On Saturday, October 24, at the RM Sotheby’s Elkhart Collection Auction, the 1957 BMW Isetta, chassis number 509090, formerly owned by me, sold at a hammer price of $31,000. When RM does post the result on their website, the published number will show as $34,720, as they will include the 12% buyer’s commission in the total shown. (This is a tactic that all auction companies engage in, as a way to display an even higher sale number than the hammer price. As they would argue, this is the more accurate representation of the dollars coming out of the purchaser’s pocket. But it’s still not the same as the hammer price.)
While it was no surprise that the car sold (after all, the auction was No Reserve), and even though I had previously estimated a hammer price of $30,000, I had begun to underestimate myself after watching Friday’s live stream, where the majority of cars met, or more typically exceeded, their pre-sale auction estimates. There was a sell-out in-person crowd in Elkhart, plus phone and internet bidding. With few exceptions, cars stayed on the block only for one to two minutes, and the bidding was aggressive and quick-paced. In the Isetta’s case, the pre-sale estimate of $35-45,000 was a tad optimistic.
I’m very happy for the new owner, whoever s/he may be. I hope that the car gets driven and shown a bit more than the previous owner managed to (not) do!
I’ve purposely held back the final few chapters of the Isetta Saga, pending this sale. Watch for the Saga’s conclusion to appear on this site in the very near future. (Then what am I going to write about?)
The time has come: the auction of the “Elkhart Collection” by RM Sotheby’s has commenced as I type these words. The auction began at 10 a.m. on Friday October 23, and will run through tomorrow. As most of these auctions do, the lots start with what is loosely referred to as automobilia (defined as automotive-related stuff other than vehicles), which here includes tools, shop supplies, books, and sundry collectibles. Once done with the automobilia, the cars will start to cross the block.
While I’m keen to watch what some of the more interesting Fiats and Ferraris will hammer for, the car of most interest to me is my former Isetta, about which I’ve spilled so much digital ink. It is Lot #2157, scheduled to cross the block on Saturday. (I’ve been asked by more than one person “how do you know it’s the same car?” The easiest way is via its chassis number, 509090. But there are also some tell-tale signs about the restoration that mark is as uniquely mine. Oh, then there’s that suitcase on the parcel shelf.)
I’ve also been asked if I knew who bought my car back in 2013 (no), if I knew the car had stayed in the U.S. (no), and if I knew how much the car has been used (yes). Checking photos of the odometer, I can attest that the mileage when I sold it was 29,529. Based on a photo on the RM Sotheby’s website, the current odometer reading is 29,530. One. Mile. Difference. The car probably gained that “mile” while being driven on and off transport trucks, which is a shame, because it IS fun to drive.
This also caused me to go back and verify how much I drove the car while it was in my possession. I found a photo of the odometer from 1995 showing 29,437 miles. So I drove it 92 miles, seemingly not a lot, but I also never ventured more than about four miles from home base either.
Most of the lots for this auction are no reserve (as this one is), meaning that they will sell to the highest bidder. And all of them have been assigned pre-sale estimates. For this Isetta, that range is published as $35,000 – $45,000. Nicely restored Isettas sold at auction within the last few years are off their high values of five-to-eight years ago; the more recent sales have hovered around $25-30,000. My best guess for #509090 is that it will hammer close to $30,000 (plus 12% buyer’s commission, which will be folded into the number that RM Sotheby’s eventually publishes).
I wish nothing but the best for the new owner, whoever that may be. And I know where you can read a long drawn-out saga about that car online.
All photographs courtesy of the RM Sotheby’s website.
APRIL 2011: THE PETITE CONCOURS AT THE NY AUTO SHOW
Sometime early in 2011, I received an email from an outfit billing itself as “Teeny Tiny Productions”. Almost deleting it on the presumption that it was spam, I opened the email to discover that Teeny Tiny Productions was actually associated with microcars. Reading further, I learned that they planned to host a special exhibit at the upcoming New York International Auto Show (NYIAS), and this email was my personal invitation to participate.
I called the provided number and spoke to a gentleman named Burt Richmond who assured me that this was legit. He and his business/personal partner Diane Fitzgerald had hosted a number of microcar-themed events in and around the Chicago area, where they resided. The email targeted me as an Isetta owner who lived in the NY Metro area. There were no costs to me outside of the need to transport the vehicle in and out of the city. He asked “are you game?” to which I replied “sure”, thinking that adding a display at the NYIAS to my Isetta’s résumé could only be a good thing.
