Welcome back to the Isetta Saga!
In Chapter 12, it was early spring 1995, and the blog post contained video evidence which proved that the “thumper”, as one-cylinder engines are sometimes called, would start and run. You could say that this completed the mechanical portion of the restoration. Of course, there were “mechanical” elements to be addressed once the body and chassis were reunited, such as pedal and shifter linkages, gauges, lights, and so on, but, the running chassis was essentially done.
Now it was crunch time. Now, a fear crept into me because I was about to embark on a path over which I would have much less control. I am a technician, an automotive repairman, by trade. The nuts and bolts were, if not easy, at least resolvable by me. As I looked at the forlorn Isetta body, I was reminded of how little I knew about body and paint work. There was also an element of procrastination in play here. I could have sought out body estimates in 1994. However, it was easier to tell myself to push forward with the chassis work, and allow the bodywork to wait until it was absolutely necessary to move on it. That time was now.
As had been my habit for this entire project, I grabbed my trusty Nikon EM, loaded it with a fresh roll of Kodak ISO 100 (or 200) film, and photographed all the details of the red body in its “before” state. This was done both to document its current condition as well as to provide a guide during reassembly. The body was still complete, with door, glass, sunroof, lights, wiring harness, and interior panels in place. There was no sense in disassembling any of it until I understood the next steps, which would only happen after speaking with several body shops.
The body was loaded onto my landscape trailer, and the trailer was hooked to the back of my Volvo wagon. Off I went to visit two different restoration facilities in northern New Jersey. As both these shops are still in business, and as I have nothing to gain by presenting potentially disparaging remarks about them in this public forum, I shall refer to them as “Shop A” and “Shop B”.
Shop A is a first-class enterprise with a stellar reputation in the hobby. They are known for their award-winning vehicles, and even market their own line of automotive paint. The patriarch of the business greeted me personally, and invited me to sit with him so we could discuss my progress and my intentions.
I told him that I had essentially completed the drivetrain, and wanted a shop to take on only the body shell. “You have done an excellent job managing your own restoration”, he said to me, and I wasn’t sure if the comment was a compliment, or if he regretted that I hadn’t handed over the whole stinkin’ pile of parts for him to sort out. He continued: “We can restore this body, certainly can. Our process will be, you leave it with us while we do our research and preliminary work, and we will send you an itemized bill on a monthly basis”.
My next question was obvious, or so I thought: “What will be the total cost of the body and paint work?” He replied “Oh, we have no way of knowing that. Besides, that’s not how we work. As I said, we will perform a certain amount of work every month and bill you accordingly. You are also welcome to stop by and see the progress first-hand”. I told him that I would think about it. The walk back to my car wasn’t complete before I had concluded my thinking about it. This was the traditional model of automotive restoration. The owner trusts the restoration shop to proceed at a fair pace, and pays the bills with no clear end date in sight. This shop was not getting my business.
Shop B was introduced to me when its proprietor visited my office for an evening’s “hobbyists’ gathering”. He was fairly new to the business, and wanted to introduce himself to a wider audience. He spoke in a friendly and down-to-earth manner, and explained that his shop was the restoration place of choice for the common man. At the end of his presentation, I approached him and asked about paying a visit. A short time later, I trailered the red body out to him for his inspection, and he promised to get back to me ASAP.
This was 1995, so we used fax as a speedy means of communication. The first page of the fax was a cover sheet, and the second page had a detailed line-by-line estimate for metal work, fabrication, priming, sanding, and painting. I knew I was in trouble reading the first line of his cover page: “Dear Rich, I hope you’re sitting down!” His estimate for total parts and labor? $11,150. That only meant I needed to keep looking.
A work colleague, friend, and all-around great fellow hobbyist Dennis Nash was someone I sought out for advice. Dennis said that he knew someone through the Rolls-Royce Owners Club who ran a collision shop but also fit in a fair amount of restoration work. He was in Maplewood, about a 20 minute drive from my house, and much closer than either Shop A or Shop B. The person’s name was Jody Fitzgerald, and the name of this business was The Shop.
