With the Alfa’s hydraulic brake replacement essentially finished, there was one more related task to complete. As the previous owner had suggested to me, the battery B+ cable could stand to be replaced. Not only had he indicated that it was undersized, he also wasn’t sure that its attachment points had stood up over time. (My car was born with its battery in the engine compartment, but Pete had relocated it to the trunk, where it still is.)
Conveniently, the cable almost completely followed the routing of the brake line from rear to front. There was no extra work to dropping the battery cable when removing the brake lines. The old cable looked to be possibly 2 gauge; I had purchased a “Battery Relocation Kit” which included 20 feet of zero gauge cable (the smaller the number, the larger the cross-section). I only needed about 16 feet.
The old cable had been secured in place with metal hose clamps; thankfully, there were no signs of potential incendiary damage. The new cable followed the same routing as the old, and instead of clamps, I used about two dozen high-temp plastic cable ties. (Cable, or “zip” ties, are available in different quality levels. In the past, I had some which snapped upon tightening. For this job, I researched and purchased higher quality cables.) I was quite happy with the appearance of the end result; the new cable is tucked far enough up into the underside that at no point is it the lowest object under the car.
To gain access to the starter solenoid, I had removed the intake plenum. (Alfas and some other Italian cars do not have a traditional intake manifold. Instead, the air filter feeds air to the plenum, mounted to the outside of the side-draft carburetors. The carbs in turn are mounted to small tubes which themselves are bolted directly to the cylinder head.) I gave the plenum a cleaning, ran a 6mm x 1.0 tap on all the studs, used new washers and nuts, and with new gaskets at the ready between plenum and carbs, bolted it all back together. The thread chasing and new nuts helped immensely given that 4 of these attachments are completely blind and are in tight quarters.
Saturday was going to be the big day; there always are the dozen final details (spark plug wires and various other small connections underhood), and I triple checked all around the car, which was still on jackstands, still with tires off. The battery had been on trickle charge. Nervously, I completed the final connections at the battery. Nothing caught fire. Climbing up into the driver’s seat, I turned the key on, pumped the pedal about a half-dozen times, and cranked. The crank was strong, but the engine made no attempt to run on its own. Key off, pump the pedal some more, try again. And again. I smelled fuel, got out, and peered underneath. Raw fuel was pouring out from under the front right corner. Key off, battery safety switch turned to off. Time to stop, take a breath, and think.
Was this related to what I had been working on the last 11 months, or was this complete coincidence? Grabbing a flashlight, I looked into the right front corner, where the mechanical fuel pump and fuel filter are. Feeling with my hands, the wettest area was the rubber fuel line for the pump’s outlet. It took about 2 minutes to loosen the clamps and remove the hose.
The hose was completely dry-rotted. First, I breathed a sigh of relief that it was ‘just’ a hose. I also immediately realized that, like the brake system I had just overhauled, I really didn’t know how old these hoses were. A quick car ride (with mask) to Advance Auto Parts, and I was back with 3 feet of 5/16” fuel hose.
Sunday morning, all 4 fuel hoses, each only about 8-10 inches long, came off and were replaced with fresh rubber. Time to try again. This time, after about 7 to 8 pumps of the pedal (and no leaks), the engine started. Hooray! I bolted the tires back into place, removed the jackstands, and my Alfa was back on the ground for the first time since July of last year.
Gingerly, I moved the car outside under its own power. The brakes worked well, even if the pedal still felt a little soft. One more round of bleeding is in order. I’m also going to try to adjust the ‘throw’ at the master cylinder, as the brake pedal is not quite lined up with the clutch pedal. These are mere details, and I will get to them in the coming days. For now, I’m happy, satisfied, and truly pleased to be able to say that this project is done.
I’ve always likened working on an old car, when there’s little or nothing in the way of published instruction, to dancing the tango. It’s two steps forward, and one step back. Two forward, one back. And repeat….
In the last post about the Alfa’s brakes, two weeks ago, I wrote about the awkward position of the brake master cylinder. Like so many cars with pedals coming up from the floor (what Alfisti call “standing pedals”), the master is underneath, bolted to the pedal box. When I removed the master cylinder last fall, there were no written instructions to follow. I loosened the pedal box just enough to lower it and access the two bolts holding the master in place. The removal was such a chore that frankly I had been dreading the reinstallation.
Re-reading my words in that last post, I see that I was unintentionally vague. The sentence that now bothers me reads “Once the lines to the master cylinder are done, I need to reinstall the pedal box in the driver’s footwell, as all three pedals had to be loosened/removed to gain access to the master.” My sentence leaves it completely unclear whether I had removed the entire pedal box, or had merely loosened it, when in fact it was the latter.
