Below are snaps of a few of the older vehicles I’ve spotted out and about these last few months, at least before the Northeast snows descended upon us. One car was spotted in a hardware store parking lot; another was dropping off an offspring at a sporting event; and a few were seen in the relatively balmy climate of Cape May NJ. In all cases, the vehicles were either moving under their own power or were legally parked, with license plates attached – these were not project-cars-in-waiting.
1965 MERCURY COMET
This 2-door hardtop was in the parking lot of my local Home Depot on a Sunday afternoon. While far from a show car (note the heavily worn paint on hood and roof), it’s obviously owned by an enthusiast, based on the wheels and the license plate. I trust that his planned hardware purchase will fit in the trunk or back seat. This is what you drive to the store when the ’49 woodie wagon is in the shop.
‘60s VW KARMANN GHIA
An end-of-year visit to Cape May rewarded me with a VW two-fer. This Karmann Ghia was parked downtown and gave the impression that it had recently been driven. While the paint was dull and the bumpers were rusty, there were no body issues from corrosion or collision, and with bumper overriders, wheel covers, lights, mirror, and antenna all accounted for, this Ghia was reasonably complete! Make special note of the undented NOSE. It fit the casual funky vibe of Cape May perfectly.
‘60s VW BUG
A few miles away from downtown Cape May is a United States Coast Guard Receiving Station, complete with barracks. Parked in front of one of the housing units was this Bug, with Texas plates if I recall correctly. The driver’s side running board was missing, and the bumpers didn’t look original, but like the Ghia, it looked like you could hop in it and take it for a day-long ride if you so desired. Was it driven up from Texas? I for one would not wager that it didn’t make its way up here in that manner.
1966 FORD MUSTANG
This Mustang was parked at my local gas station. The paint looked recent, and aside from what appear to be incorrect wheel covers, it looked bone stock. Maybe it had been dropped off for some service work. I think that these first-generation hardtops have aged well, and compared to the more expensive Mustang convertibles and fastbacks, continue to be affordable collector cars that make for an ideal way to enter the hobby.
‘70s VW TRANSPORTER
I’m no VW expert, but I believe that this vehicle is a 2nd-generation Transporter (T2), produced from 1968 to 1979 (and if I’m wrong, the Vee-Dub air-cooled authorities will be sure to respond). I spotted this “bus” in the parking lot of a local playing field, as a parent was dropping off a child for sports practice. What a cool way to get shuttled to soccer! This one must be a camper; note the pop-up roof and the duct vent just aft of the driver’s door. It’s also wearing the ultimate VW bus accessory, a peace sign decal.
Three of the five vehicles I spotted were air-cooled Volkswagens. Are these cars, which lack liquid cooling systems, the ultimate winter collector car because they can’t freeze? What if you need heat inside? They’re notorious for lacking good interior heating systems (my dad’s ’57 Bug had no heater installed, and he kept blankets inside it for passengers). Perhaps it’s coincidence to see three of the same make, but it’s still a treat to stumble across the occasional old car on the road, especially in a season that has been devoid of normal car shows.
Scanning and posting my photos from the 1969 New York Auto Show resulted in my flipping through other photographs of mine from the ‘60s and ‘70s. To my surprise, I rediscovered photos that I had frankly forgotten about: pictures from the 1977 New York Auto Show (or so I thought). One reason that these pictures hadn’t resonated with me was their poor quality. Taken with a Kodak 110 Instamatic camera, the flash was barely powerful enough to illuminate the subjects. Thankfully, digital photo-editing software goes a long way toward making them halfway presentable. These photos also verify what was seen in my 1969 event pictures: the claustrophobic nature of the Coliseum’s exhibit halls.
As I did some Googling about the show, I came across a 2nd surprise: these pictures were in fact NOT taken at the “official” NY show, but at an event held a few months later called “Auto Expo”. Still held in the Coliseum, Auto Expo was all imported cars. I’m not sure if that’s because the funny furrin’ ones didn’t get enough exposure at the main event, or if promoters/dealers wanted to give the imports a chance to shine on their own.
One website I stumbled across lists the details of every NY Auto Show from 1900 to 2020, by date, sponsor, official title, and location. Presuming that this data is accurate, I note that I was incorrect in my earlier post when I stated that the NY Show has been held “continuously” since 1900; the show was on hiatus during the war years 1941-1947. The new Coliseum first hosted in 1956, and that show carried the title of New York’s “1st International Automobile Show”. The next year was the “2nd” and so on. This title structure remained until the GNYADA (Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association) assumed sponsorship in 1972.
In 1977, the GNYADA show ran from January 29 through February 6. But two men, Robert Topaz and Raymond Geddes, sponsored the first all-import Auto Expo, held that year from April 3 to April 10. I’m certain that’s the show I attended, as I was in college in ’77, way out in eastern Long Island, and would not have traveled into Manhattan in January. But I would have been home on Staten Island for Easter break, when Auto Expo was held, and it would have been a breeze to take public transport up to the Coliseum.
Auto Expo lasted all of three years; perhaps Gotham City couldn’t generate enough traffic to viably support two new car shows spaced just a few months apart. After 1979, the only NY auto show was hosted by the GNYADA, and that continues to this day.
This NY Times article points out some attractions my camera missed, and also helpfully advises that “free parking (is) nonexistent within three blocks before 6 P.M on weekdays”. I only took five photographs, and they are arranged below in alphabetical order by manufacturer. I’ve compiled some basic engine and price data sourced from The Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-1990, published by Krause Publications. Some of these prices shock me, even today. For comparison, five months after attending this show, I bought my first new car, a 1977 VW Rabbit, for $3,599. And to think I could have had a Le Car.
1977 Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider Veloce
Alfa Romeo introduced a new 2-seat convertible, the Duetto, to the world in 1966. Although the little roadster got semi-frequent styling and engine upgrades, the same basic shell was still on offer 11 years later as the 2000 Spider Veloce. Let’s break that down: 2000 as in engine size (2.0L); Spider as in Italian for “convertible”; and Veloce as in “fast” (a relative term). The 1977 version of the fabled Alfa twin-cam four-cylinder put out 110 HP; entry into the topless Alfa club started at $8,795 in ’77.
1977 Aston Martin V-8
An Aston Martin showroom in 1977 presented two choices: the 4-door Lagonda, and the 2-door V-8. The car pictured, the V-8, was also available in Vantage (high-performance) and Volante (drop-top) versions. The base non-Vantage V-8, with 4 dual-choke Webers, pushed out 350 horsepower and started at $33,950. Can you put a price on exclusivity? The company built a total of 262 V-8 models in 1977.
1977 BMW 630CSi
BMW introduced its new 6-series coupes to the world halfway through the 1976 model year, but didn’t bring this 630CSi stateside until 1977. BMW didn’t have a large presence in the U.S. yet: showrooms held this car, the 2-door 320i, and the 4-door 530i, and that was it. (But the front plate already proclaims “The Ultimate Driving Machine”.) The 630CSi’s 3L inline-six churned out 176 HP, and its starting price of $23,600 was $9,000 higher than the 1976 3.0Si coupe it replaced!
1977 Porsche Turbo Carrera Coupe
For a photo that only captures one hind quarter, the details are telling: the wide flared rear fenders and whale-tail spoiler are dead giveaways that this is the Porsche 911 Turbo, officially known as the Turbo Carrera Coupe. Introduced to the U.S. market the year before, Porsche brought it back in ’77 with almost no changes for its sophomore year. The 3-liter engine produced 234 HP in Federal trim, with a list price of $28,000. (By comparison, a 1977 Porsche 911S Coupe started at $13,845, a 50% discount.)