I called. Jody answered, “This is …. The Shop”. (This is how he always answered the phone, with a purposeful delay between “this is” and “The Shop”.) We had a pleasant initial conversation, and he invited me to visit with body in tow. It didn’t take him long to look it over and for him to tell me that this was something he could handle. He made himself very clear that there were certain things he would, and would not, do. He said that he would:
- Expect me to deliver the body with glass and soundproofing removed.
- Paint the body in a single-stage urethane, and color-sand and polish the exterior.
- Paint the interior to match, but not color-sand or polish it.
- NOT paint the underside of the body. (He suggested that I paint it before bringing it back to him.)
- Complete all the body and paint work in an approximate 3-4 week time period.
Jody said that the total cost in material and labor would be $4,000. That was a very acceptable number to me. Before we signed any papers, Jody said he had one more item of importance to discuss with me:
“I will take on this job, which will cost you $4,000, only if you verbally assure me that you understand this cost exceeds the total value of the car.”
In retrospect, I don’t blame him one bit for wanting to ensure that I understood the price/value relationship. We both knew that good, but not perfect, running and driving Isettas were available for around $3,500 in 1995. There was too much emotional attachment in this project for me, so I was more than willing to spend what I believed was a fair price for the body shell restoration. Jody simply didn’t want to start this job and have me remorsefully abandon the car with him.
I rushed home to begin the disassembly so that I could deliver the shell to Jody. It was June of 1995. There was no time to waste.
All photographs copyright © 2018 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.
Stay tuned for the next chapter in the Isetta Saga, as the shell is prepared for delivery to The Shop.
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”.
Enough words, here are the pix, enjoy.
All photographs copyright © 2018 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.
Richard’s Car Blog has been documenting our Sunday morning breakfast drives going back to 2015, although the drives themselves predate that by a number of years. A quick review reveals that the date of each year’s first drive varied quite a bit: in 2015, it was April 19; 2016’s inaugural run didn’t happen until May 15; and last year, we were out early, driving on April 9.
Every year, my co-organizer Larry and I say the same thing: “We simply must get out there and go on a drive as soon as possible!” With Easter arriving early this year (April 1), we saw that as an opportunity to organize a drive as early as April 8.
Except, it snowed that weekend.
The next best date that worked for us was April 29. Certainly, it HAD to be warm by then….
After a glorious and sunny Saturday which saw temps in the 70s, Sunday dawned with sprinkles, a temperature of 55 degrees, and a stiff wind. Nevertheless, ten intrepid souls ventured out for a drive to the Readington Diner in Whitehouse Station NJ, where good chow and hot java awaited us.
One of the many things I personally enjoy about our informal club is that we have no rules regarding what you can drive. New, old, domestic, import, high-end, rolling wreck(!), if you think it can get you there and back, then we accept you into the fraternity. On some level, everyone’s car is interesting. This can result in quite the eclectic mix of cars, and today’s group was exactly that. We had:
- Three domestic cars: a ’39 Ford (wearing a ’40 front clip), a ’72 Nova, and a late-model Mustang.
- Six European cars, broken out as two Italian (both Alfas), two German (BMW and Porsche) one British (Jaguar F-type) and one Swedish (Volvo 1800S).
- One Japanese car, an NB (2nd generation) Miata.
Another enjoyable aspect is the chance to meet new people. John in his Miata and Tom in the Volvo (which he’s owned for only a month) were both with us for the first time, and I dare say that they enjoyed themselves enough that we can expect to see them again.
We shoved off from the Mahwah Sheraton parking lot at 8:28 (early for once, as the group was shivering), and headed south on Route 287, destination Morristown. Taking route 24/510 west through Morristown and Mendham, we ended up in Chester, where we made a quick pit stop (for Bill).
