I’ve driven past the spot dozens, if not hundreds of times: just another industrial park along Route 22 in western New Jersey. But on Saturday November 23, 2019, this locale, set back a few hundred feet from the highway, proved to be quite something else, as the New Jersey Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) was invited to tour the Steven Babinsky Restoration Business.
The weather cooperated: it was a sunny and dry, if somewhat crisp day. Many club members took advantage of an optional breakfast at the Readington Diner starting at 8am, which gave us a chance to fuel ourselves with food and coffee while chatting with our buddies about, what else, our cars. By 9:30, the last of the participants met us there, and we totaled over 50 attendees, ready to begin our tour.
NJ REGION AACA MEMBERS’ CARS AT THE READINGTON DINER
From the diner, it was a 5-minute drive to our destination. Steve Babinsky was on hand to greet us, and made us feel quite welcome by informing us that we were free to wander around the premises. A few of his craftsman were working, and they didn’t mind fieldling our questions. Steve also made himself available for Q & A all morning.
The shop itself is huge; there were perhaps two dozen vehicles inside, all in various states of disassembly. I get a kick out of inspecting shop equipment, and I wasn’t disappointed. Everything from lathes, milling machines, and tubing benders, to presses, a paint booth, and a ‘fire pit’ (to pre-heat aluminum prior to welding according to Steve) was inside.
TOOLS & EQUIPMENT IN THE WORKSHOP
With the sole exception of a ’59 Caddy convertible, all the vehicles in this building were pre-war, which is Steve’s specialty. After we had enough running around in the shop, we were invited to enter another warehouse across the parking lot, which serves as a storage building. Here, cars were so tightly packed that it was difficult to walk around (and certainly a challenge to get good photos).
VEHICLES IN THE MAIN SHOP UNDERGOING RESTORATION WORK
One car though stood out among all the valuable machinery. A silver Mercedes-Benz 540K roadster (I believe), looking like an older restoration, was in the middle of the crowd. The top was down; the whitewall tires had long ago turned yellow; it was dusty; and one got the impression that it had not been started in a long time. But its design was breathtaking. Everyone to a person admired it.
THE MERCEDES-BENZ 540K ROADSTER
After staring at so much interesting automotive history, we were invited to drive another 20 minutes to the town of Bloomsbury, where Steve stores yet more vehicles in a building which once was a Studebaker dealership. Scattered among the cars at this location was a lot of automobilia: metal signs, old advertising, hood ornaments, toys, and the like. The biggest surprise (and far and away the biggest vehicle) was a pre-war Ahrens Fox fire engine.
THE REPURPOSED STUDEBAKER DEALERSHIP
Before the tour, I had read a little bit about how Mr. Babinsky got his start. Like many other businesses, things started slowly for him. But once word spread about the quality of his work (he does boast of having restored multiple Pebble Beach winners), he said he has no reason to advertise. He doesn’t even have a website. Based on my very informal observation, he has enough work on hand at present to keep him busy for several years. It was a thrill and a privilege to be given inside access to his business for a few hours.
Where did the year go? I swear that just the other day was sunny and 75; today is frosty and 40….. Every year I need to remind myself that putting the cars away for the winter needs to be done well before Thanksgiving, lest we get an early taste of winter and my ever-shrinking window of opportunity gets blown away like the final leaves of autumn.
Today was the day to put the Miata to rest until spring. The Alfa, on the other hand, is still up on four jack stands as it patiently waits for me to complete the brake overhaul I started during the summer. The only accomplishment today in the Alfa’s favor was funneling a few ounces of Sta-Bil into the tank. I can’t start her up, because the battery positive cable and carburetor intake plenum have been temporarily displaced. We’ll save the rest of that story for the next post about the brakes.
Back to the Miata: my routine for winterizing this car, or any of my cars, is fairly simple. Unlike some friends who keep their collector cars “at the ready” should we get a sunny dry day above the freezing mark, I believe in putting them down with the intent of not starting them again until spring returns. The tasks to reach that goal are: add air to the tires; fill the tank and add fuel stabilizer; dissuade critters from making my car their winter getaway; connect the battery charger; and cover the car to protect the paint.
Tire flat-spotting is a potential problem with any car, even one that sits only for a few days. The issue seems to vary among tire brands. When I bought my Acura TSX, the tires on it would be flat-spotted every morning. It took 2-3 miles of driving for them to warm up and stop going “thump-thump-thump”. A car which sits all winter is especially prone to this problem.
