You Can’t Predict the Future

In the latest edition (June 2020) of Sports Car Market (SCM) magazine, a reader wrote a letter to the Editor, requesting an explanation of the so-called “frequent flier” phenomenon (referring to the same vehicle appearing at multiple auctions over a short period of time). I will quote part of his letter:

“… often in the auction reviews, you note a car has been at or across the auction block three or five times in four or six years. Is there a story here? ….Is there a certain type of car which attracts this ‘flipping’ activity?’ …. Is there a certain type of buyer/seller involved in this? The easy answer is ‘speculators hoping to make a quick buck’…..”

I think that SCM dodged providing a real answer when they responded: “There is indeed a certain type of seller – we suspect possessing a world-class stubbornness – who trucks a car to several auctions in a short period of time. … (these) cars mostly have an impact on the bank account of the present owner….”

Whether the individual who posed the question intended this or not, the answer presumes that the ‘frequent flier’ vehicle never gets sold, so the same owner incurs transportation costs, auction fees, and the like. From my own observations of the auction market, the reality is different. Many frequent fliers DO get sold, chalking up multiple new owners over the short haul.

The obvious next question is: did the seller make a profit? Here’s the crux of the issue. Why would any owner of a special-interest vehicle consider selling it within the first year or two of ownership? While there could be any number of reasons (needs the money/found something else/didn’t meet expectations), was the car principally purchased as an investment?

The subheading on each month’s cover of SCM is “The Insider’s Guide to Collecting, Investing, Values, and Trends”. I’ve been a subscriber since 1997. I enjoy the magazine. It’s always done a great job of reporting auction results worldwide, in a timely fashion for a print periodical. What SCM cannot do, and no one can, is predict the future. This is not a knock on the magazine. A vehicle, or a class of make and model vehicles, rises in value faster than the overall market for a multitude of reasons. Many of these reasons have no basis in rationality. Several of my car buddies agree with me that the #1 rule is to buy what you like, enjoy it, and don’t worry too much about values. Yet it’s always interesting to speculate what would have happened if I bought X instead of Y.

Late in 2003, I bought a 1968 Mustang ‘California Special’ aka GT/CS. At that time, average selling prices for cars with the small block 289/302 V8 were around $15,000. There was a 20% premium for the ‘S’ code (4 barrel carb) big-block 390. I found a car for sale with the ‘X’ code 2-barrel 390, and paid $16,000, which I thought was a fair price, not a steal, but perhaps slightly under market. I liked that Mustang a lot, drove it to many shows and events, and sold it nine years later. The irony is, I had been considering some vehicles other than the Mustang, including an older 911, but it wasn’t so serious that I actually sought out or test drove one.

Why hadn’t someone told me 911 values were going to go through the roof? Is it because no one knew?

From the Jan. 2004 CPI

 

I subscribe to, and keep old copies of, the price guide known as Cars of Particular Interest (CPI). The book publishes retail values for cars in excellent (#2), good (#3) and fair (#4) value. I decided to have some fun with this by going back to the January 2004 edition and looking up 10 cars of interest to me whose #3 value was very close to my Mustang’s purchase price. (That copy of CPI had my Mustang at $18,600 for a #3 car.) I then compared those numbers to their 2020 CPI values, and calculated the percentage increase (none lost value). The chart is arranged in order of value increase from smallest to largest.

YEAR MAKE MODEL Value 2004 Value 2020 CHANGE
1970 Plymouth Barracuda 340 coupe $15,525 $26,000 167%
1963 Studebaker Avanti R2 $15,600 $28,000 179%
1968 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 convertible $13,750 $27,000 196%
1971 Alfa Romeo Montreal $13,100 $42,000 321%
1969 Jaguar E-Type Ser. II coupe $14,500 $55,000 379%
1968 Mercury Cougar GT-E 427 $13,000 $53,000 408%
1967 Mercedes-Benz 230SL roadster $14,900 $61,000 409%
1963 Porsche 356 S90 coupe $14,750 $62,000 420%
1961 Lincoln Continental 4-dr conv. $11,500 $56,000 487%
1969 Porsche 911 S coupe $11,500 $83,000 722%