1977 Renault Le Car
Like the Porsche Turbo Carrera, Renault’s two-door microcar was in its 2nd model year in the states. That’s about where the similarities end. Starting price was $3,345 for the 58-horsepower 2-door. A fact of which I was unaware: when introduced here in 1976, the vehicle was called the “R-5”; the name change to “Le Car” happened in in ’77. The Le Car hung around in the U.S. market through the 1983 model year, by which time its base price had risen to $4,795 (that’s a lot of French bread).
My recent piece on EVs and the introduction of a number of EV pickup trucks within the next 6 to 18 months drew more comments than almost any blog post I’ve previously written! Actually, all the comments were sincere, insightful, and worthy of entering into the dialogue. I intend to write an EV follow-up piece later in the year, specifically waiting for the production version of the Tesla CyberTruck to hit the market….
That EV piece was written while wearing my daytime hat. As part of that gig, I’ve also contributed several articles to the website medium.com, and in scrolling through that content over the weekend, I found another piece that might generate some feedback, if not quite as controversial as the gas-vs-electric situation. I had been challenged by a colleague to write a piece on my “dream vehicle”; if money were no object, what would I drive? I quickly realized that there is no one all-around best car, and instead, I tackled the assignment by thinking about which automotive attributes are most important to me, and then selecting the cars which fulfilled those attributes.
You can read my selections below, and feel free to let the rest of us know which vehicular features are most important to you and which cars or trucks satisfy them. You can find the original article here: My Dream Car: Seven Essential Elements.
My Dream Car: Seven Essential Elements
Do you have a “dream car?” Is there one vehicle that is your dream machine? With an unlimited budget, which singular vehicle would you make your own? It’s fun to fantasize about such a choice. It’s likely that you’ve seen a car parked on the street, or in a new car showroom, and said to yourself, “if only I had the funds!” Or maybe it’s a car you’ve only gazed at in a photograph, some valuable classic from many years ago.
Even if finances allowed it, that dream car would probably not suffice for everyday use. It might be too cramped, too noisy, or too fuel-inefficient to drive regularly. This is why each of us drives a (insert your make and model here) for commuting to work, dragging home supplies from the home improvement center, and taking the family on vacation.
In spite of those necessities, it’s fun to think about that dream car. For me, a Ferrari from the 1960s with a big V12 engine in the front driving the rear wheels has been a dream for decades. But drive such a beast all the time? It would have no traction in the snow, would get about 9 miles per gallon, and where do I put the 2x4s from Home Depot?
(Above: Ferrari Daytona)
What if I could build a fantasy car, taking all the best attributes from all my favorite vehicles, and combine them into one super-duper dream machine? Now that’s what dreams are made of! The best way to start is with a list of the features most important to me. Here are my top seven attributes, ranked in order. If I can identify a vehicle that embodies the attribute, I’ll include it in the description.
#1: Driver positioning. I love to drive, and typically put over 20,000 miles a year on my vehicles. I know what it’s like to be behind the wheel for an entire day, sometimes over multiple days. Nothing is more important to me than feeling both comfortable and in control. The seat must be supportive without being too hard; the steering wheel, pedals, and shifter must all be within comfortable reach; and the instrument panel must be legible without taking my eyes off the road but for a nanosecond.
For seat comfort, every Volvo I’ve owned, including my current 2016 V60, has excelled in this area. For overall positioning, a Mazda Miata comes close to perfection, provided you can fit in its rather tight passenger compartment.
(Above: Mazda Miata)
#2: Outward visibility. Driving involves all kinds of lighting conditions in all kinds of weather, so I need to be able to see out of the car. Too many cars fail in this regard. Narrow windows, wide roof pillars, and thick rear quarter panels create blind spots. I think stylists sometimes forget that function must take precedence over form.
Admittedly, safety comes into play here, as a car that has an airy “greenhouse” (the term for all the glass) may not offer great crash protection. But to me, a Fiat 124 Sport Coupe (which I once owned) has a greenhouse that is aesthetically pleasing while providing expansive outward vision.
(Above: Fiat 124 Sport Coupe)
#3: Vehicle responsiveness. Being in control when driving extends to knowing that the vehicle will respond to driver inputs in an expected way, while also providing a level of sportiness. Steering should be precise, with no freeplay. Braking should be firm and easily modulated. The car should ‘hold the road’ and take curves with no body lean or tire squeal, yet without harshness delivered through the suspension and into the passenger compartment.
Since their introduction, the Porsche Boxster/Cayman twins have gotten consistently rave reviews from the automotive press for their responsiveness on the road. I got the chance to drive a Cayman a few years back and I would concur!
(Above: Porsche Boxster)
#4: Comfort and convenience features. I may be showing my age, but after years of only affording no-frills cars, then tolerating noisy, drafty, bare-bones sports cars because “that’s how sports cars are,” I can’t live without certain creature comforts. At a minimum, air conditioning, cruise control, heated seats, and a basic stereo must be in the dream car. At best, climate control, adaptive cruise, a heated steering wheel, and SiriusXM (along with a backup camera) will all add to my ability to remain comfortably ensconced all day long.
My boss’s Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG, which I got to ride in once, fit the bill nicely and then some!
#5: Powerplant (type, placement, and power output). The gearheads among you are rejoicing because I’m finally getting to the heart of the matter: the motor that provides the “go” to the dream. The recent surge in hybrids and pure electric vehicles means I should at least consider those powerplant options. If I really want to be all-inclusive, I should include diesel and even steam as considerations.
While hybrids have advantages, and EVs are definitely the future, my dream car will stick to good old gasoline. That’s based on both the type of power delivery I desire, as well as the availability and convenience of replenishment (pumping gas versus finding a recharging station).
The dream machine should be a mid-engine design, and that’s very related to my desire for responsiveness. It’s been proven that the best handling car is a mid-engine car. Be sure to make the distinction between “mid” (like Porsche Boxster) and “rear” (like Porsche 911). Rear engine cars, with the weight behind the rear axle, are too tail-heavy. A mid-engine placement puts that weight behind the front seats, but ahead of the rear axle, for near perfect weight distribution. Look no further than the new mid-engine C8 Corvette to see the latest embracement of this feature.
Modern engineering has given us four-cylinder turbocharged engines that kick out copious amounts of horsepower yet still enable us to whiz past gas stations. My favorite engine currently fitted to a new car is the 2.0-liter inline-four in the Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan. This engine makes 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque, yet delivers a combined EPA rating of 28 mpg (33 mpg highway). This fuel economy rating is especially impressive given the Giulia’s curb weight of 3,500 pounds. This Alfa’s engine outshines almost all the competition in its specs when compared to similar engines.
(Above: Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan)
#6: Carrying capacity. This one is simple. I need two seats, one for me and one for my passenger. And I need room for the occasional hauling job. The simple answer is your basic, regular cab full-size American pickup truck. Is it any wonder that the pickup is the #1-selling body style in the country today? A lot of guys and gals will tell you that they’re already driving their dream machine when pointing to their Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, or Ram 1500.
#7: Exterior design. I’ve ranked this attribute last but still felt it important to include, because my dream car’s design should be something that stirs my emotions and gives me pride of ownership. Although I can’t see the car’s styling from the driver’s seat, others can, and who doesn’t enjoy admiring glances!
There have been many beautifully-designed cars through the decades, and everyone has their favorite. From a pure design standpoint, I think the Jaguar E-Type, also known as the XKE, is the most beautiful car ever built. And while I didn’t pick a Ferrari, you should know that Enzo Ferrari himself said the same thing about that Jaguar!
