With spring just around the corner (the calendar says next Tuesday, even if I spent part of this morning clearing some residual snow from last week’s double-whammy storms), I realized that I had been remiss in updating my own “Calendar of Events”.
We car guys and gals patiently wait for those final traces of salt to be washed away so we can unhook the Battery Tenders, check fluid levels and tire pressures, and ease our old iron out into the early spring sunshine. It’s nice to be reminded that there will be plenty to do; here’s what’s on my calendar so far (and this is just the first two months of the season):
In Chapter 5, we counted down as the number of Isettas to be restored dwindled from three, to two, to one. Whew! That looks more manageable now.
In Chapter 6 below, we finally get our hands dirty, and perform the first work of any substance on what will some day be a driving automobile.
The Restoration Plan for what would eventually be ONE running and driving Isetta was coming more into focus. Some extraneous parts had been sold off, and remaining parts had been picked through and sorted, a more time-consuming process than first imagined. My gaze now turned to a rusty, crusty, but complete chassis, and the next course of action would be to remove everything from it, including its factory paint. But first, let’s shoot a roll of film!
The reasoning (which turned out to be quite correct) was that it could be a few years before I would be reassembling many of these components onto a restored frame. Previous automotive repair work had taught me that you can’t trust your memory, even if you think it’s sharp. (I had experienced instances when, after removing 4 bolts of different lengths from an assembly, I had forgotten the precise locations of those bolts by the next day!)
There was nothing to indicate that any major mechanical work had preceded my ownership of this fine German automobile, so the photographic evidence would provide documentation as to how the brake lines, suspension, foot controls, cables, etc. were installed by the factory. Once the photos were in hand, the chassis was stripped of all mechanical components, and all removed parts were labeled, bagged or boxed, and stored.
The only untouched parts were the front spindles. They were attached to the chassis via king pins. None of my Isetta parts catalogs showed replacement parts for them, and since I detected no freeplay, I let them be. They were a beautiful cast aluminum, and would not require painting. They would be masked for protection when the chassis was painted.
When stood on its end, the bare chassis was about as tall as I was, and weighed perhaps 40-50 pounds. It was a simple affair to lift and carry it into my basement shop, a more comfortable place to work compared to the garage. I set the chassis down onto an all-metal dolly that I found in a trash heap on a Brooklyn street corner while on a music gig. The dolly came home with me, jammed into the back of my wagon along with my drums.
I tackled the old paint and rust with a 3M abrasive wheel, chucked into my handy Black & Decker all-metal drill. A short time later, the chassis was devoid of paint. One could see welding splatter from the factory welds. There were no signs of collision damage, nor had rust permeated the structure in any way.
For paint, I settled on Bill Hirsch’s Miracle Paint, a product that was heavily advertised in collector car publications of the day. Compared to POR-15, Miracle Paint was promoted as not requiring a top coat (although one could paint on top of it if desired). Available in black, silver, and clear, I selected black, and when I saw how glossy it was, I decided that no top coat was needed.
I learned the hard way that if you removed the lid on a can of Miracle Paint, got some paint in the can’s lip, and reinstalled the lid, that lid was not coming off again. The “trick” was this: keep the lid on the can. Shake it well. Using an awl, punch two holes in the top (one slightly larger than the other). Pour out just enough paint as needed into a disposable cup (the 2nd hole allowed the paint to pour out more freely), and close both holes with duct tape. If the duct tape could not be removed, you only had to punch a hole through the tape, and into the existing hole. This worked like a charm.
Although Bill Hirsch sold Miracle Paint solvent, I found it much more efficient to paint with disposable foam brushes. They could be bought at Carlisle for 25 cents each, and the foam left a smooth surface without brush marks. The entire chassis, indeed much of this project, was painted with foam brushes.
By this time, we were halfway into 1992, and while progress was “steady”, it was also “slow”. In these days, prior to TV shows which glamorized auto restoration, I’d read the occasional article in Old Cars Weekly about someone who restored a ’57 Chevy in six months. Sure! First, you had dozens of parts suppliers who had everything you needed; second, you could attend any car show and find a reference car, should you need to examine one; and third, you were probably retired, and had 40-50 hours a week to devote to the hobby. My path forward offered to none of these advantages.
During the summer of 1992, I learned of a car show in eastern Ohio that was planning to feature BMW Isettas in a special class, so we went. Yes, it was a long ride to look at some Isettas, but the last time I had done something like this was ten years prior. My restoration had begun, and I was anxious for the inspiration.