 

Again, we’ve kept things apples-to-apples by using CPI and by using #3 condition values. I’ll make the following observations:

  • It surprised me to see that the 3 cars with the smallest value changes are all domestic. None of those cars are performance slouches, and given the general trend that “muscle sells”, I expected higher numbers.
  • The other two domestic cars posted extraordinary results. The big-block Cougar rose over 400%, and the Continental disproves the adage that 4-door cars aren’t collectible.
  • The value of the Montreal seems artificially low to me, and I say that only as an Alfa owner who follows the market. However, the Jag value looks spot-on for a Series II coupe.
  • The two ‘ringers’ are the Porsches. Note that in 2004, the 356 was actually valued higher than the 911S! And in 2004 dollars, the 911 is the lowest-value car here, tied with the Continental.

What does all this mean? Nothing. (Like Seinfeld.) Seriously, it means that no one saw any of this coming. Looking at this with hindsight, do I have a twinge of regret? Ever so slightly, but not really. The Cougar is the same year as my Mustang, but would not have looked as unique as my car. I adore E-Types, and perhaps missed the boat my not snagging one when I could have. But making those statements does not take in the complete picture:

  • When I bought the GT/CS, it was in Maryland, about 3 hours away. I felt lucky finding one within a day’s round trip drive. Who knows where I would have found any of these other cars?
  • The Mustang was comparatively easy to work on, and I did most of my own maintenance and repair work.
  • Wrenching on a Jag or Porsche of any flavor means exponentially higher parts prices, and greater levels of complexity.
  • The Cal Special was very reliable. I drove it to Nashville, and on two complete New England 1000 rallies. Who is to say that any of these others would have been equally reliable?
  • There was something very special about the uniqueness of my GT/CS. To recap, that model was never officially sold east of the Mississippi by Ford, so very few of them are on the East Coast. Many people who saw it, even seasoned car show veterans, didn’t know that such a model existed. It was an exciting conversation piece.
  • I sold my GT/CS in 2012 for $20,000. You think I made a profit? Adding up insurance, routine maintenance, and repairs, it’s closer to the truth to say I broke even. But I had nine years to enjoy the hobby in it, and there’s no telling what kind of experiences any of these other vehicles could have delivered. So no regrets at all.
My GT/CS, the only domestic in sight, at the 2007 New England 1000 rally

 

Can anyone predict which collector cars of today will show value increases of 400% over the next 15 years? It’s fun to talk about, but I won’t be using real money to place any wagers. I’d rather get out there and drive.

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

The 2007 New England 1000 Rally

When last seen, the 1968 Ford Mustang California Special, sans working headlights, was speedily headed toward the Woodstock Inn in Woodstock VT, the host hotel for the 2007 New England 1000 rally.

Rally brother Steve and I had earlier decided to make the trek on Saturday rather than Sunday, this to give us an extra day to relax, while being certain to join the informal concours on Sunday. We arrived on Saturday night just as any semblance of daylight was disappearing. If there was good news, it was that the car was running just fine, and, we anticipated no need for headlight usage during the upcoming week. Although I had not intended to work on the headlight issue during the rally, my trusty service manual was with me just in case.

Obligatory departure pic. My smile was my disguise to hide my nervousness.

 

Some light reading for Sunday morning.

The afternoon concours was a delight, helped in large part by stunning weather. The show was held in a park in town, and was therefore open to the public. The variety of cars was the best yet (and yes, I say that for every NE 1000). The photos in this case do provide evidence to support my claim.

 

Sunday concours: Porsche 356s

 

Sunday concours: German, British, and Italian

 

Sunday concours: Porsche 356 dashboard

 

Sunday concours: park visitor takes in the views, and snaps a few

Highlights of the week included two nights’ stay at the Mountain View Grand Resort in Whitefield NH (a wonderful backdrop for photography), and a visit to Hemmings World HQ in Bennington VT. Aside from some fog and frost in the (very) high elevations, sunshine was the order of the week, right through our return drive on Friday.