According to the schedule I was provided, the “Petite Concours”, as the special display was named, would run only for the first five days of the show, including press days, and not its entirety. We owners would load our vehicles into the Jacob Javits Center before the show opened, and would get them out on a Sunday, after that day’s show had ended. This made it easier for me, as traffic in the area would be (relatively) minimized. Burt and Diane were on hand when I loaded in, and Burt was in charge of the floor arrangement. My car was chosen as one of four Isettas to be arranged in an “X”, with the cars’ tail ends inward. Thankfully, the vehicles were stanchioned off, and there was 24-hour security provided by the Javits crew.
Because we were in a room on the lower level, and not part of the main exhibit, I won’t pretend that the Petite Concours was a major spectator draw. Certainly, the other vehicles on display, which included Messerschmitts, Crosleys, Citroen 2CVs, old and new Hondas, Fiats, and NSUs, attracted some of the crowd that just happened to be meandering past, not necessarily aware of the special showing. As I’ve observed when an assortment of miniature cars is at a show, the Isetta becomes viewed as something that’s almost ‘normal’ when surrounded by some of its more abnormal contemporaries.
The five days went quickly enough; the probable highlight of the entire affair was being behind the wheel of my car and piloting it through the dungeon known as the Javits’s basement. I’ve walked the show enough times, and had the pleasure of attending so often on a press pass, yet never imagined there would be a day when my little bubble car and I would be in that locale together.
OCTOBER 2011: THE MONMOUTH COUNTY CONCOURS D’ELEGANCE
Later in the year, my good friend Dennis Nash called me up. He explained that he was very involved with an acquaintance of his who would be hosting a car show called the Monmouth County Concours d’Elegance, and 2011 was to be its 2nd running. Dennis said that they were quite short of judges, and asked me if I would judge for the day (no special training needed!). He also threw in the fact that the show vehicles were admitted as invitation-only, and he was extending such an invitation to my Isetta.
The show was scheduled for October 1, and checking my calendar, I noted that I had no conflicts, so I told Dennis I was in. Dennis’s only other request was that I arrive early that day for a judges’ meeting, and to be assigned to a team.
The day turned out to be cool and overcast, but we were thankfully spared the wet stuff, which counted for a lot, given that I was dressed in the de rigueur judge’s outfit of navy blazer, white shirt, chinos, and loafers (boater’s hats were optional). Dennis was running the judges’ meeting, and we were all put into teams of two. My judging partner was…. Dennis’s wife Ann Marie! I was happy to be with someone I knew, and the judging was quite informal anyway. There was a wonderful and eclectic selection of vehicles on the lawn, but to be blunt, the caliber of vehicles didn’t strike me as what I would expect to find at an “invitation only” concours. I did enjoy myself, in large part because the Nashes are a wonderful couple, and as dedicated to the old car hobby as any married pair I’ve ever met.
I don’t believe that the Monmouth Concours continued much past 2012, if it even made it that far. As well-intentioned as the show organizers were, they learned how difficult it is to put on a top-notch fling, especially with the calendar becoming more and more crowded with collector car type events every weekend from April through October.
POSTSCRIPT: FALL HERSHEY
The following weekend was Hershey, and of course I was there. Wandering the aisles during the Saturday car show, I spotted this forlorn BMW out for judging:
This was the germination of an idea – could I, would I, consider putting my Isetta on display at Hershey? Stay tuned for the answer!
December 23, 2009 was my final day of work at Volvo Cars of North America, where I had been employed for over 23 years. For the first time since college graduation, I was free of daily obligations. I had every intention of resuming my career, but with my wife’s encouragement, I decided to take some time off.
As 2010 dawned, I looked at the collector car calendar and could foresee upping my participation above what had already been a busy schedule. While the garage held both the ’68 Mustang and the Isetta, I decided to look for opportunities to get the Isetta out more. The additional time needed to load and unload the car would be less of an issue now.
My friend Larry, who lives in the vicinity of this school, made me aware of this show, which sounded like fun. It was also a chance to lend support to a bunch of teenagers who wanted to experience the makings of a car show in their own back yard.
The kids of course, enjoyed my car, and I in turn enjoyed the variety of vehicles in attendance. Two young men floored me, as they showed me around their VW bus while wearing tie-dye shirts. Flashing the peace sign was their idea, not mine!