We got to the show, and the turnout was better than expected. Looking much like dyed Easter eggs (and not much larger), the lineup of Isettas made for some striking photos. I chatted with a few owners, one of whom informed me of a new club, called the Microcar and Minicar Club. He provided me with an application, and encouraged me to join.
But the biggest shock of the show was provided by someone who did not have a car on display. I watched as a man set up several display tables, and proceeded to unload crates and boxes of …. new Isetta parts. His name was John Wetzel, and he operated a business that he called Isetta Johns (sic). He lived in Rutherford NJ, most convenient for me, and by all appearances, this was his full-time employment. While I did not purchase from him that day, I obtained his contact information, and assured him that I would be in touch.
My recollection of that show was that it left me feeling overwhelmed, and slightly depressed. I saw that I had a long way to go before my car would be up to the caliber of the cars in Ohio. This, combined with the discovery of someone like Isetta Johns, also altered my thinking about the project. Rather than just get the car to run, only to possibly take it apart again to fully restore it, it seemed the wiser decision to perform a complete restoration while it was all in pieces. I needed to step up my game.
The business world in the early 1990s was as much about organization and motivation as it was about making profits. This certainly was the case at Volvo, what with newly launched efforts on Vision Statements, Mission Statements, Total Quality Management, and so on. Taking a page from this approach, I decided that a motivating slogan would spur me to keep pushing forward. For the umpteenth time, I asked myself, “this car is so small! How long could it take?” The approximate answer to that was “three more years”, which would land me in 1995.
The slogan was born: “THE ISETTA WILL DRIVE IN ‘95”. I printed out multiple copies, and hung one in my workshop at home, and one in my office at work. Some of my Volvo colleagues took pity on me; others thought I had lost my mind.
In Chapter 7 of the Isetta Saga, you’ll learn how the twin discoveries of an Isetta Restoration Book and an “Isetta Dealership” in Pennsylvania provided the kick start to a rebuild of the 1-cylinder BMW motorcycle engine.
The word “chassis”(pronounced CHA-see) is actually French. Its etymology goes back to Latin, but in 13th century Old French, it was spelled “chassiz”, and defined as a “frame” or “framework”. By the 1660s, the spelling evolved to “chassis”, and more narrowly referred to a “window frame”. In 1869, the word was defined as a “sliding frame or carriage base for a large gun” (I’m picturing something more akin to a cannon, rather than a hand-held gun). In 1903, at the start of the automotive industry, it entered the English language as meaning “the base frame of an automobile”.
Although I could find no further explanation as to how the word switched from guns to cars, it seems logical that given the French dominance in the very early years of the horseless carriage, a French word for a car part would easily be adopted. After all, the word “automobile” also comes to us directly from the French.
Remember this the next time you’re eating French Fries.
The primary purpose of the annual meeting is the Saturday banquet, during which prize winners from the previous year are recognized. There is a General Membership Meeting on Saturday afternoon. Other meetings for officers, Regional Presidents, and judges are also scheduled. Seminars on various topics of interest to the hobby are held all day Friday, and half the day on Saturday. In parallel, a Trade Show is on site, populated by businesses which support lovers of old cars. For someone like me who attended only on Friday, there is lots to see and do.
If there is an issue with the Seminar schedule, it’s that one cannot attend every seminar of interest! There are five time blocks during the day on Friday, but each time block is hosting SEVEN different seminars in seven different rooms. So you need to pick the most interesting one. Given that each time block is 90 minutes, there is the option of jumping from room to room, with the obvious downside of potentially missing something interesting.
I began Friday morning in the “Market Value Trends” seminar, hosted by the Auto Appraisal Group (AAG) Company. Larry Batton was the presenter, and he showed us various slides which crunched the sales figures from the most recent (Jan. ’18) Arizona auctions. By his own admission, Larry is a numbers guy, and of course, dollars are numbers.
One of his more interesting observations was summarizing “average sale price” for the auctions MINUS the $1M+ sales, and MINUS the charity sales (which tend to be beyond “fair value”). It gave a somewhat refreshing look at what cars really sell for, once these outliers are struck from the equation.
He also regaled the audience with a humorous story about a man who “bought back” his own car at an auction, and in doing so, set a world’s record price for that make and model. A few months later, the owner tried to sell the car privately, claiming that the car was worth what he bought it back for. Larry’s point? Do your homework, ask a million questions, ALWAYS ask to see the title, and seek professional help (a plug for his own company).