My Mustang in front of the Mountain View Grand Resort

 

Benz stands proudly in front of Mountain View

 

Porsche 356 with Mountain View Grand Resort in back

 

Posing with the Hemmings Isetta

We didn’t know it at the time, but the 2007 rally would be the final time that my GT/CS would serve as a rally car. It would also be six long years before we returned as participants in the NE 1000. In the meantime, we were both glad that the wiring harness debacle of just one week ago did nothing to diminish our joy in participating once again in such a prestigious event with like-minded individuals.

 

Cars queue up for morning time out of lot

 

Rally brothers proudly pose with pony

 

Original Mini is truly mini

 

Jaguar XK-120

 

Ferrari Dino 246-GTS

 

Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster

 

Lotus Elite

 

Ferrari 250GT Pininfarina cabriolet

 

Ferrari 330 GT 2+2

 

Maserati 3500GT

 

Aston Martin DB-5

 

Maserati Ghibli

 

Lamborghini Islero

 

Mustang poses in the White Mountains of NH

 

Mist and fog add ethereal glow to rally car gathering

 

Steve feeds pony its high-test hay

 

Mustang on lawn with rally sub-group

 

Cal Special and Islero take deserved break

 

As always, wash stations were set up behind hotel parking lots

 

License plate frame honors original selling dealer

 

Moose collisions especially dangerous in 50-year-old European cabriolets

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Turning wrenches on your old car: When things go terribly wrong

There are no photos of the crime scene.

The event was too traumatizing to even consider documenting it via photography. Besides, there was a deadline to meet.

It was May of 2007, and to my great delight, rally brother Steve and I were once again registered to drive in the New England 1000 classic car rally. This would be our second time using my ’68 Mustang as the rally car, and our fifth event together as co-drivers and co-navigators.

The previous month, I had again shown my car in the Garden State Region Mustang Club’s annual all-Ford car show. Driving it to the show and back proved that it was in great shape. There was little to do to prep it for the rally other than check its vitals, an easy enough task on a ‘60s-era American car.

My ’68 GT/CS at the GSRMC car show, April 2007

One thing bugged me. It was like an itch I needed to scratch.

Some previous owner, most likely as a repair, had replaced the door lock cylinders. They worked fine. The issue was that I had 3 different keys for the car: one for the doors, one for the ignition, and one for the trunk. The factory gave you TWO keys: the same key was supposed to operate the door locks and the ignition switch.

Every one of the 19 Mustang parts catalogs I had showed new sets of ignition and door lock cylinders for sale. It looked easy enough to do. Best of all, when I was ready to give Steve a set of keys to hang onto for the rally, he’d only have two. As would I. I placed the order.

The only time available for me to do the job was the day before our departure. The door lock cylinders went in first. While I had the door panels off, I did a quick adjust-and-lube of the window regulators and channels. On to the ignition switch.

The instructions said that I needed to insert the existing key into the ignition, and use a paper clip in an access hole to release an internal catch. Once the paper clip was in, it said, turn the key, and pull outward.

I did all the above. The ignition cylinder came right out. At the same time, I saw a puff of talcum powder emanating from the switch area.

It wasn’t powder.

It was smoke.

My car’s wiring harness was on fire.

It took about 30 seconds for me to run into the garage, grab a ½” wrench, and disconnect the negative battery cable (the hood, thankfully, was already open). The smoking stopped.

WHAT in creation had happened?

Two observations: one, in re-reading the instructions, I had clearly overlooked the line which stated “disconnect the battery before proceeding”. Two, it was very typical on a car like this Mustang for the manufacturer to run an unfused B+ wire from the battery directly to the ignition.

Something had shorted out. I didn’t know what, and at that moment, I didn’t need to know. There were fewer than 24 hours before we would be departing for the rally. Frantically, I began to remove the engine compartment wiring harness. The sheathing had melted, but there had been no open flame. With the harness on the garage floor, I cut it open.

Exactly one wire was damaged, the feed to the ignition. All other wires were fine. Racing off to the auto parts store, I bought all the 14-gauge wire they had. Working through the afternoon, evening, and into the following morning, I was able to replace the one damaged wire, re-wrap the harness, and reinstall it in the car.

The car started up without drama (which is to say, without smoke).

