Irv Gordon passed away last week. It is almost impossible to be in the old-car hobby and not know about Irv and his claim to fame. In 1966, he purchased a brand new ’66 Volvo 1800S coupe, and proceeded to spend the next 50 years driving it everywhere. He eventually surpassed three million miles in the car, and although he spoke of retiring it (Volvo corporate had already gifted him 3 new Volvos), I read that at the time of his death the 1800 had 3.2 million miles on it.
As an employee of Volvo Cars North America, I had more than a passing relationship with the man. While I likely had met him at one corporate event or the other in the 1990’s, it was during my time as a field service representative on Long Island that he and I became friendly.
As I strolled into the service department of Volvoville one morning, there was Irv, sitting in the service area, shuffling some paperwork. At that time, in the late 1990’s, he had a part-time gig at the dealer, performing test drives and attending to some administrative chores. Parked on the street around the corner from the store was the red 1800, of course, as he used it to commute to work. He used it to fetch a cup of coffee in Boston, and he used it to join dealer events in Oregon. How do you think he got to 3,000,000 miles?
Early in our friendship, I asked him, “Irv, what’s the secret your success?” With a pause and a twinkle in his eye, he replied “a strong bladder”. Watching him in action, he had a ready smile, a quick wit, and the patience to answer whatever questions were put to him. Frequently, he would be standing near the car while being questioned, and not one to waste a moment, he’d check various fluids as he spoke. I learned about Irv’s fastidiousness when I watched him pull the dipstick to check the oil level, but then use the few droplets on the end of the stick to lube his hood hinges!
Later, in the early 2000s, I traveled to SEMA with a group of fellow VCNA employees, and Irv was on that trip too. Watching him at SEMA was like watching a rock star, but one who had some degree of modesty attached. Generosity was another trait that perhaps few saw, but I clearly recall one holiday season at Volvo HQ when Irv showed up with several cases to wine to give out to employees.
In the summer of 2010, my wife and I hosted a breakfast at our home for a few of our hobbyist friends. Irv was on the invite list, and I was thrilled that he accepted. The day before breakfast, Irv called me. “Hey Rich, do you think the guys will mind if I drive the C70 coupe instead of the 1800? To tell you the truth, it’s hot, and I wouldn’t mind riding in A/C.” (Do I need to point out that the ’66 did NOT have air?) I said “Irv, I don’t think this crowd gives a hoot what you show up in. We’re just glad to have you join us.”
As Larry and I took over the reins for our Sunday morning breakfast runs, Irv was on our distribution list, but rarely joined. He always had some lame excuse, like, “I’m driving to San Antonio that weekend”. However, in October 2010, he did come out for one of our drives, and even brought the 1800. This was probably the last time I saw Irv.
I’m glad to have known you, Irv. It was an honor to call you a friend.
A frequent question I get is “what makes a car a classic?” There is no one right answer. The definition of such a car can be up to you! If you think your vehicle is “interesting” on some level, and the car is used more for special occasions (anything from Sunday drives to cruise nights) than as a daily driver, then it fits the bill. Who am I to say that a 3-year-old Camaro which is only driven in dry weather to GM-themed events isn’t a collector car?
Attendees at Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) shows typically see cars which have been restored to the highest professional standards. A true “#1 condition” car is rare, but you’ll find them in the AACA. These cars are almost never driven on the road; the engines are run long enough to move them into and out of an enclosed trailer to preserve their perfected state, and that’s it for the driving.
My first AACA experience was Hershey in the early 1980s. As a young man not yet 30, the rows of perfect Mustangs and T-Birds depressed me into concluding that I’d never have a vehicle which could qualify there. These owners’ cars were judged by arbiters who would dole out trophies and bragging rights, so there was no such thing as “too nice”.
Except, there was. The Overseers at AACA began to realize they had a problem: strictly speaking, their own rule book said that cars should be restored to be as close as possible to “factory new” condition, when in practice many of these cars were better than new. Trim which the factory buffed was now chromed; single-stage paint now wore a clear coat; and unpainted surfaces were now sealed. It’s a condition called “over-restoration”. Some owners complained that their ultra-low mileage never-restored cars were losing out to restorers with deep pockets and questionable taste.
