Monday, October 22, 2012

The Litter Box

"I'd watch an Aaron Sorkin show about people changing cat litter."

The Litter Box

INT: Hallway. JIMMY is walking forwards carrying a TRAY OF CAT LITTER in front of him. He is accompanied by LESLIE, a perky Southern blonde; and MICAH, a distinguished middle-aged black man.

JIMMY is in the middle of a conversation, which we hear part of as he comes into the frame.

JIMMY: So what you're telling me is that the entire litter box changing schedule has been changed?


JIMMY: The entire schedule?


JIMMY: And when did that happen?

MICAH: Just now.

JIMMY: What do you mean, just now?

MICAH: I mean we just changed the entire schedule.

JIMMY: But when did you do it? When was there a time when the entire schedule could be changed?

LESLIE: At lunch.

JIMMY: At lunch?

LESLIE: At lunch.

JIMMY: As in, today at lunch?


JIMMY: While I was already changing the cat litter, you all just got together, had a meeting, and changed the entire schedule?


JIMMY: Why didn't you include me?

MICAH: Because you were busy.

JIMMY: Yes, I was busy changing the cat litter, while you were changing the litter box schedule.

MICAH: We just all happened to be at lunch, and thought it would be a good idea.

JIMMY: I wasn't at lunch.

LESLIE: We didn't think you'd mind.

JIMMY: I'm curious. During this mystery litter box changing schedule changing meeting, when did you get scheduled for litter box changing?


JIMMY: Either of you.

MICAH: It turns out that you ended up with most of the slots.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Is it possible to make money on modified cars?

This got cut by about two-thirds to make it into print. Also the editor hated it.

If you’re thinking about buying and selling modified cars, it’s handy if you’re either a complete genius, or don’t mind losing money. We suppose you could just be super lucky, but if you have that kind of kismet you’ll be too busy getting banned from casinos in Vegas and fending off lingerie models to have time worry about hotrods.
First, ask yourself  if you’re looking for bang for your buck in a car you’d like to drive; or is money on the other end your ultimate goal? They can be the same thing, but it’s much easier to have a single goal in mind.
Either way, if you take the complete genius route, then you have a two-pronged plan of attack. Figure out what the next big thing is and buy it; and at the same time use your massive mental powers to make yourself love that car, whatever it is. Even if you have picked the right next hot car, and on top of that successfully predicted that people are going to want it in five years, you haven’t accounted for the failure of the Iowa corn crop in 2018, which through its effect on derivatives markets has driven the collector car market into the ground. But if you love it, you’ll have something you want to have, no matter what. And as Jay Leno once said, “if it happens to increase in value, great.”
Another tactic you could take is the updating flip. The world may have passed by a particular 320hp LS1-powered Camaro, and if the owner parked it at some point, it got frozen in time. It’s not going to be your car, so you don’t want to spend $10,000 and update it with some version of the new LS3 crate engine. But in the eight years since it was built, the Pro Touring scene has  kept evolving. Look at the 17-inch Centerlines with Pirelli tires. There are wheel companies whose line starts at 18x7, so updating to 18s or 19s will really modernize the look with minimal work (if not minimal expense, because those wheels cost a fortune). It was probably built with 11-inch discs, with Baer two-piston calipers in front and singles in the rear and that’s big money to upgrade, but so were the wheels and boy do those brakes look puny behind them. So a shiny new 12-inch Wilwood kit does the job, and you can save some money by refurbishing a set of four-piston calipers for them. We’re leaving the engine alone mechanically, but again, the look of the thing is important. Go beyond a prepackaged $175 engine dress-up kit and think of ways to make it stand out and just as importantly, for it to look “all of a piece.” For instance, blue hoses are out of place in an otherwise stock-looking carbureted engine, so either go back to black rubber or go braided. We’ll say this is a Chevy small block—because odds are it is—and that makes it easy. You need to think about return on investment here. If you’re not making the car substantially more powerful, then you’re not adding value. It’s like maintenance: It just makes sure no money is left behind at the sale. And don’t think about what you are or are not paying yourself per hour.

1969 Roadrunner
Here’s a car on the update and flip end of our spectrum. Sold in late 2011 for $17,050, it had some dress up and mild performance work, most obviously the Vision Legend wheels and stainless exhaust with Flowmasters. The drivetrain was a 383 with four-speed, so there was value and appeal underneath it all. While the base car was more expensive, the mods were not.