Next was a session called “Repair, Restoration, and Maintenance” by James Cross. Jim approached his topic in a folksy, low-key, somewhat random way. He’s an old-school, likely self-taught restorer who has focused much of his own collection on pre-war cars (he owns a 1909 Buick). He entertained AND educated us with his list of home-brewed remedies (for example, ketchup will clean the outside of brass radiators, and Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda will clean their insides).
One topic covered by Jim which inspired quite a bit of Q&A from the audience was the repair and restoration of wooden wheels. Based on participants’ reactions, your humble blogger was pleasantly surprised to learn that so many hobbyists still have a need to know how to do this. And this observation brought out the one issue with this presentation (which does not cast the slightest aspersion on Mr. Cross): the room was full of old white men, not one of whom was under the age of 50. All this knowledge is great stuff; but how does it get transferred to succeeding generations? This is not an original thought, of course, and yet it remains a vexing issue for the entire old car hobby.
The third and final morning seminar that I joined was given the somewhat misleading title of “Decorating Your Garage”. Dan Matthews, the presenter, is an extremely knowledgeable expert in automobilia and petroliana, having written three books on the topic. His main focus was giving advice to the audience about distinguishing “real” tin and porcelain signs from “reproduction” ones. His fast-paced delivery did not always mesh well with his goal, but it was enough to highlight some of the clues one should look for.
It helps if one has some basic knowledge (he was able to rattle off statistics such as “there were only 12 made of this particular sign, and the last one sold for $20,000”), and perhaps one of his books on the subject would help the serious shopper. At the end of the day, the warning is one we’ve heard many times before: “if the price seems too good for it to be real, it probably isn’t”.
My two post-lunch choices were much more AACA-specific. The “Publications Seminar” hosted by outgoing AACA Publications Chairperson Mary Bartemeyer was designed solely for those who work with their own Regions’ newsletters. (Starting this year, I will be taking a more active role in writing for the NJ Region’s newsletter.) AACA has a long list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for these newsletters, and there is special focus on copyright infringement. We were all admonished that you simply cannot take a photo off the Internet and reprint it in your newsletter.
We heard one sad story about a Region which violated a copyright and was contacted by an attorney. When the Regional representative said “hey, we’re sorry, we’re just a non-profit club”, the attorney’s retort was “too bad, this is the amount it is going to cost you to settle or we’re going to court”. Mary made the point that the Club’s insurance does NOT cover such matters!
The final seminar for me was simply called “HPOF” (in AACA-speak, that’s Historical Preservation of Original Features). The presenter was Fred Trusty, who is the Chairperson for HPOF. He started with an interesting look back at the origins of HPOF. This new class one born in the late 1980s in part from the realization that many of the vehicles entered into Class Judging were over-restored, and it was no longer possible to literally see how the factory made these cars. Preserving an original car as “original” was deemed to be in the greater interest of the hobby.
HPOF started off recognizing cars 45 years old and older; that cutoff was then moved to 35 years, and then again to where is it today, cars 25 years old and older. HPOF judges would rather see imperfect yet original, instead of perfect but non-original. There are some grey areas, such as re-painting, however, that also depends on the vehicle’s age.
Regarding paint, two examples were given: a 1920s car that was repainted once, in the 1940s, probably has so much patina that judges cannot tell with absolute certainly how old the paint is. The car would likely be judged to be “original”. On the other hand, a 1970s car with a complete repaint would not be considered eligible for HPOF.
I have a more than passing interest in this class, as my 1967 Alfa Romeo already has its HPOF award, and one of my challenges as its caretaker is to maintain it in as close to original condition as possible, while still driving it about 2,000 miles per year. I also intend to enter my 1993 Mazda Miata (it turns 25 this year) in the HPOF class at Hershey in 2018. I’m anxious to see if it qualifies for an award.
If you are an AACA member and have not attended an Annual Meeting, I highly recommend that you do so. If you are not a member of AACA and are interested in old cars, the history of old cars, and preserving history, I strongly recommend that you join. Ownership of an old car is NOT a prerequisite. For me, the best part about my membership is conversing with like-minded individuals.
You were maybe expecting Chapter Five of the Isetta Saga? It’s coming along nicely, and you’ll read all about it next week, promise.