MAY: AACA NJ REGION ANNUAL CAR SHOW
I had only recently become a member of the NJ Chapter, so none of my mates in the club had seen the Isetta yet. Entering the microcar in the same class as the American iron of the ‘50s meant that it was up against some very stiff competition (it also looked like a toy next to these ‘50s gargantuans).
My friend Ron, whom I knew from the multiple New England 1000 rallies we’ve run together, showed up in his ’55 T-Bird and parked next to me. Lo and behold, when it was time to depart, his Bird wouldn’t start! Ron knew the car became fuel-starved because of a hot soak issue, and he said that all he needed to get going was a bit of fuel to pour into the carb. But where to get that fuel? From the Isetta’s fuel tap!
MAY: NESHANIC STATION MEMORIAL DAY PARADE
We were getting good at parade participation, and this one was close enough to my house that I could actually drive the 3 miles back and forth, and I did! My stalwart friend Richard Sweeney did not miss the chance to ride in the car, and waved to the crowd as if he were the mayor.
JULY: BREAKFAST AND ISETTA RIDES AT THE REINAS
As a changeup from the typical Sunday morning breakfast drive, I emptied my garage of cars, set up a table and chairs, brought out the electric griddle and coffee pot from the kitchen, and invited a bunch of the regulars down to breakfast. (My wife said it looked like I could move in there; perhaps that was a hint….) Even Irv Gordon made it (after receiving the invite, he called me up and asked “Rich, do you think the guys would mind if I drove the C70 instead of the 1800? I want to ride in air conditioning”.)
We had something of a mini car show on the lawn and in the driveway, and for anyone brave enough, rides up and down the road in the rolling egg were freely offered.
This show, held in the charming town of Macungie PA since the 1960s, wins the award for “car show name with greatest ratio of consonants to vowels”. I’ve attended “Macungie” as we call it (easier to say) since the early ‘80s, as it was a known gathering spot for microcar owners.
There was no contingent of micro units this year, but I did manage to secure a shady spot on what was a typical hot and humid summer day. This show has always prided itself on an eclectic variety of display vehicles, typically arranged by year, make, and model. One particular memory is of a young woman who described herself to me as an artist. Having gone through my restoration photos, she seemed to take great delight in informing me that I too, was “an artist”. I accepted the compliment!
By the autumn of 2010, I was back to work, albeit only on a part-time basis. With the show calendar quickly coming to a close, I was already anticipating more of the same in 2011.
It’s long been a tenet in the old car hobby that cars like to be driven; they don’t do well when they sit; and as long as you’re on top of maintenance, there’s no reason not to expect some reliability from an older car.
I’ve been lucky with the Alfa Romeo (although frankly, luck has little to do with it): having purchased the car in March of 2013 with 54,000 miles on the odometer, by July of 2019, the car had just shy of sixty-six thousand on the clock. In a little over six years, I managed to drive a 1967 Italian car almost 12,000 miles, which neatly works out to 2,000 miles a year. That changed, though, when the brakes seized, resulting in a complete teardown and rebuild of the braking system that took a year to complete. The car had not sat silent under my ownership for that long before, and when I did restart it, it ran poorly. Suspecting the fuel had gone sour, I drained the tank, added fresh premium, and swapped out the plugs. Success! Except … now I had a fuel leak under one of the carbs.
So, much of September was spent reading up on Weber carburetors. At first blush, they seem unnecessarily complex. Add to that complexity the words of the late Pat Braden, as he wrote in The Alfa Romeo Owner’s Bible, a copy of which I own (and I’m paraphrasing here): “if your car is running fine, don’t touch the carbs. Everyone wants to fiddle with the carbs. If it’s running ok, leave the carbs alone”.
Well, Pat, the car does ‘run’ fine, but liquid fuel dripping onto my starter motor does not get me very excited, at least not in a good way. I did some more research, including reading some very helpful posts on the Alfa BB (Bulletin Board), and concluded that the gaskets and seals were probably old, and the float height should be measured and adjusted, but other than that, I am going to leave the carbs alone!
