Category archives: My Classic Car

My Classic Car: The 1958 Isetta that Rick DeBruhl just had to buy

Photos courtesy of Rick DeBruhl
Photos courtesy of Rick DeBruhl

(Rick DeBruhl managed to turn the wasted hours reading car magazines and hanging out in auto shop into a career. He works for ABC and ESPN covering IndyCars and NASCAR Nationwide. He also is part of the Fox Sports team covering the Barrett-Jackson auctions. Rick writes automotive reviews for the Arizona Republic and You can read more of his work at, where this article first appeared.)

I didn’t mean to buy a BMW Isetta.

After all, I like cars for two main reasons: speed and beauty. The Isetta has neither of those two things.

It has no speed because the Isetta has a one cylinder engine that pumps out a whopping 13 horsepower. On a good day, with a tail wind, you might hit 50 mph.

It has no beauty because, well, it’s doesn’t. Oh sure, I’ll hear the word “cute” a lot. “Funny looking” will be close behind. As I climb in the single door that is the front of the bubble-shaped body, the words “odd” and “downright ugly” will be uttered after I hopefully can’t hear.Isetta at Canoga from yearbook 001

So why did I buy an Isetta? Because I had to.

It all started at Canoga Park High School back in the early 1970s. Our principal, Hugh Hodgens owned an Isetta. He’d bring it to football games on Friday nights. Every time our team would score a touchdown, he’d pop a cheerleader out the sunroof and drive around the track.

Ever since then I’ve had a fascination for the tiny cars. I remember regularly seeing one parked close to Highway 101 near Anderson’s Pea Soup in Buellton, California (just north of Santa Barbara). As I’d drive back and forth to college I’d ponder how it would be fun to own an Isetta.

Fortunately, it was not an obsession. My automotive tastes are a lot more mainstream. Mustangs and Corvettes are more my style. The smallest car I owned was a 1959 Bugeye Sprite. But while it was small, it was sporty and a lot of fun.

Over the past five years I’ve seen the Isettas become a popular fixture at the Barrett- Jackson auctions. There’s always one or two and they bring impressive money. Apparently cute sells.

Of course, not even that was enough to make me want to buy one.

Until I found it. “It” was a 1958 Isetta sitting just outside of Sacramento. It was restored about six years ago and has less than 100 miles on the odometer since the work was done. Nicely finished with red paint and a red and white interior, the frame was in great shape and the engine started right up.

But that’s not what made this Isetta special. It was special because of its owner: Hugh Hodgens. That’s right, the principal. It was the same car I’d seen him drive around the track at football games.

The path to my purchase started one day when an email was forwarded to me from a family friend who used to work at the high school. I happened to notice that Mr. Hodgen’s (I can’t call him anything else) email was included. Having plenty of happy high school memories (after all, that’s where I met my wife), I decided to send him a message, and mentioned that I had a fondness for Isettas. His return message included the nugget that he still owned the car. My next email concluded with one of those brash statements, “If you ever decide to sell the Isetta, let me know.”

Turns out that Mr. Hodgens, after owning the car for 46 years, was ready to sell. It was always a novelty, but also a part of his family. Still, it had reached the point that he wasn’t using the Isetta much. It was garaged at some property he owned near Sacramento. My offer came at just the right moment. More importantly, it wasn’t from a stranger. It was from a member of the Canoga Park High School family.

Suffice to say that one thing led to another and before long we had a deal. Mr. Hodgen’s son brought the car down to Los Angeles where I picked it up and trailered it back to Phoenix.

So now I own an Isetta.

What am I going to do with it? Well, it’s hardly transportation, at least not the way we think of it today. Back in the 50s, it was designed to be a step up from a motor scooter, if not quite a full car. It’s surprisingly comfortable and roomy, but it’s also a rolling death trap. I pity anyone who was hit in one of these back in its day. And then there’s the speed, or lack of it.

My wife and I will putter around the neighborhood. We’ll take it to church, although I’m a little worried about driving it to the grocery store. I’m not concerned about someone trying to steal it (first they’d have to figure out the backward shift pattern), rather some pranksters might try to pick it up and move it for fun (just like kids did back in its high school days). We’ll definitely hit some car shows where we stand a great chance of winning the “People’s Choice” award.