Why am I harping on this? Because I found myself doing the tango. In the process of attempting to reinstall the new master, I ended up completely removing the pedal box from the car. If only I had done this during the initial disassembly! The hang-up was a bracket which I had mistakenly identified as part of the transmission cross member, but is a bracket for the front exhaust pipe. Laying on my back, on the garage floor, holding a flashlight, and trying to focus through my progressive lenses made its correct identification difficult. Once I realized that it could be safely removed, I undid 5 bolts and it was off. Suddenly, the entire pedal box was in my hands. Eureka!
Since the exhaust bracket was off, I replaced the two rubber bushings inside it, cleaned it up, and repainted it with Eastwood Chassis Black. When friends ask why this brake job isn’t finished yet, it’s these “might as well as” side jobs which eat up time, but are important to complete.
With the new master cylinder bolted in place, I reinstalled the pedal box, sealing it against the unibody with fresh dum-dum (I have a box of 3M dum-dum that’s probably 25 years old, and that stuff stays pliable!). The two final brake lines were bent to line up with the threaded inserts on the master, and I was happily surprised that I got the threads to “bite” after just a few minutes of trying.
The time had come to add fresh brake fluid to the system. I filled the reservoir, attached the little magnetic one-man bleeder bottle from Eastwood to the right rear caliper bleed screw (always start with the brake furthest from the master), and began to pump the brake pedal by hand. Forum posts on the Alfa Bulletin Board (AlfaBB) recited tales of horror about the difficulties in bleeding Alfa hydraulic brakes. I believe that later cars with dual circuits AND dual servos can be a challenge to bleed. I was happily shocked that I had fresh fluid coming through the hose on the bleeder screw on the second or third try.
I was less happily shocked to also see that I had some leaks. There were two leaks at flare fittings that still weren’t tight enough. An eighth of a turn with the 7/16” flare nut wrench solved that. I continued to add fluid and pump the pedal, moving from right rear to left rear to right front to left front. But then a larger fluid leak sprung, from a lousy location: the master cylinder. I got under the car, but both lines at the master were as tight as I dared to make them. My heart sank. Could the new master cylinder be defective?
When you’re doing the tango, and your feet start to go in a direction that could make you trip and fall, it’s sometimes best to get off the dance floor. I put down all the tools, exited the garage, went for a walk, and came back to have lunch. (I learned during the Isetta restoration that before anxiety drives you to act hastily and BREAK something, walk away, think about it, then go back to it.)
An hour later, I believed I had diagnosed the problem, without even touching the car. The leaking line ran from the exit port on the master up to the brass four-way junction block on the firewall. I remembered that when I had formed that line, I told myself that it was “symmetrical”, that is, the same flares and the same flare nuts on each end. While the flare NUTS were the same, the flare at the master needed to be an ISO bubble flare, and I had formed a 45 degree double flare. It took about two minutes to pop that line out of the master to confirm my diagnosis. Yup – I formed the wrong flare fitting.
Back to the two steps forward and one back routine. It was a complete pain to remove that line, cut off the wrong flare, make a new flare, and fit the line back in place. However, the rapid diagnosis made up for it. The fixed line was back on the car, bleeding resumed, and there were no leaks. In a short while, I had a pedal! I’ll bleed the entire system one more time, then the hydraulic work will be done.
Perhaps the ongoing lockdown has distorted my sense of time. Brake System Update Part 5 was posted on April 3, and I would have guessed that it was more recent than that. Progress has continued, and I’m not shy about admitting that 12 weeks of working from home has allotted additional free time with the removal of a two hour round-trip commute. It also felt redundant and nonconstructive to add a post which only stated “… and today I cut and flared two more brake lines….”
The month of May had me in limbo because of the master cylinder. I was keen on keeping the original part and simply rebuilding it. I had taken a chance last year by ordering a rebuild kit that I knew might not work, and it didn’t. Then I found a new supplier based in Germany whose website looked like they had the correct ATE rebuild kit. That order was placed in late April, and I’m still waiting. Supposedly DHL has the part (or more likely has lost the part).
As much as I wanted to avoid the expense of a new master, I bit the bullet and bought a brand new unit (almost two bills) from my main vendor Classic Alfa. One concern is that there are so many master cylinder variants (standing vs hanging pedals, LHD vs RHD, non-servo vs one servo vs two servos, 20mm bore vs 22mm bore). While I was nervous about getting the correct one, I needn’t had worried. It arrived in two days (the usual Classic Alfa timeliness), and all threaded fittings and mounting points are 100% accurate.
As of today: all 3/16” brake lines have been replaced with new lines cut and formed by me, all new flare fittings are on, and all lines are in place on the car (some final fitting still needs to be done). All three rubber brake hoses have been replaced with steel woven reinforced pieces (this is a case where originality is easily overridden by better quality).
All four rebuilt brake calipers have been reinstalled, with new Ferodo pads in place (the Centric front pads I had installed several years back shed a lot of dust; let’s see if these are better).