I’ve never removed the Webers from my car before. Removal didn’t look complicated, but would certainly prove to be time-consuming. First, the upper plenum is removed (two hose clamps, one bolt, and two nuts, all easily accessible). Next, the lower plenum comes off (ten nuts and washers, four of which are totally blind). Now one has access to the carbs themselves (eight nuts, four of them blind). Once the banjo bolts for the fuel connections are undone, the carbs can be removed from the car. The carburetors bolt to 4 rubberized mounts, each of which has 4 studs. To remove the mounts, one first must remove the intake manifold, as 8 of the nuts for the mounts are only accessed if the intake manifold is unbolted from the cylinder head (7 nuts, some of them only reachable with an open-ended wrench, which only allows 1/6 of a turn at a time).
Back to these rubberized carb mounts: it was eye-opening to learn from the Alfa BB that side draft carbs, hanging off the right side of the cylinder head, are prone to enough vibration to cause fuel delivery issues. To combat that, Alfa employed a bracket extending upward from the right motor mount to the lower plenum, and mounted the carbs on rubber mounts which absorb vibration. But a number of the Alfa owners on the BB stated that these mounts should be considered service items: eventually, the rubber hardens and develops hairline cracks which allow air to enter the intake stream, throwing off the fuel-air mixture.
Former owner Pete must have replaced them at one point, because I had an old set among the spares he had given me. Checking the website of my favorite (really only) parts supplier Classic Alfa, I saw that they had a carburetor gasket kit for $35, and new carb mounts for $25 each. That all seemed reasonable enough, and as usual, my order arrived from the UK 48 hours after I placed it. I was ready to get to work.
It was important for me to stay focused on the goal: I wanted to clean out the carburetors, inspect them for any obvious faults, then reassemble them using all new gaskets. Perhaps it’s from a lifetime of dealing with old cars, but I do have the habit of over-repairing my vehicles. The issue with Webers is that other than setting the idle mixture, idle speed, and float height, any other adjustments involve a lengthy trial-and-error game of swapping jets. One more time: aside from the fuel leak, the car ran fine. I selected the rear-most carb (the leaker) and removed all the covers.
Having several service manuals with exploded diagrams at my side, things didn’t look too bad. There was clearly some dirt built up, but no obvious faults or defects as far as I could see. Numerous cans of Gumout were emptied to clean things up, and I’ve been pleased with the progress. The float needs to be carefully measured and adjusted, and once that’s done, reassembly will commence, which is where I will pick up next time.
RM Sothebys, the automotive auction company, recently concluded its Auburn Fall auction which was held September 3-5, 2020. Unlike many of RM’s recent previous auctions conducted online due to the coronavirus, RM allowed this one to be an in-person gathering at Auburn Auction Park in Indiana. However, being onsite was not a requirement for bidding, as telephone and web-based bids were still accepted.
Over 500 motor cars crossed the block, and while most sales were under the six-figure mark, several notable high sales included a 1935 Auburn Speedster which sold for $700,000, and a 1936 Duesenberg Tourster which hammered for $575,000. (Both these number are without the auction company’s 10% buyer’s premium added, so they reflect actual final bid when the gavel fell.)
Scanning through the results, I was amazed to see that over 60 of the automotive lots sold for under $10,000. True, many of these cars were projects, or unpopular pre-war vehicles in pedestrian body styles. But much of my amazement is simply finding so many cars available for an initial outlay of ten grand (or less). Frankly, I still hear the cries of “the hobby has gotten too expensive for me”, and again, those cries are originating from those who lament passing on that chance in the early 1970s to score a Shelby Mustang for $1,500. While those days are over, there are still plenty of affordable ways to enter the hobby.
A mantra of mine, which I chant to those looking for that first collector car, is “be open-minded”. If one is willing to consider brands, models, and body styles outside the typical collector’s purview, there are lots of choices, and there’s also lots of fun to be had.
Among the low-priced sales at RM Auburn, I selected six which struck me as interesting cars at fair prices. I’d be happy to have any one of these cars in my garage; some of them I might hold onto just for a few months so I could say “yeah, I had one of those once”; others might be worth hanging onto a little longer. While the selected six are personal favorites, I also made an attempt to select from a variety of body styles. You’ll find sedans, convertibles, trucks, and station wagons on my list. Undoubtedly, your six choices would be different. That’s the fun of collecting.
Let me know your thoughts: do you have a favorite among these? Is there one car which you think represents a best value? I’m more than happy to entertain a little back-and-forth about my picks. The results are arranged in ascending hammer price order (when you click on the link, please note that RM Sotheby’s shows a higher price because they always include the 10% buyer’s premium).
