Supercars star at Russo and Steele in Newport Beach

The Porsche Carrera GT on the block at the Newport Beach auction | Russo and Steele
The Porsche Carrera GT on the block at the Newport Beach auction | Russo and Steele

Three modern supercars from three different continents led the bidding at Russo and Steele’s third annual Newport Beach auction, which reported a 71 percent jump in total sales compared with year-ago figures.

In preliminary results, the auction reported sales of $7.2 million, which is $3 million more than the total for the 2014 event. Continue reading

Still groovy, the VW microbus turns 65

This excellent 1963 VW bus set the bar when it sold in 2011 for $217,800 at Barrett-Jackson | Bob Golfen
This excellent 1963 VW bus set the bar when it sold in 2011 for $217,800 at Barrett-Jackson | Bob Golfen

Like the hippies who loved them and raised them to cult-like status during the 1960s, the VW microbus has become a senior citizen. This month, the Volkswagen Type 2 turned 65. Continue reading

Pick of the Week: 1975 VW Super Beetle

Soft-drink brand Sprite had car built for promotional tour
Soft-drink brand Sprite had car built for promotional tour

You may not earn an invitation to Amelia Island or other major concours d’elegance with this Pick of the Week, but you certainly would be a hit at a Concours d’LeMons, and a real slam dunk during March Madness. Continue reading

My Classic Car: Jose’s 1962 Volkswagen Beetle

The 1962 Beetle | Jose Olivencia photos
The 1962 Beetle | Jose Olivencia photo

My first car was a 1953 Volkswagen Beetle (6-volt) that my father bought me when I was 20 years old. I enjoyed my time driving that small car. I liked it so much that my next car was a 1966 Beetle, which was my favorite.

The car came with a 1600-cc engine but a friend and I installed a 1974 1750-cc version with a racing clutch, pistons, etc., and I really enjoyed driving that small car.

I also have had a 1969 Beetle and 1972 and 1975 Super Beetles.

Amy and 'her' car
Amy and ‘her’ car

About a year ago I bought a 1962 VW Beetle for my 3-year-old daughter. Why? Because I remember my father buying my first car and I wanted to keep that memory and pass it on to my daughter.

My father passed away in 1977, but he is still in my heart forever.

— Jose Olivencia Jr, Antioch TN

My Classic Car: Peter’s 1957 Volkswagen 1000

The 1957 VW camper | Peter Koehorst archives
The 1957 VW camper | Peter Koehorst archives

On a Friday morning in 1976 I was driving down Koeberg Road when I saw an old VW ‘Combi camper in a car sale yard. The tag was R650, or about $60. It ran OK, and it looked clean, rust-free and the front windows opened!

When the salesman offered to get it through the roadworthy test that afternoon, broke as I was, I bought it.

My mom packed a fantastic mound of fat sandwiches and gave me and my then-girl, now wife, a huge box of cocktail cookies and a jar of pink mayonnaise to go with them. We were set for the weekend.

She survived to become Mrs. Koehorst
She survived to become Mrs. Koehorst

We set off early on Saturday complete with our food, tame parakeet, and a tank of fuel. Once we were on the highway heading towards Paarl, we discovered that 30-35 m.p.h. was a good cruising speed for the little 1100cc with a rather noticeable reduction in speed up the hills. Downhill was a roller coaster ride! Got her up to 75 once.

It was so delicious with the sun pouring through the open front windows. Pippin, the bird, was running up and down the bench seat with his wings outstretched singing. I kept driving, and so we got back to Cape Town more than a year later.

We traveled so many miles that year and had so many adventures that it is difficult to highlight any. At times we were down to our very last Rand, and painstakingly made a few jewelry items on the Durban beachfront which we sold to surfers for food and fuel money.

In Zululand we worked on the making of ‘Zulu Dawn” an historic movie about the Zulu wars — 300 zulus in tribal dress armed with assegaais stormed across the plains striking for meat. A prize ox from props was slaughtered and all was well.

In the Free State we hooked up with two traveling operas and worked till we had enough cash for a tape deck.

In the Kruger national park an elephant swing his trunk through the windows while we were asleep and tried to steal fruit off the front seat.

We camped on the banks of a river near the Blydesdale Canyon and didn’t see a soul for three weeks.

The camper was amazing, and the cookies lasted a month!
I kept it, for the next 15 years, sold it reluctantly, and though we had many adventures with her over the years, the memories of that year of freedom on the road and those mayonnaise cookies has always stayed with me.

— Peter Koehorst, Kommetjie, South Africa

Future Classic: Volkswagen Rabbit/Golf GTI

The 1985-92 VW GTI Mk2 hit the mark in hot-hatch styling and performance | Bob Golfen
The 1985-92 VW GTI Mk2 hit the mark in hot-hatch styling and performance | Bob Golfen

In 1983, the U.S. was just emerging from the automotive weariness of the 1970s. The Arab oil embargo had made everybody leery of gas supplies and rising prices and, to make matters worse, automobiles strangled by inefficient emissions controls had made performance pretty much a thing of the past.

