If you live in the Northeast corner of the U.S., then you can relate to the observation that the weather can be fickle. Springtime is especially unpredictable: March can bring sunny 75 degree F weather or two feet of snow. April can be as hot and dry as summer, or can make us suffer through two weeks of ‘April showers’.
Nevertheless, it stayed dry, and the cars came out. Some were the same as seen in March, and many others were new. As before, there were no ‘rules’ about what you could bring, which again resulted in a nice mix of old, new, original, and modded. In other words, there was something for everyone.
I was a spectator for this one, and I’ll simply say that time constraints both before and after the show impeded my participation. Not only was the vehicular turnout impressive; spectators, catching wind of this, were out in good numbers, possibly lured by the flea market on the same field. Like before, there was no entrance fee, but participants and spectators were encouraged to donate food or cash to support a local food bank, a wonderful cause indeed.
The photos can do most of the remainder of the work here, although I do wish to call special attention to the 1965 Chevrolet Chevy II four-door sedan which, similar to the ’65 Bonneville I wrote up last time, was a single-family-owned car in completely original condition, and a true time capsule. The next show is set for Saturday May 15 (they will run once a month, always on a Saturday), and as we move into the presumably less fickle spring weather, it won’t be a surprise to see an even greater turnout.
FAVORITE CAR OF THE SHOW: 1965 CHEVY II
I spoke to this owner at length, who told me that his great uncle had purchased this car new, and it has remained in the family ever since. He stated that it’s all original, including paint, interior, and inline-6 engine. While there were a few scrapes along the sides, there was absolutely no sign of rust or corrosion anywhere. This Chevy II was a “Nova”; many may forget that the Nova name began as an upmarket trim level on this compact before eventually replacing “Chevy II” as the model name. The ’64 NY license plate includes mention of the World’s Fair; growing up in NYC, I remember those plates as a boy.
“Hey, how you doin’?” Jason exclaimed as I vaulted through the front door of Flemington Volkswagen. He recognized my masked face, even though he hadn’t seen me since 2017, when I returned the Jetta I had leased from him. Like the good salesperson he is, he remembers customers (and admittedly, he was expecting me since I had booked this test-drive with him last week). “I’m just finishing up with this customer and I’ll be with you in a few”. That was fine with me, and gave me a chance to do my own brief walk-around of the ID.4 on the showroom floor.
To bring you up to speed, Volkswagen, after the debacle that was Dieselgate, changed directions as a company. This was partly forced upon them as part of their governmental settlements, and partly done voluntarily as a way to reinvent their future. They have established an all-electric sub-brand called “ID”, with several models already available in Europe. Here in the States, the first of them, the ID.4, has been launched, with online ordering having started a few months ago. The “1st Edition” launch model is sold out.
Once Jason was free, I sat at his desk, we exchanged pleasantries, and I asked him a few questions about the ID.4. He quickly brought me up to speed from the dealer’s perspective: cars are trickling in very slowly; aside from demos, every unit that arrives is pre-sold; if I (or anyone else) want one, it’s best to simply go online and order one; expect to wait ‘about a year’ for it to arrive; and on the chance that someone cancels their order, you might get lucky and move up the line.
He fetched the key and a dealer plate, and gave me a choice to either wait a few more minutes for him to ride along, or take the car out on my own. I told him that I was comfortable doing a solo test drive, so once he showed me the most basics of basics, I was off. Actually, I drove the ID.4 into the back lot to spend a few non-distracted minutes familiarizing myself with the interior controls.
The dash layout doesn’t necessarily scream “EV!” but it is spartan by my standards. There are two screens: a small one directly in front of the driver (which moves along with the up-and-down adjustments of the steering wheel, a nice touch), and the larger, primary screen in the center console. There are very few physical controls. The steering column keeps the two conventional stalks for lights and wipers. On the right side of the smaller screen is the “shift quadrant” such as it is: a spring-loaded knob which can be rotated forward or back changes the gearing from P to R to D/B. What’s D/B? It’s your choice between conventional “D” for Drive, or “B” for Drive with regenerative braking. More on that later. A button in the side of the knob engages “P” for parking brake.