To its credit, AACA created a new judging class: the Historical Preservation of Original Features, or HPOF. The concept was simple: reward vehicle owners whose steeds still were screwed together as the factory did it. Dull paint and worn upholstery didn’t matter, but original equipment and fittings did. The goal was to encourage the preservation of cars in their original state for future generations to observe, study, and learn from them. HPOF has become a very popular category for owners and spectators alike.
As a separate class, there would be no clash in trying to judge an HPOF car against a fully-restored one. An obvious example from the HPOF rule book is paint: a car must wear all or almost all of its original paint to be eligible in this class. In fact, a car which wins an HPOF award and is subsequently repainted will lose its HPOF accreditation.
When I purchased my 1993 Mazda Miata in 1996, it was a gently-used 3-year-old car with barely 30,000 miles on it. The first-generation “NA” models were still in Mazda showrooms. The Miata got driven a lot, but never in the winter. I kept up with all maintenance on the car, and I can count the total number of repairs on one hand: a clutch slave cylinder, a power antenna, a heater core, and one headlight bulb. (Service items such as hoses, belts, fluids, brakes and tires are all part of routine maintenance.)
Perhaps the most difficult part of owning this car for 22 years (it now has 104,000 miles) has been avoiding the temptation to modify it. The aftermarket business for the Miata has always been strong and keeps getting stronger. I’ve been tempted to add a turbo; replace the stereo; reupholster the seats; install bigger brakes, wheels, and tires; and add interior wood trim. While a few small changes have occurred (I upgraded the floor mats and replaced some lighting with LED bulbs), the car appears the same as it did when I got it in ’96.
This year, the car turned 25 and became eligible for AACA events. I was excited to enter it into the Hershey show in the HPOF category, and last week, the package arrived informing me that indeed, my 1993 Mazda Miata had earned its HPOF badge. I’m a proud papa, and plan to continue to enter this car in HPOF, notably, in the June 2019 National meet which the NJ Region is hosting in Parsippany NJ. There will be plenty to talk about between now and then.
Our “Sunday Morning Breakfast Run” has been a semi-regular feature for so long that my partner-in-crime Larry and I decided to mix it up a little bit: we decided to piggyback onto the popular “Cars & Coffee” trend by holding our own such event. We did so for the first time on Sunday October 21, 2018.
BTW, the name “Cars & Coffee” has become so ubiquitous that organizers around the country are creating variations such as “Cars, Coffee & Donuts”, “Cars & Croissants”, “Caffeine & Carburetors”, and “Caffeine & Octane”. I think we’ll stick to “Cars & Coffee” for now.
Our choice of rendezvous was The Fireplace, a Paramus NJ fixture for over 60 years. In its favor, it’s easy to reach (on Route 17), it has an extensive breakfast menu, it’s spacious inside and out, counter service means that everyone orders and pays on their own, and the staff will let you sit and hang out as long as you want (with help-yourself coffee refills always available).
There’s no point in talking about the (poor) weather except to point out that at our inaugural event, the participants and their coffee stayed inside! So much for admiring each other’s machinery. The planned loitering was postponed for a more inviting day.
In all, 12 colleagues showed up for breakfast. Toward the end of our stay, our friend Burton arrived with his newly painted 1961 Corvette. On our way out, we lingered long enough to admire the top-notch paint job. Burton was a real trooper showing up in an open car on a cold and windy morning.
We had considered, and ultimately decided against, a short drive to be conducted after breakfast. Perhaps next spring or summer, with more inviting weather on hand, we can make that part of the event. We certainly did find The Fireplace to be an almost ideal location, so expect to see us return in 2019.
The AACA judging process may seem arcane to the uninitiated, but First Junior, First Senior, Preservation, Grand National, DPC, and HPOF are embedded in the rule book, and are chased with unbridled enthusiasm. Why? For the same set of reasons: points, trophies, bragging rights. The weather, well-known to be unpredictable in this part of the world in October, hardly plays a role. When car owners have spent most of the year prepping their vehicles for The Big One, a little bit of water will not deter them from making an entrance.