A little carb cleaner and a few trips to a swap meet are your friend for this project. If you need an intake or headers, both are essentially appearance items that you can refurbish in an afternoon. Best would be if you can get the engine out to rattlecan it with Duplicolor, because with that and your new-looking headers, intake, carburetor and matching wires and hoses, suddenly it looks like a freshly built engine. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying you should call it that if it isn’t, but someone looking at two cars will like the one that looks cared for. The great thing is that the majority of modified cars are somebody’s baby. If they’ve been driven hard, they’ve probably been maintained well, too. No one puts that much time and money into something they abuse horribly.
Because of that, you are in an excellent position to cherrypick at auction. We’ve made this about coming out ahead, but we don’t think there are many people out there making a killing buying and selling modified cars. A living, sure. For the average person we’d suggest looking more at the possibility of getting the car “for free,” which means buying it, using it for a year or two, then selling it at a break-even point. Our updating and refurbishment program is well suited to this.
The next level is building a whole new car. You might think it works like this: You buy a nice, complete 1964 Tempest convertible project car for $4,000, intending to build a Royal GTO tribute. Since we’re looking at this as a money-making proposition, we’ll presume that you, genius, are doing everything aside from machine work in a garage that your holding company is leasing from yourself, or whatever people with money do. Call it $12,000 for all the work outside of the drivetrain, including the chrome, new tires, eight-lug wheels (incorrect, but they scream “Pontiac”) and exhaust.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro COPO Clone
This was a car done as right as a car can be. We don’t think it had been driven to any meaningful degree since the build, and it was expensively done, with a 425hp 427, four-speed, aluminum heads and Winters intake, and Holley carburetion. It was beautiful, deadly and correct down to the F70-14 Polyglas. At a Leake auction in the spring of 2012 it was bid to $42,500, which is absolutely right on the button for a COPO replica of this quality. The consignor refused the bid and with that build you can guess how much money they had invested. But if you look at other auctions, that’s exactly what a high quality 427 four-speed COPO replica sells for. If they were expecting more, then they didn’t do their homework.

Sourcing a non-date coded 421, four-speed and tripower intake isn’t hard. If you wanted to maximize profit potential, then we spotted a complete YH-code 1965 421 (from a Grand Prix) for $2,200 in the classifieds recently, with a TH400 attached. A rebuild of the 421 would be somewhere north of $1,000, in the best-case scenario. We called the seller and he was moderately encouraging, saying the engine turned but should be gone through. Then we located a date coded 1964 tripower intake with thermostat water neck and three aftermarket but reasonably correct-looking two-barrels, for $450. At that price we’re not questioning provenance.
We could use the TH400 and we’ve seen a Royal GTO replica built like that, but “four-speed” will sound so much better on the auction block; plus you can put a Hurst badge on the tail. We located a beautifully restored, date-coded early 1965 Muncie M21 close ratio four-speed for $750 on a Pontiac forum. We think we can clean up the TH400 and recoup $500 there. But a clutch kit, flywheel and linkages are probably going to eat up another $1,000, once we’ve located all the seals.

1965 Pontiac Custom Station Wagon
            Who doesn’t like a draggin’ wagon? Especially one this good-looking and well made. Badged as a GTO, it had a V-8 with AC from a 1971 Pontiac and dress-up kit. Equipment included a wood-rimmed steering wheel, bucket seats, a factory tachometer and a modern stereo. We saw it three auctions in 2012, and it ultimately sold for $29,500 in August. If you’ve read our hypothetical Royal GTO build, these numbers will seem familiar, but consider the added cost of all the unique engineering and sheetmetal to create this wagon. ‘Think there was much profit in it?

Now we’re into the project for about $22,000, and remember: We’ve done all the work ourselves; stripping the donor car down, all the paint and bodywork, rebuilding the suspension, recovering the interior, sourcing everything, all the assembly. All the little bits and pieces of trim, wires we couldn’t reuse, exhaust…undoubtedly another $2,500, so we’ll call it a $25,000 build. Continue to practice Shaolin discipline and keep the idea of an hourly rate out of your mind, because at this point it’s closing on zero. You’re a genius and were incredibly efficient and got through this in 1,000 hours. You realize you’re charging by the job, not $50 an hour, so you’re looking for a single payoff. Surely, this is now a $50,000 car, right? After all, what does an authenticated 1964 or ’65 Royal GTO bring? $75,000? So a third off is entirely reasonable. That’s a $25,000 profit after consigning and transporting the car to the auction, and $25 an hour for your labor. Not huge money for a genius, but as a lump sum, it’s a fair a return on six months work.
In fact, just last September at Mecum, we saw a 1966 Royal Bobcat GTO replica bid to $50,000. Even better, nine months before that it actually sold for $55,000 in Kissimmee. It was probably a sale like that which encouraged you to crunch numbers like the ones we did, and come to the same conclusion. And you probably weren’t the only one.
One of the difficulties with buying and selling a modified car is coming up with a price. Again, you really need to be a genius to be able to do this sort of math, but this is a situation where the auctions are your friend. You have public records of bids and sales and while a few of them might be crazy high or low for some reason, most of them are accurate. Start tracking not just sales of comparable cars but details, and go to a few in person so you learn to interpret auction photos and descriptions.