The new master is (loosely) bolted in place, but the two brake line connections have yet to be made to it. (Not since the Isetta have I worked on a car with the master located below the floor. The Isetta was easy because the body had been removed from the chassis. The accessibility on the Alfa is horrible.) Once the lines to the master cylinder are done, I need to reinstall the pedal box in the driver’s footwell, as all three pedals had to be loosened/removed to gain access to the master.
I then have the ‘extra’ job of replacing the positive cable for the battery. The previous owner had relocated this car’s battery from the engine compartment to the trunk, and used (in his own words) “a battery cable sourced from a junkyard Renault”. Since purchasing the car from him, he has recommended that I replace this cable. I’ve purchased a much heavier-duty one from Taylor Cable, which needs to be cut to size and have the appropriate terminals connected. Part of the intake plenum was removed for access to the starter, so that will need to go back together.
The goal is to get this vehicle off the 4 jack stands upon which it’s been sitting before we reach the first anniversary of the brake seizure which happened in July 2019. I miss driving my Alfa! As I said, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
A big part of this brake project has always been the intention to replace all the hard lines. It was back in the fall of 2019 (days we’ll forever remember as “pre-coronavirus”) when I purchased a 25’ roll of new CuNiFer (copper/nickel/iron) brake line (from FedHill) and all new line fittings (from Classic Alfa), knowing that the day would come when I’d need them.
Well, that day did come, and I’ve spent a somewhat enjoyable last few days in the garage making up the new lines. The rear rotors and calipers have been bolted back in place, so with the old lines as templates, I cut the first two new lines for the two rear calipers to the appropriate lengths.
The creation of new brake lines requires that the ends be flared, which requires a special tool. I have one of those cheap old flaring yokes, a tool I’ve had for so long that I couldn’t tell you the last time I used it. Maybe never. My good friend Mike G owns a high-end brake flaring tool kit made by Eastwood, which he generously loaned to me. I’m going to walk you through the step-by-step process, which on an old Alfa like mine can be a bit tricky! You’ll see in a moment.
With the exception of the ¼” hard line from the brake fluid reservoir to the master cylinder, all the other hard lines on the car are 3/16”. That’s the easy part. The fittings, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. The car’s four-wheel ATE calipers use metric M10x1 threads, while most of the remaining connections, such as at both front and rear T-fittings, use UNF 3/8”-24 threads. Further, the M10 end requires an ISO bubble flare, and the 3/8” end takes a double 45° flare. Please don’t ask me why – I’ll just point to the car and say “that’s how the Italians did it!”
The Eastwood tool, which I used for the very first time this week, is a bit intimidating at first. The instructions in the box are ok, but I thought it would be wise to cut a few short pieces of pipe and make some test flares (I purchased about 7 feet more brake line than needed, because sooner or later I’ll make a mistake and need to redo a line).
The Eastwood instruction book states that before you make a flare, you should do 3 things with the cut tube: run a file on the inside to remove burrs; run a file on the outside for the same reason; and slightly chamfer the edges. I dutifully followed instructions.
The tool itself is designed to be securely clamped into a bench vise. The two most important pieces which require your utmost intention are the tube-holding dies in 4 different sizes, and a rotatable disc with the various flare-forming dies. This is when I discovered that the 3/16” tube die is double-ended: it says 45° on one side, and DIN on the other. The instruction book didn’t say too much about this.
I grabbed the 3/16” tube-holding die and placed it into the tool, with the 45° double-flare at the business end. The tube itself was inserted between the two halves of the die, and with the disc’s “OP. 0” (Operation Zero) facing the tube, I pulled the handle. This step simply squares up the end of the tube with the end of the die. Once done, I made sure the clamp was tight.
Rotating the disc to “OP 1, 3/16”, I again pulled the handle. As a final step, the forming die disc was rotated to “OP 2, 3/16”, the handle was pulled, and I removed the tubing to examine my work. It looked good! I had a nice, neat 45° double flare.
Before you flare the other end of the tube, you MUST slide on the two flare fittings; once both ends are flared, you’ll never get them on. In my case, not only did they need to face the correct way, they needed to be the correct threads! With the 45° double flare done, the 3/8” fitting went on first, and then the M10 fitting. It is highly recommended to delay the celebratory glass of vino until AFTER these steps are completed.
It was a good thing that I had made some test pipes, which is when I discovered that the DIN end of the tubing die would make the needed ISO flare. I further discovered via experimentation that while the forming die does have an “OP 1” and “OP 2” for the DIN flare, I needed only “OP 1” to get a bubble flare that matched my old brake line.
I’ve made two lines so far, and am quite pleased with the progress. It’s a nice feeling to have rounded the curve and to have begun reassembly. With most collector car events cancelled for the spring, the pressure is off, but the progress continues.