Hershey is glorious when it’s sunny and 65. It’s barely tolerable when it’s cloudy, windy, and 50, as it was in 2018. Yet I would estimate that the show field was 95%+ filled, and foot traffic was more crowded than years past. Since vehicles are arranged by class, it’s easy to walk among the cars you want to see, and skip those you don’t. My continued infatuation with pre-war classics was rewarded with some beautiful machinery. And some newer cars weren’t so bad either. As you’ll read below under STORIES, meeting new hobbyists and hearing their stories continues to be an engaging part of the hobby.
My 1993 Mazda Miata NA (1st gen), making its Hershey debut in HPOF:
Stan and the Bucket
“Hey, where’d you get the water for the bucket?”
“Ha ha! From my bathtub! I filled it up and carried it down to the parking lot.”
It was Friday evening, the day before The Big Show. The gentleman had alighted from his 1954 Pontiac at the rear of the Harrisburg Marriott where we were both staying, and watched me sponge off my quite dirty Miata using clean water from my bucket. Actually, my car had been spic-and-span clean two days before. It was the drive out on Thursday in the torrential rain which soiled it. Since it was wearing a fresh coat of wax, my theory was that a gentle bath with warm water would cleanse it again, and it seemed to be working.
“Gee, that would work on my car, if only I had remembered to bring a bucket.”
“I’m actually done with the Miata. You staying here? You can borrow my bucket and give it back to me later.”
“You sure? Ok, well, thanks.”
With that, Stan took my bucket while I said to myself, the worst that happens is I never see the bucket again. No big deal.
Saturday morning, I headed out to my car, and sure enough, my bucket was next to my car. Whether Stan had gotten to use it or not, he was honest enough to return it.
Heading inside for breakfast, I ran into Stan, and he invited me to sit with him. He was traveling by himself, as I was. We talked cars (natch), and he told me that his Pontiac was going to be a first-time entry in HPOF, as was the case for my Miata.
We shared some tips with each other about preserving paint and the like, which is when Stan told me that he had some other cars at home in Maryland, including a 1967 Volvo 1800S.
“Oh, I know those Volvos a little bit…” I always start out cautiously with a new friend about any Volvo knowledge I might possess. Treading lightly is a good start in case they have reason to despise the marque, and also to avoid any implication that I’m some kind of expert, which I’m not.
Stan continued: “I actually have a bunch of other Fords and Chevys home, and I like them all. But there’s something special about that 1800….”
I learned for the umpteenth time not to make suppositions about car people. Watching someone motor along in his 1954 Pontiac, I would never presume that the same collector would also enjoy a ‘60s Swedish sporty car. I was glad to be wrong.
Larry and the Fire Extinguisher
My Miata and I arrived on the show field a few minutes past 9am. Normally I would have preferred to make my entrance earlier, but the morning sprinkles caused me to delay my departure to minimize re-soiling my clean car. It got dirty anyway. Out came the cleaning supplies, and the Great Car Show Detailing commenced once again.
Judging was due to start at 10am. At 9:55, I was still wiping down the painted horizontal surfaces when I heard the voice: “Is this your car?” I spun ‘round to face two men wearing judge’s hats. They’re early, I muttered to myself. Can’t blame them; they’ve got a lot of cars to judge.
The judges spent perhaps five minutes looking over my car. As the proud owner, I was too anxious to answer questions they hadn’t asked. They thanked me for bringing it, and moved to the ’68 Camaro next to me. I looked at my watch: 10:01am. This was a blessing! With no need to hang around my car, the day was free to move among all the glorious machinery on the show field. I began by walking down the row of the remaining HPOF cars.
It stood out like a bright light among the cars surrounding it: a 1st gen Porsche 928 in white. The owner was still wiping it down when I engaged him with some questions.
“How long have you had it?”
“Tell me, how are the maintenance and repair costs? I hear horror stories.”
“Not bad, really. Stay up on the preventative stuff, and it’s quite reliable.”
“Do you do your own work on it?”
“No, but it’s still not bad to maintain.”