1967 Shelby G.T. 500
Starpower can add to a modified car’s appeal; this was Sammy Hagar’s well known modified 1967 G.T. 500. Signed twice by Carroll Shelby, once “to Sammy,” Sammy and his boys had installed a solid-lifter tunnel port 427, Detroit locker and Tremec five speed, and painted it Guards Red (a Porsche color), including the wheel wells and inner fenders. When he sold it at Barrett-Jackson in 2006, he included a souvenir Guitar and a case of his Cabo Wabo tequila. He certainly made good money on it, bringing $270,000. By 2012 it still had the guitar but the case had dwindled to a single bottle, and the top bid in August had dropped 50%, to $135,000. It’s no longer Sammy Hagar’s car; it’s now a modified car that used to belong to 65-year-old restaurateur Sammy Hagar. Bidding was still higher than a stock or non-Hagar car, but the downward curve from 2006-2012 

So remember the TH400-powered Royal GTO replica we mentioned seeing recently? That was a #3-quality car and yours is #2; but it sold for $29,500 in the spring of 2012, consigned by a dealer who’d been advertising it at $42,900. The quality factor and your 421/M21 combination will make a difference, but not a $20,000 difference. And the Royal name won’t add anything at all. On the other hand, that one only had a 389. There are still more factors to consider: unlike yours, the $55,000 replica had a complete C/stock paint scheme and Milt Schornack was called into the build to help get it right. No, what you’ve built there is a $32,500 car, or a $7,500 profit for six months work, less transportation and consignment fees. Congratulations, genius: You’ve just learned a very hard lesson: it takes money to make money.
We know people who are doing well building very high-end Pro Touring cars but in a way, we worry about them. We sure don’t know if Pro Touring is here to stay; or if suddenly everyone will be done with it. That happens. Maybe one day someone will invent the Street Slider, which is always sideways on its 13-inch tires and then your tubbed F-body will look as relevant your Grandma in her Cutlass Ciera. Maybe in 10 years the invention and legalization of durable, lightweight synthetic high-speed caterpillar tracks for the street will have everyone scouring junkyards for Cummins diesels and buying Summit bogey wheel setups for the Trackin’ scene. There will be magazines and Red Bull will sponsor Trackin’ Nats. Heck, down in places like Oakland and Houston they’re already actually building Swangas, which evolved out of the lowrider/Dub culture. These are ideally fullsize front-wheel drive Eighties or Nineties GMs with 30-spoke wire wheels, the Swangas from which the name came. And who could have predicted that there’d be people seeking out the ’84 Eldorados,’95 Roadmasters and’77 Cutlass Supremes for their modified cars? They want grandma’s car in the worst way but have no interest whatsoever in your Mustang.
The only way you’re guaranteed to come out ahead is to buy or build the car you like, and drive it. If when you’re done you can clean it up and maybe update it and come out ahead, that’s wonderful. Just…don’t bet the mortgage on it, OK?

1968 Plymouth GTX
On the scale of modifications, this was right at Level 1: A set of 17-inch Cobra-style (Ultra? Backdraft? We couldn’t spot a name on them) knock-off-style wheels, two-and-a-half inch stainless exhaust with Flowmasters; and nothing else we could see. You could see the four-wheel drum brakes behind them, though, which was not a great look. We would not have done one without the other, but in this car, minor modifications were not the important part. The VIN said it was a real 375hp 440 car, which was what mattered part and when we saw it sell in the spring of 2012, it went for $27,500. That’s exactly what we computed the average auction price of comparable GTXs is right now. The wheels were undoubtedly expensive, probably around $2,000 with tires, but they didn’t hurt the value.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Why not electrics?