The interior, also spartan, is not unattractive, except for that bright white steering wheel. The white interior accents may be part of the launch edition cars, but I would need to see some other color choices in there. I don’t drive with dirty hands (most of the time) but cannot imagine that wheel staying white.
The center screen has all the controls for the HVAC system, sound system, phone, nav, apps, etc. At the bottom of the screen are “slide bars” that don’t physically move, but swiping one’s fingers left or right will raise or lower temperature, volume, etc. There are no conventional knobs. Considering I had no tutorial, I did ok with it, but did not find it as intuitive as other vehicles. However, learning the center screen was not my primary objective: I wanted to experience how the ID.4 drove as an EV.
Tip-in was like the other EVs I’ve driven: the torque is there with zero delay. I should mention right here that ALL 1st Edition ID.4 models are rear-wheel-dive only, with an electric motor only at the rear axle. According to Car & Driver magazine (VW’s website frustratingly hides the vehicle specs, and only presents marketing info with as little technical detail as possible), the RWD car makes 201 horsepower and 229 lb. ft. of torque. Acceleration was perfectly adequate, although it came nowhere near the neck-snapping jolt I experienced in the Polestar 2 (not an apples-to-apples comparison, with a 20 grand difference in prices).
The car was mostly quiet inside, but coast-down produced an annoying sound of a motor winding down. Intentional? Don’t know. The biggest surprise during the test-drive was reverting to “B” mode, and feeling very little in the way of regenerative braking. The only time the car brought itself to a complete stop was at parking lot speeds below 5 MPH. In every normal driving situation, I needed to use the brake pedal. Not a big deal compared to an ICE car, but the fabulous one-pedal driving in the Polestar is not to be had here.
I stopped for a bit, took some pictures, and opened all the cavities. The rear hatch is electrically-powered and opens wide. I did not fold down the rear seats, but the lack of a mechanical drivetrain might make for a smidgen more cargo room (the ID.4’s wheelbase beats its two competitors by several inches). There is no “frunk” storage, that space consumed by other stuff. So resign yourself to putting your shopping bags in the wayback.
Resuming the test-drive, the best I could muster was to tell myself that the driving experience was fine. After a few minutes to become acclimated to the lack of exhaust noise, it drove like many other cars. The touchscreen controls will require a learning curve (I couldn’t figure out how to pair my phone), but VW fans and really anyone looking at small crossovers who’s willing to also consider an EV should add the ID.4 to their shopping list.
I got back to the dealer and returned the key to Jason. We chatted a bit more about electric vehicles in general. He expressed some frustration about the lack of stock from which to sell, but acknowledged that with the sold-out status of the 1st Edition, this might not be a bad problem to have. Then Jason shocked me by stating that VW, as part of the sale price, is offering “free charging” for the first three years of ownership. Sure enough, I found this statement on VW’s website:
The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 comes with 3 years of unlimited charging at Electrify America DC Fast Chargers at no additional cost. Electrify America chargers can be found along most major highways.
Kudos to VW! That fact alone will go a long way toward alleviating some shoppers’ charging concerns. Jason stressed that the free charging offer also applies to the chargers installed at the dealership. Depending on your proximity to such things, this offer could sway someone on the fence about an EV.
The ID.4 is continuing the trend of building EVs that look normal. Is it new and stylish looking? Yes, somewhat. But it’s not different for the sake of it. As a CUV (compact utility vehicle), it’s sized to go head-to-head with two of the best-sellers in this segment as these specs bear out (figures courtesy of Car & Driver):
overall length (in.)
overall height (in.)
passenger volume (cu.ft.)
Looking at the Monroney, I think that the well-equipped 1st Edtion, at $42,995 plus $1,195 shipping, is a compelling offer. The car is eligible for the full $7,500 Federal tax incentive too. One issue with the 1st Edition is that RWD for most of us in the Northeast is a deal-breaker (the last time VW sold a RWD car here was the 1979 VW Beetle convertible). According to VW’s website, adding a 2nd electric motor to make it AWD adds $3,680 to the check you’re going to write, and the website states that the option isn’t available until “Oct-Dec 2021”. Oh well, you’re waiting for the car anyway.