In that dour atmosphere, the Volkswagen Rabbit GTI seemed like a jolt of excitement. Here was the original “hot hatch,” a sports version of the humble VW econobox, something that was fresh and entirely new, combining practicality with sporty performance.

GTI spelled a fresh take on practical performance | Bob Golfen
GTI spelled a fresh take on practical performance | Bob Golfen

Maybe not high performance by today’s standards, but the GTI version of the Rabbit (as the Golf initially was named for U.S. consumers) provided the power, tight handling and steering precision previously found only in sports cars costing way more.

Fast forward a few decades and Volkswagen recently introduced the seventh generation of the Golf GTI. To mark the occasion of the car’s media introduction, VW brought out examples of the first six models of GTI, going back to the original pocket rocket of 1983. We were able to sample the vintage VWs along with the latest models in drives around the San Francisco area.

As a Future Classic candidate, I’m looking at the first three generations of GTI: the Mk1 that went from 1983 to 1984 (although European versions date back to 1976), the Mk2 from 1985 to 1992, and the Mk3 from 1994 to 1999.

GTI spelled a fresh take on practical performance | Bob Golfen
The classic first-generation Rabbit GTI | Bob Golfen

The Rabbit GTI Mk1 that I drove was a 1984 model, and it was like encountering an old friend after so many years apart.

I can’t remember when I last saw one of these boxy critters in any condition, much less as preserved as this one, in classic silver paint with red highlights.

It was so much fun to get behind the wheel (tall drivers alert: legroom is tight) and run this little buzz bomb through the streets. Horsepower for the 1.8-liter engine may seem slight at 90, but the GTI’s curb weight of just 2,000 pounds translates into sprightly acceleration. That’s also a lot more power that the 65-hp provided by the standard Rabbit.

The earliest GTI felt somewhat crude, maybe like something a Euro hot rodder might have come up with in his garage. This example also was saddled with some kind of custom exhaust that made it go “blat!” every time power was applied. Fun at first, but quickly tiresome.

The simple but high-quality Mk1 interior | Volkswagen
The simple but high-quality Mk1 interior | Volkswagen

But I could definitely see being attracted to one of these as a low-cost, drivable collector car that would be a rare head turner for those who recall how much fun they were in their day.

I don’t see many of these early ones for sale, although there was a restored custom 1984 GTI set up for SCCA Pro Solo racing offered recently in my locale. It was priced at $3,500, which is about what these go for in decent condition, topping off around $10,000 for the very best restorations or remarkably preserved originals.

The second-generation GTI Mk2 was a major step up from the Mk1 in just about every way, sharper looking, more powerful, more refined and roomier inside. I drove the 1992 Mk2 on the same street course as the earlier one, and it impressed with its high-revving engine and sophisticated drivability.

The hotter 16-valve, 2-liter engine cranks out a convincing 134 horsepower, though curb weight is up to nearly 2,500 pounds. Unlike the Mk1, the Mk2 feels totally modern rather than quirkily vintage.

The GTI Mk3 was boosted with VR6 power | Volkswagen
The GTI Mk3 was boosted with VR6 power | Volkswagen

In great condition, these range in value today from around $4,000 to $9,000. But like the Mk1, most of these cars were used and abused and allowed to rust away. A great one would be a real find.

The GTI Mk3 got a boost in performance from VW’s narrow-angle 2.8-liter VR6 engine that pumped out 172 horsepower, although weight also went up, to 2,800 pounds. Critics of this model note that it’s softer and heavier than the previous generations, but the extra pull brings it home. Some also find the styling too bland for a performance car, compared with the cool-looking Mk2 that went before.

The 1995 Mk3 that I sampled felt pretty sweet, and provided a reminder of the pleasurable performance of the VR6.

Unlike most of its contemporary hot-hatch competitors – and there were quite a few that latched onto the GTI formula – the early VW GTIs were solidly built with premium interiors. A class act for a budget performance car back then, it remains at bargain levels today. But despite 10s of thousands being produced, the difficulty today is finding a good one that hasn’t been thrashed, rusted or victimized by a nasty customization.

Although the Mk1 has the charm and purity of an original, I think my choice would the Mk2 for its aggressive drivability and styling. That’s when VW’s pioneering hot hatch hit its sweet spot.