Like everything else I’m recommending, there is more than one solution. I’ve read that you should remove all the tires from your vehicle (necessitates jack stands) and store the tires on a wall-mounted tire rack (takes up extra space). You can buy cradles designed to go under each tire which distribute the car’s weight more evenly along the tread (more cash outlay, and I’ll need to store the cradles when not using them).
My method, which I’ve used for almost 20 years, is to over-inflate the tires and just let them sit. The extra air supports more weight, and it costs nothing other than about 10 minutes of work. I check the tire sidewall for the tire manufacturer’s maximum tire pressure, and aim for a number about 5 psi below that. Come spring, I bleed the tires back down to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation, and drive off without any thumping. Tires I’ve treated like this have never flat-spotted.
Modern fuel will go bad in about 6 months; it’s been said that the ethanol in today’s fuel only exacerbates the problem. Besides the fuel turning to gel, condensation (from minuscule amounts of water in the fuel) can end up on the tank’s walls and cause corrosion.
There are two good solutions for the condensation issue: store the car (or lawn mower, or snow thrower) with a full tank of gas, or with a completely empty tank. My lawn equipment, with its pint-sized plastic tanks, easily lends itself to the empty tank approach. But I do the opposite for the cars, because I don’t want to expose the remainder of the fuel system to whatever debris is likely lounging at the bottom.
I’ve written before about fuel stabilizers; there are a few different brands, and I’ve been partial to Sta-Bil by Gold Eagle, simply because I’ve been using it for years and it works very well for me. One necessity with any fuel stabilizer is to run the engine for at least 5 minutes AFTER you’ve added the stuff, to circulate it through the rest of the fuel system. I’ve one more trick, and that is to add the Sta-Bil to the tank before filling it up. As fresh fuel is added, it mixes the two, and the drive back from the filling station usually suffices to distribute to good stuff through the carbs, injectors, and what-have-you.
The good news is, I have a 3-car detached garage in the yard next to my house. The bad news is, I have a 3-car detached garage in the yard next to my house. I joke; there is no bad news. Except sometimes, critters, mainly field mice, want to see my collection. They think it’s cute. I don’t think they are cute. While no real damage has occurred, I’ve caught a few of them in there. They are not welcome. Rather than catch them, I’d sooner discourage them from entering. Through the years, I’ve used bait, traps, dryer sheets, mothballs, and black pepper, to varying degrees of success. Last year, the black pepper approach seemed to help, but it was loose on paper plates, and invariably, I would kick the plates and scatter the pepper about.
My wife came up with this suggestion: she offered to buy “potpourri” bags, like you’d use in the house for scented objects. (She got them in Michael’s in the bride’s section.) I bought an institutional-sized container of black pepper from Costco (get the coarse ground, not the fine), and filled a dozen bags with pepper. These went into the interior floor, trunk, and engine compartment. My entire garage smells like pepper (it’s better than mothballs; the one time I used them, the odor lingered for almost a year). As long as I spot no signs of toothsome damage, I’ll consider the pepper bags a success.
Again, there are multiple approaches for off-season battery maintenance, and none of them is wrong. What’s important is that your battery charger offers a trickle-charge function so the battery does not overcharge and boil over. The Battery Tender brand has been my choice, simply because that was the first one I bought. I now own several.
I used to remove the batteries from the cars and arrange them on a shelf, connecting each one to a separate charger. (If you have multiple cars, and access to a wall outlet is an issue, there are trickle chargers designed to charge an entire bank of batteries.) I’ve now decided that there is no advantage to taking the battery out of the car; it’s just more work. However, I disconnect the negative cable to isolate the electrical system during charging. Once the terminal clamps are connected and the unit is plugged in, my work is done.
Before working at my current employer, I didn’t believe in car covers. Somehow I was convinced that they did more harm than good. Then I researched some of the better covers that we sell, and did a 180 on them. My brand of choice is Covercraft: the fit is excellent, the materials are top-notch, and there is a good variety of covers at different price points. Once the tires, fuel system, battery, and interior are treated, on goes the cover.
The first day of spring next year is Friday 03/20/20. I’ll be OK with it if Mother Nature wants to usher it in a week or two sooner, so I can undo all the above and take the Miata on its first spin of 2020.