c. 1900 Roberts Electric, one of the oldest known operating electric cars
BoingBoing science editor Maggie Koerth-Baker writes in The New York Times,
It will come as no surprise to hear that only a tiny fraction — less than 1 percent — of cars driving along American roads are fully electric. What might be more surprising is the fact that this wasn’t always the case. In 1900, 34 percent of cars in New York, Boston and Chicago were powered by electric motors. Nearly half had steam engines. What happened? Why do we end up embracing one technology while another, better one struggles or fails?
Her thesis is that, "Society shapes the development and use of technology," and we don't necessarily end up with the technology best suited for our needs (ie, VHS vs. Betamax). She doesn't really answer the electric car question, but says,
We drive gas-powered cars today for a complex set of reasons, Kirsch says, but not because the internal-combustion engine is inherently better than the electric motor and battery.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Electric Vehicle Company was the largest carmaker in the United States. It was also the biggest owner of cars in the country. That’s because the E.V.C. opted to rent or lease its vehicles instead of selling them. You could pick up an E.V.C. car for a short trip or take it for a week or a month, but you couldn’t own it. The business model was based on the E.V.C.’s assumption that its customers didn’t have the know-how or facilities to maintain their own cars. This may have been true, but when a series of shady business dealings drove the New York-based company into bankruptcy, it took electric cars down with it. Investors, soured by their experience with the E.V.C., swore they’d never put money into the industry again, and in the lull in electric-car development that followed, gasoline-car companies improved their technology and made their vehicles cheaper. Over the next 20 years, Americans formed a new idea of what a car was. And from that point on, right up to today, it was hard to get them to try anything else.
I agree that gas engines didn't win out "because the internal-combustion engine is inherently better than the electric motor and battery." But I would say that's almost the answer, and it's far simpler than a socioeconomic answer: Gas itself is better than electricity. We are still trying to equal the energy density of gasoline with a battery. Think about how much room a gallon of gas takes up; how much it weighs; and how much energy it contains (a whole heck of a lot). How much energy can 6.2 pounds of battery contain? A whole heck of a lot less.

Even today, gas other numerous benefits. Electric powered vehicles are operating at about 50% efficiency; while gas engines are barely 30%. But the curve of improvement for gas is much steeper than electric, meaning the energy density problem will become worse, rather than better.

Going back 110 years, then, you can see why it was a race. Electric cars had a much greater efficiency advantage, but it wasn't enough to overcome the energy density advantage of gas, and as gas engine efficiency improved, the electrics had nowhere to go. They were already as efficient as the technology of the era allowed, and the gas engine's return on energy investment curve soon surpassed the electric's. We may not have ended up with the technology best suited to our needs, but it was the one best suited to our capabilities.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My one (long) sentence review of the Paris Motor Show

Indistinguishable tall chubby cars from Nissan, VW, Mitsubishi, Vauxhall, Suzuki, Ssangyong, Hyundai, Mercedes, Seat, Renault, Škoda, Toyota, Dacia, Honda, Audi, Ford, Citroën, Kia, Mini, Peugeot and Volvo.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Twenty Rejected American Le Mans Series Taglines

Apparently, I didn't grasp the seriousness and weight with which they regarded themselves. Also I wasn't being paid enough for what was essentially a complete rebranding, so I really didn't feel motivated to try that hard. It didn't help that the agency I was freelancing for was owned by an ALMS driver. Not at all.

  1. ALMS: [like] a 9,000 RPM, 700 horsepower, 200 MPH Swiss watch.
  2. America's breathtaking, world class professional racing series.
  3. From production-based Corvettes to Aston Martins to Le Mans Prototypes, there's no other American racing series to compare.
  4. The world's greatest sports cars prove themselves in the American Le Mans Series.
  5. At 200 MPH, you barely have time to think. That's why we serve drinks.
  6. The most sophisticated, well-run race teams in the world sometimes make it to the starting line. That doesn’t mean they’re good enough to win.
  7. The world’s greatest racers, in the world’s greatest cars, come to compete in front of America’s most passionate fans.
  8. Le Mans in France thinks American Le Mans is too competitive. We tend to disagree.
  9. When the world’s prestige automakers think they have something to prove, they come to ALMS to do it.
  10. The evolutionary pinnacle of American racing--everything else is a dead end.
  11. We think the other guys should be known as “French Le Mans” / If the world were a fair place, the other guys would have to call themselves “French Le Mans”.
  12. When racers talk about racing, they talk about ALMS.
  13. You don’t have to be a smart, sophisticated race fan to like ALMS--it just worked out that way.
  14. When races are run on Mars, our teams and fans will be there.
  15. If you want to know which teams are likely to win at Le Mans in France next year, look at ALMS this year.
  16. Where passionate fans enjoy unprecedented access to the highest-quality racing in America.
  17. Top brands, teams, tracks and passionate fans come together only in ALMS.
  18. For ALMS teams and fans, world-class racing isn’t a lifestyle--it’s their life.
  19. ALMS drivers don’t go to Formula 1--they don’t want to.
  20. Everything else is just going around in circles.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