1988 Toyota Celica GT convertible hammered sold for $3250
The cheapest car on my list, it might also qualify as the most reliable. The bulletproof qualities of most Toyotas include this rare convertible variant. While not much to look at stylistically, this would be a fun car to take to cars-and-coffee events and cruise nights. I’d guarantee that you would have the only one there.
From a value perspective, Bring a Trailer (BaT) sold one in 2019 for $7,650. My Cars of Particular Interest (CPI) retail price guide puts this car in the range of $2000 to $5000 for a good-to-excellent value, so $3,250, while perhaps not a steal, seems a fair price.
1952 Kaiser Manhattan sedan hammered sold for $4750
Kaiser is a brand which I see at car shows so infrequently. It’s usually takes a National AACA show like Hershey for me to come across one. Kaiser production ended in 1955, so there aren’t many around, and therein lies the charm here. For under five large, you can have an almost “one of a kind”. One downside might be parts availability, but hey, the hobby is all about the adventure of scrounging for rare parts.
This price looks especially good when checking CPI, which publishes a range of $8,500 to $20,000 for cars in the good-to-excellent condition categories. And BaT sold one earlier this year for $8,800 , so buy this one and flip it if that’s your thing.
1988 Buick LeSabre Estate wagon hammered sold for $5750
Station wagons, known as long-roofs among collectors, have really taken off in just the last few years. While much of the interest seems focused on ‘60s and ‘70s American cars, this Buick wagon from 1988 is a little more modern, and a little more ready to be pressed into daily driver duty if necessary. The subject car even has the de rigueur reverse-facing rear seat (for when a minivan is just too ordinary).
The CPI values, at $1,500 to $3,600, surprise me, and frankly I think they’re low. Again, while older wagons have risen in value, snagging this ’88 puts you ahead of the curve. Compare this car to the one I found on Hemmings which is on offer for $9,000, and I think the RM car looks pretty pretty good.
Pickup trucks are hot: they’re hot as new vehicles (last I checked, which was earlier this year, average transaction price for a new pickup truck out the door was $51,000), and they’re hot as collectibles. Of my six choices, this one shocks me the most. Maybe I’m missing something; yes, it’s a long bed, and yes, it’s RWD. But still….
Of these six selections, this one is the project car, and for that reason, I hesitated in choosing it (I got over my hesitation). The aura exuded by this automobile is so overwhelmingly impressive that no matter its condition, it remains an object of desire. Now, even at a smidgen over seven grand, you’d need to pour in multiples of that to turn this into a reliable road car, never mind something show-worthy. And RM sold two other ‘56s, one of which, while over our arbitrary price break at $17,000 , was certainly the better deal.
Check out these numbers from CPI: $42,000 for “fair”, $68,000 for “good”, and $123,000 for “excellent”. Your choices are: park this one on your lawn as an ornament, or put $100k into a restoration, sell it for $120k, and net $3,000. I’m going to mull that one over and get back to you.
1976 Pontiac Bonneville Brougham coupe hammered sold for $7250
Tied for most expensive car on my under-ten-grand list, I think this might be the best choice in many ways: GM parts availability, orphan brand with huge hobby support, final year of the big GM full-size cars, roadworthiness as a touring car, and lots of creature comforts including air and cruise.
It’s difficult to find comparables, although Mecum did sell a ’76 Bonneville four-door for $10,500 way back in 2017. The CPI range is $6,000 to $14,000, which means this sale price is not a steal but not a rip-off. I’d need to blow a hole in the garage wall to fit it, but it might be worth it.
The Greenwich Concours d’Elegance has a very strict rule: a vehicle can be shown at one of its events only every three years. As Bruce Wennerstrom himself told me, this ensured that repeat audiences would see different cars the following year. I had shown my 1957 BMW Isetta in 2001, 2004, and 2007, and when 2010 rolled around, I didn’t hesitate to apply again. The Wennerstroms welcomed me back for a fourth, and what would turn out to be, final time with the Isetta.
My dear friend Richard Sweeney, NJIT Library Head and non-car person extraordinaire, jumped at the chance to accompany me, which also meant that my long-suffering wife was off the hook this time, although I didn’t hear too many complaints from her about it. Richard was of great help from the get-go, and as we got the car positioned as instructed by the field organizers, Richard wanted to play an active role in standing near the car, chatting it up with attendees. I could tell he loved every minute of it.