I’ve often referred to the two years I spent as a professional automotive technician as my “post-college” graduate work. It was a different kind of education, and included the benefit of earning a salary. One of the earliest lessons, and one I still carry today, is that there is no substitute for having the right tool for the job at hand. The correct tool ensures that the repair is done correctly, safely, and within a reasonable amount of time. It is not an exaggeration to state that there were times when sweat dripped from my brow, and curses sprang from my lips, when the lack of the appropriate tool made a repair attempt a real struggle.
A corollary lesson states that sometimes, one needs to practice some creativity and “invent” a tool, perhaps by assembling one from hardware parts, or by modifying an existing tool. This point was put into practice during the Isetta restoration, as tools for that car aren’t exactly found in your local NAPA store.
The challenge rose up again during the recent brake work on my Alfa. I found myself struggling with the reassembly of the parking brake shoes, which reside inside the rear brake rotor ‘hat’. The shoes and their assorted springs and clips came apart easily enough. But now my efforts to put it all back together were just taking too long.
Let me be more specific: the brake shoe assembly mounts to a backing plate, like on most cars. Unlike most cars, though, the wheel hub is mounted on a bearing that is press-fitted into place through the backing plate. The parking brake reassembly would be easier if the hub were not in the way, but to remove it, I would need to remove the entire axle and press the hub and backing plate apart. That was more work than I wanted to bother with. I was convinced that there was a way to put the parts back on with the hub in place.
And Alfa Romeo actually made that accommodation. The hub surface has two additional holes, lined up in such a way to allow a tool to pass through them to access the brake shoe hold-down pins. The pins require a 5mm Allen tool, and I have one as a 3/8” drive socket. Since there is so much spring pressure to overcome, putting the Allen socket on an extension, with a 3/8” drive ratchet wrench, provides way more leverage than one could ever get from a tiny hex key.
Herewith was the problem: I could not push the pin in far enough to engage its lock, because the socket was too wide to pass completely through the hole in the hub. I briefly considered grinding down the socket, but a close examination revealed that would likely weaken it to the point of failure once an extension or a wrench was snapped into place. I briefly (like, for 10 seconds) considered enlarging the hole in the hub before rejecting that crazy idea. (Repair lesson #39.b.2: when making permanent modifications, always do so to inexpensive, replaceable objects, NOT to complex, difficult-to-replace components of the vehicle itself.)
Staring at things for several minutes brought forth the revelation that if the 5mm hex shaft were longer, I’d have what I needed. After considering a Home Depot run, which I internally wagered would yield a 25% chance of success, I challenged myself to modify the tool I owned. Could I do this in less than an hour? I thought it entirely reasonable.
With a 3/32” drift, I hammered out the roll pin and pulled out the existing 5mm bit from the socket. I found a standard 5mm hex key in my Allen key collection, and tested it at the car. It was long enough for my purposes. Next, I secured the longer hex key in the bench vise and hacksawed off the short end. (I really should have pulled out the Dremel tool for this step, as the hardened steel took longer than I thought it would to hack off.) I filed the end smooth, and it fit right into the socket. My attempts to drill a hole in it to reinstall the roll pin resulted in two broken drill bits – like I said, that tool steel is hard! But the new bit was a tight fit in the socket, and since I’d be pushing against it, not pulling on it, I let it be, feeling certain that there was nothing to worry about.
Total time to modify the 5mm Allen socket: approximately 30 minutes. I attached my ‘new’ socket onto an extension, snapped on a ratchet wrench, and was easily able to engage the brake shoe pins in their locks. Mission accomplished!
I’m keeping my new, longer 5mm Allen socket as is. Who knows when someone might need my help with their Alfa Romeo parking brake shoes? “Hey, I got just the tool for that!”
The weather today in downtown Neshanic Station NJ reached a balmy (for February) 55 degrees F. While I desperately do NOT want it to be 90 in April, I didn’t mind today’s spring preview; after all, the calendar claims we’re only four weeks away.
That high temp was accompanied by blue skies and lots of sunshine, all of which inspired me to get back to the garage. The Alfa’s brakes have been ignored since last autumn, and even I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve put up a blog post about my progress, of which there has been scant little. I have been ordering parts, reading service manuals, and perusing online forums, but there’s been no actual wrench-turning since before Halloween, which feels like a very long time ago.
While today’s progress was not substantial, it was significant. The corner has been turned; everything that’s to be removed has been removed. I am now embarking on reassembly, using new parts as required. Starting at the left rear, a new parking brake cable was installed, and a new upper e-brake shoe was also put into place.
Projects never proceed at an orderly pace. There may be a flurry of activity, then a slowdown. Other, smaller projects may jump the line. Sometimes, it’s a parts delay that forces the pullback. However, there’s something to be said for picking up the tools again after a long layoff: it reinvigorates the soul, and reawakens the motivation.