Continuing on Route 513 through Chester, we turned left in Long Valley and had a spirited drive along the winding curves of Route 517 South. A quick right turn onto Route 22 West had us motoring only another half mile before arriving at the diner.
Andre the Magnificent served us mightily (anyone who brings coffee refills every 10 minutes is my hero), and as is our habit, we lingered long after the plates cleared. It’s obvious that the camaraderie is there; after all, most of us had not seen each other since last fall. As one participant exclaimed, “we really are CAR people!”
Let’s hope that we have many additional opportunities for Sunday breakfast drives in 2018.
All photographs copyright © 2018 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.
2018 marks the 4th consecutive year that I’m bringing you a Spring Carlisle Auction Report. You can read about the 2015, 2016, and 2017 auctions by clicking on the links, or, you can just skip it if you don’t feel like doing that.
It IS interesting, though, to glance at the 2015 summary from three years ago and see what has changed and what has not. At that time, I described the Carlisle Auction as a “mom and pop” kind of event, and while vast improvements have been made in the ensuing years, it still has a certain aw-shucks quality.
One of the bigger changes is the move from a 2-day to a 3-day auction. Of course, this means substantially more cars are on the ground. Space is at such a premium within the grounds of the Carlisle Expo Center that the Tree Of Life Church next door had its parking lot absconded in order to help contain the approximately 600 vehicles dragged across the block.
Thursday and Friday auctions started at 2pm, and the newly-added Saturday bonanza started at 10am. Part of the plan is to lure attendees at the Spring Carlisle swap meet to walk an extra three blocks and perhaps buy an auction car.
The Expo Center was well-attended during my time there on Thursday and Friday, but I wouldn’t call it jammed. Like other auctions, the crowd is thinner during the early and late hours, which can be a good time to snag a deal. As always, especially compared to Mecum, Carlisle appears to be primarily populated by dealers who are both buyers and sellers. You might get the car of your dreams for something less than retail. Caveat Emptor (I’ve been dying to slip some Latin into a blog post).
Below are descriptions of cars that I found interesting, and which I personally inspected and observed cross the block. Richard’s Car Blog continues to bring you auction reports with A) multiple photos of each featured car, and B) sold vehicles arranged in sale price order. At the end are a few notable no-sales.
I invite your comments about which of these cars you’d like to own, and whether you found the sale prices to be favorable or not. Enjoy the report!
$7,500 and under:
Lot T115, 1981 Mercedes-Benz 380 SL roadster, metallic grey, grey hardtop, black interior. No indication if soft top is included. Miles not recorded. Paint looks unmarked, chrome is decent. Factory alloys on black wall tires. Interior looks like a 20 year old used car: it’s dirty and worn in spots, but not a project. Just another used 107.
SOLD FOR $2,500; CPI #3: $16,000. I inspected this car after the sale, so I really wasn’t supposed to touch it, but I did open the door. As the kids would say, WTH? Unless there is a salvage title, or the motor knocks, this was one of the steals of the auction. Happens with cars that run very early or very late in the day, before the crowds filter in.
Lot T166, 2002 Mazda Miata, dark blue metallic, black vinyl convertible top, black leather interior. Four-cylinder, 5-speed manual. Sign on windshield says 69k original miles. Mazda alloys show well, Hankook tires all around. Paint looks good, no chips in front. Some wear on driver’s seat side. Interior otherwise OK. This is the first time I can recall seeing a Miata at a Carlisle auction.
SOLD FOR $5,000; CPI #3: $6,850. Just a used car; sold for wholesale, but notable as identifying a Miata as a (future) collectible.
Lot T156, 1964 Chevy Corvair Monza 900 convertible, red, white vinyl convertible top, white vinyl interior. Five-digit odometer shows 62,191. 95 HP 2-bbl H6, 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. Sign claims car is all original. Full factory wheel covers, black wall tires. Paint looks tired, no signs of rust. Interior shows multiple shades of white, especially on door panels. Sign on dash: “Jiggle shifter in neutral to start”.