HERSHEY! For old-car enthusiasts, that one word is all that needs to be said. Its official name is the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Eastern Fall Meet, held every October, but we know it simply by the town which has hosted it since the early 1950s. This 5-day event takes over all of Hersheypark’s paved lots, and encompasses a flea market, car corral, and AACA-judged car show.
SHOW CARS ARE ARRANGED BY CLASS:
With one exception, and that for a business trip, I haven’t missed Hershey since 2002, and have attended on and off before that, going back to my first visit in 1980. It not only represents the unofficial end of the collector car show season; it has become the highlight of my automotive year. Typically, I’ll come out Thursday morning and stay through Saturday afternoon. The first two days are spent wandering the flea market and car corral, and Saturday of course we’re all at the big show. This year was especially outstanding: the weather was close to perfect on Thursday and Friday, and although Saturday was cloudy and cooler, it was still pleasant to be outside (and not staring at a screen).
There was nothing in particular on my shopping list this year; sometimes it’s enough to walk the aisles and take in the ambiance. I did end up purchasing a few items from Eastwood, and succumbed to my weakness for printed material by purchasing a book entitled “GM: The First 75 Years of Transportation Products”. This hardcover 223-page tome was a giveaway to GM employees, and had never been offered to the public. My copy even included the letter addressed to “Dear GM Employee” and signed by Roger B. Smith. With beautiful full-color photos courtesy of Automobile Quarterly’s archives, it was a no-brainer at a measly $5.
While there were some empty spots among the flea market vendors, attendance seemed good, people were pulling out their wallets to make purchases, and many languages besides English were overheard. It’s reassuring to know that Hershey continues to attract an international audience.
FLEA MARKET OFFERINGS:
The car corral was unimpressive this year. There was a dearth of cars priced under $20,000 or so, and worse, many of the cars in the corral had been here in 2018, with no change in the asking prices! Do people put cars in the car corral to sell them, or to give themselves a way to park on the show grounds? (Don’t laugh, I’ve had some club members actually admit that to me.)
The Hershey Highlight continues to be the chance to watch the parade of show cars as they enter the field. By AACA rules, show vehicles (except race cars) must be driven onto the show field under their own power. Ever since rally brother Steve and I accidentally discovered this many years ago, it’s been a must to arrive by 7 a.m., and find a suitable vantage point. I tried a new spot this year which provided unobstructed views. The only problem was that it was a stretch of asphalt that allowed speeds somewhat above a parade crawl, and that made for some tricky photography.
WAGONS, AKA LONG ROOFS:
If you’ve been to Hershey, you can relate, and you have your own stories. If you haven’t been, and you consider yourself to be the least bit interested in classic cars, then it’s a must for your bucket list. You could visit only for a day; however, even the healthiest among you could cover about 50% of the flea market/car corral at best. If you attend only for the Saturday show, be aware that most vendors have closed up by Friday afternoon. Whether you attend for one day or the entire week, Hershey continues to provide proof that the collector car hobby remains vibrant.
DETAILING IT FOR THE JUDGES:
Below, please enjoy photos of the show cars as they paraded in on Saturday morning.
Friday was Day Two of the RM Sotheby’s Auction at the Hershey Lodge (located of course in downtown Chocolate World). In contrast with Thursday’s auction, the cars were a mix of pre- and post-war (still dominated by the former), and some of the lots had reserves this time around. The performance of the pre-war iron was again impressive, with the cars selling for decent money, proving that there is still a market for ’20s and ’30s era vehicles. Friday also had a smattering of imports scattered amongst the American marques.
As we’ve seen at every auction lately, Friday’s offerings included an estate sale, with a large poster proclaiming “The Complete Collection of Jack Dunning, Offered Entirely Without Reserve”. Presumably, Jack has either passed on and his heirs don’t care, or, he needed to liquidate and he didn’t care. I didn’t stick around long enough to witness any of Jack’s wares sell, but if you’re interested, RM has the results posted here.
I did watch the first dozen and a half or so cars go in, up, off, and back. The fine ground crew decided to start and drive most of these cars, so that treat was enjoyed after missing out on it the previous night. Of the vehicles I watched, only one failed to sell: a ’55 Chrysler C-300 (first year of the legendary 300s), which was bid up to $50,000 against a $70,000 estimate. Me thinks the right number is right in between.
