Alfa Romeo brake system overhaul, Part 8

With the Alfa’s hydraulic brake replacement essentially finished, there was one more related task to complete. As the previous owner had suggested to me, the battery B+ cable could stand to be replaced. Not only had he indicated that it was undersized, he also wasn’t sure that its attachment points had stood up over time. (My car was born with its battery in the engine compartment, but Pete had relocated it to the trunk, where it still is.)

Conveniently, the cable almost completely followed the routing of the brake line from rear to front. There was no extra work to dropping the battery cable when removing the brake lines. The old cable looked to be possibly 2 gauge; I had purchased a “Battery Relocation Kit” which included 20 feet of zero gauge cable (the smaller the number, the larger the cross-section). I only needed about 16 feet.

The old cable had been secured in place with metal hose clamps; thankfully, there were no signs of potential incendiary damage. The new cable followed the same routing as the old, and instead of clamps, I used about two dozen high-temp plastic cable ties. (Cable, or “zip” ties, are available in different quality levels. In the past, I had some which snapped upon tightening. For this job, I researched and purchased higher quality cables.) I was quite happy with the appearance of the end result; the new cable is tucked far enough up into the underside that at no point is it the lowest object under the car.

New battery cable securely in place under the car

To gain access to the starter solenoid, I had removed the intake plenum. (Alfas and some other Italian cars do not have a traditional intake manifold. Instead, the air filter feeds air to the plenum, mounted to the outside of the side-draft carburetors. The carbs in turn are mounted to small tubes which themselves are bolted directly to the cylinder head.) I gave the plenum a cleaning, ran a 6mm x 1.0 tap on all the studs, used new washers and nuts, and with new gaskets at the ready between plenum and carbs, bolted it all back together. The thread chasing and new nuts helped immensely given that 4 of these attachments are completely blind and are in tight quarters.

Dirty plenum, old gaskets
Clean plenum, new gaskets

Saturday was going to be the big day; there always are the dozen final details (spark plug wires and various other small connections underhood), and I triple checked all around the car, which was still on jackstands, still with tires off. The battery had been on trickle charge. Nervously, I completed the final connections at the battery. Nothing caught fire. Climbing up into the driver’s seat, I turned the key on, pumped the pedal about a half-dozen times, and cranked. The crank was strong, but the engine made no attempt to run on its own. Key off, pump the pedal some more, try again. And again. I smelled fuel, got out, and peered underneath. Raw fuel was pouring out from under the front right corner. Key off, battery safety switch turned to off. Time to stop, take a breath, and think.

Was this related to what I had been working on the last 11 months, or was this complete coincidence? Grabbing a flashlight, I looked into the right front corner, where the mechanical fuel pump and fuel filter are. Feeling with my hands, the wettest area was the rubber fuel line for the pump’s outlet. It took about 2 minutes to loosen the clamps and remove the hose.

Old hose looks quite bad

The hose was completely dry-rotted. First, I breathed a sigh of relief that it was ‘just’ a hose. I also immediately realized that, like the brake system I had just overhauled, I really didn’t know how old these hoses were. A quick car ride (with mask) to Advance Auto Parts, and I was back with 3 feet of 5/16” fuel hose.

Old hose looks worse close up

Sunday morning, all 4 fuel hoses, each only about 8-10 inches long, came off and were replaced with fresh rubber. Time to try again. This time, after about 7 to 8 pumps of the pedal (and no leaks), the engine started. Hooray! I bolted the tires back into place, removed the jackstands, and my Alfa was back on the ground for the first time since July of last year.

New fuel hose is CARB-compliant

Gingerly, I moved the car outside under its own power. The brakes worked well, even if the pedal still felt a little soft. One more round of bleeding is in order. I’m also going to try to adjust the ‘throw’ at the master cylinder, as the brake pedal is not quite lined up with the clutch pedal. These are mere details, and I will get to them in the coming days. For now, I’m happy, satisfied, and truly pleased to be able to say that this project is done.

My Alfa sees sunshine for the first time in 11 months

 

Here, nicely framed by garage door; can’t wait to put some miles on it.

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

Alfa Romeo brake system overhaul, Part 7

I’ve always likened working on an old car, when there’s little or nothing in the way of published instruction, to dancing the tango. It’s two steps forward, and one step back. Two forward, one back. And repeat….

In the last post about the Alfa’s brakes, two weeks ago, I wrote about the awkward position of the brake master cylinder. Like so many cars with pedals coming up from the floor (what Alfisti call “standing pedals”), the master is underneath, bolted to the pedal box. When I removed the master cylinder last fall, there were no written instructions to follow. I loosened the pedal box just enough to lower it and access the two bolts holding the master in place. The removal was such a chore that frankly I had been dreading the reinstallation.

Re-reading my words in that last post, I see that I was unintentionally vague. The sentence that now bothers me reads “Once the lines to the master cylinder are done, I need to reinstall the pedal box in the driver’s footwell, as all three pedals had to be loosened/removed to gain access to the master.” My sentence leaves it completely unclear whether I had removed the entire pedal box, or had merely loosened it, when in fact it was the latter.