SOLD FOR $5,800; CPI #3: $7,150. Many, myself included, prefer the styling of the 2nd generation ‘vairs. If the 1st gen cars are your preference, this looked like an honest one for the money. Improve it while enjoying it.
Lot F321, 1989 Nissan 300ZX, metallic white, t tops, 2 tone brown cloth interior. Six-digit odometer reads 056,538. White factory alloys , black wall tires. Rear window louvers are behind seats. Very nice last year model of this generation, but car has automatic transmission. Paint is clean, no chips in nose. Wheels are a bit scuffed. Interior is very clean, with some minor wear on driver’s seat bottom. Some black peeling off outside trim.
SOLD FOR $6,400; CPI #3-#2 RANGE: $4,000-$8,475. Fair price for a clean low-mileage car, provided you are OK with the automatic (which I would not be on a Z car).
Lot T145, 1978 VW Beetle convertible, red, black vinyl convertible top, black vinyl interior. 80,323 miles on 5-digit odometer. Aftermarket black alloy wheels. No rust showing, one tail light broken, looks like it was repainted once, top is decent shape, interior is original and is all there.
SOLD FOR $7,500; CPI #3: $12,300. Red is not the best color for a Beetle, but after a good detailing, car will be ready for cruising and touring. Wheels are a cheap fix if originality is your thing. Price was a bit advantageous to buyer.
$10,000 to $20,000:
Lot F313, 1987 Mercedes-Benz 560 SL, red, black cloth convertible top, black interior. No indication if hardtop is included. 107,322 showing no 6-digit odometer. Inspection sticker on windshield is from MA, expires in 2018. Chrome Benz alloys look blingy, black wall tires. Interior upholstery and wood are worn. Tear in soft top on left side.
SOLD FOR $10,250; CPI #4-#3 RANGE $17,000-31,000. This was one of several of this generation SLs (the 107 platform) at this auction. Condition-wise, this one was average. Sale price was a bit of a bargain, as the big-engine 560SLs are hot in the market right now. Admittedly better condition ones on Bring A Trailer are fetching twice this amount.
Lot F456, 1965 Chevy Corvair Corsa convertible. Dark green metallic, black vinyl convertible top, black vinyl interior. 58,614 on 5-digit odometer. Full wheel coves, narrow white walls. Passenger door fit off, rubbing at back edge. Looks like a repaint. 4-speed manual floor shift, tachometer on dash. Sign on car claims long-term ownership from within family that owned Chevy dealership where this car originated. Stiff shifter almost impossible to move from gear to gear, true for all 4 forward gears.
SOLD FOR $10,600; CPI #3: $11,100 Fair price, if a bit close to retail, and that’s if shifter is easy fix. Still, nice cruiser, and way less money than that other brand which features air-cooled rear-mounted flat-6 engines….
Lot T237, 1968 Oldsmobile Toronado, white, black vinyl roof, black cloth/vinyl interior. 46,663 on 5-digit odometer. Full wheel covers, white wall tires. Sign on car says original 46k car. Car is dirty, sheet metal looks straight. Massive front bumper, hideaway headlights. V8 and automatic. Driver’s seat cloth is worn through and showing foam at leading edge of seat.
SOLD FOR $16,250; CPI #3-#2 RANGE $8,800-18,000. This was a #3 car which sold for #2 money. Colors were bland, and car was just OK. I would have held out for the better-looking ’66-’67 model.
Lot F393, 1963 Ford Thunderbird convertible, bronze metallic, white vinyl convertible top, bronze vinyl interior. 77,328 on 5-digit odometer. Narrow white walls, full wheel covers. Left front fender trim and bumper do not line up. Top and chrome look OK. Some swirls in paint. Interior is very nice, has factory AM radio. Car has optional “roadster” tonneau cover over rear seats.
SOLD FOR $17,800; CPI #4-#3 RANGE $14,000-25,000. Based on sale price, I’m presuming that this is not a factory “sports roadster”, which doubles its book value. The car was impressive overall. As bullet Birds go, colors were right, the top dropped, and it was within book retail. Fair deal all around.