Points in favor of the ID.4 include a ‘right-sized’ CUV, VW quality, a well-equipped car at this price point, and the bonus of 3 years’ worth of free juice. On the flip side, it’s RWD for now, the regen braking is poor for an EV, the AWD option adds almost four grand to the bottom line, and there’s a long wait for a car once you commit to placing an order. You also need to like that interior.
If price weren’t a factor, I’d jump at the Polestar in the time it takes an electron to (never mind). But price is almost always a factor. The Mustang Mach-E, with a starting price close to the ID.4, offers a nicer interior and (probably) a little less cargo capacity. I personally greatly prefer its looks versus the ID.4. The Mach-E’s AWD option is pricier than it is for the ID.4, and it also lacks the free recharging. The fun part is, more and more EVs are going to be introduced over the next 12-36 months. Competition makes everyone’s game better. If the VW ID.4’s size, shape, and cost hit your sweet spots, go for it. For me, I’m waiting to see what ‘s coming next. I’ll be ready to move into an EV in about two years. I’ll keep you posted.
A new entry on the collector car calendar has sprung up in 2021: the Neshanic Station Car Show, which held its inaugural event on Saturday March 20, nicely coinciding with the first day of spring. And a glorious day it was, with sunny blue skies, no wind, and moderate temperatures reaching close to 60F by midday. The clear air made for some stunning photography.
The car show was combined with a general (not automotive) flea market, which deserves some background history. The tiny hamlet of Neshanic Station for decades held a flea market every Sunday during decent weather, with a wide range of vendors selling a great variety of new and used goods. It became quite well-known and would draw an audience from all parts of the Garden State. A few years ago, the private property which hosted the flea market was sold, and the lot was taken over by the county, merged with a local park. The old flea market was dead.
The Neshanic United Methodist Church resurrected the flea market, combining it with a car show to help draw a crowd. For 2021, it will a once-a-month-on-a-Saturday affair. To sign up, one only needed to send an email stating the desire to exhibit a car. There is no fee, but the church requests a voluntary donation to the food bank that it sponsors. The church has access to a spacious lot across the street from the original flea market location, a flat and grassy piece of property easily 5 or 6 times the size of what had previously been used.
I had registered my Miata a few weeks prior, and since the location is literally three miles from my house, I departed a few minutes before 9 a.m. and was still there in plenty of time. There were close to a dozen cars already in place as I motored past them, with a dozen or more yet to show up after me. This was a “run what you brung” kind of show: no limitations based on age, condition, restoration quality, or modifications, and sometimes that’s the best kind of show, because you truly get the largest variety of vehicles. It’s also a great way to make sure that anyone who owns what THEY consider an interesting car can feel included in a group that frankly might shun them at another type of show.
Domestic iron from the 1960s comprised a large percentage of show cars, with two late-model Ferraris covering the exotic end of the spectrum. Not to be outdone, the Corvette contingent was out in full force, including a C8 mid-engine beauty in an eye-searing yellow. Late model cars included a Challenger, an Audi, and an Alfa 4C.
The flea market vendor turnout was smaller than I expected; the show cars dwarfed the vendors based on the amount of real estate taken. The crowd was a decent size, and the vast majority of folks walking the field outside adhered to the ‘masks on’ request except when eating or drinking something they bought from the on-site food truck. There is no doubt in my mind that for car owners and spectators alike, there was an overwhelming desire to get back to normal compared to 2020, and that helped account for the turnout.
As has been said many times before, after a certain amount of time in the hobby, it’s the people and their stories who become the real center of interest, and I met several fine folks whose stories are recounted below. The Neshanic Car Show organizers have already laid out their calendar through the remainder of the year, with the next two shows set for April 17 and May 15. My personal goal is to get that Alfa out of the garage where it’s been since 2019 in time for either the April or May event.