To my eye, 2010 had significantly more spectators than I had noticed during my previous outings. Perhaps it was the beautiful weather; certainly, a major factor was the increasing recognition that Greenwich was getting, with some press calling it “The East Coast version of Pebble Beach” – high praise indeed. The caliber of vehicles, always high, seemed to create even more oohs and ahhs among show-goers.
At awards announcement time, the Bubble made the cut yet again, winning “Most Fun Car” for the Sunday Europa show. Well, 3 out of 4 ain’t bad at all. I think Bruce had a soft spot for my little car, as we won in 2001 and 2007 too. Once we reached the awards table, Bruce presented my trophy and again asked me if my Isetta has the ‘big block’. Microphone in hand, I again told the assembly that European cars got 12hp, but we in the states got the 13hp version. Bruce again chuckled; he never tired of that story.
My friend Richard was overjoyed at the prospect of riding in the car past the viewing stand. He couldn’t stop talking about peoples’ reactions, because his interest was completely enveloped in the sociological and cultural impacts of this car on an audience. It wasn’t the car per se; it was how people reacted to the car, whether they were seeing an Isetta for the first time, or reliving memories of one from long ago. He never let go of his idea of making a documentary about the car and the public’s responses to it.
We got the car loaded onto the trailer and got back on the road just as a major late spring storm hit. We made it back safely, though, and I thanked Richard profusely for all his help. All he could say was that he’d gladly do it again.
It turned out to be an eventful year, 2009, which in retrospect was no surprise at all. It started with me (again) telling my bosses at Volvo that I had every intention of taking voluntary retirement in December, to which they continued to react with disbelief. My recent promotion to Manager of Technical Engineering kept me busy, and my own work ethic wanted to ensure that I would depart without leaving unfinished assignments for others to clean up. I was informed that there would be at least one more business trip to Sweden, likely my last. Finally, I would be turning 55 in March, not a major milestone in my mind, but one that still deserved some reckoning.
I still had the ’68 Mustang, and I still had the Isetta, both tucked safely away in the garage. I had toyed with the idea of selling the Isetta, and even ran a few print ads, which got zero response. Since participation in the New England 1000 classic car rally seemed to be on hiatus for now (we last drove in it in 2007, and wouldn’t again until 2013), I continued to search for new opportunities to show the Isetta. The first such opportunity of the year came about when I saw an ad for the Readington Township Memorial Day parade: the parade organizers were looking for “old cars”.
My entry was accepted, and we trailered the car to the assembly area, a local strip mall. (In fact, we live in Readington Township which is quite large. I considered driving the car there but it would have meant crossing several major thoroughfares.) The variety of vehicles in the parade confirmed for me that there were no limits to vehicle type, as long as the cars were “old”. Volunteers handed us the obligatory red, white & blue accoutrements, and we were off.
The challenge with driving an old car in a parade is maintaining an appropriate speed. Too fast, and you’ll zoom by spectators who’ll barely get to see their reflections in your shiny chrome. Too slow, and you might overheat, or, if you’re driving a stick, you may find yourself slipping the clutch. This parade was S-L-O-W. I had trouble maintaining a steady pace of, oh, about 2.5 mph. More than once I would pop it into neutral and coast, even if that meant leaving a greater distance between my car and the car in front of me. Nevertheless, it was a delightful parade, with Main Street lined with the cheering residents of Readington. The tortoise-like pace, though, bored me, until I got the bright idea to throw the door open while driving. The car can still be steered, however, the door opens both outward AND upward, which blocked my forward view. It was worth it, though, because the crowd (ok, just the kids) went wild with screams and laughter every time I did that.
Later that summer, I dragged the little red bubble to the Boonton Cruise Night, a Friday tradition in northern NJ. Boonton’s affair is possibly typical for a suburban cruise night, set in the large parking lot of a strip mall anchored by a WalMart, so there’s plenty of regular traffic along with that generated by the car nuts. A pizzeria kept us nourished with food and caffeine, and a few friends showed up. This September outing was the second and final one for the Isetta in 2009. In December, as promised, I retired from Volvo Cars of North America after 23 years of employment. I had no idea what I would do in 2010, but I certainly hoped to have more free time to play with cars.
At 7:10 a.m. on Sunday, September 6, 2020, I was in the parking lot of local bagel shop, buttered bagel and hot coffee in hand. Sitting in my Volvo V60, I used the car’s navigation system to find “Lime Rock Park”, amazed that I located it so quickly within that sometimes-quirky system. Estimated drive time was 2 hours, 30 minutes. With that, I pulled out of the lot, and was on my way to attending my first car show since the global pandemic shutdown began.
