produced seven copies for customers, including aviator Roland Garros, who took delivery of his car on September 18, 1913. Garros would name his car “Black Bess” after a legendary British horse.

Garros’ car is one of three from the series extant and was loaned to Bugatti for its Beijing display by the Louwman Museum in the Netherlands.

Multiple Choice: ’27 or ’56 Bentley interior?

1927 Bentley 3-Litre Speed tourer
1927 Bentley 3-Litre Speed tourer

At a recent Bonhams auction in England, the high-dollar sales were both Bentleys — a 1927 3-Litre Speed tourer sold for $379,197 and a 1956 S-Series Continental sports saloon brought $426,282.

But what we’re curious about is your opinion of the respective interiors of those two cars. Do you prefer the raw simplicity of the ’27 model or the green-carpeted elegance of the Continental?

1956 Bentley S-Series Continental
1956 Bentley S-Series Continental

The most commonly replicated classic cars

The classic car world is full of “coulda, shoulda, woulda” stories of people who had the opportunity to buy something when it was affordable only to see it sail out of reach. If you didn’t buy a Shelby Cobra during the Nixon administration for 10 grand, the only alternative for most people today is a replica. It’s all good fun unless someone tries to pass one off as the real deal. Here are five of the most common classic car counterfeits:

1.1967 Shelby Cobra 427: The Cobra might just be the most desirable sports car on the planet. Not coincidentally, it’s also the most replicated. With bulging, macho good looks; a big block Ford V-8; side pipes; shattering performance; and only around 300 originals made, it was a certainty from almost the beginning that supply and demand would never be equal. The originals have always commanded good money — by the late 1970s, they were approaching $50,000, and around that time, cottage industries sprang up everywhere to build Cobra replicas. Some were quite good while others bordered on undriveable. A lot depended on the skill (or lack thereof) of the builder. Even Carroll Shelby, the car’s original creator, got into the act. Some argue that the 1992 Dodge Viper was the ultimate tribute to the Cobra.  Fortunately, it’s really hard to pass off one of the replicas as the real deal; the Shelby Club maintains a registry of the real cars by serial number and history | Brian Snelson photo
2.1955 Porsche 550 Spyder: The 550 Spyder (of James Dean death car fame) and the more common bathtub-like Porsche 356 Speedster have a long history of being replicated. A Canadian company called Intermeccanica makes very high quality Speedster replicas, while Beck in the U.S. has a great reputation for making 550 Spyder replicas. Because the originals were alloy and steel, respectively, and the replicas are fiberglass, there’s no danger of one being passed off as the real thing. Real 550 Spyders are $4 million or so and Speedsters can bring more than $300,000. Replicas can be had for around $30,000, which combined with the fact that they’re quite fun to drive explains their appeal | Lothar Spurzem photo
3.1961 250 GT Ferrari California Spyder: Before Ferrari got serious about cracking down on violations of its intellectual property rights, its products were among the most commonly knocked-off cars on the planet. A very bogus California Spyder built by a company called Modena Industries shot to fame as the hero car in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” About 50 were built between 1987 and 1989, before Ferrari said “basta!” Real ones start at about $9 million | Torroid photo
4.Ferrari 308 GTS: After the “Ferris Bueller” car, the Ferrari with the most screen exposure was the red Ferrari 308 GTS that Tom Selleck drove on “Magnum P.I.” Conveniently, as the 308 reached the apex of its fame via the TV show, Pontiac came out with the mid-engine Fiero, whose space frame design combined with non-stressed removable plastic body panels made it the ideal platform for conversions designed to simulate far more expensive mid-engine exotics. The most famous (or perhaps infamous) of these was the MERA, a replica of the Ferrari 308. While the proportions were off and the interior screamed cheap, we suspect that most of the then 20-something barflies taken in by the guy with gold chains and a polyester Hawaiian shirt driving the bogus 308 never suspected a thing | Drygolin photo
5.1935 Auburn 851 Speedster: Other than a slew of neoclassics that vaguely replicate Mercedes-Benzes of the 1930s, pre-war cars are seldom faked. But the Iconic Indiana-built Auburn Speedster (along with its equally stunning sister the Cord 810/812) is an exception. We’ve lost count of how many companies have built replicas over the last 40 years are so. Like the Cobras, some are quite good and some exhibit the build quality of a Sochi hotel room. A replica Speedster was featured in the opening scene of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” | Michael Spiller photo

Classic Profile: The Kissel Speedster

Gene Husting with his 1920 Kissel 6-45 Speedster in a 1950s-era photo | Courtesy of Steve Evans
Gene Husting with his 1920 Kissel 6-45 Speedster in a 1950s-era photo | Courtesy of Steve Evans

The Kissel Motor Car Company may not be a well-recognized marque today, but it is owed a debt of gratitude from every red-blooded American car guy.