1962 Lincoln Continental 4-door sedan
I approached the owner of this 1962 Lincoln and told him how refreshing it was to see a sedan since what I see at car shows are almost exclusively the four door convertibles. He told me that he was at a dealer in suburban Philly who had both the 4-door sedan and the 4-door convertible. Although he really wanted the droptop it was so outside his price range, he went with this green-on-green one. The car is all original, everything functions, and he named the car after his departed mother, calling it the “Queen Maryellen”. He went on: “Listen, I’m really not a car guy but I just love this thing, it’s so easy to drive and attracts so much attention no matter where I take it.” He also has an Olds Aurora at home and he hopes to come back next time with a friend so he can bring both cars.
2014 Audi A4
A young man in his mid-20s approached my Miata and struck up a conversation, telling me about a friend who has a Miata with an LS motor in it. I told him that I was familiar with the conversion and that kits are available to do just that. This got us both talking about cars in general. I could tell that he was a genuine enthusiast who seemed to harbor no prejudices when it came to interesting cars. He finally let it out that he was the owner of the 2014 Audi A4 at the other end of the aisle from me. It’s a four-cylinder stick shift car, and he’s done some “minor” modding as he called it, with a performance chip, cat-back exhaust, and some other tweaks. His car was spotless. I truly admired this young guy’s devotion and enthusiasm. The hobby needs to find a way to be inclusive to gals and guys like him who have a late model vehicle which is their pride and joy. ‘Our’ rules cannot be forced on them. They are the future of this hobby if it is to survive.
1965 Pontiac Bonneville 2-door hardtop
This 1965 Bonneville, at first blush, was a nice looking car without anything overtly special about it. I began a conversation with the owner, asking my usual first question: “how long have you owned it?” He answered by telling me “my grandmother bought this car new in Pasadena California”. This Bonneville is a one-family-owned car which resided in southern CA until he brought it to NJ when he married and relocated. The car was in a collision in the 1980 s and got a total repaint at that time; otherwise, it’s all original. This was my favorite car of the show.
1963 Studebaker Avanti
The Studebaker Avanti is an automotive enigma – born out of desperation as the company was going out of business, it was manufactured only for two model years, 1963 and 1964. Fewer than 5,000 were built as “Studebakers” before the factory shut down. (Don’t confuse these with the Avanti II, which is an almost-identical car manufactured when the tooling was bought by two Studebaker dealerships.) This owner has had this car for about 10 years, stating that he pulled it out of dry storage and got it roadworthy. It’s an unusually low-spec car, with a 3-speed manual floor shift, and lacking power steering, power windows, or A/C. This too was claimed to be a mostly original car, and I saw little reason to doubt it. Perhaps most convincingly, old-fashioned service stickers from 1967 and 1975 were still in the driver’s door jamb.
Until the day arrives when we are ferried to and fro in anonymous autonomous pods, THIS is the future of human-piloted automotive transportation.
After 48 hours, I didn’t want to give it back. My extended test-drive of a Polestar 2 began when I signed up for a 30-minute drive, and the return text message asked: “would you like to take the car home for the weekend?” (It helps to be good friends with a former colleague who is a Polestar exec.) I didn’t need to be asked twice. I drove up to Volvo/Polestar HQ in Mahwah NJ on Friday afternoon, left my Volvo V60 in the lot, and returned home in the “2”. Sunday afternoon I reversed the process, putting about 200 miles on the vehicle during my time with it.
Polestar is a name which has had an ongoing connection to Volvo since the first decade of this century. Starting as Polestar Racing, the company prepped modified Volvos for competition. By 2009, Polestar was the official performance outlet for production cars, analogous to Mercedes-Benz’s AMG or BMW’s Dinan. As Volvo grew under ownership of China-based Geely, Polestar was designated to serve as an upscale, breakout brand for hybrid and fully electric vehicles (EVs). The first Polestar-branded vehicle, Polestar 1, is a two-door hybrid, built in very limited numbers (see Sidebar). The next model to be released, and the first with some volume aspirations, is the Polestar 2, a five-door hatchback sedan.
It simply is not going to be possible to cover everything there is to say about this automobile. I’ve broken down my observations and comments as: the vehicle as an upscale brand, the vehicle as transportation, and the vehicle as an EV.