Why am I harping on this? Because I found myself doing the tango. In the process of attempting to reinstall the new master, I ended up completely removing the pedal box from the car. If only I had done this during the initial disassembly! The hang-up was a bracket which I had mistakenly identified as part of the transmission cross member, but is a bracket for the front exhaust pipe. Laying on my back, on the garage floor, holding a flashlight, and trying to focus through my progressive lenses made its correct identification difficult. Once I realized that it could be safely removed, I undid 5 bolts and it was off. Suddenly, the entire pedal box was in my hands. Eureka!

Pedal box on my workbench. New master is in front.

Since the exhaust bracket was off, I replaced the two rubber bushings inside it, cleaned it up, and repainted it with Eastwood Chassis Black. When friends ask why this brake job isn’t finished yet, it’s these “might as well as” side jobs which eat up time, but are important to complete.

 

With paint open, I dipped the bolt heads and nuts in it. Drilled wood holds them while they dry.

With the new master cylinder bolted in place, I reinstalled the pedal box, sealing it against the unibody with fresh dum-dum (I have a box of 3M dum-dum that’s probably 25 years old, and that stuff stays pliable!). The two final brake lines were bent to line up with the threaded inserts on the master, and I was happily surprised that I got the threads to “bite” after just a few minutes of trying.

Brake lines at master, ready to be bent to shape

The time had come to add fresh brake fluid to the system. I filled the reservoir, attached the little magnetic one-man bleeder bottle from Eastwood to the right rear caliper bleed screw (always start with the brake furthest from the master), and began to pump the brake pedal by hand. Forum posts on the Alfa Bulletin Board (AlfaBB) recited tales of horror about the difficulties in bleeding Alfa hydraulic brakes. I believe that later cars with dual circuits AND dual servos can be a challenge to bleed. I was happily shocked that I had fresh fluid coming through the hose on the bleeder screw on the second or third try.

This item, under $10, makes one-person bleeding a breeze

I was less happily shocked to also see that I had some leaks. There were two leaks at flare fittings that still weren’t tight enough. An eighth of a turn with the 7/16” flare nut wrench solved that. I continued to add fluid and pump the pedal, moving from right rear to left rear to right front to left front. But then a larger fluid leak sprung, from a lousy location: the master cylinder. I got under the car, but both lines at the master were as tight as I dared to make them. My heart sank. Could the new master cylinder be defective?

When you’re doing the tango, and your feet start to go in a direction that could make you trip and fall, it’s sometimes best to get off the dance floor. I put down all the tools, exited the garage, went for a walk, and came back to have lunch. (I learned during the Isetta restoration that before anxiety drives you to act hastily and BREAK something, walk away, think about it, then go back to it.)

An hour later, I believed I had diagnosed the problem, without even touching the car. The leaking line ran from the exit port on the master up to the brass four-way junction block on the firewall. I remembered that when I had formed that line, I told myself that it was “symmetrical”, that is, the same flares and the same flare nuts on each end. While the flare NUTS were the same, the flare at the master needed to be an ISO bubble flare, and I had formed a 45 degree double flare. It took about two minutes to pop that line out of the master to confirm my diagnosis. Yup – I formed the wrong flare fitting.

Oops. Old line at left is bubble flare; new line with double flare doesn’t match.

Back to the two steps forward and one back routine. It was a complete pain to remove that line, cut off the wrong flare, make a new flare, and fit the line back in place. However, the rapid diagnosis made up for it. The fixed line was back on the car, bleeding resumed, and there were no leaks. In a short while, I had a pedal! I’ll bleed the entire system one more time, then the hydraulic work will be done.

 

This is better.

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

The 1940 Triborough Bridge Authority Map

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I collect maps. I’m especially fond of older maps which were printed before the era of modern interstate roadways. As a native New Yorker, I’m partial to maps of the metro NY/NJ area.

Most of my old maps are undated, which is a shame. However, careful study of streets, highways, bridges, tunnels, and other human-built structures usually provides enough clues to date a map to within a year or two of its printing.

One of the more unusual maps in my collection isn’t a typical gas station giveaway of a city or state. This map is entitled “TRIBOROUGH BRIDGE AUTHORITY TRAFFIC CROSSINGS”. It shows most of the five boroughs of NYC, and as the title states, it highlights the bridges and tunnels which are under the purview of that agency. The map has another quite unique feature: it illustrates a crossing as “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” which never got built.

Look at those tolls! But remember, back then they were collected each way.

Because four of the five boroughs of New York City are on islands, as vehicular traffic increased during the first half of the 20th century, structures were erected to allow cars and trucks to traverse waterways without using ferries. While the Brooklyn Bridge was opened in 1883, well before automobiles became mainstream, the Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Queensboro Bridges were all completed during the first decade of the new century. After that came the Holland Tunnel in 1927. The next 13 years saw rapid growth as the George Washington, Triborough, and Whitestone Bridges along with the Lincoln and Queens Midtown Tunnels were up and running by 1940.