(Above: Jaguar E-Type)
The car aficionados among you may be shocked that I did not mention the dream car’s transmission, to wit, “you didn’t say it should have a six-speed manual.” You are correct in your observation. While I own two older vehicles with stick shifts, my daily driver has an automatic, and I’ve discovered that I’m less fussy about transmission choice. To me, the attributes I have chosen all override the choice of a gearbox.
Is there a vehicle available today that encompasses all of my dream car’s features? I want a command cockpit with excellent outward visibility. The car should have a mid-mounted gas engine that makes around 250–300 horsepower yet still delivers fuel economy in the 25–30 mpg range. Steering, braking, and handling should all provide precise control, good feedback, sticky handling, and on-road comfort. Speaking of comfort, my interior must have AC, cruise, and a decent sound system to blast the tunes. It’s got to look great on the outside, and be able to make those hardware store runs….
If not for that last point, a car like the Porsche Boxster comes close to fulfilling my dream car fantasy. For visibility, I’d need to drop the top, which I’d do whenever weather allows anyway. Could I attach a hitch and pull a trailer to the store? It’s worth a try! This was a fun exercise, and I hope that this encourages you to assemble your own “dream car,” if only in your dreams.
The New York Auto Show is the longest continually-running automobile show in the United States. New York was the first city in the country to host such a show, which it did in 1900. The show has been an annual tradition ever since, the only exception being the 2020 pandemic cancellation.
During the first half of the 20th century, the show was held within various exhibition halls throughout Manhattan. When the New York Coliseum at Columbus Circle (W 59th St.) opened in 1956, the show was moved there and remained until 1987 when the brand new Jacob Javits Convention Center took over host duties. The Javits Center continues to be the show’s location.
In 1969, as a car-crazed teen, my father took me to the Coliseum to see the show for the first time. He wanted to see the show too, but it wasn’t his first visit, as he had brought home show programs from previous years (which I wish I still had). I grabbed my camera and off we went. It’s likely we drove into the city; both of us at that time were commuting into Manhattan from our Staten Island home, he for work, and I for high school, so perhaps we wanted a break from the subway.
The exact day of our attendance is lost to history, but it must have been a weekend. The internet informs me that the 1969 show was held from Saturday April 5 through Sunday April 13. Easter was Sunday April 6 that year, and amazingly, this plan of holding the public show during Easter week is still the plan today.
I took 12 photographs at the show, which means I shot an entire roll of film with my Kodak 127 Brownie. My photographic skills in 1969 needed a lot of work, and to be fair, the photos document how crowded it was, so getting a clear line of sight to any vehicle was a challenge. Looking at these pictures 51 years later provides some insight into my young automotive mind. In general, the production cars I chose to snap are still of interest today. The concept cars I chose are quite humorous in retrospect, and maybe not surprisingly what a young boy would find funny.
Here are the 12, with a brief blurb under each.
I liked all of the C2 Corvettes (of course, we didn’t call them that in the ‘60s), and liked the new-for-’68 C3 Corvette even more (not an opinion I still hold). The Mako Shark-inspired styling, with its incredibly low front end, peaked front fenders, pinched waist, and flying buttress rear pillars on the coupe was so racy to me. There was a crowd around this car all day, and I felt lucky to capture the left front fender and hood.
Dodge Super Bee
I don’t recall being a big fan of this styling (and am still not), but it was probably the blacked-out hood, hood scoop, factory ‘mags’, and redline tires that appealed to me.
By 1969, the big front-driver from Olds was in its 4th model year, and although the overall body shape hadn’t changed, the front and rear ends had a heavier look, losing some of initial lightness of the ’66. I’m struck by this typical late ‘60s color combo: a dark metallic hue with white vinyl roof, white pinstripe, white wall tires, and white interior! Note the F-85 sign in the background, which seems odd now because I would have expected Olds to more likely market the Cutlass nameplate.
General Motors’ other FWD luxury car was in its 3rd year, with exposed headlights (after two years of concealed ones) as one of the few styling changes. This paint color looks identical to the Olds! Note the Mercury/Lincoln sign and the very low ceiling.
It’s interesting to me that I would even be aware of this car. I doubt I saw any on the streets of Staten Island. In case you don’t know it, the brief backstory is that the original Avanti was a model produced by Studebaker for only two years, 1963 and 1964. When Studebaker ended production, the car’s tooling was purchased by two men who ran Studebaker dealerships. They reintroduced the car as the “Avanti II” in 1965, so this little-changed 1969 version was in its 5th model year. I wish my photo had captured more of the sign to the right.
My father, who rarely expressed his opinion about anything out loud, let it be known to me that he liked the Jeep Wagoneer. There’s no doubt that his admiration for it extended back to the Jeep Station Wagon he owned when he first married my mom. Something this large and truck-like held no interest for me, although this photo reveals that Jeep did its best to market this to the masses, with chrome bumpers, a full-width bright grille, roof rack, full wheel covers, white wall tires, and exterior wood-grain applique. Yet you can see the front leaf springs (!) peeking out below the bumper.
I loved the ’69 Firebirds when they were introduced, and I still find them among the best-looking Firebirds ever. I’m including this under “Production Cars” even though this one appears to be slightly customized. The yellow-and-white seats and door panels, along with the yellow color-keyed wheels, don’t look factory, yet on the other hand, are probably slight cosmetic changes, possibly done by a local dealer. And can someone tell me why the three people behind the passenger-side A-pillar are all wearing sunglasses?
The Pink Panther mobile
There’s nothing I can say in my defense, except, I wasn’t alone in wanting to see this car – look at the crowd behind it! Also note the sign in the lower right, which reads “Petersen Publishing”. What was their involvement? Where is this car today?
This is one of the vehicles featured in the short video clip; yet in the movie, the car is blue, and here it’s white. An internet search for photos shows the car in both colors, as well as gold. Perhaps Buick was trying out different colors to gauge audience reaction, or borrowing a trick from ol’ Shelby, they wanted to give the impression that there was more than one Cruiser Concept. Note the Ford Cortina sign and British flag in the background.
It’s obvious from all my blog posts covering automotive auctions from Mecum, Carlisle, RM Sotheby’s, and others, that I enjoy the collector car auction experience. Unlike classified ads, auction results provide an in-the-moment, real-world snapshot of what cars sell for. Part of the auction education is to learn about values. Price guides are great, but they’re numbers on a page or a screen. One can argue that a car at auction sold for too much or too little, but one can’t argue that a seller was willing to let it go at a certain price, or that a buyer was willing to pay a certain price.
Several friends of mine who are interested in the old car hobby have asked me about values rising over time, or put another way, “what can I buy today that I’ll make money on tomorrow?” They expect me to gaze into my crystal ball and spit out an answer. It might be possible to make the general statement that “all special interest cars appreciate over time”. However, it you’ve been at this long enough, and I know that many of my readers have, we’ve learned some hard lessons about vehicles and values.
Values of cars from the decade of the 1950s have peaked and have slid back, because the generation which grew up with them is dying off. Cars which are purchased as 100-point show cars and are then driven or allowed to deteriorate will decline in value. Sometimes, what’s hot today has simply cooled off by next month.
Conversely, we baby boomers have watched in amazement as cars from the ‘80s and ‘90s (which to us are “just used cars”) are being snapped up, some at surprisingly high prices, by the next generation of collectors. One famous scribe, who shall not be cited by name, proclaimed 20 years ago that “Japanese cars will NEVER become collectible!” He’s eating his words today as 1st gen Datsun Z cars, 4th gen Toyota Supras, and Acura NSXs trade for prices approaching or exceeding six figures.