AS A BRAND
While the desire to project an image of Polestar as a notch above Volvo is understandable, the car has Volvo genes, and that’s a good thing. This isn’t some unknown startup launching its first-ever automobile. (It’s not been widely publicized, but Volvo has been working with EVs at the concept level for at least a decade.) It is comforting to think of this vehicle as “Volvo+”.
These attributes include quality, attractive minimalist (Scandinavian) design, and safety. An exterior walk-around assures the viewer that fit and finish are top-notch. Doors and front and rear lids open and close with authority. Interior components are well-trimmed and operate like precision machinery. It was very easy to find a comfortable seating position and adjust everything to the driver’s needs. Anyone who has spent any time behind the wheel of a late-model Volvo, or indeed any European luxury car will quickly feel right at home.
Volvo has owned “safety” for its entire time in the U.S. market, and although the competition keeps threatening to catch up, Volvo, and now Polestar, work at staying ahead of the pack. There are no optional safety features on the Polestar 2: a full suite of air bags, front and rear collision mitigation, run-off mitigation, cross traffic alert, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, 360 camera, and more, are all standard.
AS A CAR
Eric greeted me at the Polestar pod, informed me that he was expecting me, and told me that my car was ready. The model I was given had two major options: an all-leather interior upgrade, and the Performance Package. My car, finished in black (Polestar calls the color “Void”) was offset by an interior trimmed in gorgeous tan leather with birch-looking wood trim. The most eye-catching accents are the gold calipers (Brembo in front) and matching gold seatbelts. It’s just enough bling to let you know you’re in something special.
Controls were easy to find and intuitive to operate. I set the power seat and mirrors, and adjusted the wheel for reach and rake (it’s manual, which may irk some, but a power-adjustable steering column is overkill).
The vertically-oriented center screen uses large-font typeface and large icons, a boon for operating while driving. I didn’t want to be too distracted while driving a car that didn’t belong to me, but I was pleasantly surprised by its ease of use. Polestar uses Google as its screen Operating System, and once your phone is paired, using the various features (navigation, phone calls, plus any app that’s on your phone) is a snap. Voice commands were especially reliable (“Hey Google, navigate me to 777 MacArthur Boulevard in Mahwah New Jersey” was correctly understood on first try each time). This stuff is far from my area of expertise; I’m convinced that if this were my car, I’d learn a lot more about it the more time I spent with it.
There is no “ignition” – with key in proximity, once the driver is seated and belted, the gearshift can be moved from P into either R or D, and a tap on the accelerator (can’t say gas!) starts it rolling. At first, the quiet is eerie. Once you’re at or above 30 mph, tire noise is the predominant sound, but is not obtrusive. The car is so much quieter than an ICE vehicle, and it’s a quiet that you quickly accept, then appreciate.
The Performance Package concerned me, with its 20-inch wheels shod with Continental high-performance summer tires. I expected a harsh ride as a tradeoff for good handling. My concerns were assuaged within the first five minutes of driving. The suspension tuning provided both a quiet and comfortable ride along with rail-like handling.
Once I pulled out of the parking lot, with Nav set for “home”, I was on local roads for about 15 minutes before reaching the Interstate on-ramp. I rounded the curved ramp at about 35, and a quick glance in the mirrors showed that both middle and right lanes of the highway were empty. I said to myself ‘what the hell’, and floored it. The acceleration caught me by such surprise that I slammed the back of my head into the head restraint. The car jumped from about 35 to about 75 in 2.5 seconds. I have never experienced automotive acceleration like that in my life. The problem is it’s addictive: it happens so quickly and so quietly, with so little drama (aside from the self-induced headache) that you’re only discouraged from this behavior by its effect on battery life (and the threat of summonses).
Forward and side visibility are very good to excellent; to the rear, the fixed rear seat head restraints and blocky rear pillars limit your view (which is where the 360 mirror comes in handy). Braking is superb, but really deserves to be discussed as an EV-attribute.
Some final comments about styling: from the front, it looks like a mid-size 4-door car, although you will also notice it sits a little higher than a typical 2021 sedan (the matte black wheel-well trim provides an accent for its slightly higher ride height). From the rear, the hatchback is not obvious (the long sloping rear has become a styling cliché on late model sedans). Opening the hatch and folding the rear seat backs forward reveals a generous cargo hold that it limited only by its lack of a vertical tailgate.