Much of NYC, with some of NJ, as it appeared circa 1940

It’s impossible to discuss this growth without bringing up the name of Robert Moses. A hero to some and a villain to others, I will not even wade into those waters. However, the decade of the 1940s was a difficult one for him because it was one of the few times when he didn’t get his way. I’m referring to his plan for the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge.

It was 1940 when Mr. Moses made his proposal for a bridge to connect the southern tip of Manhattan with downtown Brooklyn. While he had his supporters, the opposition on this one was strong. Among those in the “against” camp were the U.S. Government, who saw such a bridge as a potential bombing target; a bombed bridge would then block access to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. There was also a fierce argument put forth that such a structure would ruin the view of the downtown skyline from Brooklyn.

Yet my map labels the bridge, and refers to it as “under construction” (a wildly optimistic claim with no basis in fact). I estimate this was printed around 1940, based on the inclusion of the (1939-1940) World’s Fair site. By the late 1940s, Robert Moses acquiesced and agreed to the construction of a tunnel in lieu of a bridge, which has given us today’s Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (officially the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, but try telling that to a Brooklynite).

An enlargement from the map showing the Brooklyn-Battery ‘Bridge’

By the way, have some fun hunting down other landmarks shown on the map, including Penn Station, Grand Central Station, and all 3 Major League Baseball stadiums!

 

All scans are from my personal map collection.

 

 

 

Alfa Romeo brake system overhaul, Part 6

There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Perhaps the ongoing lockdown has distorted my sense of time. Brake System Update Part 5 was posted on April 3, and I would have guessed that it was more recent than that. Progress has continued, and I’m not shy about admitting that 12 weeks of working from home has allotted additional free time with the removal of a two hour round-trip commute. It also felt redundant and nonconstructive to add a post which only stated “… and today I cut and flared two more brake lines….”

The month of May had me in limbo because of the master cylinder. I was keen on keeping the original part and simply rebuilding it. I had taken a chance last year by ordering a rebuild kit that I knew might not work, and it didn’t. Then I found a new supplier based in Germany whose website looked like they had the correct ATE rebuild kit. That order was placed in late April, and I’m still waiting. Supposedly DHL has the part (or more likely has lost the part).

New reinforced brake hose alongside old hose

As much as I wanted to avoid the expense of a new master, I bit the bullet and bought a brand new unit (almost two bills) from my main vendor Classic Alfa. One concern is that there are so many master cylinder variants (standing vs hanging pedals, LHD vs RHD, non-servo vs one servo vs two servos, 20mm bore vs 22mm bore). While I was nervous about getting the correct one, I needn’t had worried. It arrived in two days (the usual Classic Alfa timeliness), and all threaded fittings and mounting points are 100% accurate.

Clamping the brake line forming tool in the bench vise frees up both hands to manipulate the line

As of today: all 3/16” brake lines have been replaced with new lines cut and formed by me, all new flare fittings are on, and all lines are in place on the car (some final fitting still needs to be done). All three rubber brake hoses have been replaced with steel woven reinforced pieces (this is a case where originality is easily overridden by better quality).

New male and female brake line fittings plus bleeder screw caps

All four rebuilt brake calipers have been reinstalled, with new Ferodo pads in place (the Centric front pads I had installed several years back shed a lot of dust; let’s see if these are better).

Old and new pads side-by-side

The new master is (loosely) bolted in place, but the two brake line connections have yet to be made to it. (Not since the Isetta have I worked on a car with the master located below the floor. The Isetta was easy because the body had been removed from the chassis. The accessibility on the Alfa is horrible.) Once the lines to the master cylinder are done, I need to reinstall the pedal box in the driver’s footwell, as all three pedals had to be loosened/removed to gain access to the master.

I can’t prove it, but “ATE” mark on rear pad might indicate it’s never been replaced

I then have the ‘extra’ job of replacing the positive cable for the battery. The previous owner had relocated this car’s battery from the engine compartment to the trunk, and used (in his own words) “a battery cable sourced from a junkyard Renault”. Since purchasing the car from him, he has recommended that I replace this cable. I’ve purchased a much heavier-duty one from Taylor Cable, which needs to be cut to size and have the appropriate terminals connected. Part of the intake plenum was removed for access to the starter, so that will need to go back together.

New caliper pins (L) didn’t fit, had to clean up & reuse old ones (C & R). Never throw old parts away!

The goal is to get this vehicle off the 4 jack stands upon which it’s been sitting before we reach the first anniversary of the brake seizure which happened in July 2019. I miss driving my Alfa! As I said, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

It may not look like much, but this is progress

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

The Transportation Exhibits at the 1964/1965 NY World’s Fair

I collect maps. Unlike most other things I collect (cars, tools, books, cameras), maps take up very little space. I can bring home a few maps and slip them into my collection without it raising an eyebrow.

When I attend automotive flea markets, typically Carlisle and Hershey, I see vendors who specialize in maps, and vendors who happen to have a box of maps along with other stuff. Map collecting is a subset of the automotive hobby, and the map specialists recognize this and price their wares accordingly. I don’t know what makes one map more valuable than another, but obviously, age, condition, and rarity all play a part. I tend to do most of my pickin’ at the vendors who are not specialists.