I am the very model of the modern mopedalist

I have bought a new vehicle, a Persian Ivory 1980 Peugeot 103 LVS U3 moped. Top of the line, baby! It could use new seat padding and I think a reed valve; I'll probably save up for a 15mm carburetor. Although as it took two years for me to buy this, don't expect that any time soon. I am considering hand-porting the engine, which should yield some notable gains.

In the meantime: Specs!

1980 Peugeot 103 LVS U3


Type                           Two-stroke aircooled piston port single, chromed aluminum cylinder
Displacement                       49 CC (
Bore x stroke                        40 x 39 mm
Compression ratio               8.4:1
Horsepower @ RPM           1.5 @ 5,000 (rated)
Torque @ RPM                    NA-lbs.ft. @ 3,600
Main bearings                      2
Fuel system                          12mm Gartner side-draught reed valve carburetor
Ignition system                    6-volt/26 watt Peugeot high-voltage flywheel magneto
Lubrication system             Two-stroke/total loss
Exhaust system                   Single steel, long baffle muffler


Type                                       Variator six-weight automatic extensible pulley centrifugal clutch; Vee belt primary 
                                                transmission; chain to rear sprocket
Ratio                                      11T front x 8-inch, 52T rear sprocket

Type                                       Direct
Ratio                                      1:1

Type                                       Manual; cable operated
Front                                      3.5-inch internal expanding drum
Rear                                       3.5-inch internal expanding drum

Construction                         Steel tubing and pressed steel frame
Body style                             1+1 passenger moped
Layout                                   Mid engine, rear-wheel drive

Front                            Telescopic forks
Rear                             Shock absorbers and telescopic supports
Wheels                          Lelue chromed wire
Front/rear                              17 x 1.35 inches
Front/rear                              17 x 2.5 inches

Wheelbase                            44.09 inches
Overall length                       69.29 inches
Overall width                        25.20 inches
Overall height                       40.5 inches
Front track                            Single
Rear track                             Single
Curb weight                          109.8 pounds

Crankcase                             None
Cooling system                    Aircooled
Fuel tank                               1.05 gallons
Transmission                        Dry
Rear axle                               Grease

BHP per CC                          32.66
Weight per BHP                  70 pounds
Weight per CID                    6.71 pounds


0-60 MPH                             NA seconds
¼ mile ET                              NA seconds @ 35 MPH
Top speed                             31 MPH* (35 MPH indicated)
MPG                                       100.1*
*Source: Peugeot


Base price                             $NA

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

SPECS: 1961 OSCA 1600 GT

I take a strange satisfaction from a well-formed spec page. After poring though FIA homolgation documents, in Italian, I think I've got them for the OSCA. The story won't use them except perhaps in abbreviated form, so I'm releasing them to the world. Fly, little OSCA specs. Fly!

1961 OSCA 1600 GT



Displacement 1568cc (
Bore x stroke 80 x 78 mm
Compression ratio 9.2:1
Horsepower @ rpm 125 @ 7,000
Torque @ rpm NA-lbs.ft. @ 6,000
Main bearings Five
Fuel system Dual sidedraught Weber 38 DCOE carburetors, electric fuel pump
Ignition system 12-volt, Marelli ignition
Lubrication system Pressure, mechanical oil pump
Electrical system 12 volts
Exhaust system Fiat-Osca tubular 4-2 header, single steel exhaust

Type Fiat four-speed, 8.5-inch single dry plate clutch
Ratios: 1st 2.688:1
2nd 1.660:1
3rd 1.254:1
4th 1.000:1
Reverse 2.688:1

Type Semi-hypoid, floating axles
Ratio 4.30:1 (10/43)

Type Fiat manual screw and roller
Ratio 5.0:1
Turns, lock-to-lock 3.25
Turning circle 16.4 feet