With that, the 928 owner exclaimed “Oh crap. I forgot a fire extinguisher. Now what am I gonna do?”
“Listen”, I said, “my car’s been judged. I don’t need mine. I’d be happy to loan it to you.”
“Really? I’d appreciate it.”
I jogged back to the Miata, grabbed the extinguisher, and hustled it back to him.
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Richard. I’ll swing by later, or, if you don’t see me, my car is the black Miata in the row behind you.”
“Thanks again, I really appreciate it.”
It hadn’t occurred to me that this was my weekend to loan items to fellow car owners, but it was OK. Again, the worst that could happen would be I would be out a relatively inexpensive fire extinguisher.
Hours later, I was finally heading back to my car. The extinguisher was on the floor, and I thought I would swing past the 928 one more time to see how he did. Its owner was sitting in the front seat. But I had forgotten his name. As I approached the car, I glanced at the dashboard placard: “Larry Holbert”.
“Hey Larry, how did you do?”
“Oh, judging went fine. And thanks for the extinguisher. I returned it.”
“Yes, I saw. Listen, I just noticed your last name, and the dealer plate on the back says this car came from Holbert Porsche. Any relation?”
I told Larry about my band buddy, and expressed my condolences over his loss.
A while later, I looked up Larry Holbert. Up until the dealership was sold a few years ago, he had been president and CEO of Holbert Porsche. Yet when I asked him about his 928, said nothing about his executive status. He gave no hint that his stature meant that he could have these things taken care of. On a cool October Saturday on a show field in Hershey, Pennsylvania, he was just Larry, fellow car enthusiast.
“The Greatest Show on Earth”; “Automotive Mecca”; “The High Holy Days of Hershey”. The repetitive use of all these terms describes what is formally known as the AACA Eastern Fall Meet, a car show extravaganza that has been held in the quaint town of Hershey PA (“Chocolate Town USA”) since the early 1950s. This blog previously reported on Hershey in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
The Hershey Show has evolved and expanded through the decades into its current three-part form: a weekday flea market/car corral, now exclusively held on paved ground (the infamous Hershey mud is no more); a Saturday judged car show, currently held on a mostly-smooth grassy lawn; and a two-day auction conducted by RM Sotheby’s (“the official auction of AACA Hershey”).
Here we present Act I, The Car Corral.
If the RM Auction represents the higher end of the automotive hobby here in eastern PA, the Car Corral is the everyperson’s version. By AACA’s requirements, cars for sale must be 25 years old or older, and essentially stock. (Minor mods like wheels and custom paint seem to be conveniently overlooked.)
If you still think you need a small fortune to enter the hobby, then you haven’t cruised the Car Corral. Asking prices of under $15,000 are the rule rather than the exception. (A dozen cars below make that cut, and there were many more not documented here.) Better if you’re open to some off-beat choices in the way of makes or body styles.
Below are my selections of Car Corral vehicles which piqued my interest. Sellers are a mix of dealers who bring a dozen cars at a time, and individuals who present an air of credibility as they attempt to gauge your desire for their prized set of wheels. Note that asking prices are just that, asking. Serious shoppers are encouraged to banter, barter, and bring cash.
$1,400 TO $5,900:
1989 AUDI 200 QUATTRO WAGON, 5-SPEED
By far, the cheapest car I found in the corral. For the true Audi enthusiast. Manual gearbox obviates concerns over unintended acceleration.
1972 VW BEETLE, LIGHT BLUE, CLAIMED 65,000 MILES
Parts availability and technical support make this a great starter collector car, as long as you’re not racing against Hemis.
1985 MERCEDES-BENZ 280SE 4-DOOR, CLAIMED 65,000 ORIGINAL MILES
When it stops running, it still looks impressive sitting in your driveway.
$7,500 TO $9,900:
1975 BUICK ESTATE WAGON, 6-PASSENGER, CLAIMED 87,000 MILES
So-called “long roofs” are on the upswing in the hobby. This seemed like a deal for a full-size GM wagon.