A few years back, rifling through a box of maps at one of these shows, I came across a copy of the “official” map of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. It was in like-new condition, and while I don’t recall the exact price I paid, it was five dollars or less. I thought that was a sweet deal, especially since I didn’t own a copy.

 

The map’s cover and some general information

Although I attended the ’64-’65 NY World’s Fair six times with my family, I have only fleeting memories of it. I was just a kid, and as if you need the reminder, this was 56 years ago. So the map was a welcome way to revisit the event. It came as a surprise to me to see that the exhibits were arranged by category: Industrial, International, Federal and State, and Transportation.

 

The complete exhibit map

In Transportation, the buildings from Ford and GM dominated. Everything else (Chrysler Corporation, rental car companies, oil companies, and suppliers) was small potatoes compared to these behemoths. (Notably absent was Rambler/American Motors; even back then their budget was so tight that they had to sit this one out.) If the full map is done to scale, and it likely is, then it appears that the Ford Motor Company exhibit may have been the single largest building at the Fair. (In an earlier blog post, I had shown a postcard image of the GM building from this Fair.)

 

The Transportation exhibits

Look at the index which is part of the map. The ‘time’ next to each exhibit name indicates the approximate amount of time needed to tour the exhibit. This was intended as a way for attendees plan their day, and (as the fair organizers hoped) realize that a return visit would be necessary to see it all. GM, Ford, AND Chrysler each have a recommended visit length of one hour.

 

The index of Transportation exhibits

When the Fair closed, most of it was torn down with the notable exceptions of the Unisphere and the NY State Pavilion. Flushing Meadow Park, where the Fair was located, still exists, and I visited it in 1984 and took these two photos.

The Unisphere in 1984. Made of stainless steel, it shows no signs of aging.

 

The New York State Pavilion in 1984

 

Then, in 2004, the local Mustang Club invited a select few of us back to the Park for the unveiling of the new 2005 Mustang, replicating the launch of the new 1964 ½ Mustang at the NY World’s Fair in April ’64. A photo of my 1968 California Special at that event, with the Unisphere in the background, made its way into the Mustang GT/CS Recognition Guide & Owner’s Manual (3rd Edition) by Paul M. Newitt.

My GT/CS is in the upper right corner

If you visited the Fair, I hope that some of this brings back pleasant memories. If you were not able to visit, I hope that you can marvel at what seemed so futuristic to us in the mid-‘60s.

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

You Can’t Predict the Future

In the latest edition (June 2020) of Sports Car Market (SCM) magazine, a reader wrote a letter to the Editor, requesting an explanation of the so-called “frequent flier” phenomenon (referring to the same vehicle appearing at multiple auctions over a short period of time). I will quote part of his letter:

“… often in the auction reviews, you note a car has been at or across the auction block three or five times in four or six years. Is there a story here? ….Is there a certain type of car which attracts this ‘flipping’ activity?’ …. Is there a certain type of buyer/seller involved in this? The easy answer is ‘speculators hoping to make a quick buck’…..”

I think that SCM dodged providing a real answer when they responded: “There is indeed a certain type of seller – we suspect possessing a world-class stubbornness – who trucks a car to several auctions in a short period of time. … (these) cars mostly have an impact on the bank account of the present owner….”

Whether the individual who posed the question intended this or not, the answer presumes that the ‘frequent flier’ vehicle never gets sold, so the same owner incurs transportation costs, auction fees, and the like. From my own observations of the auction market, the reality is different. Many frequent fliers DO get sold, chalking up multiple new owners over the short haul.

The obvious next question is: did the seller make a profit? Here’s the crux of the issue. Why would any owner of a special-interest vehicle consider selling it within the first year or two of ownership? While there could be any number of reasons (needs the money/found something else/didn’t meet expectations), was the car principally purchased as an investment?

The subheading on each month’s cover of SCM is “The Insider’s Guide to Collecting, Investing, Values, and Trends”. I’ve been a subscriber since 1997. I enjoy the magazine. It’s always done a great job of reporting auction results worldwide, in a timely fashion for a print periodical. What SCM cannot do, and no one can, is predict the future. This is not a knock on the magazine. A vehicle, or a class of make and model vehicles, rises in value faster than the overall market for a multitude of reasons. Many of these reasons have no basis in rationality. Several of my car buddies agree with me that the #1 rule is to buy what you like, enjoy it, and don’t worry too much about values. Yet it’s always interesting to speculate what would have happened if I bought X instead of Y.

Late in 2003, I bought a 1968 Mustang ‘California Special’ aka GT/CS. At that time, average selling prices for cars with the small block 289/302 V8 were around $15,000. There was a 20% premium for the ‘S’ code (4 barrel carb) big-block 390. I found a car for sale with the ‘X’ code 2-barrel 390, and paid $16,000, which I thought was a fair price, not a steal, but perhaps slightly under market. I liked that Mustang a lot, drove it to many shows and events, and sold it nine years later. The irony is, I had been considering some vehicles other than the Mustang, including an older 911, but it wasn’t so serious that I actually sought out or test drove one.