Steve arrived at my house and endured the telling of the tale. We left, a little later than planned, and headed for this year’s starting point, the Woodstock Inn in Woodstock VT. Everything seemed to be working well with the car.

On the NYS Thruway, we pulled into a multi-level parking garage to make a quick pit stop. It was dark in the garage, so I turned on the car’s headlights.

They didn’t work.

We checked turn signal and brake lights, which did operate. But we had no headlights or tail lights. Given our tardy departure, we were almost guaranteed to arrive in Woodstock after dark. We hustled as quickly as we dared push the car, which is to say, with its 390 V8, pretty quickly.

We pulled into the Woodstock Inn just as the sky turned from twilight to black. We made it.

I normally stick to wine or beer on the occasions that I do have an alcoholic drink, but I believe I had a scotch on the rocks that first evening in Woodstock.

And how did we do on the rally? That’s for a future post.

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

The 2005 New England 1000 Rally

After a 4-year hiatus, rally brother Steve and I decided to take my ’68 Mustang California Special on the 2005 New England 1000. We last drove the rally together in 2001; Steve and his wife drove a Sunbeam Alpine in the 2002 edition of the rally.

We’ll drive the older car, thanks

Steve again agreed to fly east from his California home to meet me at my New Jersey home, from where we headed to our host hotel, the Black Point Inn, just outside of Portland Maine. All systems were working well in the Mustang; the heater core replacement was holding up, and I had driven the car enough to give me faith in its ability to get us there, around, and back.

Steve was driving it for the first time, and the recirculating-ball power steering took some getting used to. The steering had about 30 degrees slop at the top of the wheel, and at first, the instinct is to ‘oversteer’ then correct – you feel like you’re on a sailboat when the car is driven that way. But it only takes 5-10 minutes to get accustomed to dialing in the correct amount of lock.

En route, we detoured to the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline MA, as it was Italian Car Day, and yours truly needed to check out the fine Italian machinery.

A prescient picture

We arrived in ME with no issues, except that it was a cloudy and cool day. We paid no attention to the weather forecast. First, this was vacation; second, the rally is a rain-or-shine event; and third, in all our previous NE1000 outings, we had never had more than a day of wet weather, so why shouldn’t we expect the same this year?

The ceremonial mounting of the plate (#1 again!)

The selection of cars continued to amaze us. There were no fewer than 3 Ferrari 246 Dinos, 6 Porsche 911s, 2 Austin Mini Coopers, the usual assortment of Jag’s and Benz’s, and a one-off 1955 Chrysler Ghia show car. Our V8 Mustang was one of two cars grouped into the “Historic American V8” class, the other being a ’64 Sting Ray convertible driven by our friends Chuck and Beth.

It bears repeating: the folks who bring out their valuable classics for the New England 1000 do it to drive them. While all of the cars are road-worthy, many of them, especially cars of the ‘50s and ‘60s, are not what you’d call weather-proof compared to a modern car. The British vehicles, for some reason, seem especially suspect to the ingress of water onto their occupants.

And this is how the week went: every driving day, from Monday through Thursday, saw rain. It didn’t rain every minute of the day, but, the threat was always there. The photos bear proof that we did not see the sun for the duration of the driving. Our friend Carol caught a local weather report, and informed us that a large storm system had parked itself over the entirety of New England for the week.

Remember that heater core? Well, the two young men in the Mustang hardtop, with roll-up windows, good weatherstripping, and a functioning heater/defrost system, stayed warm and dry. Observing some miserable fellow rallyists, I started to feel just a little bit guilty. To the credit of every participant, no one dropped out (not even the guys running side curtains).

Friday morning, just in time to load up and begin the trek home, the rain stopped, the sun popped out, and we had a rather dry ride back to NJ. Wet weather or not, we again proclaimed the 2005 edition to be a rousing success. Given the rain, we were secretly glad to have turned in the ragtops for a hardtop!