1988 PORSCHE 924SE, BLACK/BLACK, CLAIMED 76,000 MILES
Long the poster-child for deferred maintenance Porsches, this 924 looked reasonably well-kept on the outside, which is not a small feat for a car with black paint.
1986 PORSCHE 944, RED/BLACK, 5-SPEED
For a few dollars more than the 924, you could move up to this 944. I peeked inside and was pleasantly surprised to see an uncracked dash, a known issue with these.
1956 DeSOTO FIREDOME 2-DOOR HARDTOP, HEMI ENGINE
Who said that you’ve been priced out of the Hemi collector market? The paint on this was a bit shoddy in places. However, the entrance fee got you a genuine hardtop.
OPEL GT, YELLOW/BLACK
The whitewall tires did this no favors. Seems like an affordable way to get a baby ‘vette, unless you can spend a few more dollars for a real one….
$12,000 TO $14,500:
1993 CHEVY CORVETTE COUPE, 40th ANNIV., 6-SPEED, CLAIMED 32,000 MILES
Clean car and lots of performance for the dollar. C4 Corvettes continue to be a bargain.
1963 CHRYSLER 300 (NON-LETTER CAR), DARK RED/DARK RED, CLAIMED 71,000 MILES
The mags and oversize tires detracted from what was otherwise an unusual MoPar. The style was polarizing in 1963 when they downsized, but it has mellowed with age.
1982 ALFA ROMEO SPIDER, LIGHT BEIGE/TAN, CLAIMED 34,000 MILES
This S2 spider had a surprisingly clean interior; most of them show significantly more wear. If the Italian tin worm has been kept at bay, this represents some affordable top-down fun.
1957 VOLVO PV444, BLUE, CLAIMED 97,000 MILES
Not sure if this blue was an original Volvo color, but other than the repaint, the car looked stock. A PV for the Volvo aficionado.
$18,000 TO $25,000:
1965 FIAT 600D, RED, CLAIMED 61,000 MILES
What does the Fiat 600 have over the Fiat 500? Two more cylinders. These Italian cuties continue to be popular, in spite of asking prices twice that of the more usable 124 spiders.
1972 VOLVO 1800ES, ORANGE/BLACK
The broken side marker light and painted rockers did not instill confidence. Still, if you must have an ES, the 1972 model offers the advantage of a smaller front bumper compared to the ’73 model.
1969 BUICK RIVIERA GS, CLAIMED 20,000 MILES
I’m on a Riviera fixation lately. This is a big car, with a big engine, big doors, and big style. If the mileage and GS status check out, you could turn this into a nice cruiser. Bring a gas card.
1980 PORSCHE 928, SILVER/BLACK, 5-SPEED
This is included only because I’ve been following the 928 market for years. There was nothing special here, and the ask was at least 50% higher than recent real-world transactions. Ironically, this car was spotted on Saturday in the Driver’s Participation Class (DPC). Ignore the hearse next door.
1957 IMPERIAL 4-DOOR SEDAN, 392 HEMI V8
A rare car when new, even rarer 60 years later. Guaranteed to impress at the next Chryslers at Carlisle event. Clean out your garage; you’re going to need every inch.
$32,000 TO $35,900:
1958 PACKARD STARLIGHT HARDTOP
A “Packard-baker”; Not attractive at all, but certainly unique. An orphan’s orphan.
1957 BMW ISETTA, RECENTLY RESTORED
The non-original green metallic was the only glaring fault in what otherwise appeared to be a very nice restoration. Every time I walked past it a crowd had gathered ‘round.
1986 FERRARI MONDIAL SPYDER, RED/TAN
The cheapest Ferrari you’ll find for sale, for a reason, as most don’t want a four-seater. Still, online comments from Mondial owners claim that it’s a great driving car.
1963 BUICK RIVIERA, DARK RED/DARK TAN
The first year for the Riv, Bill Mitchell’s design hit it out of the park new, and hasn’t lost a beat since. The colors on this one were gorgeous, but the raised white-letter tires gotta go.
$39,000 TO $49,000:
1989 BMW M3, RED/BLACK
These first-generation M3s routinely sell on Bring-a-Trailer for over $40,000, so this price seemed within reason.