Lot F434, 1957 Ford Skyliner retractable hardtop/convertible. . Green and white two-tone paint, green interior. V8, automatic. Full wheel covers, white walls. Painted wheels not in good shape. Sign says that car was restored in the 1980s. Chrome is just OK. Trunk lid fit is off. Dash looks unrestored, gauges look aged. Aftermarket A/C unit hanging below dash looks very out of place. Not great, but not a project car. Ben J. Smith, the father of the retractable, autographed the glove box.
SOLD FOR $18,000; CPI #4-#3 RANGE $35,000-62,000. Fifties cars, in general, seem to be out of favor right now. The generation that collected them is dying, and the younger collectors have yet to discover them (but they will). This was an older restoration which lacked eyeball. I think that the book value is high, but still, if car drove and top worked, someone got a bargain.
$20,000 to $30,000:
Lot F439, 1956 Ford Thunderbird, 2 seat convertible. V8, automatic. 5-digit odometer shows 30,798. White with white porthole hardtop. Soft top is included according to sign, but it was not inspected. Windshield has RI inspection sticker from 2000. Full T-Bird wheel covers. Black and white vinyl interior. Factory Continental kit has been removed from rear, looks strange without it. Black windlace trim out of place along fender skirts. Hardtop is not in good shape: rubber AND chrome are shot. PW, PS, factory radio in dash, aftermarket radio below dash. Middling T Bird.
SOLD FOR $23,500; CPI #4: $25,375. Sold on the money for #4 condition car, which this was. Two-seat T-Bird prices have been stagnant, maybe slipping a bit, for the last 20 years.
Lot F414, 1958 Edsel Pacer convertible. Coral and white two-tone inside and out. 95,340 on 5-digit odometer. V8, automatic. Power white vinyl convertible top. Wide white walls, full Edsel wheel covers, dual outside mirrors. Hard to fault on outside, except some fender and door gaps less than ideal. Car was restored to original appearance. Interior well–restored, only nit to pick was crack in trim at bottom of seat. A rare car. Styling took only 60 years to mellow out in most people’s minds.
SOLD FOR $28,250; CPI #4-#3 RANGE $18,750-33,500. A nice Edsel, a #2 car for #3 money; well-bought.
Lot T140.4, 1966 Chevrolet Corvette convertible, blue, white vinyl-covered hardtop, no sign of soft top, white interior. Mileage not recorded. Base V8, automatic. Full wheel covers, white wall tires. Side pipes. Paint, possibly original, is worn down to nothing all along sharp body edges. Paint is also blotchy on hood. But no visible fiberglass damage. Interior worn but not trashed.
SOLD FOR $29,000; CPI #4-#3 RANGE $21,000-38,000 This was potentially an all-original ‘vette. If it were mine, I wouldn’t paint it, I’d drive it and call the paint job “patina”. A fair price, maybe a little bit of a steal.
Lot T149, 1986 Jaguar XJ6, 4 door sedan, 6-cylinder, automatic, blue green metallic, black wall tires, factory alloy wheels, beige leather interior. 6-digit odometer shows 061,146. Paint very tired, all horizontal surfaces are dull. Might be original paint, might buff back. No body damage. Wheels are dirty and peeling. Compared to paint, interior is surprisingly good except for center console wood which is cracked and delaminated. Driver’s seat rather unmarked.
NO SALE, NO BIDS! CPI #4: $2,275. In all my years of attending auctions, never before have I witnessed a car fail to garner a single bid. Auctioneer was disgusted, spent about 30 seconds on it, then exclaimed “get it out of here”. If it ran, car is at least worth $2,500-3,000.