I’m also motivated by an email I received from the NJ Chapter of the Alfa Romeo Owner’s Club, announcing a one-day spring tour for Sunday April 26. That’s nine weeks from today. I plan to drive this car on that tour. Sounds like I have lots of time, but we know how quickly that time will fly. The last time I drove my Alfa was July of last year. I have not gone this long without driving it since my purchase in 2013. So I’m motivated! Let’s hope the trend for an early spring continues.
G. Potter King (GPK) held its 2020 Atlantic City collector car event over the weekend of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, February 7, 8, and 9. According to their website, this mid-winter automotive extravaganza has been a February feature for forty years. I can recall attending this show in the 1980s and 1990s when it was held in the original Atlantic City Convention Center. A new building at a new location went up sometime in the early 21st century, and along with that came improved parking, lighting, and other amenities. Because February weather is unpredictable, I didn’t commit to attending until several days prior; luckily, two good friends came along and agreed to share the long drive down. We made a day trip of it on Saturday.
Perhaps because there is a recognition that the hobby is changing (i.e., the old guard is dying off), GPK expanded the scope of this year’s show beyond the traditional auction, car corral, and flea market. Inside the Convention Center were two static displays: a non-judged array of late-model exotica, both stock and modified; and a judged show including five different classes of cars. The latter show in particular took up significant floor space, a possible sign that there weren’t quite enough auction and corral vehicles to fill the available real estate.
But wait, there’s more! As part of our $25 admission fee, we were granted tickets to the Showboat casino where there were even more show cars! I declined the jaunt over there, because my primary interest resided with the auction. The little time I did spend looking over the display n cars in the Convention Center only proved once again that most modern exotics look too much alike. I guess I’m not the target audience.
Conspicuous by absence was Kerbeck Chevrolet, the Atlantic City new car dealer who claims to be the world’s largest retailer of Corvettes. There has never been a year that I haven’t seen Kerbeck bring in dozens upon dozens of new and slightly used ‘vettes. I can no longer say that because it didn’t happen in 2020! A sign of the times, but I’m not sure yet of its significance.
On to the auction: the announced 11am start time was 11:30 in reality, and, it began with “automobilia”, that made-up hobby word which encompasses everything from oil cans and gas pumps to neon signs and artwork. Today’s feature was just that, “framed art work”, and we decided that it was a good time for an early lunch, but not before hearing the following (and this is close to verbatim):
“Up next is this ‘Raging Bull’ picture, and, it’s signed by Robert DeNiro! Now, the owner HAD the certificate of authenticity for the signature. But, he lost it. But trust us, it’s authentic! I was there when he bought the picture!”
Would the auctioneer lie to you? I didn’t think so. The picture sold, and I didn’t record the amount. It was around $100. However, the DeNiro autograph claim only reinforced that infamous phrase “caveat emptor”, Latin for “buyer beware”. Many of the “all original” or “low mileage” claims made during the day begged for verification.
From my casual observation, the sell-through rate was poor, below 50%. While there is general agreement that it’s a soft market at present, that does not mean that quality cars aren’t fetching fair prices. Unrecorded but observed by me were several late ‘60s/early ‘70s American muscle cars that hammered sold in the $50,000 range, plus or minus a few bucks. They seemed to represent good value, and such sales require a combination of sellers willing to let the car go for the “right number” and buyers willing to spend same. It’s the job of the auction company to bring like-minded buyers and sellers together at the same venue. It’s easier said than done, and it seemed to be somewhat lacking during my observations this past Saturday.
On the one hand, the longevity of the GPK auction scene is to be commended: the time of year is not favorable in the Northeast, the location is not a short haul for many in the metro NY/NJ area, and unless you’re a gambler, the local environment offers little incentive to hang out. On the other hand, there still is a “mom & pop” feel to the auction experience here, borne out by lack of attention to detail. Screens displaying current bid prices did not keep pace with real-time bidding, and “still for sale” cards on dashboards didn’t include high bids.
Competition in the Northeast has ratcheted up: Barrett-Jackson in CT and Mecum in Harrisburg PA are new as of a few years ago, and Carlisle Auctions in PA has made significant improvements to their spring and fall events. Lastly, unless the Convention Center has a jam-packed calendar, we continue to fail to understand why this event isn’t moved to late February, which incrementally improves the chances of better weather (or has global warming removed that concern?).
The cars covered below are the ones that struck my fancy. Since only a few of my picks met reserve, I am also including some cars that didn’t sell, along with my pithy comments about why or why not. As is always the case in my auction reports, vehicles are arranged in SALE PRICE (and bid price) order.
Lot #1725, 1972 Triumph TR6, red, black top and interior
Crossed the block and declared “no sale” at $8,000; GPK website shows car SOLD for $9,000
A quick look showed no obvious defects; this is potentially a good buy for this 6-cylnder sports car.