1967 PORSCHE 912, 4-CYLINDER, SAND/BLACK, 5-SPEED
Porsche 912s used to sell for 4 figures. Then, 911 values skyrocketed, and as the cliché goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats”, ergo, 912s are now priced above where even 911s were a few years ago.
Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park held its 36th annual Historic Festival during the Labor Day weekend, running from August 30 through September 3, 2018. If you enjoy vintage racing, then Friday, Saturday, and Monday are your days to watch classic race cars battling it out around this historic track. By local ordinance, racing is not allowed on Sundays. The Festival organizers have taken advantage of that restriction by hosting their “Sunday In The Park” event, with hundreds of classic (and sometimes not-so-classic) cars arrayed along the entirety of track’s perimeter.
Each year there is a special featured marque, and for 2018, that marque was Bugatti. By my count, there were 70 of these famed French cars on display, a number that might be rivaled only by the former Schlumf Museum’s holdings. The strong turnout speaks to the high esteem with which Ettore’s cars are held. Many of the race cars appeared to be in original condition, while most of the road-going cars have been restored at some point. No matter, as Bugatti owners (like Bentley owners) are known to drive their cars rather than treat them like trailer queens.
While the Bugatti display bordered on overwhelming, there were plenty of other vehicles on the field to draw one’s attention. This show tends to attract primarily European cars, and the British, German, Italian, and Swedish turnout did not disappoint. A relatively new feature at Lime Rock is the so-called “Gathering of the Marques”. Open classes, sometimes labeled by Country of Origin and sometimes specified by make and model, are created, and owners are invited to park their vehicles on the track.
The Gathering of the Marques attracted particularly large volumes of BMWs (especially the 2002 model), Porsches (especially 911s), Mazda Miatas, plus the cars of Sweden, Great Britain, and Italy. (Where else but at Lime Rock would a fan of Italian cars such as myself see an Alfa 1900, Fiat Dino Coupe, and Lancia Stratos all on the same day?) A smaller but significant selection of domestic iron provided a nice contrast to the European cars.
The flea market area which used to exist near the start of the straightaway has all but disappeared, but a few vendors had interesting cars for sale, at what appeared to be reasonable prices. And let’s not forget that the paddocks are open to the public on Sunday, so race vehicles otherwise not on display can be ogled as part of the entertainment.
The threatened rain showers never materialized; in fact, the temps remained reasonable, staying in the high 70s/low 80s. Anything would have been better than last year’s deluge. It’s a three-hour one-way drive for me, but the quality and variety of offerings has drawn me back almost every Labor Day weekend for the past 25+ years. The track’s setting, nestled in a valley in the Berkshire Mountains, only adds to the ambience. The Lime Rock Fall Historic Festival is a must-see event on the calendar for auto enthusiasts in the Northeast.
The New Jersey Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) held its 67th annual Antique Car Show on Sunday May 6, 2018, at the Mennen Arena in Morristown NJ. Yes, you read that correctly. This was the 67th annual show, meaning that the Region began this tradition shortly before I was born. The vast majority of cars at today’s show were manufactured AFTER the premiere event.
This was the third consecutive year for the show’s “new” location at the Mennen Arena. This was also the third year in the row for show-day weather to be wet and cool. The less I say about the climatic conditions, the more positive this blog post will remain. If there were silver linings, the rain did stop by about 10 a.m., and the dense cloud cover did make for better photographic light.
For us car guys and gals who can tolerate some dampness, the real disappointment was the reduced vehicle participation. While I didn’t count, I estimate that there were perhaps 50-60 cars on display. Previous years at the old location in Florham Park would net us in excess of 200 show vehicles.
But it is about the cars, and we still had gorgeous vehicles (and their owners) braving the elements. Below is a selection of today’s cars arranged in model year order. Your scribe entered his 1993 Mazda Miata, which at 25 years of age this year, is officially allowed to enter AACA events. Its owner is also humbled to state that the Miata took first in its class (#13b, imported two-seater cars), and it was also awarded a Membership Trophy for “Best Unrestored Car, 1976-1993”.