My answer to my colleagues about my crystal ball? I tell them that my crystal ball shattered when the Ouija board fell off its shelf and knocked it to the ground.
Instead of a crystal ball, it’s more fun to travel back in time and see what was predicted about collector car values. I have the May 21, 1990 issue of AutoWeek magazine, its headline blaring “1990 Old Car Issue: Bring ‘em Back To Drive; A users’ guide to finding, buying and enjoying collectible cars”. I believe this 1990 edition was the first in what would become an annual series for AutoWeek, at least for most of the rest of the decade (I have two later examples in my collection). Let peruse the pages and see how right and how wrong they were.
The lead article, “Get ‘Em While They’re Cold”, suggests taking a long hard look at cars from the 1980s, buying them while they’re cheap, and then riding the wave of escalating values. By the way, this concept of buying cars which are 10 to 20 years old, at the bottom of their depreciation cycle, and then (hopefully) watching their values rise has really grown legs in recent decades.
A sample of the featured cars and their 1990 values, include:
1986 Corvette Roadster, for about $25,000
1982-1985 Buick Riviera convertible, many at less than $10,000
1985-1988 Fiero, at anywhere from $6,000 to $16,000 depending on equipment
1981-1983 Imperial, and I quote: “Current prices are in the $4,000 to $6,000 range, so it doesn’t take a Donald Trump to see the profit potential….”
1984-1986 Mustang SVO, with “prices all over the map”
The featured story and cover car, about one man’s obsession with obtaining and restoring the 1938 BMW328 which won the 1940 Mille Miglia, is a delightful human interest tale of overcoming many setbacks before eventually triumphing. But there’s no mention of actual dollars spent. To his credit, even with the article implying that this BMW might be worth $2 million (remember, this was written in 1990), the owner said “Of course I’ll drive it, ‘cause that’s what it is – a car…. I just can’t understand the way some people think. The thought of turning a car into a $2-million floor lamp makes me sick”.
The final series of articles in this issue highlight 3 popular collectibles: the MGA, the Porsche 356, and the Jaguar XKE, also known as the E-Type. For two of these, I’ve captured AutoWeek’s pricing for a 90-point car. Just to keep things in perspective, Google reports that the 1990 average new-car price was $15,500, and the median household income was $35,400.
My January 2021 edition of CPI (Cars of Particular Interest) Price Guide shows a 1960 Porsche 356B S-90 Roadster worth $198,000 in excellent condition, and a 1967 Jaguar XKE roadster (OTS) worth $302,000 in excellent condition. Now that’s what I call appreciation!
Happy 2021! After a longer-than-expected break from blogging during this holiday season, I’m back! It’s too obvious to state that my fellow car hobbyists and I are all hoping for better things this year, but I’ll say it anyway. With fingers crossed (and with planned vaccines in my arm), I’ve begun to make plans to attend various shows and events in the next few months, provided that they’re still on the calendar. These events include:
If even just two out of five of these events manage to happen AND if I feel safe enough to attend, it will be a win. Right now, I’m practicing patience and hoping for the best, as it’s all I can do.
In the meantime, I’m going to use this blog in a way that I haven’t done before, which is to promote some of the ‘professional’ writing that I’ve been doing these past few years. A current auto industry topic which I’ve been closely following and which I personally find fascinating is electric vehicles (EVs). I published a blog post a few months back about my in-person experiences with the Ford Mustang Mach-E. Since then, the Ford Motor Company has revealed that their annual production supply of 50,000 is “spoken for”. That doesn’t mean that there’s a retail name attached to every unit, as many may have been ordered by dealers for stock. Still, this is a tremendous achievement, given how reluctant the American public has been to embrace EVs (except for Tesla).
The year 2021 may be “the year of the electric pickup truck”. Most folks know how popular full-size pickups are in the U.S., with the Ford, Chevrolet, and Ram trucks occupying the #1, #2, and #3 sales slots for years now. With only months to go before the Tesla CyberTruck, Rivian R1T pickup, and GMC Hummer EV pickup are launched, the perfect storm may be brewing as traditional truck buyers check out the EV competition. (And don’t downplay the competition: the Launch Editions of both the Rivian and the Hummer are sold out.)
This article below was penned by me on behalf of my employer, and was published on the excellent website www.automoblog.net. Give it a read-through, and add a comment. I’d be more than happy to entertain your opinion, even if (especially if) you completely disagree.
New Truck Launches & Big Business Partnerships Indicate a Strong Year Ahead for EV Adoption
According to Allied Market Research, the global vehicle electrification market is projected to reach $140.29 billion by 2027. Consumer interest in electric vehicles (EVs) has grown steadily since the Nissan Leaf, the longest-selling EV nameplate still available today (the Leaf was launched just over 10 years ago). The current EV market is much more diverse, with offerings available from legacy manufacturers, industry disruptors (like Tesla), and start-ups.
Flashy new model launches have sent pre-sale orders through the roof. Transportation and utility companies that own thousands of fleet vehicles have begun shifting to electrified platforms. Governments worldwide have engaged in legislative and regulatory actions that could boost EV manufacturing and clean transportation infrastructure. With all this activity, how does widespread EV adoption look in 2021? Let’s take a closer look.
In the United States currently, 22 out of 38 major auto brands offer at least one EV model. Up to 50 new models are anticipated to enter the market in the next two to three years. In recent months, EV launches have generated big headlines, particularly truck and SUV models based on ground-up designs. These launches have broken the mold of compact EVs based on existing internal combustion engine (ICE) platforms.
Pickups will see a lot of attention this year. While met with mockery upon launch, Tesla’s CyberTruck is set to begin production in late 2021. Rivian, which has received investment from Ford and Amazon, is showcasing its R1T EV pickup, including a sold-out Launch Edition due in June. And GMC made a splash with the Hummer’s return as an EV. The Edition 1 (starting at a whopping $112,595!) has sold out of its first-year production run of 10,000, although lower-priced models will be introduced from now through spring 2024.
In a turn of events that shocked many car enthusiasts, Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, an all-electric SUV that’s giving Tesla a run for its money, was awarded the North American Utility Vehicle of the Year for 2021. What’s more, the New York Times recently reported that Ford has already taken orders for all 50,000 of the Mach-Es it plans to produce in 2021. Another notable mention: the pre-orders for the launch edition of Volkswagen’s ID.4 electric SUV have already sold out.
Will Fuel Prices Impact EV Sales?
Even with popular models generating buzz and selling out quickly, a few things need to change to tip the EV sales scale more significantly in the coming years, starting with fuel prices.
Since 2014, fuel prices have been on a gradual decline, averaging between $2.00 and 2.50 per gallon between 2016 and 2019. They are presently at a 30-year national low, meaning buyers don’t necessarily have to consider fuel economy a top factor when shopping for a new vehicle. Nothing illustrates this point better than how full-size trucks from the domestic Big Three continue to hold the first, second, and third positions in the sales race. Mid- and full-size SUVs, many with large six- and eight-cylinder engines, are also selling well.
Battery technology has improved by leaps and bounds, with many newer EVs boasting 200- and 300-mile driving ranges. But for drivers unfamiliar with EVs, the concept of “range anxiety” weighs heavily on any purchase decision. Yes, your vehicle will be able to support your daily commute with its battery capacity and an overnight recharge at home. But will you have adequate access to charging stations during a multi-state road trip? In many parts of the country, the lack of charging infrastructure poses a significant challenge that might push consumers away from fully electric models.