Some of you may be thinking “sedans are dead; EVERYONE wants an SUV”. Yes, well, maybe most, but certainly not everyone. It’s time to bring up that T word for the first time (5 letters, ends in A, last name of electrical engineer Nikola, company founded by that guy Elon something….). If sedans are dead, how is Tesla doing so well with its Model 3 sedan, the best-selling EV vehicle in America? “Oh that’s different” you might say. How so? I don’t know Polestar’s future model aspirations, but I think the Polestar 2 neatly splits the difference between “sedan” and “SUV”.
AS AN EV
Aside from a 10-minute test drive in a BMW i3, and several rides in EVs (most recently, a long test-ride in a Mustang Mach-E), I have not driven a pure EV long enough to get some sense of what day-to-day living with one might encompass. I had that chance this weekend, and I am a convert.
Starting with the driving experience, the quiet, the acceleration, and yet the normalcy of cruising down the highway brings you to the understanding that it’s still a car, and as long as it’s a good car (which the Polestar 2 is), it could be your daily driver.
Earlier, I mentioned braking and said that my comments will fit better under the EV discussion. The “2” has adjustable regenerative braking. The screen calls it One Pedal Drive, and the 3 modes are “off”, “low”, and “standard” (which is full regenerative). When turned off, releasing the ‘go’ pedal will allow the car to coast for as long as momentum and gravity will let it, just like an ICE car. At “full”, the accelerator is like an on/off switch. As soon as it’s released, the car starts to slow down. If you’re at very low speeds, the car stops almost immediately; at higher speeds, it will roll for a few yards, but you’ll sense that the brakes have been applied. If this sounds weird, I gotta tell you: I got used to it in about 30 minutes. One pedal driving. It’s easy. It’s safer. It’s fantastic. I wish all my cars had it!
I tried the “low” mode and frankly didn’t see the point. It’s an unnecessary compromise. I suspect drivers will either get used to and enjoy “full” or will want it to be as much like an ICE car and turn it off. When you do need to quickly get on that brake pedal, those front Brembos haul this 4,700 lb mass to a stop quickly and quietly. Those batteries are heavy, but the car does not have a heavy feel when driving.
I was provided with charging cables for home use, both 120V and 240V. I do not have a 240 setup at home, so I plugged into a 120 outlet in my garage, snaked the cable under the garage door, and let it charge overnight. Admittedly, the battery was only 25% depleted when I started, but I had a full charge in the morning. I was told that at 120V, a full charge from 0 to 100% would take 24 hours. The 240V charge would happen much more quickly. Owning this vehicle would really require the one-time investment of a dedicated home charger – figure roughly a grand for that.
I cruised by two public charging stations, both within a 15-20 minute ride from my home. Spots were available, but I did not take the time to top off the battery. At one (Charge Point) juice can only be purchased if the app is downloaded to your phone. The other, Electrify America, offers the option of an app or will take a credit card at the charging station.
The following comments are true for all EVs, not just Polestars: not enough has been made of the savings in repair and maintenance costs. Starting from the moment of purchase, you will never need to be concerned with spark plugs, engine oil, oil filters, transmission or gear oil, oxygen sensors, charcoal canisters, exhaust systems, radiator coolant, belts, or hoses. There’s nothing to leak. I’m having a difficult time imagining what happens at a dealer service visit: check your tire pressure and fill your washer solvent bottle? Your “consumables” are reduced to tires, brakes, suspension bits like shocks and bushings, wiper blades, light bulbs (less and less of an issue with LEDs), and…what, THE BATTERY? By that time you’ll be trading in for a new one.
TO THE NAYSAYERS
I know that some of you, including friends and colleagues of mine, don’t agree that the advantages of an EV outweigh the disadvantages. Listen, I get it. You should drive what you want to drive. However, living with this Polestar 2 for 48 hours also brought me to the conclusion that many of the stated opinions why EVs won’t replace ICE cars are excuses. Let’s address some of the commonly-cited issues about EVs:
“Range is too short”
Three factors influence range: the size of the fuel tank (or for EV, energy supply, i.e., the battery); the fuel economy of the engine (for an EV, its ability to efficiently consume that energy as motive power); and finally, the driver’s influence (local vs highway driving, frequent stops, idling, heavy accelerator usage, etc.).