Jag XK’s top stayed up all week

 

Jag may be headed for drier climes

 

A respite from rain. Chrysler Ghia is at far right

 

Mini Coopers, LHD & RHD

 

Our good friends Dave and Deb (Deb is NOT driving)

 

Our friend Ron, in his Austin Healey, theorizes that shorts prevent his pants from getting wet

 

From inside the Drystang

 

At a lunch stop, with the GT/CS parked among its brethren

 

An additional benefit to a dry car: dry rally instructions

 

The New England scenery is always beautiful

 

This sums it up: what we had to do to keep our taillights visible

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Turning wrenches on your old car: When things go right

My first full year as the owner of a 1968 Mustang California Special was proceeding nicely. In April of 2004, the car successfully completed a 2,200 mile round-trip to Nashville for the MCA (Mustang Club of America) 40th anniversary event.

A month later, on Memorial Day Weekend, the Garden State Region Mustang Club (GSRMC) extended an invitation to attend a Ford Motor Company-sponsored event in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, NY, site of the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, and site of the introduction of the first Mustang. The response from club members was enthusiastic, so early on Sunday morning of that weekend a large lineup of Mustangs caravanned through midtown Manhattan, arriving at the park by 10 a.m. Besides the GSRMC, the only other Mustang club invited was the Long Island club. Estimates of the total Mustang count was close to 100. My GT/CS was the only one of its kind there.

Waiting for the parade to start

 

For Ford, this was a marketing and PR stunt, as the all-new 2005 Mustang, which would not enter production until September, was represented by a pre-production prototype. Ford was looking for photo ops, so a ’64 ½ convertible was staged across from the 2005 ‘Stang. The stainless-steel Unisphere, one of the few remaining relics from the ’64-’65 fair, loomed in the background. A photographer, hired for the occasion, perched on a 10-ft. tall ladder.

One at a time, each owner was invited to drive his/her car across the cameraman’s field of view, stop between the two posed cars, lean out the window, smile, and move on. As you might imagine, this took some time. I used the downtime to take some of my own photos as we crawled in the queue. Eventually, I had my picture taken, and headed home.

 

The official photo; cloudy all day, the rain held off until the drive home

Rally brother Steve and I had started to make some noise about possibly driving the Mustang in next year’s New England 1000 rally. With that on my mind, it seemed that the winter of 2004-2005 would be the ideal time to tackle the leaky heater core. My collector cars are usually off the road for the winter, so I would have the time I’d need to get this done.

On a Mustang with factory air such as mine, the heater core and A/C evaporator reside together in a fiberglass box under the passenger side dash. Following the factory-recommended procedure, I began the disassembly that would grant me access to said box. My A/C was inoperative, with zero pressure in the system, so no further harm was inflicted onto the ozone layer when I broke open the evaporator connections.

Much of the dashboard and instrument cluster needed to be removed, so I used this as an opportunity to replace other worn parts (more about that in a bit). Most of the wrenching was straight-forward. If there was a tricky part, it was keeping track of the various color-coded vacuum lines that operate the blend doors. I knew that new vacuum line kits were available, so that was added to the shopping list.

Heater box birthed from car; dum-dum repair at corner was dumb

With the box out of the car, my heart sank to see that it was cracked; actually, a chunk was missing from one corner. I also knew that boxes were not available in the aftermarket, so the heater box was repaired with fiberglass matting and epoxy glue.

Fiberglass fix didn’t need to be pretty

Along with a new heater core, I was able to order a new foam heater box kit. All blend doors as well as the core itself got new foam seals. Having come this far, I thought better of reinstalling the dash pad, which was warped, and the woodgrain instrument cluster surround, which had lost most of its chrome. These parts were readily available from various suppliers, so new ones were ordered and installed.

Wood and clamps hold foam while glue dries

Near the end, I worked as long as my patience would allow to line up the new aftermarket dash pieces. Of course, they did not fit as well as the originals. Eventually, I got it to the point that only I would notice any misalignment.

Repaired box about to be reinstalled. A/C evaporator was also new

Did the new heater core work? You know the drill: Add fresh antifreeze; turn on the heat; pray that nothing leaks.

Nothing leaked. The car had tremendous heat output, and anyone riding in the front seats would have toasty dry toes. This would turn out to be a huge benefit during the running of the 2005 New England 1000.

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.