Type Four-wheel Girling hydraulic disc, manual
Front 11.7 inches
Rear 11.7 inches

Construction Alloy body on steel tubing with ladder-type steel frame
Body style Two door, two passenger coupe
Layout Front engine, rear-wheel drive

Front Independent: Upper and lower wishbones, coil springs, tube shocks, stabilizer bar
Rear Independent: Upper and lower wishbones, coil springs, tube shocks, stabilizer bar
Wheels Five-lug Amadori six-spoke cast magnesium
Front/rear 15 x 4.5 inches
Tires Pirelli Cinturato S (Vredstein radial shown)
Front/rear 155 x 15 inches

Wheelbase 88.6 inches
Overall length 153.5 inches
Overall width 59.1 inches
Overall height 47.2 inches
Front track 50.0 inches
Rear track 48.0 inches
Shipping weight 1,900 pounds

Crankcase 4.8 quarts
Cooling system 7.1 quarts
Fuel tank 13.2 gallons
Transmission 1.4 pints
Rear axle 1.3 pints

Bhp per cc 12.54
Weight per bhp 15.2 pounds
Weight per c.i.d. 19.85 pounds

Top speed 127 mph
Source: OSCA

Base Price $[NA]

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

That muffled throbbing tone

Of all the times I dearly love,
There’s one I love the best;
It’s not a song of  turtledove,
Nor of a feathered nest;
It has a hum that’s all its own,
Without a skip or jar,
It is that muffled throbbing tone
of my big Staver car.

The world is striving all the time,
To master speed and pow’r,
And wise brains full of cog-wheels claim
two hundred miles an hour;
But what’s the use of  flying when
You can’t go half so far?
Just take a tip from me, my friend,
Go buy a Staver car.

Staver, Staver, never yield,
A wounded stag upon your shield,
Swift and pow’rful on your way,
Vic-to-ry will crown your day;
First upon the road and track,
Foemen always see your back;
Your speed and strength are on a par,
Staver, Staver, you’re a grand old car!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Dave's Laws of Collector Car Values

This list will grow as I am able to express additional concepts.
  1. As any one model becomes expensive, the market finds acceptable alternatives and makes them expensive.
  2. The more a collector car is worth, the more it tends to appreciate.
  3. More valuable cars are more easily able to settle on new accepted higher values.
  4. The more a collector car is worth, the harder it is to assign an absolute ceiling to its value, and the more easily it can exceed accepted values.
  5. The less a model is worth, the more susceptible it is to violent fluctuations in value.
  6. (HT to the Auerbach Doctrine) More valuable cars are more subject to market manipulation.
  7. People start being able to afford collector cars in their Forties, and they buy the cars they liked when they were kids. If it was on a poster then, it's going to be collectible when that generation reaches C-level positions.
  8. Veteran-era cars are prone to "age creep," the tendency for succeeding owners to assign ever-earlier dates of manufacture to them; i.e., a 1901 becomes an 1899, then an 1897.
  9. Rare cars are prone to "rareness creep." With each successive owner, factors that might depress the value tend to be omitted, i.e., owner one used a replacement block when restoring it, but owner two doesn't tell owner three. At the same time, factors that enhance the value gain credibility--a rumor that Elvis once rode in it becomes "this was Elvis's first car."
  10. Sexy body work and a high fun-to-drive factor can ameliorate badge snobbery. Dino values have increased 400 500% in the last decade.
  11. A single exceptional sale--i.e., 23-window VW Transporter--can effect the market for the model. This effect can be transitory; or it can draw attention to a previously overlooked car and help establish a new, higher basement price.
  12. Obscurity can mitigate any other factors that would otherwise increase value. Thus Etceterinis, with a few exceptions such as DeTomaso and Bizzarrini, are worth less than their name brand counterparts, regardless of pedigree.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mercedes War Booty and the Consignor Conundrum

1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K Roadster

John Draneas does his usual excellent job looking at the legal complexities of the case of the disputed ownership of a 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K Roadster.

But as a guy who has sidelined in auction catalogue write-ups for a major house from time to time, I have to disagree that "RM, like all major auction companies, puts great effort into researching the cars in their auctions." I'd say it's more like the minimum that will suffice. Who can forget the Auto Union that took down Christie's whole department? It became clear after the fact that it would not have taken much research at all to establish the car's bona fides--or lack thereof.