Overall, I do believe that RM Sotheby’s puts on an excellent auction. They work hard at it, and frankly, it shows. I’ve been fortunate to be a first-hand spectator at auctions by Bonhams, Barrett-Jackson, Carlisle, and Mecum, all of which are fine auction companies in their own right. But I’ve seen their hits and misses. RM seems to be the most consistent of the bunch.
Below is a selection of Friday’s sales, arranged in ascending hammer price order. The prices shown are exclusive of 10% buyer’s premium.
Anyone who thinks that the collector car hobby is on the decline, or who at least proposes that the pre-war segment in particular is as dead as these vehicles’ original owners, was not in attendance as I was at the October 2019 two-day auction held by RM Sotheby’s in Hershey PA. As they have for probably the last 10 years, RM contracted with the Hershey Lodge to host the event, and it was scheduled to coincide with the AACA Hershey Fall Meet.
The auction results I observed made it crystal clear that the hobby is as strong as ever; and anyone suggesting that “no one is in the market for anything built before ______” (insert the post-war model year of your choice) is not cognizant of the facts.
The facts are these: the Thursday portion of the auction was the liquidation of the Merritt Auto Museum of Nebraska. No explanation was given for its closing, but the 107 vehicles on offer were all pre-war, and all were offered at no reserve. The catalog provided the auction house’s pre-sale estimates, and much of the pre-auction excitement boiled down to this: would the supposed indifference to such aged lots result in low-dollar sales? Or would the no-reserve format drive the bidding to numbers close to or above the estimates?
I stuck around long enough to personally observe 33 lots cross the block. Of those 33, 21 sold within or above their estimates; 13 lots sold below (and of those 13, two were “replicas”, and one was a sedan rebodied as a phaeton). It was an impressive performance, and with possibly very few exceptions, no one “stole” any automobiles. This chart shows those 33 vehicles (buckboards were clearly the hot attraction of the night):
Note that the indicated “hammer” price is exclusive of 10% buyer’s premium.
Thursday’s show also differed from other RM at Hershey auctions because every lot was pushed into and out of the building. In previous years, one of the thrills for me (and a reassurance to the bidding audience) was the visual acknowledgement that the cars started and ran. Whether the pushing was done for expediency or to spare our lungs was not stated; and while all the vehicles looked cosmetically fresh (I’d rate every vehicle a 3+ or 2- in condition), I did overhear the handlers state “watch out, that one has no brakes” several times.
Below are selected photos from Thursday’s auction. The vehicles below are arranged in order of HAMMER PRICE, from lowest to highest. Due to the size of this report, I will break out Friday’s auction results as a separate blog post.
Lot 163, 1902 Olds Curved Dash Replica, sold for $3,500, 42% below its pre-sale low estimate of $6,000
Lot 186, 1914 Buick Roadster, sold for $13,000, 35% below its pre-sale low estimate of $20,000
Lot 181, 1923 Willys-Knight Roadster, sold for $13,000, 48% below its pre-sale low estimate of $25,000
Lot 179, 1930 Marquette Phaeton (rebodied sedan), sold for $14,500, 3% below pre-sale low estimate of $15,000
Lot 168, 1933 Essex Terraplane, sold for $17,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $15-25,000
Lot 184, 1913 Maxwell Roadster, sold for $18,500, within its pre-sale estimate of $15-25,000
Lot 180, 1933 Essex Terraplane, sold for $20,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $20-30,000
Lot 178, 1929 Ford Model A Phaeton, sold for $22,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $20-25,000
Lot 201, 1928 Franklin Depot Hack, sold for $22,500, 25% below its pre-sale low estimate of $30,000
Lot 185, 1912 Detroiter Speedster, sold for $25,500, within its pre-sale estimate of $25-35,000
Lot 206, 1932 Pontiac Coupe, sold for $26,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $25-35,000
Lot 195, 1932 LaSalle sedan, sold for $30,000, 14% below its pre-sale low estimate of $35,000
Lot 187, 1923 Packard Runabout, sold for $34,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $30-40,000
Lot 202, 1936 Cord 810 Westchester sedan, sold for $37,500, 25% above its pre-sale high estimate of $30,000 (it was announced on the block that engine had a cracked cylinder head)
Similar to what Volvo has used for decades, the rear rotors sit over a set of drum brake shoes which apply to the inside of the rear disc “hat”. On the Alfa, these are cable-operated. It was always gratifying that my car’s hand brake worked, but it required a significant tug of the handle to engage.