The range on the Polestar 2 with 100% battery is 230 miles. Some critics have knocked that as not up to Tesla standards, and it’s not. But how large a factor is that in the purchase decision? It’s never been for me; fuel economy, yes, but my earliest car purchases were vehicles with 10-gallon tanks, so 30MPG still only netted a range of 300 miles, and that’s if I drove it dry, which I never did. Realistic range was 250-275 miles (and that’s what it is in my Miata, also with a 10-gallon tank).
Committing to a purchase of an EV, I now realize, requires a mental shift and a mindset change. Some planning ahead will help ensure that you’ll get there and back. You do the same thing now with gasoline: if you’re leaving early in the a.m. on a 300-mile trip, you’ll likely fill up the evening before. Why wouldn’t you do the same with an EV? Yes, with an ICE, you’ll always find gas stations to refuel, no waiting. The Polestar 2 has tools to overcome “range anxiety”.
“Range anxiety means I’m nervous about venturing far from home”
Google Maps very happily responds to the voice command “Hey Google, where are the nearest charging stations?” by displaying a list of EV chargers within sight on the map. Amazingly to me, this list includes information about the total number of chargers at the site, and how many are presently occupied.
Wouldn’t that be neat to do for the local Exxon station? “Hey Google, how many Exxon stations are nearby?” and you not only get a map of them, you see that “Ed’s Exxon” has 6 pumps, and 4 are being used at present.
“Ha!” You laugh at this notion. “Who needs that? There’s never a wait at a gas station!”
I’m convinced you have short memories. Many of you were driving in 1979, when we had our 2nd fuel crisis of the decade, with OPEC turning off the taps, leading to oil shortages, and eventually, rationing. At that time, I was making an 80-mile round-trip to work, and I could only purchase fuel on “even days” based on my license plate. I could do no extra driving outside of my commute during the week. In 1979, I had range anxiety, although we didn’t call it that.
How stable is the Middle East today compared to 40 years ago? Let’s see: Iran’s nuclear buildup, the wobbly Iraqi government, civil unrest in Syria, the Khashoggi murder by Saudi Arabia; I guess we can expect unlimited oil supplies to continue from the region …. The truth is we don’t know what could happen in one, five, or ten years down the road. I would not bet against another large price jump or oil shortage.
“I can’t charge my car if there’s a power failure”
This is very true. Actually, there are a lot of things you can’t do if there’s a power failure. At my house, loss of power means we can’t charge our phones, keep our refrigerated food cold, wash dishes, take showers, flush toilets, light up rooms after sundown, use the microwave, or watch TV. The last time we had a lengthy, large scale power outage was during Superstorm Sandy in 2011, when the neighborhood lost power for four days. At least we weren’t alone in our misery: a quarter-mile away from me is a Shell gas station. They lost power too. You know what they couldn’t do?
They couldn’t pump gasoline.
“I can’t fill up my car with gas if there’s a power failure”. What WE did, based on the forecast, was fill both cars before the storm arrived. Then we didn’t go anywhere anyway. True, we don’t always know when the power will go out. But if I had an EV and we were expecting a major outage, I’d top up. And probably not go anywhere anyway.
“I’ll miss that incredible thrust from that massive V-8”
Anyone who says that has not driven an EV like the Polestar 2 with its instantaneous 487 lb-ft of torque. End of that discussion.
NITS TO PICK
Trying my best to be objective, there is nothing I found that would be a deal-breaker if I were in the market for an EV in this price range. Like so many other vehicles today, the exterior and interior color palette is limited. To my eye, the “2” looks better in lighter colors. I wish there were interior options between the basic grey/black synthetic and the full-zoot tan leather. My V60 has power-folding rear seat head restraints; I miss them here only because I have them already. The buttons on the side of the little black key fob are ridiculously small for my old eyes (yet admittedly I didn’t need to touch them once). That’s all I can think of.