Commercial & Industrial Adoption
Regardless of how many consumers are willing to take their own EV on a family road trip, many of the world’s largest companies are already integrating EVs into their business models. Unsurprisingly, Amazon is among the first to make moves in this direction. Amazon announced a plan to bring custom electric delivery vehicles, manufactured by Rivian, to the roads by the thousands over the next decade. The first of these are expected to roll out this year.
Everyone shops for everything online these days. This became even more true when COVID-19 cut off access to brick-and-mortar retail for many. So, it should come as no surprise that major automakers, including GM and Ford, are looking to expand their commercial delivery solutions. Potential partners, such as FedEx, have expressed a desire to migrate to electric fleets for moving consumer goods. As of this writing, GM is working on a pilot program with FedEX to introduce lightweight, electric vans complete with the latest safety, diagnostics, and route optimization technology.
Moving away from fleet management and the supply chain, a new commercial market for EVs has emerged that could tip the scales in favor of these technologies. That new and emerging market is utility and construction management. For instance, Lordstown Motors, an EV startup, recently announced it has more than 100,000 orders for its Endurance electric truck. Lordstown is targeting utility companies and other commercial entities, rather than individual consumers, with this rollout.
With more companies and municipalities working toward ambitious emissions goals, we can expect to see more EV vans, trucks, and SUVs pop up for commercial use in the coming years.
Shifting Political Factors
We can’t have a discussion of EVs or any clean energy technologies in 2021 without mentioning the changing political landscape. President Joe Biden entered office with an ambitious climate plan that could enable broader adoption of EVs in the coming years. It’s still far too early to tell how these actions will play out but there are already a few notable storylines the automotive industry has its eye on.
This includes a plan to install 50,000 EV charging stations, capable of covering an estimated 57 percent of charging needs by 2030. Additionally, Jennifer Granholm, President Biden’s nominee for Energy Secretary who secured $1.35 billion in federal funding for EV and battery development as governor of Michigan, is expected to help lead U.S. efforts to compete with China in the EV sector.
Following the unpredictability of 2020, many have started 2021 with high hopes. Even without knowing how the political and economic landscape might boost these technologies, there’s no doubt that EVs have gained serious momentum. More models are available than ever before and manufacturers are working hard to expand the market into the lucrative pickup and SUV categories, making it possible to find an EV that suits any lifestyle.
Elsewhere, corporations and commercial entities recognize that pivoting to electric transportation solutions is a crucial piece in broader clean energy and low-emissions initiatives. Of course, other factors and market forces could change things at the drop of a hat. While it’s too soon to declare 2021 a breakout year for EVs, there will be plenty for consumers and industry experts to keep an eye on in the coming months!
In all the years I’ve been turning wrenches on cars as both a professional and a hobbyist, I’ve had plenty of successes and more than a few botched repairs, probably about the same as anyone else with my experience. While I’m reluctant to refer to myself as a skilled technician, I will acknowledge that I enjoy being the student, and the desire to learn has only grown stronger as I’ve gotten older. Before diving into a project, I’ll research it as much as possible in order to approach the task in a more educated way.
This willingness to go ‘back to school’ as it were paid off when working on the Weber carburetors on my Alfa. In my first blog post on this topic back in early October of this year I said the Webers seemed “unnecessarily complex”. In fact, they really aren’t. The perceived complexity exists in the myriad combinations of different sized jets and deciding whether to replace them. Changing jet sizes up or down can be a trial-and-error process, involving test drives, spark plug examinations, and yet more jet swaps. In my case, there was no need to replace jets, as I was having no related driveability issues. That kind of experimentation becomes necessary when installing Webers on a modified engine, or on a vehicle not originally fitted with them. (One of the best online articles I found re: Weber side draft operation was on a Datsun 240Z website, as these side drafts are a very popular upgrade on that sports car.)
The sole reason for the ‘rebuild’ was to replace leaky seals and gaskets, after which I would need to reset the basic settings. I was using no fewer than four different Alfa Romeo / Weber service manuals, and while there were some slightly different approaches among the four, they all agreed on the basics. Those basics were: Remove the top, side, and bottom covers (note that the float is attached to the top cover). Do NOT remove the jets, throttle plates, or throttle shaft. Clean out the carburetors. Set the float height. Reassemble the carbs with new seals and gaskets. Reset the idle air/fuel mix, the carb synchronization, and the engine idle.
One service tip I learned is that good access to the carbs is available without unbolting them from the engine. The float, the internal mesh filter and all the jets are all accessible once the top cover is removed, held on with 5 screws plus the fuel line banjo bolts. On my car, one does not even need to touch the plenum cover. However, I wanted to get to the bottom cover, and also wanted to perform a thorough ‘off the car’ cleaning.
The float setting is a bit fussy. There are actually two settings: the top and the bottom. The top cover gasket must be in place. The two setting measurements are 8mm and 14.5mm, and the books claim that a deviation over 0.5mm can be troublesome. I fashioned my own measuring tools, one using a hex key wrapped with masking tape, and the other made from a piece of rubber hose. Both floats were off enough that they needed both their top and bottom settings adjusted.
The new rubber carb mounts arrived from Classic Alfa, and I was a little disappointed that the studs were not anchored in place. It’s a good thing I discovered this before putting it all together, and the problem was easily resolved with some threadlocker. While I can’t prove that my old rubber mounts were part of any problem, the rubber was clearly past its prime.
It was news to me that there was a mesh screen filter inside each of the carbs. Thankfully, a replacement was part of the carb gasket kit. I went through about 5 cans of Gumout before I was reasonably satisfied with the cleanliness, and even then, there was some dirt on the outside (but none on the inside).
The corner had been turned, and it was time for reassembly. First, the rubber mounts were bolted to the intake manifold (remember that half the bolts are hidden on the cylinder head side of the manifold). Adding yet another step to this litany of work, I decided at the last minute to replace the coolant, which was more than several years old. This meant hunting down some old-fashioned green antifreeze and distilled water (Walmart was down to its last 5 gallon bottles of distilled, but I only needed 2). The manifold was bolted back to the cylinder head, the coolant hoses were reattached (it’s a wet manifold), and the radiator was filled.
The cleaned carbs were bolted to the rubber mounts, and the choke and throttle linkages were reattached. I decided for now to leave the intake plenum off the car. The engine would run without it, and I didn’t want to do any more work than necessary in the very unlikely event that the carbs needed to be removed again.
It was time to try to start the car.
Many minutes were spent pumping the throttle and cranking the engine in short bursts so as not to overheat the starter motor. The engine wasn’t even trying to start. After about five minutes of this, I knew that something else needed to change. Each two-barrel carb has two idle mixture screws, so there are four, one for each barrel (obviously). My repair books differ in describing the basic setting of these idle mixture screws. While all the service literature agrees that each screw should be turned down to ‘bottom’, then turned ‘out’ (counterclockwise), the exact number of recommended turns differs. I had settled on one full turn out, while some books recommended two, and others didn’t even give an exact number. When the car wouldn’t start, I turned each idle air mix screw one full turn further out. Climbing back into the car, the engine started on the next try.
Next, the books advised on how to continue with the basic settings, including carb synchronizing and idle setting. Before either of these can be set, however, the engine needs to reach full operating temperature. I watched both the temperature gauge and the coolant level, and both were fine. But as the engine warmed up, the idle kept increasing. Nothing I did at the carbs seemed to have any effect on my ability to lower the idle. After a few minutes, the car was ‘idling’ at 2500 rpm, and it should be between 800-1000 rpm. While I was happy that the car was running, and running well to my ears, something else was up with the idle control. It was time to shut it down and hit the books again.