In fact, when he asks "what if the auction company knew about this claim ahead of the auction? That would make things quite different," I think that's the whole reason right there. I feel that for a variety of reasons, auction companies don't want to hear bad news, not only to protect themselves from that potential exposure; but also because they want to keep those big consignments rolling in. "You wouldn't believe how hard it is to get good consignments today," an action house president told me recently. There are now at least 200 old car auctions in the US and Europe annually and some--like Mecum--require a whole heck of a lot of cars to feed the beast. Your reputation with the consignor is at least as important as your reputation with bidders, and if you do too much digging, you run the risk of scaring them away. In this business, every single consignor is gold.

Friday, May 25, 2012


I reported on Alex Zanardi and his comeback back when he was injured; now, I'm just going to quote this story out today about his journey to the 2012 Paralympics. He was and continues to be The Man.

By Michel RosePADUA, Italy, May 25 (Reuters) - "The car broke into two pieces, one bit of me stayed with the car and the other bit, which was my legs, went 'arrivederci' in the other direction. And that's how I won the tickets to London 2012," says Alessandro Zanardi with a wry laugh.
Nobody gets to the Olympic or Paralympic Games without huge determination, but the 45-year-old Italian's obstinate refusal to give up is jaw dropping.
Zanardi has gone from Formula One driver to Paralympics hopeful in a life scarred by tragedy from the death of his young sister to a horrific race car accident which severed his legs.
Nothing has quelled his desire to compete and now he is heading to London as a member of the Italian handcycling team.
Zanardi was leading a Champ Car (CART) race at Germany's Lausitz track in 2001 when he lost control of his red Reynard-Honda in the final laps and Canadian driver Alex Tagliani ran into him at more than 350 kph (220 mph).
It was four days after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, and organisers had wondered whether to cancel the race in honour of the victims.
"We decided to run, that it was the best way to react to what had happened, to move on, to prove that humankind is stronger than that and has this great ability to overcome difficulties," Zanardi remembers in an interview with Reuters.
After organisers decided to strip the cars of their sponsors logos and display U.S. flags instead, rain storms threatened to stop the event.
"A lot of things were really strange, didn't seem to be normal," says Zanardi, a two times CART (now IndyCar) champion.
But as the sky "magically" cleared just hours before the start, Zanardi took his place for the event that would change his life in the most horrific way.
After a good start, Zanardi left his competitors trailing. He took a final pit-stop, which went smoothly, seemingly guaranteeing him a place on the podium.
"But as I rejoined the circuit, something happened. I lost control of the car, going back into the acceleration lane, and ended up standing still in the middle of the racing lane. The first car went by and was able to avoid me," he added.
"The second didn't."
Medics were there within seconds of the crash, but Zanardi had lost almost three quarters of his blood by the time a helicopter took him to a hospital in Berlin, some 140 km (90 miles north).
"My heart stopped seven times, I was given the last rites by a priest. If you had to find a word, the closest thing would be 'miracle,'" he said.
"But I don't think it was a miracle. It was a great gift that I was given by these amazing men who saved my life."
If his survival was a miracle, Zanardi was particularly unlucky in the way the crash happened.
"It was a coincidence, but he hit me with one of the strongest and sharpest parts of the racing car, the nose, into probably the most vulnerable part of (my) car, which is right behind the front wheel.
"So basically, he just punched a hole in my car and broke it in two pieces."
After the accident, Zanardi undertook an ambitious rehabilitation programme with two prosthetic limbs he helped design.
"I always loved to work myself on the machines I was driving. Sometimes the mechanics would let me do a little bit, sometimes they wouldn't, because they wouldn't trust me," he laughs.
"But that attitude helped me a lot with the rehabilitation. When I came out of the Berlin hospital, I could not wait to understand how a pair of prosthetic legs would work and how I could adapt them to my own needs," he said.
When his own young son begged to go swimming, Zanardi designed legs suitable for the pool, covering them with a special open-cell sponge used inside racing car fuel tanks.
"The innocence of a kid who doesn't understand that his dad ... feels embarrassed to go to the swimming pool in a wheelchair.
"So, I wanted to protect myself from feeling embarrassed but I also wanted to make my son happy," Zanardi said, adding that his design has now been used for other disabled patients.
Winning widespread praise for his recovery, he returned to racing only a year and a half after the crash. In 2003, he went back to Lausitz to drive the course he had nearly died trying to complete in 2001.
He continued in the World Touring Car championships until 2009, by which time he had taken up handcycling.
Last year, at his fourth attempt, he won the New York City handcycle marathon.
Zanardi recalls how before the crash he and some friends watched "Born on the Fourth of July", in which a character played by Tom Cruise returns from Vietnam paralysed from the chest down.
"Finding myself in this situation, what would I do?" Zanardi said he asked himself at the time.
"And the answer was 'I would kill myself immediately'. But when I woke up after eight days, that was definitely the last reaction that went through my mind."
As Italians suffer a deep economic crisis which has provoked a surge in suicides among businessmen, his story in London this year could help lift the spirits of a nation.
"If somebody, in the difficult circumstances our country is facing right now, finds a little inspiration in me, I'm not only pleased, but touched," he said.
"I guess what you can see in what happened to me, is that really, you can find good things in every day of your life... every day can be a new opportunity to add something to your life," Zanardi said.
"The fact that I've been able to qualify and to represent my nation in the next Olympic Games, it's something that I will forever tell my friends and my grandchildren, if I will be lucky enough to have some, one day. Having them sitting on what is left of my legs, I will say 'You know, Grandad went to London and did this and that'."