Lot # 1720, 1993 Jaguar XJS convertible, green with tan interior (top was down & not inspected)
SOLD for $9,250
Paint looked substandard, headlight lenses opaque. Better cars have sold for slightly less.
Lot #1724, 1987 Olds 442, dark blue, blue cloth interior
SOLD for $10,750
A late ‘80s RWD intermediate from GM. Condition seemed to agree with low mileage claim. A bit above book, but fine if you want an affordable 442.
Lot #1770, 1967 Plymouth Sport Fury coupe, green, rare manual transmission
SOLD for $16,000
I always thought that Chrysler did a stunning styling job with these full-size ’67 Plymouths. This car was in nice shape, and not something that comes up for sale often. Well-bought for a MoPar fan.
Lot #1725, 1960 MGA, black, red interior
SOLD for $23,500
A very attractive car, could be a local show winner or fair weather driver. Sold slightly under market; a few thousand more would not have been unreasonable.
Lot #1743, 1968 Chrysler 300, green on green
SOLD for $28,500
Similar body shell as Lot #1770, the ’67 Fury. The 300 was even cleaner. Only issue were wide whites, but that’s an easy fix. A big beautiful Chrysler, and a car I’d be proud to own.
Lot #1815, 2001 Ferrari 360 spider, red, black top, tan interior, F1 transmission
SOLD for $62,000
At first glance, seems cheap for a ‘late model’ Ferrari. F1 tranny not to everyone’s taste; holding out for a 3-pedal car will cost more money. Just budget for maintenance; oh, you forgot about that part?
Lot # 1802, 1966 Mercedes Benz 230SL, white, dark blue interior
NO SALE at $37,500
Hardtop on car; manual gearbox (many were auto); white steering wheel a ‘50s throwback. It was announced on the block that it would take $60,000 to sell. Car seemed honest and solid, but $60k might be a bit rich for the 230 model.
1793 1956 Continental Mark II, black, white & grey interior
NO SALE at $45,000
Appeared to be a slightly older restoration, and it was holding up well. Paint was excellent; leather upholstery showed slight wear. Engine compartment very good. Even hard-core car guys seem to know little about these Mark IIs, so potential audience may be limited. Bid was probably light by $10,000 or so.
Lot # 1800, 1970 Mercedes Benz 280SL green, tan interior
NO SALE at $45,000
Hardtop on car; stick shift; possibly same consignor as lot #1802. The 280SL is the most desirable of the 3 Pagoda SLs (230, 250, 280) as it has the largest engine. Block announced that this car will need to reach $60,000 to sell (same as white 230SL). I would have declared this bid as light, but, this car spewed blue smoke from burning oil as it was driven away. Budget $10,000 for engine work before the first rally.
Lot # 1792, 1935 Packard 4-door sedan, burgundy, tan cloth interior
NO SALE at $50,000
I loved this car, from the grille to its straight-8 engine to its enormous back seat to its rounded backlight. I watched it drive up to the block and you could not hear it running. I have little notion of the values of pre-war Packards, but I’d like to think that we were close with this bid.
Lot #1797, 1974 DeTomaso Pantera, yellow, black interior
NO SALE at $56,000
You forget how small these are until you see one next to almost anything else. It was one of the lowest vehicles at the entire auction. Price seemed light to me; I’ve seen these sell on Bring a Trailer for closer to $70-75,000.
Lot # 1738, 1974 Jaguar E Type Series III OTS, silver, black top, red interior, stick shift
NO SALE at $60,000
First, this car was cosmetically stunning; it was a strong #2 condition car, and the color combo was one of my all-time favorites. As a Series III car, it has the V12, loved by some, loathed by others, and it rides on the longer 2+2 wheelbase, which changes the original gorgeous proportions. The block announced that it will take $75,000 to sell; in this market, something in between high bid and declared need should get the job done.
Lot # 1759, 1969 Jaguar E Type Series II OTS, dark red, beige interior
NO SALE at $70,000
Another stunning E-Type, this one a Series II. Bid was a bit light by $10-20,000, but these cars are off their highs of a few years ago. Only Series I convertibles are breaking into six figures.
Last week, I chose three collector cars that I found interesting, which were scheduled to cross the auction block during what’s known as Scottsdale Auction Week. All three were European sports cars, and all were offered at no reserve.
(Note that all three auction companies charge a 12% buyer’s premium, and that inflated number, with premium, is what’s shown on their websites. This makes the sales results appear higher than they really were. I backed out that 12% to show the actual hammer prices.)
Bonhams: 1978 Porsche 928, Lot #11, sold on Thursday
HAMMER PRICE: $67,000 (plus 12% premium for final price of $75,040)
Ahem…. Not only did I miss the hammer price by a country mile; this car blew right past the high end of its pre-sale estimate. Undoubtedly, its original condition and low mileage contributed to giving the seller a grand slam, funky ‘70s colors be damned. And to those who continue to maintain that 928s are not collectible, I now have this piece of evidence in my arsenal.