Last week, I received an email from Ford inviting me to attend a preview of the Mustang Mach-E at my local Ford dealer, which is Flemington Ford, about a 15-minute car ride from home. I replied in the affirmative to the invite, scheduled for Monday November 16. My appointment time was 4 p.m., and I was advised to arrive at least 5 minutes early.
The day was sunny, if a bit windy and chilly, but fine if the event was to be out of doors. Walking toward the showroom at about 3:45, I saw two of the vehicles outside, and as I entered the sales area, spotted one on the floor. I checked in with Mike, he from “the Big D” (Dearborn) as he put it, whereupon he told me to take my time examining the car on display inside.
This car was a dark grey with a black interior, a somewhat dour color combo, but aside from that, I liked what I saw. The first thing to notice are the outside door handles. Each door has a round button above the belt line, about the size of a house doorbell. The doors unlatch electrically (no word on how you open a door if the battery is dead). I sat in the car and examined the two screens: a smaller one directly in front of the driver, and a large, tablet-like one in vertical format in the center. With the vehicle “off” there wasn’t too much to see there, so I got out and did several walkarounds, taking in as much detail as possible. Overall, I was impressed by various design details as well as the fit and finish.
Mike came over to answer any questions I had. Range? About 210 miles with the Standard Range batteries, and about 270 miles with the Extended Range batteries. Interior colors? Black or white, and one upholstery choice only, a “vegan leather” which looked and felt like high quality vinyl. Frunk? He popped open the front lid to show me that storage area. Availability? The cars here are production vehicles, so depending on whether you have an existing order or not, cars are on their way to customers, first come first served.
Next up was the test ride. Customers were not allowed to drive, but there were other FoMoCo employees on hand to take you for a ride. I met Joe, another corporate employee (actually a field guy), and we hopped into the white car outside. The very first impression one gets in an EV is the quiet. No engine sounds, no exhaust, no gears. There are no piped-in sounds either. Frankly, I expected there to be more tire noise than there was. Given that we were riding on 19”s, the ride was not only quiet, it was compliant and comfortable.
As he was driving, Joe was more than happy to show me the center screen, which apparently is “Sync 4”, Ford’s 4th generation of its Sync infotainment system. Joe was scrolling up and down, swiping left and right, all while handling the wheel. I said “Wait! Show me how the driver controls the LIGHTS and the WIPERS.” Joe laughed and grabbed the left and right stalks hanging off the steering column. Thankfully Ford kept those controls where most drivers would be used to finding them.
I asked Joe about the infamous one-pedal driving that can be done on many EVs. He said that there is a way to turn that on and off in the center screen menu. He personally is not a fan of it, and he said when he drives he leaves it off.
We made a right turn onto a road with a long straightaway in front of us. Joe stopped, turned to the screen, and selected the most powerful of the three driving modes, cleverly named “unbridled” (get it?). He floored it, and except for the (lack of) noise, I felt like I was in a plane accelerating for takeoff. We got up to 60 and he backed off. Was it the fastest I’ve ever experienced 0-60? Not at all, but that’s not the point. The Mustang Mach-E has plenty of get-up-and-go when you want it, but just like a gas engine, you’re going to consume a lot of juice if you do that at every light change.
We got back to the dealer, I took a few more shots outside, and I meandered back into the showroom. There were three or four other groups of people folding themselves into and out of the various Mach-E models on display. I waited for a salesperson to approach me with a closing pitch, and perhaps was just a tad disappointed that none came. (The Flemington group of dealers is known for their low-pressure sales approach.) I thanked Mike and Joe and headed out.
Once I was home, I opened my access to the Ford AXZ plan (employee and retiree pricing), fully expecting that the Mach-E would be an excluded model, but it’s not! The employee pricing was right there on the screen. I’m not in the market for a vehicle right now, but I certainly have been weighing a pure EV as a possible future choice. The Mustang Mach-E just rose a few notches higher on that list.
“On Friday, October 10, stock markets crashed across Europe and Asia. London, Paris and Frankfurt dropped 10% within an hour of trading and again when Wall Street opened for trading. Global markets … experienced their worst weeks since 1987 and some indices, S&P 500, since the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
On October 10, within the first five minutes of the trading session on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 697 points, falling below 7900 to its lowest level since March 17, 2003…. Trading on New York Stock Exchange closed for the week with the Dow at 8,451, down 1,874 points, or 18% for the week, and after 8 days of losses, 40% down from its record high October 9, 2007…. The bonds of the bankrupt Lehman Brothers were auctioned on Friday, October 10. They sold for a little over 8 cents on the dollar.”
If you’re reading this and asking yourself, “when did this become RichardsFinancialBlog?”, no need to worry, as the story has a car connection. On the same day that Lehman Brothers’ bonds were auctioned, I was watching some high-dollar automotive machinery go up for auction at the annual RM classic car auction in Hershey PA. I paid a whopping $60 (!) for entry to the auction within the Hershey Lodge, and that included my own copy of the catalog (but not a bidder’s pass). This was my initial foray into the world of so-called catalog auctions, undertaken so that I could decide if this would be a reasonable avenue for selling my Isetta.
Prior to this, auctions I had attended were what I call the ‘carnival’ style: a vehicle rolls up onto the block, an auctioneer starts to chant so loudly and so quickly that he can barely be understood, and 45 to 90 seconds later, a gavel falls and the next car in the parade arrives. This is what you see on TV at the typical Barrett-Jackson or Mecum auction. They are boisterous, ear-splitting, lightning-paced, and ultimately mind-numbing experiences. I understood from reading auction reports that the catalog auctions were more, shall we say, mild-mannered and discreet, and I wanted to witness this first-hand.
On that Friday inside the Hershey Lodge, I immediately noticed the differences, starting with the voice and tone of the auctioneer. I could actually understand him; if anything, the New Yorker in me wanted him to speak more quickly! He was in no rush to get to the next car, meaning, he was putting 100% of his attention on the car in front of him. He would make little quips to the bidders, such as “sir, but what else are you going to do with your money?”, and “would the gentleman in the back like to bid again?” There was none, I repeat, none of the hyperbole one hears at other venues, such as “look at that fabulous paint job”; “restored using only the finest high-quality parts”; and “guaranteed to only go up in value”. B-J this was not.
Each car spent from 3 to 5 minutes on the block. When the reserve was met, the auctioneer, using the same level tone, would state “we are selling this car today”. (At Carlisle Auctions, the auctioneer SCREAMS “THE RESERVE IS OFF!!!” while a neon sign over his head blares the same message.)
Another difference: the bidders. Everyone sat calmly in their seats, with the very occasional bidder wandering up to the block for a close-up inspection. There was no yelling, jumping, fist-pumping, or showing off for the cameras (of which there were none anyway). The men bidding (and they were all male) would catch the eye of the auctioneer or one of the assistants (“callers”) and with the subtlest of head nods, place their bets.
Midway through the afternoon, a 1913 Locomobile reached the block. Resplendent in white with black top and interior and lots of brass, it was so long that it looked like it would miss fitting in my garage by about 10 feet. The bidding opened at $50,000, and moving in $25,000 increments, quickly reached $300,000. In the row in front of me sat a white-haired elderly man, perhaps 80 or 85. When the auctioneer asked for $325,000, the old gent raised his bidder’s pass like he was ordering a cheeseburger at Wendy’s, the gavel fell, and the brass beauty was his. It was at this moment that I had the epiphany: the Lehman Brothers collapse meant nothing to those who had discretionary funds to spare, and a catalog-type auction would be a classy place to sell my car.