First challenge was removing the two slotted-head screws holding each rear rotor to the hub. An ordinary screwdriver wasn’t getting the job done, so I resorted to one of my favorite tools: my Snap-On hammer-driven impact driver. A long time ago, Andy Finnegan, the shop foreman at the first Volvo dealer that employed me, suggested this tool to me. While I infrequently use it, it’s one of those tools that makes you glad you have it for the occasions you really need it. This was one of those occasions.
A few taps with a hammer, and the screws were loose (I also bought new replacements on the chance that I would mangle the heads during removal.). But getting the disc off also required a few heavier hammer blows. Eventually, the rotors were off, first on the driver’s side, then the passenger side.
It would not surprise me if I were the first person to expose the parking brake shoes since this car left Italy. Remember that when I bought it, the car has 54,000 original miles. I also have reason to suspect that the rear brake pads were original to the car. There has likely been little need to check or service these components.
With some effort, I removed the brake shoes on the driver’s side (access is conveniently limited by the hub). The arrangement is typical, with a star wheel for adjustment, and two springs holding the upper and lower shoes. A cable extends from the differential through an access hole in the backing plate, pulling a lever which spreads the shoes. After taking the one side apart, I decided to leave the passenger side intact for reference, and ordered all new parts from Classic Alfa.
It was also time to remove the master cylinder. With its so-called “standing pedals” hinged through the floor, my ’67 is one of the last Giulia coupes so configured. Within a year or so (varying by model), Alfa would switch to “hanging pedals” and mount the master cylinder in the conventional location on the firewall.
I desperately searched for guidance on the Alfa forums for “master cylinder removal”, but nothing I came across addressed the underfloor location. So I tackled it on my own, and really struggled with it. There are two bolts which pass horizontally through the master cylinder, and these bolts mount into a plate that also holds the clutch linkage. Said plate didn’t look removable to me – that’s from the vantage point of lying on my back, with my nose about 3 inches from the car’s underside. Without removing the plate, there wasn’t enough clearance to remove the bolts. Through sheer luck, I wiggled the cylinder and the bolts and got the master cylinder cleared. But I’ll need to investigate this plate when it comes time for reinstallation.
There was also the matter of the two brake lines, both of which thread into the top of the cylinder. There was little choice but to loosen and drop the cylinder to give me access to the line fittings, but then I lost the leverage one gets from a master cylinder firmly bolted to something.
Using my flare nut wrenches, the first fitting came out easily. The second one did not. I resorted to using a cheater bar (a length of pipe) on the wrench, and for the first time during this brake overhaul, the wrench slipped on the fitting and rounded it off. The fitting was seized. I cut the line with a pair of diagonal cutters, and the master cylinder was on my workbench. In a bit of good news, the fitting did come loose once I dropped a deep 6-point socket on it.
There is plenty to do next: finish the rebuilding of the two rear calipers, renew the parking brake parts, and rebuild the master cylinder. Parts were duly ordered and are on their way.
The last official day of summer turned out to be a near-perfect day for a breakfast drive. Pre-dawn, the air remained cool enough for a light jacket; once ol’ Sol broke above the horizon, or in our case, over the Mahwah Sheraton, the air temp quickly climbed and didn’t stop climbing until reaching the 80s.
Eleven gentlemen in nine different vehicles made the trek on the 22nd. Six of the nine rides wore German badges (I was surprised the group didn’t demand knockwurst and potato pancakes for breakfast). However, it’s a genial bunch, and we heard nary a complaint about our chosen destination, the Hampton Diner in Newton NJ.
We set out from the Sheraton at about 8:35am, with Larry leading the way in his Nova. It was a glorious drive through northern Jersey, dipping into then out of New York State. A planned pit stop was undertaken at a BP gas station in Vernon NJ. To everyone’s surprise, Bill’s Porsche did NOT need fuel, but more than a few of us took advantage of the restroom facility. One patch of rough road brought our speed down to below 30mph for a bit, but all the cars escaped unscathed.
We reached the Diner just before 10:30am, were immediately served coffee, and got our breakfast plates not long after. Thanks goes out to our young waiter who seemed to have a pot of hot java available for refills at a moment’s notice.
As is our habit, the conversations continued out into the parking lot, and it was past noon by the time the final vehicles began the return trip home. While tomorrow may be the first day of autumn, that should still give us ample time to fit in one (or two) more breakfast runs this year.