HOW DOES IT COMPARE?
I would spec it out in white with the tan leather (I would spring for the upscale interior and skip the $5,000 Performance Package). All Polestars are eligible for the $7,500 Federal Tax Credit. $59,900 plus destination, metallic paint, and leather interior, minus the credit, puts me right at $59,000. Don’t forget to factor in the fuel and maintenance savings.
I’m hard pressed to think of another $60,000 sedan, ICE or EV, that beats this car in equipment, safety, driving dynamics, and environmental care. Teslas have their advantages, including a dedicated charging network, and extensive range. The Model 3 is smaller and has less equipment than the “2”. The Model S is closer in size, yet is priced starting at $10,000 above the “2”, is no longer eligible for any Federal Tax Credit (no Tesla is), and have you seen that yoke of a wheel? How is that thing even legal? A close competitor might be the Volvo S90; I’d hate to suggest that Polestar would cannibalize its own sibling, and the choice might come down to preferences over things like colors and motive power.
When I was checking out one of the charging stations, a guy in a pickup truck stopped and yelled out the window: “Nice car! What is it?” When I responded “a Polestar”, he asked “where do I get one?” I told him NYC. Hope I made a sale.
SIDEBAR: THE POLESTAR 1
There were seven of these beauties lined up in the same lot where I picked up my loaner. This was my first time seeing this car in person. It’s lower than I expected; at first glance, I called it the “Swedish Camaro” – it has that pony car stance.
On closer examination, I began to see hints of the P1800 coupe from the 1960s. Make note of the jutting grille and the sweep of the roof’s rear pillar. The taillights are current Volvo design language. Hoping for a drive in one of these on my next visit.
“Carlisle” as a hobbyist destination should need no introduction here: the organizers have been hosting Spring & Fall Carlisle since 1974, and in the ensuing years, have expanded the number of events via marque-specific weekends, including Corvettes at Carlisle, Chryslers at Carlisle, the Carlisle Import Show, and so on. The Ford event is traditionally scheduled in June, and having attended many of the other smaller mid-year shows, the All-Ford (and Mercury, Lincoln, Edsel, Merkur, etc.) National is one of the larger ones in the series.
The previous month, we had been to the Carlisle Import show with the Isetta in tow. Although not mentioned in my coverage, that particular May day was brisk, with daytime temps in the low-to-mid 50s. Typical for the Northeast, the weather can change on a dime, and two weeks later, on the day of my 5-hour round trip, the thermometer hit 100F (38C for those of you in the rest of the world). It was HOT! The A/C, factory-equipped in my car, remained non-functional during my entire ownership. My deepest regrets for failing to fix it were reserved for this particular day. At the same time, my 390 big block never pushed the temperature gauge past its mid-point. The car ran strong and cool all day.
At least I had company for the ride. A family friend with whom I had recently become acquainted, Mike Larkin, was more than willing to ride shotgun. Mike wasn’t a traditional car guy but said he was always up for an adventure. The heat seemed to bother him less than it did me as we cruised with our 260 air at full blast.
Arriving at the fairgrounds, the number of Mustangs on the grounds was overwhelming! Carlisle could probably host “Mustangs at Carlisle” and have a large enough turnout for a standalone show. To my surprise and delight, the “Specials” (California Special and its Colorado cousin, the High Country Special) were afforded their own display area. We pulled in, found a spot, and climbed out of our steaming hot car to bask in the even steamier fairground air.
The photos can tell the rest of the story from here, although I must confess that there were many other interesting Fords which did not get photographed. Someday, whether there’s a Ford in my future or not, I’ll work my way back to Fords at Carlisle.
Above: flippin’ for Ford’s Flip-Tops! The Ford Skyliner Retractable Hardtop was made only for 3 years: 1957, 1958, and 1959. The top photo shows a ’57; note the front plate, “NON SCRIPT”, referring to the earliest production cars which lacked the “Skyliner” script on the roof’s C-pillar. The bottom photo shows two ’59s side-by-side, both with the garage-challenging Continental kits added.
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).
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.
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.
“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.