Gooding & Co: 1969 Alfa Romeo 1750 Spider Veloce, Lot #010, sold on Friday
HAMMER PRICE: $64,000 (plus 12% premium for final price of $71,680)
I was a little closer with this one, but my guess was still under the hammer by $14,000. Auction fever can infect bidders in many ways, and someone caught the fever and stepped up for this cute little roadster. While this Alfa sold for 50% more than what similar cars have brought recently, note that its hammer price was still well under the auction company’s unreasonably optimistic estimate.
RM Sotheby’s: 1970 Jaguar E-Type roadster (OTS), Lot #168, sold on Thursday
HAMMER PRICE: $75,000 (plus 12% premium for final price of $84,000)
Last week’s post stated in part: “… the Series II cars have become the affordable E-Type….”. Given that the hammer price was $20,000 under my seemingly reasonable guesstimate, and $35,000 under the auction company’s low-end estimate, it’s not going out on a limb to call this one a good buy. The new owner got a beautiful E-Type OTS (Open Two-Seater) with 80% of the charm of a Series I car at a 50% discount.
These cars represent such a small fraction of the hundreds and hundreds of collector cars sold in Scottsdale. Can we draw any conclusions from just three sales? I maintain that we can:
No Reserve cars are, by definition, guaranteed to sell. A theory I’ve heard about no-reserve sales, disproven here, is that they always favor the buyer. Sometimes, when the audience knows the high bidder gets the car, a bidding war erupts. Both the Porsche and the Alfa sold over their high estimate, so the consignors in both cases should be delighted with these results.
Another theory we can try to debunk based on this minuscule sample is that the hobby is in poor health. The Alfa and the Jaguar are blue-chip collectibles; the 928 less so, but it’s still a Porsche. Each of these cars appeared to be in very nice shape. I’d venture that all three buyers, if a modicum of care is taken with their new prizes, will not lose money in the long-term when it’s time to sell. Were these cars affordable? It’s a relative term. For a large segment of the Scottsdale audience, vehicles under six figures are affordable, and return on investment was not a primary purchase factor. The hobby is far from dead.
Are auctions a good place to buy cars? There is no simple answer to that. It would be misleading to look at these results and think it’s not. Instead, I would postulate that these examples highlight the need for bidders to educate themselves before raising the paddle. You cannot make good judgments from pretty online photos while sitting 2,500 miles away. Learn all you can about the model you’re interested in, make direct contact with the auction company, seek out the seller if available, and bid with your head, not your heart.
In the collector car world, there are two major auction “happenings” in the U.S., both named after their locales: the Monterey (CA) auctions every August, and the Scottsdale (AZ) ones in January. All the major auction companies attend, and spend most of the week in an attempt to outdo each other with number of lots, featured consignments, and dollar totals.
Both are watched carefully by hobbyists, media, and pundits, and each has been known to act as a bellwether for the health of the classic car hobby. (We myopic Americans also quickly forget that similar events in the rest of the world perform a similar function, but because they’re “over there” their significance is easily ignored.)
With the more upscale auction houses due to begin dropping the hammer in a few days, I thought it might be educational and entertaining to select one car from each of the “Big 3”, and predict its end result. As it turns out, I have chosen one British, one German, and one Italian car. They are all personal favorites of mine, and I’ve made a habit of following their recent sales trends.
All three are listed as “no reserve” sales, meaning they will sell to the highest bidder. Pre-sale estimates are provided, and auction houses tend to be notoriously optimistic with them, presuming it will encourage bidding. From my observations, many no-reserve cars sell below estimate.
In alphabetical order by auction company:
Bonhams: 1978 Porsche 928, Lot #11, selling Thursday
The car has 21,000 original miles, it’s a stick shift, in beautiful condition, but would you look at those colors! Porsche 928s have long been derided among marque enthusiasts who disdain anything that isn’t air-cooled. Part of the contempt for the model may stem from Porsche’s initial claim that the 928 would “replace” the 911, which the company intended to drop. It didn’t work out that way.
After years of sales languishing in the $5,000-8,000 range for a driver-condition one, enthusiasts have rediscovered the car. That doesn’t make it valuable, though. This one is a first-year edition with the (in)famous Pasha interior, and if you’re not familiar, check out the photos! The only 928s selling for numbers close to this estimate are the final versions from the early 1990s. Still, this car will have its fans.
This body style had its debut in 1966 as the Duetto. Its styling was initially considered controversial, coming after the achingly beautiful Giulietta spiders. But The Graduate movie helped put the car into the minds of mainstream America, at least as much as was possible for a semi-affordable Italian two-seater.