Lot F376, 1955 Imperial Newport 2-door hardtop (not Chrysler). Jade green metallic paint with white painted roof. Interior gold cloth and white leather. 27,620 on 5-digit odometer. 331 cubic inch Hemi V8, two-speed automatic. Last year that Chrysler used 6-volt positive ground electrical system. Full wheel covers, wide white wall tires. Factory air conditioning. Some waviness in front fenders, tail light chrome is pitted, bumpers look OK, no obvious signs of rust. Engine compartment dirty and unkempt. Driver’s seat bottom upholstery is shot. Immense dashboard with tranny shifter in dash. Each outboard seating position has its own ash tray and lighter (back when everyone smoked, even your grandmother).
NO SALE, BID TO $12,500; CPI #4: $13,225. At every auction, there’s one car that I become smitten with, and at Spring Carlisle 2018, this was that car. What a magnificent beast. It was loaded (FACTORY AIR), and it had a Hemi. I heard it start and run coming off the block: smooth, quiet, and powerful. I want to drive a rally in it and show up the F-car owners. Still, it was rough around the edges and perhaps should have sold for high bid. Why didn’t I bid? It doesn’t fit in my garage, but I’m considering knocking down a wall….
Lot F336, 1941 DeSoto Custom S8C, 2-door convertible, blue, white vinyl convertible top, blue vinyl interior. 71,934 on 5-digit odometer. 228 c.i. flat head 6, fluid drive with shifter on column. Dog dish caps, black wall tires. Restored to decent driver-level condition. Top has some marks from folding. Interior looks like non-original pattern. Steering wheel and pedals let down the interior: wheel is brown, looks unrestored, and matches nothing else on car; and pedals show significant wear.
NO SALE, BID TO $21,250; CPI #3 (for 1946 convertible): $23,200. Bid was fair, maybe a bit generous. There cannot be a big demand for ’41 DeSotos.
Lot T231, 1956 BMW Isetta, bubble window coupe, red and white, white sunroof, white interior. Door is locked, unable to inspect interior. Car has rare “Z stripe” molding. Car is restored, for the most part to original standards, but engine door uses wing screw. Car looks like it was painted with glass in. Black wall tires, BMW hub caps and trim rings. Non-original exhaust, correct accessory exterior luggage rack.
NOT SOLD, BID TO $22,000; CPI #3: $30,000. Bid was light, especially for “rare” bubble window coupe. Carlisle may not have been the best audience.
Lot F371 1994 Ferrari 348 USA spider (convertible). Windshield sign states “PINNIFINARI Special Edition”. Sign also claims 29k original miles. Black paint, black cloth convertible top, tan leather interior. Black and silver aftermarket wheels, Hankook black wall tires. Car is not clean, swirls in paint. Top has 4 patches sewn in place, one patch does not even cover hole in top. Dog leg gated shifter. Driver’s seat looks ok, but sitting in car, seat is completely loose, and rocks in place as you apply pressure to clutch. No seat belt visible at driver’s seat.
NO SALE, BID TO $39,000; CPI #3: $42,225. I was wondering if Pinnifinari is a special Italian sandwich served on panini bread. This one is simple: other than the fact that the car is badged a “Ferrari”, it had nothing going for it. If that bid were real money, seller should have taken it and run. This car is the poster child for the cliché “There’s nothing more expensive than a cheap Ferrari”.
Lot F407, 1970 Mercedes-Benz 280 SL convertible. White, brown soft top, brown vinyl interior. Sign says hardtop is included. Inline-6, automatic transmission. 5-digit odometer reads 36,037. Factory hub caps, black wall tires. Outside is cosmetically very nice, paint cannot be faulted. Windshield shows PA inspection sticker from 2014. Spare tire missing from trunk. Interior is a mess: driver door pocket ripped, loose handle in pocket. Both seats have cracked vinyl. Driver’s seat uncomfortable, foam is hard and flat. Brown carpet has faded to a green. Big gap in soft top above passenger door.
NO SALE, BID TO $67,000; CPI #4-#3 RANGE $85,000—125,000 House announced that “it’s going to take $75,000”. Something between high bid and reserve is probably a fair price, but that interior is going to cost money to make right.