Why hadn’t someone told me 911 values were going to go through the roof? Is it because no one knew?

From the Jan. 2004 CPI

 

I subscribe to, and keep old copies of, the price guide known as Cars of Particular Interest (CPI). The book publishes retail values for cars in excellent (#2), good (#3) and fair (#4) value. I decided to have some fun with this by going back to the January 2004 edition and looking up 10 cars of interest to me whose #3 value was very close to my Mustang’s purchase price. (That copy of CPI had my Mustang at $18,600 for a #3 car.) I then compared those numbers to their 2020 CPI values, and calculated the percentage increase (none lost value). The chart is arranged in order of value increase from smallest to largest.

YEAR MAKE MODEL Value 2004 Value 2020 CHANGE
1970 Plymouth Barracuda 340 coupe $15,525 $26,000 167%
1963 Studebaker Avanti R2 $15,600 $28,000 179%
1968 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 convertible $13,750 $27,000 196%
1971 Alfa Romeo Montreal $13,100 $42,000 321%
1969 Jaguar E-Type Ser. II coupe $14,500 $55,000 379%
1968 Mercury Cougar GT-E 427 $13,000 $53,000 408%
1967 Mercedes-Benz 230SL roadster $14,900 $61,000 409%
1963 Porsche 356 S90 coupe $14,750 $62,000 420%
1961 Lincoln Continental 4-dr conv. $11,500 $56,000 487%
1969 Porsche 911 S coupe $11,500 $83,000 722%

 

Again, we’ve kept things apples-to-apples by using CPI and by using #3 condition values. I’ll make the following observations:

  • It surprised me to see that the 3 cars with the smallest value changes are all domestic. None of those cars are performance slouches, and given the general trend that “muscle sells”, I expected higher numbers.
  • The other two domestic cars posted extraordinary results. The big-block Cougar rose over 400%, and the Continental disproves the adage that 4-door cars aren’t collectible.
  • The value of the Montreal seems artificially low to me, and I say that only as an Alfa owner who follows the market. However, the Jag value looks spot-on for a Series II coupe.
  • The two ‘ringers’ are the Porsches. Note that in 2004, the 356 was actually valued higher than the 911S! And in 2004 dollars, the 911 is the lowest-value car here, tied with the Continental.

What does all this mean? Nothing. (Like Seinfeld.) Seriously, it means that no one saw any of this coming. Looking at this with hindsight, do I have a twinge of regret? Ever so slightly, but not really. The Cougar is the same year as my Mustang, but would not have looked as unique as my car. I adore E-Types, and perhaps missed the boat my not snagging one when I could have. But making those statements does not take in the complete picture:

  • When I bought the GT/CS, it was in Maryland, about 3 hours away. I felt lucky finding one within a day’s round trip drive. Who knows where I would have found any of these other cars?
  • The Mustang was comparatively easy to work on, and I did most of my own maintenance and repair work.
  • Wrenching on a Jag or Porsche of any flavor means exponentially higher parts prices, and greater levels of complexity.
  • The Cal Special was very reliable. I drove it to Nashville, and on two complete New England 1000 rallies. Who is to say that any of these others would have been equally reliable?
  • There was something very special about the uniqueness of my GT/CS. To recap, that model was never officially sold east of the Mississippi by Ford, so very few of them are on the East Coast. Many people who saw it, even seasoned car show veterans, didn’t know that such a model existed. It was an exciting conversation piece.
  • I sold my GT/CS in 2012 for $20,000. You think I made a profit? Adding up insurance, routine maintenance, and repairs, it’s closer to the truth to say I broke even. But I had nine years to enjoy the hobby in it, and there’s no telling what kind of experiences any of these other vehicles could have delivered. So no regrets at all.
My GT/CS, the only domestic in sight, at the 2007 New England 1000 rally

 

Can anyone predict which collector cars of today will show value increases of 400% over the next 15 years? It’s fun to talk about, but I won’t be using real money to place any wagers. I’d rather get out there and drive.

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

An Addendum to the Kirk F. White / Auburn Speedster Post

This is an addendum to my own post re: Kirk F. White, which referenced the 12-cylinder Auburn Speedster he sold at auction in 1971 for $20,000. At that time, twenty grand was about five times the going price of a new Volvo sedan.

Part of my frustration in putting that blog post together was the lack of any hard information about Auburn Speedster values, either based on recent sales or on numbers published in price guides. So I was pleasantly surprised when I leafed through my copy of the 2020 edition of Keith Martin’s Sports Car Market Pocket Price Guide, and found figures for Auburn Speedsters!

First, there was an 8-cylinder Speedster made from ’31-’34, which I had neglected to mention. The SCM median price for that model is $245,000. The V12 Speedster from the same vintage is shown with a value of $410,000. The 1935-1936 Speedster (they are all boattails) with the supercharged straight 8 sits at the top of the heap: SCM claims a median price of $756,000.

These numbers baffled me, because I expected the V12 to be more highly valued than the 8, even if the 8 was supercharged. Googling some further images solved that puzzle. The ’31-’34 Speedsters, while attractive cars, carried over a linearity from the 1920’s in their styling. A vertical grille, standalone headlamps, dual sidemounts, and bulky running boards stood in stark contrast to its reclining windshield and new-fangled boat tail.