One thing we will do is make people smile. The few times I’ve driven it, people stop and point. They wave and tell their kids to come take a look. They desperately try to whip out their camera phone and take a picture.

Maybe that will be the legacy of this car. It made me smile in high school, and now I get to pass those smiles on to a new generation. How many cars can make that claim?

And that’s why I had to buy it.

My Classic Car: Richard Whitehead’s ’59 El Camino

Photos courtesy of Richard Whitehead
Photos courtesy of Richard Whitehead

Last year I imported into Australia an ELKY,  which I can claim would be one of if not the best Elky worldwide.

My friend Willi Maul, a former Mercedes-Benz dealer in Los Angeles, had been looking for a couple of years to find me the right car. He found it in Florida, where it was owned and restored by Al Burzo, a retired police chief from New York. The restoration was a three-year process completed in 2007 after completely stripping it with a body-off- restoration. Many desirable modifications also were carried out, including a new Impala interior, air conditioning, disc front brakes, power seat adjustment, R700 transmission, power windows.

The original 348 motor with tri carbies was completely reconditioned.

This 1959 El Camino has traveled 10,000 trouble-free miles.

whitehead4It had a substantial show history in the United States, including first place in the annual national winter convention in 2007, 2008 and 2009. It has gained three platinum certificates already here in Australia, where the general public has never seen a ’59 Elky (there are maybe six or eight total here) and thinks it was converted from an Impala station wagon.

I was fortunate that when I purchased “Black Beauty.” Our Aussie dollar was doing well vs. the U.S. dollar. As you guys probably know, there was a great influx of U.S. classics here at the time, but that will slow down. Today, our dollar is worth only 89 U.S. cents.

Up until about 2 years ago, left-hand drive cars were not allowed on our roads and could not be registered. This law has been amended. Left- hand drive is allowed, providing the car is at least 30 years old.

Cars that were imported from the U.S prior to this change had to be converted from left to right-hand drive — at a cost of at least $10,000!

I have been told by my dealer friend in Los Angeles that the day will come when many of our top U.S cars will be re-purchased by the Yanks and returned to America.





My Classic Car: Grandmother would like Gary Loar’s ’54 Pontiac

Photos courtesy of Gary Loar
Photos courtesy of Gary Loar

I have owned this car, a 1954 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe, for 20 years. I got the car to save her from the previous owner, who could not afford to restore the car and it was just sitting and deteriorating more and more.

Why this car? Because my grandmother had a ’54 Star Chief convertible, so I wanted one for many years. This is the only ’54 I could find at the time, but then good luck finding a convertible.

It took about one year to complete the restoration, which was done with the help of friends in the Pontiac Oakland Club International, the Antique Automobile Club of America and other friends who own classic cars.

We took the car down to bare metal, rebuilt the engine and transmission. I don’t think there was a bolt or screw that wasn’t turned.

Now, this car is just wonderful to drive.

The car made its “debut” in June of 1994 at a national car meet in New Hope, Pa.

I drive it to and from local car shows, though lately I’ve been trailering it to long-distant shows, though I have driven the car as far west as Indianapolis and as far east at Cape Cod.

I think my grandmother would be pleased.


My Classic Car: A father shares the story of Maxx Christopher’s Opel GT

Maxx (at far left) and the Christopher family fleet, including Dad’s classic cars and Maxx’s older brother Cody.

(Editor’s note: This story was written by Maxx Christopher’s father, Andrew.)

I write this story with sorrow and with joy, to tell the story of my son Maxx Christopher’s love affair with cars from the time he was crawling, pushing Hot Wheels Johnny Lightings cars across the floor.

Maxx always loved cars, car movies, car shows, working on cars and just talking about cars.

When Maxx was 4 years old, I bought a 1971 Pontiac GTO (a restoration project), As I began the restoration, Maxx started helping me in the garage, first by holding the light and handing me wrenches and sockets. At an early age, Maxx got to know his way around a toolbox.

Maxx watched and participated in transforming my ’71 Goat into a show-winning car,  winning trophies in several shows including the GTO North West Regionals.