The catalog cover car, and star of the show, was a 1933 Duesenberg phaeton. It sold for $1,535,000, again proving that those who have it can spend it. (The next day, while waiting to cross Hersheypark Drive to enter the AACA show, this same Duesenberg sailed past at about 60 mph. It sounded like a locomotive, and you could hear it from a quarter mile away.)
For the sale of my own car, I was in no great rush, and I had weighed the pro’s and con’s of such a move for much of the first decade of the 21st century. A few half-hearted attempts were made by placing some ads, most of which generated no response. A few years after attending this RM auction, I ran an ad in the national AACA magazine, and a man from Philadelphia showed up at my house, went for a ride with me, and told me he would buy the car (my ask was $30k, and I believe he said he was ok with the price). But the next day he called and said he changed his mind. That’s how it goes when trying to sell cars.
In the meantime, I also checked out the Bonhams auction, which had become an annual mainstay as part of the Greenwich Concours event in early June. The auction style was similar, however, the setup was in a tent, on grass, and Bonhams jammed as many cars into that tent as possible, with the remainder scattered outside along its perimeter. The ambiance was not as pleasing as RM which had the advantage of a large hotel conference room, with better sound and lighting. But still, both were within consideration, as both were within a day’s drive on the East Coast. Friends who suggested that I truck my car out to Barrett-Jackson in AZ were not calculating the overhead (fuel, food, hotels, time) that such a trip would entail.
In 2013, after much back-and-forth in my own mind about continuing to try to sell the car on my own (more control over asking price vs dealing with stubborn buyers) compared to an auction consignment (devoted in-person audience vs less control over bidding price), I decided to move ahead with RM. A few years back, I had reached out to RM and had communicated with Ian Kelleher. Since I had his email address, I picked up where I had left off with him. (It’s surprising to me to see that my first email of the year to him was sent on June 26, less than four months before the auction.)
Ian replied, and I was taken aback when he told me that while there was plenty of time to get my car on the docket for Hershey, it would need to be a no-reserve entry. He said that they would be willing to publish a pre-sale estimate of $30,000-40,000, but any cars valued below $50,000 are strictly sold as no-reserve. My heart sank. What if bidding only reached $20,000? I wasn’t willing to give it away. There were numerous email exchanges between Ian and me, during which I successfully negotiated for the following:
Vehicle listed as No Reserve, with auction estimate of $30,000-40,000;
Minimum of one full page in the auction catalog, desirably two pages;
Professional photography taken by RM for catalog photos;
Input and review by me of catalog write-up;
Vehicle will cross block on Friday (the 2nd day of a two-day auction)
RM will allow me to display various items alongside car during auction preview including photographs, posters, magazines, literature, scale models, and tablet.
As a balm for the no-reserve listing, and as a courtesy to me as a first-time consigner, Ian agreed to reduce my consignment fee from $1,000 to $500, and my seller’s commission from 10% to 7%. This made me feel a whole lot better about the no-reserve deal. RM sent me a consignment form, which included the requirement that I sign and send them the title to my car. Now it was getting serious!
You will note above that I told Ian that I wanted “input and review by me of catalog write-up”. Previous catalog write-ups I had read included flowery vehicle descriptions with 80% general history of the marque, and 20% specific detail of the actual lot. I wanted to reverse those percentages for my car, and be sure that the catalog text spoke to my car’s specifics. Still, I was sent a first draft and needed to make the following corrections:
Rear springs were described as semi-elliptic, when they are quarter-elliptic;
“Four-wheel drum brakes” was corrected to “front and rear drum brakes”;
“… ideal for the streets of postwar Germany” was changed to “… Europe”.
My suggestions were accepted without further discussion; RM was continuing to please me with their treatment of me as a consigner.
Quite a few acquaintances were taken aback with the fees, even at reduced rates. They would ask with incredulity: “what exactly are you getting for all that money you’re paying?” My first-hand experience allows me to report that my fees helped to cover:
The dispatching of a professional photographer to my home, where he spent about three hours taking photos of my car.
Display of those photos on the RM website, in the published catalog, and in several email blasts sent by RM.
A full maintenance crew on hand at the Hershey Lodge to assist with needs such as adding fuel, charging batteries, and maintaining cleanliness of the cars.
As an owner, I felt that the website, email, and catalog exposure was fairly extensive, and reached a level of marketing that I could not match. That still didn’t stop me from creating my own marketing efforts. Since test drives would not be possible on-site, I opted for the 2nd best thing and made two videos which would show prospective bidders that this car was no trailer queen, and did get occasional exercise:
Some final tidying up of the vehicle was done, especially in the interior. I resprayed the fiberboard interior panels, and added the underseat panel which had been missing all these years. Some minor adjustments were made to the horn and to the parking brake, and of course the car was detailed.
Hershey week arrived. The actual auction was scheduled for Thursday October 10 and Friday October 11, 2013. On the Tuesday morning of that week, I left my house, Isetta in tow, bittersweet at the thought that I would be returning at the end of the week with an empty trailer. Upon arrival, I got my car situated under the big tent in the Hershey Lodge parking lot. The Hershey area had significant downpours for much of the week (what we’re used to in that part of the world in October), but things stayed calm and relatively dry in the tent. Each and every weekday, I never left the car’s side, as I wanted to answer any questions from anyone who might be bidding. My heart sank again when I found a 2nd Isetta at the same auction, red like mine, but in a condition that was one or two steps below mine. Crossing the block on Thursday at no reserve, it hammered sold at $25,000. I felt that number established a value floor and made me more optimistic about my own car.
Finally, it was Friday, auction day for my rolling egg. When RM had told me that my consignment included two free entrance tickets to the auction, I had the nerve to request several more. Again, RM exceeded my expectations by granting that request without delay. Several friends from Volvo Corporate attended the big moment with me, and provided lots of emotional support (thanks Andy and Larry!).
The head of the RM maintenance crew had gotten to know me. RM’s procedure is to queue up the cars outside the entrance ramp so that the cars can be driven as close as possible to the block, at which point they’re pushed, to minimize exhaust fumes in the conference room. The crew chief pulled me aside, and likely knowing what he was about to offer wasn’t ‘by the book’, said to me “why don’t you drive your car up to the ramp? It’ll be the last time you’ll get to drive it”. I gladly took him up on that. I climbed in, started it, and as soon as I reached the entrance, shut it down. The crew on hand stopped it from rolling back; they would push it from here. I went in and sat with my wife and my buddies.
Max Girardo, the charming, eloquent and multi-linguistic auctioneer, was at the podium. As Andy pointed out to me later, Max spent more time extolling the virtues of my car than he did with any of the cars preceding or following my car. The bidding opened at $10,000, quickly climbed to $25,000, and then slowed somewhat, although it did reach $30,000. Max held on for me as long as he could, with the bid intervals dropping from $5,000 to $2,500. At a final bid of $32,500, the gavel fell. The car was officially sold. Although RM told me that I would receive payment in 6 weeks, they completed an electronic transfer of funds to me in 3 weeks, yet again exceeding my expectations.
The auction sale date was 10 days shy of 35 years from October 21, 1978, when Don Krech and I made the first of three 16-hour round-trip journeys from central NJ to Moscow VT for these funny-looking little bubble cars that Wesley Turner had for sale for $650. In October of 1978, I had never heard of AACA, or Hershey, or Carlisle, or car auctions. The rigmarole of transporting the cars back from VT, storing them offsite at cost, and figuring out how to perform a restoration on them had me almost walk away from the entire mess more than once. It’s very likely that I kept the cars all that time simply because they were so small and easy to stash somewhere (had I made my investment in a ’59 Caddy it would be a different story).