When I compared this model with the updated ’35-’36, I understood why market values are higher for the newer car. All its features are swept back, making it look like it’s going 90 standing still. The fenders have started to become integrated with the body. The entire exterior appears to be more of a single piece of sculpture. While each car would draw a crowd today (and certainly did in the 1930s), there’s no mistaking the supercharged model as the prettier ride.

By the way, supercharging, like turbocharging, provides a lot more grunt with fewer cubes. The Lycoming V12, with 392 cubic inches, produced 160 horsepower. The I-8 with 280  c.i. pushed out 150 boosted ponies, impressive for 1935.

I also found auction sale examples which fall close in line with the above numbers. Both sales are reported by RM Sotheby’s on their website: In January 2012, they sold a 1932 Auburn V-12 Speedster for $429,000. In January 2018, they sold a 1935 Supercharged Speedster for $769,500. The accompanying photos tell the rest of the story.

Too much scratch? Try one of these. Promise I won’t tell.

Remembering Kirk F. White and His Contributions to the Collector Car Hobby

Kirk F. White died recently. You may not recognize the name, and you’d be forgiven if you have not heard of him. I got to meet him once, a chance meeting at Carlisle sometime in the 2000s, as he sat next to his Ferrari Daytona which had been loaned to Dan Gurney and Brock Yates for what became their record-making coast-to-coast run in the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash.

When I had learned of his passing, I Googled his name and came across a four-part series of articles written about him on The Classic Cars Journal website. The article’s author credits Kirk White with staging “the first modern car auction” in 1971, an event that the author directly links to the launch of the Barrett-Jackson, Kruse, and RM auction companies. This may or may not be true. I have no evidence to refute the claim, so let’s accept it at face value.

Let’s also quote some interesting sales facts from this article:

  • A writer from Sports Illustrated magazine in attendance claimed that “the standing record price for a car at auction was $45,000 for ‘the legendary ‘Harry Johnson’ Mercer back in 1968”.
  • A Duesenberg Le Baron Phaeton was reportedly bid to $66,000, but did not meet reserve and was declared a ‘no sale’.
  • The highest sale price of the auction was $20,000, for a 12-cylinder Auburn Speedster. It was reported that the new owner planned to drive the Auburn from the auction location in Philadelphia back to his residence in Indiana.

Reading some of these numbers from the perspective of 2020 is dizzying. The $45,000 record sale price would today barely get you into a near-luxury sedan or SUV. Checking my June 1971 Car & Driver, I see that a new 1971 Corvette with a 454 LS6 engine listed for $7,619. A new 1971 Volvo 142E had a list price of $4,032. The back cover ad for the de Tomaso Pantera stated that the car is “around $10,000”. So twenty grand in 1971 dollars for any car, much less an old Auburn, was a lot of coin.

A 12-cylinder Auburn Speedster is, of course, the striking boattail. My reference books indicate that the V-12 Speedsters were made for two model years only, 1932-1933. The 1933 model cost $1,745 new (a 1933 Ford V8 cabriolet was $585). This was during the Great Depression! It’s a coveted model today, so coveted that an entire cottage industry has sprung up building replicas which tend to sell in the $40,000-60,000 range, if Mecum’s recent sales of them are an indicator.

 

This 1936 Auburn Speedster was on the 1998 New England 1000 rally with us.

The 1971 sale car was a real one – the ‘tribute’ market had not been born yet. In 1971, $20,000 could have bought 2 Panteras, or 3 Corvettes, or 5 Volvos, any of which would have served as more reliable daily drivers than an Auburn. So spending twenty large ones on an old car was a real indulgence. Did the owner keep it? If so, for how long? When he sold it, did he earn a profit on the sale? If he or his heirs still own the car today, what is it worth?

There are very few recent documented sales of real Auburn boattail Speedsters. Mecum, at its January 2020 Kissimmee auction, sold a RHD one that needed extensive engine and other mechanical work for $440,000. There is exactly one on Hemmings.com at present, with a supercharged 8 and not a V12, carrying an ask of $795,000. If we split the difference and state that an Auburn Speedster might be worth $600,000 in the real world, that’s a 30-fold increase in value over 49 years.

Wait. We have no idea of this Auburn’s condition in 1971. Sure, it was reported that the new owner planned to drive it back to Indiana, which doesn’t mean that the paint and interior were pristine. Once home, he had to garage it; insure it; perform routine maintenance on it; refresh its cosmetics; acquire a tow vehicle and trailer so as not to sully its refreshed cosmetics; make repairs as items wore out or broke; replace the battery, fluids, tires, brakes, and rubber parts on a regular basis; and so on.

If the car saw any regular use, chances are it would have reached the point where it needed a complete restoration. Even without regular use, cars which sit deteriorate. Depending on how it was stored, maintained, and used, it’s not unreasonable that decades later, it may have needed yet another restoration. Any calculation of ‘final sale price’ as an indicator of profit ignores the decades of maintenance and repair necessary when a valuable old car is under your care.