There are no words I can use which would add in any meaningful way to what so many have already expressed about the year 2020. I had resigned myself months ago that the entire year would be one huge write-off for participating in the car hobby, yet when I discovered that Lime Rock was planning to move ahead with its 38th annual “Sunday in the Park” concours, I reconsidered my rather conservative position. I knew the show well, and knew that even at its most crowded, the size of the track and the spacing of the show cars would allow for plenty of social distancing. Reading Lime Rock’s website, I learned that they planned to limit attendance by restricting the number of ticket sales, and they would also be enforcing a mask mandate. The final vote-in-favor was the weather forecast, which promised sunny skies, low humidity, and temperatures no higher than the low 80s.
Volvo’s navigation didn’t let me down, and I arrived at the track at 9:40. As soon as I drove onto the bridge over the track, I saw that indeed, this would be an experience different than almost every previous visit. Usually, the parking lot would be more than half-full by this time, and there would be rows and rows of trailers and tents visible in the distance. Instead, parking appeared to be about 25% full, and there was no camping this year – it had been removed as an option.
I parked and headed down the paved ramp toward the track, fearful that maybe there would be an equivalent lack of show cars on display. That wasn’t the case at all, even if the number of vehicles was less than the usual turnout. By my most unofficial calculation, I would guesstimate that both counts (cars and spectators) were about 50% of a typical Lime Rock Fall Vintage show. Almost everyone was masked, and track workers on foot and in golf carts were actually on patrol. If they spotted someone sans mask, the Lime Rock rep stopped that person and told them that masks were required. Good for them! It greatly added to my own comfort level as I walked the show.
The display cars did not disappoint: as always at Lime Rock, there were the pre-arranged “classes”, different every year, which allow for great variety within each class (for example, “Untouched and Preserved Originals and Barn Finds”). The show organizers also managed to squeeze in some fun at the expense of the coronavirus by naming one class “Distancing at a Distance – Vintage Travel Trailers & Campers”. The other major group of show vehicles is collectively known as the “Gathering of the Marques” – for these cars, there is no pre-registration. As one drives up to the gate, the driver makes it known that they intend to park their car with others from the same marque, and there is no model year cutoff. It does make for an eclectic gathering, and show goers have the option to linger or march past.
The spectator parking area itself can provide plenty of automotive entertainment too. New Englanders seems especially fond of motoring to this show in their ‘60s four-wheeled icons and parking them among all the other daily drivers. I suggest that the Lime Rock Park officials consider trophies to vehicles at least 50 years old found in the parking lot!
Awards were handed out between 1 and 2 p.m., at which point, show participants began to leave. I had covered the entire track by about 2 o’clock, so my time was up too. The drive home was hampered by a little more traffic than I encountered in the a.m., but I still managed it door-to-door without stopping in just under 2 hours and 45 minutes. I was really glad I went. It felt great to be outside and back at a show again, my first since attending Atlantic City in February. The Lime Rock Fall Vintage weekend has been a favorite of mine for 30 years, and I can only hope that the 2021 visit will feel like normal again.
This restoration was over-the-top, yet the accompanying signage claimed that the owners regularly tour in it, and that’s believable too. I loved the “outside” speedometer, and the likely-original worn clutch and brake pedals.
1928 Packard with 5th wheel trailer
I’ve seen this rig before, I think at Hershey. Its originality is impressive. I also overheard the owner say that the car is driven regularly. Take note of the 5th wheel, back when they really were wheels!
1964 Chevrolet Corvair
This Monza coupe was found in the barn-find class; the accompanying signage indicated an original 30,000 miles. The condition and colors made this a standout among 1st gen Corvairs.
This 400 model coupe was from the last year of “true” Packards. The signage indicated it was equipped with the optional torsion-leveling suspension.
This was my first in-person sighting of the mid-engined marvel from GM. It looked a bit underwhelming to me, an opinion I chalk up to its plain off-white exterior and interior.
1938 Lancia Aprilla
New England Rally friend Chuck Schoendorf showed this immaculate Lancia in the pre-war class. The car’s engineering was ahead of its time, with 4-wheel independent suspension and a narrow-angle V4 engine.