The original Mazda Miata debuted in the summer of 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show. The first vehicles were 1990 models, making them 28 years old this year. At the time of its introduction, the traditional affordable 2-seat roadster had all but disappeared (Austin-Healey, MG, and Triumph were gone). The Miata’s closest competitor was the Alfa Romeo spider, riding on a body/chassis design that had been introduced in 1966.
In the 1980s, when I began to attend the AACA Hershey events, Saturday was the day to go. First, as a full-time working guy, I didn’t always have the luxury of taking time off, so it was the only day available to make the trek. Second, the best part of Hershey, “the car show”, was on Saturday.
About 20 years ago, I decided that my Hershey visit deserved to encompass multiple days. So I headed out on Thursday, and spent several days roaming among the flea market stalls and vehicles for sale. Saturday morning, wanting an early start, I found myself at the entrance to the show field by 8 a.m., when a funny thing happened.
I discovered the Hershey parade.
AACA rules require that all show cars be driven onto the field under their own power. So, starting very early on Saturday, all the cars line up and serenely motor their way along a predetermined route. What a delight it was to realize that much better than the static show was to witness these glorious automobiles, from early-20th century brass cars to vehicles “just” 25 years old, making their way, and allowing us the joy to see and hear them.
Since then, the Saturday routine has been the same:
Spend Friday night in a hotel close to Hershey;
Arise by 6 a.m. Saturday morning;
Grab some coffee;
Park by 7:30 a.m., and find a good spot along the parade route;
Stand for the next two hours and take it all in.
This routine was followed again in 2017. The photos which follow were for the most part taken along the parade route. The early morning sun only helped further glamorize what are already impeccably restored automotive gems.
This third report concludes our posts covering the 2017 Hershey events. It bears repeating: if you have not visited this fall classic, held every October in Hersheypark PA, it is worth the trip.
Fall Hershey (formally entitled the Antique Automobile Club of America Eastern Division National Fall Meet, which is why we call it Fall Hershey) is an automotive smörgåsbord: collector-car flea market, car corral, judged car show, and auction, encompassing such a voluminous spread of acreage that one needs at least three days to take it all in.
We’ve covered Fall Hershey on this blog in the past; this year, as a tie-in with the report on the previous week’s Carlisle visit, the focus shall be on the car corral. Unlike Carlisle, where one can offer for sale a fat-tired 2003 Toyota pickup truck if one desires, AACA’s rules apply. Vehicles placed in the car corral must be a minimum of 25 years old, and must essentially be in “stock” condition. Beyond that, asking prices are determined by the sellers, and negotiations are strictly between seller and buyer. A car corral office and public notary are on hand to facilitate exchanges.
Overall, the quality and variety of cars were on par with previous years. Unlike the recent past, and eerily similar to Carlisle, were the long stretches of empty spots. It was not a ghost town, however, I’d estimate that 25% of available spots remained so.
The corral has changed in other ways. Way back in the 1980s and 1990s, most cars for sale were privately owned. Deals were often made among hobbyists who knew each other, or at least had a mutual friend. If buyer and seller were meeting for the first time, the sale would many times be the start of a new friendship.
Today, classic car dealers buy up an entire row in the corral, and place their half-dozen or dozen cars together. (You can always tell: the signage and lettering styles are identical.) Dealers are as likely to be buyers as they are sellers. Asking prices are set by picking numbers out of a hat (I kid, but you do sometimes wonder about the relationship between that number on the windshield and reality).
Dealers spew the same lines: “it’s a good car, runs good, real solid, real nice condition, all restored, very rare with these options”. The lack of specificity is jarring. Not to disparage dealers, but if you do find an individual owner who is selling, you are more likely to learn more about a vehicle’s true recent history.
A private owner will talk specifics: “I bought it 10 years ago, put 5,000 miles on it, drove it in an AACA tour five years ago, re-did the brakes two winters ago, and drove it here from Maryland”. Comments like these were actually overheard this year.
This lengthy preamble is to set the stage for my eclectic selection from the car corral. The thirty cars below are arranged in order of asking price. No attempt was made to ascertain if the seller was a private owner or dealer. While all these cars “looked good”, condition was not analyzed, and mileage was not recorded. You can presume that none was modified to be non-original. In the case of American cars, the level of optional equipment was not noted. The vast majority of signage indicated “or best offer”, so think of these prices as a negotiable starting point.
Organizing them in price ranges allows the reader to make comparative estimates regarding what your collector-car piggy bank can get you. Have fun on your imaginary shopping trip.
Part 2 will be my report on the 2017 RM Sotheby’s Hershey Auction.