This is the final chapter of the Isetta Saga. Getting all this out on my blog was a process in itself. Chapter 1 of the saga was published on January 7, 2018, just shy of three years ago. Thirty-five chapters spread out over 34 months is an almost-perfect one chapter per month! Wish I could say that I planned it that way, but that would be a lie….
To those who have stuck it out and have read along as each chapter was published, a big thank you. To those who occasionally dipped their toes into the ups and downs of this Isetta’s story, you still deserve my thanks. I can only hope that my perseverance with this project (some would say insanity) may possibly provide some motivation should you be considering a similar journey. For me, it was great fun to relive it all!
It was probably 1982 and I was at Hershey, in PA, in October, at the big annual AACA Hershey show. It was perhaps only the 3rd or 4th time I was there. I was young, and this was still all new, and I had so much to learn about the collector car hobby. I was living in an apartment without a garage. I had my Isettas stored in one garage not near me, and my ’57 Ford Skyliner stored in another garage not near me. I still dreamed of that future point in time when I would get back to these cars to perform a complete restoration on each of them. However, I had no real concrete plan for getting to that point.
As I strolled the aisles of that Saturday car show, I was still learning that these cars were here to be ranked and rated by AACA judges. The judging was a very strict and formal process. The car owners took this very seriously, and very much wanted to win. They wanted their 1st Junior, or 1st Senior, or their Preservation Award, things I had yet to learn about. It was neat for me, the neophyte, to discover that the vehicles were arranged in something resembling a sensible order, based on year, make, and model.
A particular recollection concerns the Baby Birds, the 2-seat Ford Thunderbirds only made from 1955-1957. They were all lined up, in their candy colors of red and blue, and pastel colors of green and yellow, and monochrome colors of black and white. They didn’t look like cars! They looked like edible sweets on a shelf. As I walked down this row of cars which were barely 25 years old, I could not get over how perfect each car was. With hoods up and trunks open, reproduction chalk marks and ink stamps were exposed. It was clear to me, the newbie, that these cars were rarely, if ever, driven.
The entire spectacle depressed me. How does an owner, I asked myself, get to a point that the car is so perfect that it’s not driven? Was this what the hobby was about? I was yet to learn that some owners did indeed treat their cars as trailer queens, driven only on and off trailers, and brought to shows only to collect awards. It was impossible for me to imagine a day when I would show a car at Hershey.
Fast forward exactly 30 years, and here I was in 2012, with a car of mine on the Hershey show field. I was as giddy as could be, and while I took the whole spectacle seriously, the event was eliciting a reflexive ear-to-ear grin that I could not erase. How did I get to this point? Having joined the National AACA around the year 2000, and attending almost every Hershey since then, the urge to enter a car was growing. With over 10 years of experience in showing the Isetta, as you’ve been reading in the Isetta Saga, it was time to put the car in the big boys’ show.
There was not much prep necessary. I had my trailer and my hitch-equipped Volvo V70 ready to make the journey. A logistical issue for anyone bringing a show car to Hershey is the question of “what do I do with my car during the week?” The judged show is always Saturday, but the flea market / car corral begins four days prior on the Tuesday. Owners who drive their show cars to the event leave them overnight in the hotel parking lot. They’ll then use those cars to commute back and forth during the week. If they have a flea market spot, they’ll just drive it onto the field and park in their spot.
My little Hershey secret, which I had begun to use about 10 years prior, was to stay at a local Bed & Breakfast in lieu of a hotel. (I refer to it as a ‘secret’ because if too many show attendees started doing the same, it wouldn’t be as easy to book a room. Compared to hotels, which start booking rooms for next year’s event the day after this year’s event ends, I found that local B&B’s had rooms available as late as 6 or 8 weeks before Hershey week.)
The B&B’s were more comfortable than hotels, they included breakfast (to go if I asked), and were about the same cost. There was a B&B in Dillsburg, located halfway between Hershey and Carlisle, which I started frequenting. When I called for the reservation, I asked permission to leave the Isetta on its trailer somewhere on the grounds. The woman proprietor, with whom I was on a first-name basis, told me that was absolutely fine, and said she had a spot behind the barn where my rig would be away from other guests’ cars, as well as out of sight from the road. Upon my arrival, I put the trailer where asked, unhooked it, and was then able to use the Volvo to-and-from the show during the week.
Once Saturday morning arrived, I reconnected the trailer and was off to ‘trailer parking’. AACA had set up a lot about 1.5 miles away from the show field dedicated to the dozens and dozens of trailers which needed to be staged somewhere. I asked my bestie Larry if he wanted to meet me there and ride with me in the Isetta, and he was more than game. As he climbed in, I handed him my camera and asked him to take as many photos as he could manage. We were literally in the parade of cars that I had witnessed as a spectator on so many prior occasions.
Once at the grounds, I was directed to my parking spot in Class 04B, “small vehicles 1942 and later” (04A is 1941 and older). I parked next to the only other Isetta at the show that day. Other cars in my class included a Vespa and several VW Beetles (which look large next to an Isetta). I exited the car, put up my signage, and stuck around as required for judging. The judging team was there soon enough to do their thing. Once that was done, I was free to walk around, but as is my wont, I preferred to stay near the car and engage with attendees.
The other Isetta was a beautiful two-tone blue & grey car, from Maryland, and the car was there for its Preservation Award, meaning that it had already achieved Senior status. Cosmetically, I thought it was a notch above mine; it certainly looked ‘fresher’ (I wasn’t telling anyone that the paint on my car was already 17 years old). The owner was sitting in her folding chair behind her car, and I went up to her to make a sincere effort to both compliment her on her car as well as engage her in conversation about it. When I asked her some details about the restoration process, she demurred, and didn’t really make any attempt to answer my questions. What eventually came out of our conversation was the realization that she was not an active participant in the car’s restoration. It’s what we call a “checkbook restoration”; she wrote the checks to the shop that did the work, and picked up the car when it was done. This is not to take anything away from the obvious quality of the work. But there is something to be said for taking more ownership of your own restoration, which helps elevate the understanding of how the car is designed, engineered, and built, and how it operates.
Around 3 p.m., the show cars began to exit the field. It was a magnificent day on so many levels: the car ran great, the judging went smoothly, the audience enjoyed it, and I enjoyed the audience. It helped that the fickle Hershey weather was near perfect. I drove the car back to the trailer parking, loaded it up, and headed home, arriving before dark.
A few weeks later, a letter arrived in the mail from AACA, announcing that I had succeeded in winning my 1st Junior award (there was, as always, an Award Banquet on Saturday night, but I did not attend). Had I been there, I would have been handed my trophy. The letter from AACA informed me that if I wanted the trophy, I would need to pay the nominal shipping cost, which I did.
At the close of 2012, I realized that I had been trailering my Isetta to various shows throughout NJ, NY, CT, and PA for the past 13 years! While I had previously made half-hearted attempts at selling the car, with absolutely no success, I knew that 2013 was going to be the year to let it go. I had had my fun. An auction was the best choice, and it was a question of selecting an auction company, having already held preliminary conversations with both Bonhams and RM. The Bonhams auction I had in mind was their Greenwich event held in conjunction with the Greenwich CT Concours in early June. For RM, the Hershey auction in October was also being considered. I had some time to decide, however, the wheels were firmly put in motion at the end of 2012. After 35 years of ownership, and 13 years of show attendance, it was time.