Old-car enthusiasts who are not active owners seem to presume that all old cars increase in value. I’ve heard it, I’ve read it, and I’ve had it said to me when showing one of my own cars at an event. The conversation goes something like this:

Show-goer: “Hey, nice car! I bet that thing is worth some money!”

Me: “Well, maybe it is, but I’m in the hobby to enjoy the cars and the people”.

Show-goer: “Hey, if you don’t mind my asking, what’s that thing worth?”

Me: “Well, I’m not really sure. Any number I quote is just a figure from a piece of paper anyway”.

Show-goer: “Well, I bet you’re sure that you’re gonna make a killing on that thing when you go to sell it!”

Me: “We’ll see. It’s not for sale, and like I said, I’m in this hobby to enjoy it without focusing on values too much”.

 

Do classic cars increase in value? The answer is almost certainly “yes”. However, the intrinsic value of the car, its condition, and the length of time between two sale points all play significant roles in any potential value increase. A 1933 Ford 4-door sedan is very likely worth more today than it was in 1971. But there is no comparing such a car with a genuine Auburn boattail. Perhaps the biggest argument against the Ford would be its lack of desirability in today’s collector car market.

I still see too many ‘collectors’ who are more focused on future values than they are on the enjoyment that the hobby can bring. Following recent auction trends, it’s not unusual to see the same cars repeatedly dragged across the block, and either failing to meet an unreasonable reserve, or actually selling for less than the car sold for the previous year. It’s a complete oversimplification to look at this 1971 Auburn sales result and exclaim “I told you that there’s money to be made doing this!” Sure. Would you have had that kind of spare cash in 1971 AND have been able to wait 49 years before reselling? I didn’t think so.

If I had known when I met Kirk White that he did indeed kick-start this entire collector car auction mania, I would have personally thanked him. Are all car auctions great? No. Does every vehicle sold at auction hammer for a number higher than its previous sale? Absolutely not. Have auctions brought many more people into the hobby and served as a source of education and entertainment for collector car enthusiasts? We can only answer that with an unqualified ‘yes’.

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

Old postcards Part 2: Travelalls, Datsuns, and Saabs

Old Postcards Part 1 covered postcards of the two New York World’s Fairs. These three postcards below found in my dad’s collection are a potpourri: two are from Cape Cod MA, one of the places my father liked to visit when he traveled (which was infrequent), and the third is an advert for the Datsun 210. I can hear the youngin’s from here: “What’s a Datsun?”

 

“BEACH BUGGIES TOURING THE SAND DUNES ALONG RACE POINT, PROVINCETOWN, CAPE COD, MASS.”

So reads the back of this postcard. Beach buggies? The ‘buggy’ in question is an International Harvester Travelall, a forerunner to today’s ubiquitous SUV. Looking at that soft sand, I’m not sure I’d trust ANY 4WD vehicle to return to pavement, but obviously, the folks who ran these tours found these trucks to be up to the job. Carrying capacity was another advantage. Presuming the vehicle had 3 rows of bench seats, it could likely accommodate a driver plus 8 passengers, adding to the tour company’s revenue per outing.

Relying as I do on Wikipedia, it appears that the pictured Travelall is a model year 1968, the last year for this body style. That conclusion is based on the rear quarter panel trim, which seems to have been a 1968-only treatment. In 1969, the Travelall was redesigned and bore an appearance very similar to the smaller IH Scout.

 

“PROVINCETOWN MUSEUM WITH PILGRIM MONUMENT IN BACKGROUND, PROVINCETOWN, CAPE COD, MASS.”

 

I can’t say that I recognize either the museum or the monument, but I do recognize all the cars in the parking lot. Was GM having a convention that weekend? Did the Saab owner know that someday the brand would be owned by GM? I kid. Among the GM cars are two ’61 Chevrolets, a ’62 Chevrolet, ’55 and ’62 Pontiacs, and behind the ’62 Chevy, perhaps an early ‘60s Ford Falcon.

At first I had a difficult time determining if the Saab was a late-50s 93, or an early-60s 96, as their front ends are nearly identical. However, the 93s had ‘suicide’ doors while the 96’s doors were hinged conventionally, as appears here. The front grille was substantially redesigned in 1965, putting the postcard car into the 1960-1964 model year range. So except for the ’55 Pontiac, all the cars pictured here are of very similar vintage.

 

“DATSUN 210: Five models to pick from, with one kind of gas mileage…. It’s economy that makes you feel rich.”

The Datsun 210 had a short run in the U.S.: the model was sold here only from 1979 through 1982. There were indeed 5 body styles: a two-door sedan, four-door sedan, five-door wagon, three-door hatchback coupe, and a special 210MPG two-door sedan.

The U.S. was hit with its 2nd gas crisis of the decade in 1979, so Datsun’s timing was, shall we say, fortunate. The wording on the postcard talks about little other than fuel economy, because that’s what Americans were shopping. The 210MPG model, with a reduced horsepower 1.4L engine and a five-speed manual gearbox, was rated at 47 mpg on the highway. Perhaps most surprising to me is that this vehicle, like almost all Asian imports at this time, was still RWD.