The reason is the company’s introduction in 1919 of its Speedster (later nicknamed the Gold Bug Speedster) which cemented in the American mindset the idea of the sports car. Continue reading

Potential money pits: High-maintenance classics

The miracle of depreciation has put a tempting array of classic exotics within reach for many of us. Be warned, though, that very often, the check you write for the purchase is just the first of many checks that you’ll write if you make a poor or unlucky choice. Keep in mind this maxim: The cheapest examples almost always wind up being the most expensive in the long run. Here are four that famously can be punishing on the wallet:

1.1966-80 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow:  At around the cost of a loaded Ford Focus for a nice one, it’s hard not to be tempted by the old money, English drawing room, upper crust looks of a vintage Rolls-Royce. But go in with your eyes open:  A simple brake service can exceed $1,000, with the special Rolls-Royce brake fluid going for $125 all by itself. Try to substitute something from your local auto parts store and you could be looking at $3,000 or more to repair the damage. Should the guy in the Excursion be less than deferential to your Roller when parallel parking? That famous Parthenon-like grille in front is about $2,500 used if you can find one. The hood ornament alone can cost more than $1,500 should anyone decide to make a souvenir out of yours. Ouch.
2.1975-85 Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS: At around $30,000, this lovely thing represents one of the lowest points of entry to the storied Ferrari brand. Fortunately, Thomas Magnum probably never had to foot the shop bill to maintain his employer’s 308. If he did, he’d likely have had to pawn the Hawaiian shirt and moustache. While Ferrari 308s have gained a reputation for being reasonably reliable cars as Italian exotics go, they are maintenance-intensive and things do break, particularly with the oldest now  approaching 40 years old. That lovely combination switch that operates the turn signals and pop-up headlights? They can cost close to a grand (and they do fail from time-to-time).  A belt service including the all-important timing belt needs to happen at least every five years or 30,000 miles. Ignore it and you could be on the line for a $15,000-plus engine rebuild.  At three to five grand to perform, it’s easy to see how people can tempt fate on this. And 308s without a documented recent belt service are all but sale-proof.
3.1968-72 Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3: The 6.3 is the closest that Mercedes ever came to building a Detroit-style muscle car back in the day (albeit a four-door one). Sporting a huge 384 cubic-inch V-8 with fuel injection and over 300 hp, the 6.3 was capable of a sub-six second 0-60 run and a 14.2-second ¼-mile time. All of this came at a huge price, though, both in acquisition costs and maintenance. A complete rebuild of the air suspension system can cost more than $5,000, as can the wonderfully complex pre-computer, mechanical fuel-injection system. At least the parts are available. Unlike other manufacturers that tend to abandon their classic models, Mercedes-Benz through its dedicated Classic Center will happily supply any parts needed.
4.1961-74 Jaguar E-Type: The E-Type is actually nowhere near as chronically troublesome as its reputation would suggest. This gorgeous car still seems to take a punch on a regular basis (most recently in a plot arc of AMC’s “Mad Men,” where a suicide attempt was botched because the car wouldn’t start). It is, however, a fairly complex car that takes kindly neither to abuse nor fools with tools. Burn out the clutch in your E-Type and you may wish you hadn’t been born. The list of things that have to come off of or out of the car to do the job is longer than the Unibomber manifesto. The entire massive clam shell hood, headlight and front fender assembly known by the British term “bonnet” is just the tip of the iceberg. It has to come off simply to get at the engine and transmission, which also need to part company with the rest of the car — along with three grand or so of your kid’s college fund.

Secrets of the Chevrolet El Camino

1959 Chevrolet El Camino
1959 Chevrolet El Camino

Lately, Chevy has been in the business of either resurrecting or actually doing justice to nameplates of the past (see the new Impala, SS and Camaro).  Still in the wilderness, however, is the much-loved El Camino. Part car, part pickup, hope springs eternal that it might make a comeback. But until then, here are some things most people don’t know about it:

  • President Clinton Owned One: The 42nd President of the United States drove a 1970 El Camino with a bed lined in Astroturf. Enough said.
  • GM Still Builds It: Well, sort of. GM’s Australian division, Holden (which gave us two of the last great cars to wear the Pontiac badge, the G8 and the final GTO), builds the very El Camino-like Holden Ute, which is badged as a Chevy in the Middle East. Rumors persist that if the El Camino name returns to the U.S. for 2015, it will be based on this car.
  • It Had a Forgotten Twin: The GMC division offered the El Camino’s identical twin from 1971-87 under two names, the Sprint and Caballero.

    1979 Chevrolet El Camino
    1979 Chevrolet El Camino
  • Ford beat Chevord beat to the Punch: Ford often seemed to have the better idea first (the Mustang beat the Camaro to market, the Bronco beat the Blazer, etc.), and so it was with the Ranchero, the first post-war coupe utility to hit the market in 1957. But it was the more flamboyant El Camino, which debuted two years later in 1959, that really captured the public’s imagination. It outlasted the Ranchero, too, staying on the market for eight more model years.
  • It Could Embarrass Some Real Performance Cars: For a few model years during the horsepower wars, Chevy offered the El Camino with some of the high-performance engine options from the muscle car Chevelle. This reached its zenith in 1970, when a select few people actually ordered an El Camino with the famous LS6 option, which consisted of a 450-hp, 454-ci engine.  Capable of quarter-mile times of around 13 seconds, LS6 El Caminos are highly sought after today by collectors of American muscle.