Renzo Rivolta’s ISO firm sold manufacturing rights for its Isetta to BMW, and used those profits to design and build this Italian-American hybrid, with a Corvette V8 under the hood.
1971 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe
Owners Dave and Cathy returned to Lime Rock with this gorgeous 124. I met them both last year and the car looked better than ever. Dave said that the oversize air cleaner is hiding two 2-barrel Webers, and stated that this is a high-horsepower European setup which was a dealer option.
1973 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe
These 124 coupes are rare, and it was very unusual to find two of them at the same show, when there were none of the more-common 124 Spiders.
1982 Ferrari 308GTSi
This “common” Ferrari model stood out for its unusual and attractive shade of verde medio, or medium green.
Ferrari Dino GTB coupes
I was struck by all 3 cars being GTB models, B for berlinetta, or coupe, compared to the more common S or spider models with a removable top center section.
Alfa Romeo coupe, spider, and sedan
Alfa Romeo Junior Z Zagato
This rare Alfa looked great in blue and I overheard the owner talk about having driven the car in Europe; I was envious.
3 Very Different Alfas
The Spider has a longitudinally-mounted engine in the front, driving the rear wheels. The 164 has a transversely-mounted engine in the front, driving the front wheels. The 4C has a mid-mounted engine driving the rear wheels.
1963 VW Karmann-Ghia convertible
1973 BMW 3.0CS
Porsche 911 Targa “long hood”
Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
This 300SL was in the barn-find class, and given the values of these icons, it’s incredible to see one which hasn’t been restored. Based on photos on display, the engine had been yanked for an overhaul. The car, as worn as it is, looked completely functional, and frankly, I really hope the owner does NOT restore it! They’re original only once.
1965 Volvo 544
This was also in the barn-find class, with signage claiming 34,000 original miles and all-original condition, including paint and upholstery. It could be the only such 544 out there.
1968 Volvo 1800S
Volvo station wagon display
Volvo, well-known globally for its 5-door estate cars, started to add performance to the mix. Here were a few examples.
Miatas are usually well-represented at Lime Rock. This year, the turnout was a bit smaller than usual.
My first blog post about “Carlisle”, as in the car shows at Carlisle Fairgrounds, was written in April of 2015, after I had attended the Spring Carlisle event. As I’ve mentioned innumerable times, Carlisle has been a mainstay of my adventures in the collectible automotive hobby going back to my first visit in 1978.
For the first 15 years or so of its existence, Carlisle Events consisted only of a Spring show in April and a Fall show in late September/early October. In their desire to expand, the show organizers branched out in several ways. One addition to the calendar was the Carlisle Import Show. Since the ‘big’ shows which bookmarked the year spent about 99% of their energy on domestic product, the Import Show provided an opportunity for enthusiasts of European and Asian cars to have something to call their own. I first attended the Import Show in 1990, and observed that it took up less than one half of the acreage of a normal show. We actually could park our daily driver cars on the field.
Fast forward to 2008: The Carlisle Import Show, held in May, was next in line for the Isetta. Instead of placing me with the Germans, my car was situated with a group of microcars, which was actually more fitting. I had the pleasure of parking my bubble between an NSU Wankel Spider and an East German Trabant(!). Another very cool microcar in attendance was the Mazda Chantez, a kei-class car, with a two-cylinder, two-stroke engine making 35 horsepower. I had never seen one before, and I haven’t seen one since.
One of the great things about the Import Show is the tremendous club support. Vehicles are arranged by marque, and the clubs are very proactive in setting up tents, tables, chairs, and displays. The entire atmosphere is much more cordial and familial compared to one of the huge spring or fall events.
The Volvo Club of America has always made a strong showing here, and of course, that spokesperson of spokespersons, Irv Gordon, was in attendance. As you can see on the map, the Swedish brands Volvo and Saab were assigned separate blocks, the only such division. Note that this show also embraced kit cars, although their numbers were but a small minority of total show participation. I have no idea how or why there is a section for “Fiero”, which of course is a domestic Pontiac! And like Spring and Fall Carlisles, there was a Car Corral and a Swap Meet area, but again, these were minuscule compared to the big events. At Carlisle Imports, the emphasis was definitely on the display cars.
The Ford Aerostar was gone, with my trusty 2003 Volvo V70 now assigned to Isetta trailer duty. We made it back and forth with no issues, and I was more than pleased to have had the opportunity to show my BMW Isetta on the same tract of land where I’ve been walking the aisles for the past 30 years.