Because of its struggles in meeting U.S. emission standards, Alfa Romeo offered no 1968 models for sale here (ditto for 1970). This 1969 spider dropped the Duetto name in favor of “1750 Spider Veloce”. Displacement was up, fuel injection was added to keep the EPA bureaucrats happy, but the basic body shape would live on for a short while longer until the ram bumpers were bolted on.
Really fine Duettos have soared recently to $40,000. Most Alfisti prefer the carbureted Duettos over the Spica-injected later models. This car is gorgeous but the pre-sale estimate is out of whack, and is more appropriate to a perfect late ‘50s-early ‘60s Giulietta.
The Jaguar E-Type (also known as the XKE in the USA) is often singled out as one of a small handful of collector cars considered a blue-chip investment. Stunningly beautiful and universally admired when new, E-Types were not just a pretty face, with power and speed to back up its feline curves.
The so-called Series I cars were sold from 1961-1968; the year 1969 brought the first significant styling changes to what became known as the Series II cars, mainly to the bumpers and exterior lights. The Series III cars, made from 1971 through 1974, were all built on an extended wheelbase; many had auto trannies. Under the hood was Jaguar’s V12 which added lots of torque and lots of complexity.
Time has firmly decided in favor of the Series I cars as the most pure and most valuable; the Series III cars have their fans for those who like power; and the Series II cars have become “the affordable E-Type”, with affordable a relative word in this context.
This RM car is a beautiful restoration, and an award winner, but it’s a Series II car. Those who want an XKE and have no price ceiling will seek a Series I. I personally am a fan of the pale primrose color here, but I’ve read that many are not. The pre-sale estimate is slightly optimistic.
RICHARD’S PREDICTION: $95,000
What do you think? Are the estimates accurate? How off-base am I? Send in a comment with your own sale price predictions.
We had had such a grand time on the 2013 New England 1000: we saw old friends, made new ones, and the Alfa performed almost flawlessly. That rally ended a 6-year drought, and I was determined to drive the Alfa in the event again in 2014, but rally brother Steve had some scheduling conflicts. I turned to another Volvo alumnus, my friend Bob, whom I knew was a fan of European sports cars and had the additional advantage of residing in central Massachusetts. Bob said he was in, so the Alfa was prepped and away we went.
Some of the work done to get the Alfa in shape included the removal of the air conditioning system. The factory belt-driven fan and shroud were reinstalled, and not only did the overheating problem cease to be, the engine actually ran on the cool side, at least according to the water temp gauge. This gave me great peace of mind given the distances we would be covering.
The 2014 host hotel was the Harraseekent Inn in Freeport ME, ironically, the same host hotel for our very first rally in 1998. The drive from my domicile to Freeport is over 6 hours in a modern car, a bit longer in the Alfa. Bob’s house, coincidentally, is almost exactly halfway between the two, and he and his wife graciously invited me to stay over, breaking the drive up (and back) in half, which was a pleasure.
The assortment of interesting and unusual cars was even more so this year. There was a Corvair Fitch Sprint, a Fiat Abarth, an Arnolt-Bristol, a 1955 Chrysler 300, a genuine Studebaker Avanti, and a very rare Ferrari 250 GT Pininfarina Berlinetta Speciale, which despite its rarity was driven to and from the event as well as the 1,000 miles of the event. It was also nice to see an MGB and Triumph TR-6 as reminders of the good ol’ days when the NE1000 field was populated by more popular (and affordable) sports cars.
This was my 8th time out on the NE1000, run by Rich and Jean Taylor of Vintage Rallies, and to my recollection, this would be the first time that the entire rally remained in one state. If we had to select a state to do this, Maine would not be a bad choice. It’s large, diverse, lightly populated, and extremely picturesque.
One of the many perks provided to us rally participants is the chance to visit car museums and collections, both public and private. This year we made it to the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum and the Bob Bahre Collection. Even though I had been to both on previous rallies, there always seems to be something new to take in. One such highlight was Bahre’s ‘30s-era unrestored Alfa Romeo 8C, and I had to pose with it.
The weather stayed cloudy and cool, with little precipitation. The overcast skies helped with the photography, but it was a bit nippy on the optional boat ride. One thousand miles over four days goes by very quickly, and before we knew it, it was over. On our way out of town Friday morning, we took advantage of the proximity of LL Bean’s HQ store literally just down the street before heading home.
The Alfa did it again! I had owned the car a little over 14 months and had already put close to 3,000 miles on it. It was a keeper, and I had every hope of driving it in next year’s NE1000.
THE BOB BARHE COLLECTION
Bob Bahre keeps his vast collection in a specially-built “garage”, if one can call a 2-story building where each floor can accommodate about 30 cars a garage. The majority of his collection focuses on American luxury cars of the 1930s, but it does get eclectic. The less interesting cars stay in the cellar. The fact that a Tucker lives in the cellar tells you something about this collection.