5 of the coolest four-doors ever

Four-door sedans don’t usually get the love from classic car fans the way coupes and convertibles do. We think it’s time that changed. Here are five of our favorite four doors ever:

1.1962 Lincoln Continental: The ’62 Continental may be the coolest sedan of all time. Oozing with “Mad Men” and Rat Pack swagger as well as “suicide” doors that open opposite to each other, the car still shows up with regularity in movies and on TV shows whenever something over-the-top cool is needed to haul around a large entourage, much as the Continental does on the show of the same name.  A ’58 Cadillac Brougham will scratch the same itch if you simply must go with GM | photo courtesy RM Auctions
2.1948 Tucker 48: At lot of people know the basics of the Tucker story from the Francis Ford Coppola film of the same name. Few people, though, have ever actually seen one of these rear-engine beasts in the flesh. Even today, they’re simply stunning and never fail to make you think about what might have been had Tucker succeeded in marketing a rear-engine, air-cooled sedan to the masses. Certainly far more people than just Porsche 911 drivers would have learned about the joys of terminal oversteer.
3.Aston Martin Lagonda: Where some of the other cars on this list are objectively and undeniably cool, the Lagonda is a bit of an acquired taste, even for the “Tron” generation.  Except for the tires, there isn’t a curve to be found anywhere on this origami exercise of a car. It’s a catapult and an arrestor wire short of being an aircraft carrier, and the all-LED screen dash is something to behold (when it’s working). But there is something undeniably cool about this 1970s super sedan that was once a fixture at places like the London Playboy Club and every OPEC meeting.
4.1994-96 Chevrolet Impala SS: Until the late and much-lamented Pontiac G8 came out, this was the last rear-wheel-drive GM sedan to lust after. The stock Caprice was a bit of an awkward exercise with its aero design and faired rear wheels.  Fat tires, cool alloy wheels and a properly radiused rear-wheel arch did wonders for the Impala SS, as did the 5.7-liter LT1 V-8 that made 260 hp in the SS.  The few good ones that remain are becoming sought-after collectibles.
5.1951-54 Hudson Hornet: Incredible early 1950s pre-fin styling? Check. NASCAR domination? Check. Steve McQueen ownership? Check. Enough said. The Hornet qualifies as the coolest American sedan of the early 1950s.

6 of the best TV cop cars

The cop show genre goes back to the pre-TV days of radio (where you had to imagine what black and white your favorite cop was driving).  Here are some of our favorite full-size, rear-wheel-drive American cop cars from 60 years of the best cop shows:

1.“Adam 12” (1972 AMC Matador): Although it was shot in the 1970s, in many ways, “Adam 12” was a throwback to 1950s cop shows in which gangs, heroin dealers and street snitches didn’t exist and officers Reed and Malloy played by Kent McCord and Martin Milner rarely drew their guns, let alone actually capped anyone. In seasons five through seven, they drove an AMC Matador. In actuality, the LAPD was always a strong supporter of underdog American Motors; they owned more than 500 Matador black and whites at one time.
2.“TJ Hooker” (1979 Dodge St. Regis): The post-“‘Star Trek’ the TV series” and pre-“‘Star Trek’ the Motion Picture” years saw William Shatner in a relatively forgettable cop show that starred perhaps the least believable cop of all time, Heather Locklear. For much of the show’s run, Shatner drove an equally forgettable Malaise-Era Mopar full-size sedan, the Dodge St.  Regis. It’s fascinating to see them on the show because few people can remember the last time they saw one on the road — they’re nearly extinct | CBS photo
3.“Hill Street Blues” (1976 Dodge Monaco): The opening title sequence of “Hill Street Blues” with a memorable Mike Post theme song and a gritty look featured several fishtailing Dodge Monacos hightailing it out of the precinct. The Monaco in police surplus trim also served as The Bluesmobile in the film “The Blues Brothers.”
4.“Southland” (1999 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor): No list of great cop cars would be complete without the classic Ford Crown Vic. The last full-size rear-wheel-drive Ford was produced from 1992-2011. It was the most widely used police car and taxi in the U.S. and Canada, and although they’re starting to give way to the Dodge Charger, they still show up in the rearview mirrors of speeders everywhere | photo courtesy Kevin Chant
5.“The Andy Griffith Show” (1963 Ford Galaxie): The Mayberry Police Department was fond of Fords. We’re partial to the ’63 300 Galaxie with the classic gumball-machine light on the roof. Over the years, fans of the show have built hundreds of loving replicas of Sheriff Andy’s cruiser.
6.“Highway Patrol” (1956 Buick Special): Perhaps the granddaddy of all TV cop shows, rough-hewn Broderick Crawford drove a huge assortment of Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Dodges through the 1955-59 run of the show. We particularly like the ’56 Buick Special | Photo courtesy Brian Snelson