Meyers Manx marks 50th birthday with honors

The 1964 Meyers Manx named Old Red in its natural surroundings, a California beach | Historic Vehicle Association
The 1964 Meyers Manx named Old Red in its natural surroundings | Historic Vehicle Association

A 50th anniversary party for the original dune buggy, the 1964 Meyers Manx, highlights the Historic Vehicle Association’s inaugural Cars at the Capitol automotive heritage celebration this weekend at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The first Manx, known as “Old Red,” was hand-built by Bruce Meyers in his Newport Beach, California, garage and will be present Saturday morning during the opening remarks at the National Mall. Meyers, an active 88 year old, also is expected to attend.

Continue reading

It’s worth what? 5 classics you’d never guess are so valuable

Some classics wear their price tags on their sleeves. Look at a fuel-injected ’57 Chevy Bel Air, and it’s immediately apparent that it’s valuable merchandise. On the other hand, there are the sleepers of the classic car world, the cars that are worth a lot of money but it’s only obvious to those in-the-know. Your Accord-driving neighbor would, for example, never guess that the proceeds from a restored VW microbus could put his kid through college at a very good state school. Here are five you’d never suspect of being quite pricey:

1.Volkswagen “Samba” Microbus: There’s a simple rule of thumb with VW Microbuses: More windows equals more money. The 21- and 23-window versions of the venerable ’50s bus can bring money that would shock the hippies who ran them into the ground in the 1960s—around 70 grand for a nicely restored one. They’ve even been known to break $100,000 at the right auction.
2.Fiat Jolly: The Jolly was an open-top version of the classic Fiat 500 that was meant to be stowed onboard yachts and used as transport in places like Monaco and Positano. They have no doors, the seats are made of wicker and the tops are meant only to provide shade. Appallingly cute, the pint-sized Jolly can sell for upwards of $70,000.
3.Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser: The classic Jeep-like 1960-1984 Toyota Land Cruiser was one tough vehicle—so tough that they invited horrific abuse, which explains the dearth of clean examples. A nicely restored one sold at an auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., last January for $88,000. We’ve heard stories of $100,000-plus examples. In response to FJ40s getting so expensive, first-generation 4Runners are starting to increase in value. Don’t say we didn’t mention it.
4.Ford Bronco: The humble 1966-77 Ford Bronco was a product of the same team that brought us the classic 1964½ Mustang. Unlike the Mustang, which sat on Ford Falcon underpinnings, the first Bronco was a totally unique platform. The size and shape were just right, and collectors have latched onto them in droves. Totally stock, unrusted Broncos without cut fenders and flares are rare; it takes around $30,000 to get a nice one.
5.BMW Isetta: Prior to becoming known as the ultimate driving machine, BMW suffered from a case of bipolar disorder, selling the super-expensive V-8 507 roadster and the tiny egg-like Isetta microcar out of the same showrooms. It’s no shock that the gorgeous 507 roadster sells for a ton of money, but the fact that Isettas can pull more than $40,000 is surprising indeed.

Secrets of the original Volkswagen Beetle

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The original air-cooled VW Beetle lasted an incredible 58 years in production, during which time it was fundamentally unchanged. It’s a record that will likely never be approached, let alone broken. Although nearly everyone of a certain age has at least one Beetle story or fond memory, there are a few things still not generally known about the beloved car. Here are five of our favorites:

  1. The original classic Beetle didn’t leave production until 2003: Although it was last sold in the U.S. in 1979 (by which time the water-cooled Rabbit had replaced it), the original air-cooled Beetle was produced in Puebla, Mexico, until 2003. It’s essentially identical to the cars produced in Germany for export to the U.S. in the 1970s, but it is illegal to try to import a Mexican Beetle into the U.S. because they don’t comply with recent emissions and safety laws.
  2. It was conceived by an infamous dictator: The original Beetle was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler. Keen to put ordinary Germans on the newly constructed autobahn superhighways in their own cars, a subsidized savings plan involving a coupon booklet was devised. When a family filled their booklet, they were supposed to get their car. WWII intervened and all pre-war Beetle deliveries were limited to Nazi party officials. Private owners didn’t get their hands on a Beetle until after the war.
  3. Germans don’t remember it as fondly as we do: The connection with the dictator who brought ruin to their country as well as the fact that it serves as a reminder of the lean times before the West German economic miracle took hold means that post-war Germans don’t have the same warm and fuzzy feelings about the Beetle that American ex-hippies do.
  4. The Beetle will float: The Beetle may have been inexpensive, but it was never cheap. Gaps were tight and doors sealed well. Additionally, it was a unibody car with a very flat floor with few openings. All of this meant that the car would actually float for at least several minutes after hitting the water before turning into a small U-boat.
  5. Subject of groundbreaking ad campaign: The Beetle was the subject of one of the most influential ad campaigns of the 20th century. Most recently lampooned on the TV show “Mad Men,” it was among the first national campaigns to utilize irony and self-deprecating wit. A tiny black-and-white photo of a Beetle in a sea of white space with only the headline “Think Small” was the first of the ads introduced in 1959 by the agency Doyle Dane Bernbach.