Datsun was still a few years away from switching over its brand name to Nissan, but do note the corporate Nissan symbol in the bottom left-hand corner.

My dad bought a new Datsun 200SX in the early ‘80s, so no doubt he picked up this free postcard at that time. Was he considering the flashy 210 three-door hatchback coupe in the photo? Didn’t the image of the young man serenading his date with a flute influence his decision?

 

All images are from my personal collection of postcards.

 

 

Dad’s cars: ’49 Jeep, ’53 Chevy, & ’61 Corvair

Last year, we moved my mom out of her house and into an assisted living facility. For almost-94, she’s doing remarkably well. The reason I bring this up is that the effort of moving her out of the home that she occupied for 38 years (25 of those with my dad) has unearthed a cornucopia of items, some of which I haven’t seen in decades, and some of which I’ve never seen before.

Some of my earliest blog postings have been of my father’s cars: his Corvair, his Buick, his Mustang, and his VW Bug. These four vehicles were around when I was a kid, taking my own snaps of them. This posting features photos taken earlier than that, and includes the vehicle my dad owned when my folks got married.

1949(?) Jeep Station Wagon

My dad was an early embracer of SUVs. When the first Wagoneer was introduced in the late ‘60s, he would tell me that he really liked it, although he never did buy one. I knew that when my parents got married in 1950 my father had a “Jeep” (mom didn’t have a license yet), but I knew little about it, until I discovered these photos.

From my research, I pin the year of this rig as 1949. According to Wikipedia, Jeep introduced a 4WD variant in 1949 named the “Utility Wagon”, while the 2WD was called the “Station Wagon”. In 1950, the grille changed to a V-shape and added horizontal bars. This Jeep has the original grille, and “Station Wagon” emblems on the front fenders, so I hereby pronounce it a 1949.

My dad labeled everything (those of you who know me really well now know where I got that habit), and that’s my mom in front of the car with the heading “Vermont Cabin Aug. 1952”. I was born in March ’54, and my folks talked about trips to New England during their early days together.

 

The second photo is a much clearer shot of the Jeep, with my cousins Marsha and Andy. I would guesstimate this pic as from 1950. Note the open cowl vent, two-piece windshield, dog-dish hubcaps, knobby tires, and inside spare tire mount.

 

1953 Chevrolet 210 4-door sedan

Dad bought this car new, and I came home from the hospital in this thing. I have vague memories of it, mostly of me staring at the dash while riding in the back seat. This photo is a recent discovery. This is what’s stamped on the back:

“This is a Kodacolor print, made by Eastman Kodak Company, Week of October 26, 1953.”

I’m certain this car was white, but you wouldn’t know it based on this photo. The color print has faded to an almost monochrome sepia. I attempted to color-enhance it, which made marginal improvements. However, you can make out the blue and red in the hood-mounted Chevy emblem. Note the two open vent windows, radio antenna, dog-dish hubcaps, blackwall tires, and accessory front bumper overrider.

 

1961 Chevrolet Corvair

Oh, how infatuated my dad was with this car! As most of you know, Chevrolet introduced the new, rear-engine air-cooled Corvair as a 1960 model. Even then, and I was only 6, I can recall his excited tone of voice when talking to my mom about the car (and dad rarely got excited about anything). He waited a year for the station wagon’s introduction in 1961. One of my strongest early automotive memories is riding in the way-back of this wagon when my dad drove it home from the dealership. Both the Jeep and the ’53 were manual gearbox cars. Mom had just gotten her license around this time, and only drove an automatic, and that also drove this purchase decision.

This photo is date-stamped May 1962, and it’s my brother Michael, in his first Communion outfit, acting like he’s about to climb in and drive away. This one was the 700 model (there was also a cheaper 500 version), and dad’s car sports an outside rear-view mirror, dog-dish hubcaps, whitewall tires, and white paint. You can barely see the “Lakewood” emblem just beyond the rear quarter cooling slats.

My father enjoyed woodworking, and he found a way to improve his Corvair, by designing and building a storage tray for the front trunk. He sent this photo to a number of magazines, including Popular Mechanics, hoping to get it published, but it didn’t happen. I know he was disappointed by that. Oh, and what’s that car next to the Corvair? Pretty sure I know, but I’ll invite you to guess.

In this 3rd and final shot of the Corvair for this post, the primary subject is my parents’ children. The photo is stamped Jan. 1963 (our clothing would imply it was taken months earlier). From left to right, that’s my brother Karl, my brother Michael, and me; I’m 8, and already a car nut. LOOK WHAT’S DIRECTLY BEHIND US!! A 1961 Chrysler Newport convertible! My research informs me that Chrysler fielded 3 different full-size convertibles that year: Newport, New Yorker, and 300. The grille texture on the 300 was completely different, and the New Yorker had chrome along the wheel well openings. Note the dashboard-mounted inside mirror, canted quad headlights, large bladed front bumper, full wheel covers, and whitewall tires.

There are more of these in some other photo albums at my brother’s house, so watch for future postings of more old family cars!

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.