Fall Carlisle 2017, a combination automotive flea market, car corral, and auction, was held at the Carlisle Fairgrounds from September 27 through October 1.
As I strolled through the grounds, the same two questions repeated in my head: “Should someone get in while the getting is good?” Or, “Should we get out while there’s still a way out?”
These questions came up because many of us in the hobby are concerned about its future. It always comes back to “what will my old car be worth down the road?” The Carlisle events, principally Spring and Fall Carlisle, have been a wonderful barometer of the hobby for over 40 years. The car corral this year told a markedly different story: corral spaces were perhaps 60% taken (in the past, one usually had to wait for a car to sell for a spot to become available); yet among the cars on the premises, many seemed to have reasonable asking prices.
The flea market, on the other hand, was filled to capacity, with nary an open space to be found. Vendors were out in force, even if the crowd on the picture-perfect Friday when I attended was a bit lighter than I would have expected.
I began my morning in the car corral, then after a gourmet lunch under the grandstand, walked a few of the flea market aisles. By 3pm, I was headed across the street to the Expo Center where the Fall 2017 version of Carlisle Auctions was underway. Here we saw the hobby flexing its muscles. The auction has expanded to three days from its previous two; most of the bidders’ seats were taken; and the bidding, while not exceptional, seemed to hold to about a 60-70% sell-through rate. Perhaps, rather than deal with tire kickers in the corral, sellers are rolling the dice on the auction block.
The photo coverage below is divided into two sections. First, we feature car corral choices with asking prices below 10 grand. If you’ve got some bucks burning a hole in your pocket, or are open-minded enough to be flexible about a first (or additional) collector car, there were plenty to choose from.
Our second section is entitled “Carlisle Auction re-runs”. This is an arbitrary list of vehicles which did not meet reserve. To the credit of the folks who run the show, the high bids are posted on the windshields in plain sight. I sometimes think that going back and trying to negotiate a price AFTER the car has crossed the block might be a better strategy, as it removes the pressure of bidding while the auctioneer is yammering in your ear at 110 decibels.
In both cases, no editorial comment about vehicle condition or value relative to the asking/bid price is supplied. As always, caveat emptor(which is Latin for “collector cars may be worth more or less than what you pay for them”).
CAR CORRAL: UNDER $10,000 EDITION
1988 Mercedes Benz 560 SL roadster, asking $7,000:
1976 Triumph Spitfire, asking $5,500:
1995 Pontiac Trans Am, asking $8,900:
2003 Toyota Tacoma pickup, asking $9,500:
1987 Chevrolet Corvette coupe, asking $5,400:
1976 Olds Cutlass coupe, asking $9,000:
1985 Nissan 300ZX 2+2 coupe, asking $7,950:
1977 MGB, asking $8,500:
1995 Pontiac Firebird convertible, asking $5,800:
1995 Chevrolet Camaro, asking $6,500:
1978 Ford Thunderbird, asking $9,500:
2002 BMW 330Ci convertible, asking $5,995:
1996 Chevrolet Corvette coupe, asking $6,995:
The most attractive and unusual car in the corral (to me) was this 1974 Fiat 128, claimed to have 12,000 original miles (and it looked it):
CARLISLE AUCTION RE-RUNS
1969 MGB-GT, no sale at high bid of $6,750:
1939 La Salle, no sale at high bid of $14,000:
1964 Chevrolet Corvair convertible, no sale at high bid of $5,700:
1988 BMW M3, no sale at high bid of $41,000:
1961 Sunbeam Alpine (Tiger ‘conversion’), no sale at high bid of $4,500:
Who needs a cell phone to double as a key? Just carry a screwdriver…
1991 Ford Mustang convertible, no sale at high bid of $7,250:
1979 Chevrolet Corvette, no sale at high bid of $10,000:
1969 Chevrolet El Camino, no sale at high bid of $12,000:
1966 Ford Mustang coupe, no sale at high bid of $11,000:
1964 Chevrolet El Camino, no sale at high bid of $16,000:
There is no new material to add to the blog this week. On Friday, I intend to make a one-day visit to Fall Carlisle, and next week is automotive Mecca: 3 days at Fall Hershey. Expect to see full reports here.
In the interim, here’s a blast from the past: one of my very first auction reports. It is interesting to look back at what has changed (and what hasn’t) in the hobby from just two and a half years ago.
Also, for those readers who are relatively new to the blog, this is something you may have missed.