But this was only the first of several show cars that Maxx worked on with me over the years. There was a 1972 Olds Vista Cruiser, 1968 Mercury XR7 GT 390 Cougar, a 1972 Olds Cutlass “S” , and a 1974 Triumph TR6. Maxx had become quite knowledgeable about classic cars.

Photo courtesy Andrew Christopher
Photos courtesy Andrew Christopher

When Maxx was 13 he saw a picture in a car magazine of an Opel GT and fell in love with it. Maxx told me that someday he was going to get a Opel GT and my answer to him was that you never see Opel GTs.

But as fate would have it ,the next week one popped up in the local want ads. Maxx and I went to look at the Opel GT. There was a complete car, but all apart in boxes.

I bought the car for Maxx for a $1,000.

After all those years helping me restore my projects, Maxx finally got a project of his own, and I thought this is going to be fun spending time with my teenage son wrenching on his car in the garage. I told Maxx I was not going to work on the Opel unless he is alongside me. He  participated on every aspect of the restoration.

The next three years are full of cherished memories for me, spending time with Maxx restoring his Opel GT — time we spent together was not only car talk but what happened in high school that day along with leaning life lessons not only for Maxx but for me.

By the time Maxx turned 16 his Opel was completed and wearing stunning bright orange paint. Maxx drove his Opel GT to show off his car at its first car show a month later and took two trophies — best sports car and best high school car. He was so proud and I was so proud of him.

Maxx continued to drive his Opel GT to school and to car shows, taking home trophies until he left to for the Job Corps Urban Forestry program on the Oregon Coast in October 2009 to begin training to become Arborist. The Opel GT stayed in my garage while Maxx completed the 13 months of training.

When Maxx retuned to Southern Oregon he loved being able to drive his Opel GT on the mountain roads again.

With the economy being slow, Maxx had a hard time finding steady employment as an arborist, but he didn’t give up. Then he found an arborist job on the other side of the world, in New Zealand, on the Internet.

Maxx applied for a work visa and he was off to New Zealand at age 18, leaving his Opel GT behind again.

After five months missing America with work coming to an end, Maxx returned home, only to find a still bad economy with scarce employment opportunities. He decided to join the military and serve his country in December 2011. In January 2012 he passed his armed forces test and his physical.

But two days before he was to be sworn in, he lost his life at the hands of a drunk driver. It was February 4th, 2012. Maxx had climbed into the back seat of a car that had been driven over  to pick up Maxx and a friend. They got in not knowing the driver had just consumed a ½-bottle of rum and was five times over the legal limit.

Today, the Opel GT sits in my garage and remains a part of our family, and I can feel Maxx is riding along with me when I drive his car.

My Classic Car: Gary Chittenden’s 1961 Ford Sunliner

Photo courtesy of Gary Chittenden
Photo courtesy of Gary Chittenden

Great story from Ed Fisher. I just sold my ’55 Crown Victoria and felt the need to own another car. I found a 61 Sunliner and bought it over the phone. I have always thought that they are very under-appreciated cars. Very elegant. Mine doesn’t have the 401, but I just want to cruise, so the 352 is good enough. I will probably sell this one as well and buy another “One I’ve Always Wanted.”

Gary Chittenden
Coldwater, Ontario, Canada

Many thanks to Gary for sharing his story.  Why not share yours?

My Classic Car: Ed Fisher’s 1961 Ford Starliner

Photo courtesy of Ed Fisher
Photo courtesy of Ed Fisher

Way back in 1961 or 1962 I had a “401” 1961 Starliner, 3-speed with overdrive. I won many Super Stock trophies with it. Had a great time. One fantastic memory was driving it from Akron to Daytona, checking into the motel, putting slicks on it, and drag racing on the back stretch of Daytona Speedway on Saturday night the night before the 500.

I was first loser (to a towed Super Stock). What a memory. That was also the year Curtis Turner was driving a ’61 Starliner. Came from the back of the pack to I believe 5th place and then blew the engine! That was accomplished in just a few laps.

What a car!!!

I had the chance to buy a ’61 Starliner 3 years ago. It has the “401” also. It is aqua and white,very original. So I went to North Carolina and bought it.
I live in Phoenix and take it to various shows here.

Ed Fisher
Akron, Ohio

Many thanks to Ed for sharing his story.  Why not share yours?