(Reporting by Michel Rose; editing by Barry Moody) ((

Friday, May 18, 2012

Complete Guide: 2013 Camaro

Chevrolet Camaro

New for 2013:


  •   (GAP) Imperial Blue Metallic exterior color
  •   (H45) 45th Anniversary Package (including [GAR] Carbon Flash Metallic exterior color)
  •   (RQH) 18" painted aluminum wheels
  •   (R3Z) 20" painted aluminum wheels
  •   (R40) 20" polished aluminum wheels
  •   (DRG) Auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with rear camera display
  •   (SRJ) Convenience and Connectivity Package (content now standard on 1LT and 1SS models)

New Features

  •   New ZL1 Convertible model (1EY67)
  •   (GXH) Blue Ray Metallic exterior color
  •   (BRH) Mojave leather interior
  •   (UFU) Color Touch radio with 7" diagonal color touch-screen display (Standard on all LT, SS and ZL1 models) plus (UP9) Chevrolet MyLink, with Bluetooth streaming audio for music and select phones; Hands-Free smartphone integration
  •   (UHQ) Adds Navigation to radio (Available on all LT, SS and ZL1 models)
  •   (DBX) Auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, frameless
  •   (USR) USB port and (KTB) PDIM now standard on 1LT and 1SS models
  •   (B34) Floor mats now standard on LS models
  •   (N34) Leather-wrapped steering wheel and (VY7) leather-wrapped shift knob now standard on 1LT models
  •   (MX0) Automatic transmission on 1LT and 1SS models now includes (BTV) remote vehicle starter system
  •   Windshield wiper stalk changes: replace symbols with words "off", "int", "lo" and "hi"
  •   (SGE) 18" painted aluminum wheels
  •   (R42) 20" painted aluminum wheels
  •   (RUY) 20" polished aluminum wheels
  •   (1LE) SS Performance Package (1SS and 2SS Coupe model only requires manual transmission) includes (RSK) 20" Black-painted wheels, (RKC) 20" tires, (GW1) 3.91 axle ratio, (FE6) Performance Ride and Handling suspension, and Black hood wrap
  •   (NPP) Dual mode exhaust available on SS models equipped with the (LS3) 6.2L V8 engine
  •   (NV9) Electric power steering standard on all SS models
  •   Hill Start Assist on all manual transmissions (no button)


  •   All manual transmission shift knobs will have new design (like 2012 model year ZL1)
  •   Frameless inside rearview mirrors on all models
  •   (SRU) Rear Vision Package no longer includes (DRG) auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with rear camera display; display is now in radio

2013 Chevrolet Camaro

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Complete Guide: 2013 Cadillac XTS

I know, I didn't do my annual World's First Look at the 2012 GM models last year. So sue me. But 2013? Yeah, I'm all over that. Here's a biggie, maybe the make or break model for Cadillac, the XTS.


  • Base model and 3 Collections: Luxury, Premium and Platinum
  • (LFX) 3.6L V6 engine in either FWD or AWD configurations
  • All-wheel drive available on Luxury, Premium and Platinum Collections
  • 8 exterior color choices:(GAN) Radiant Silver Metallic; (GBA) Black Raven; (GBE) Crystal Red Tintcoat, available at extra charge; (GBN) White Diamond Tricoat, available at extra charge; (GLJ) Graphite Metallic; (GLK) Black Diamond Tricoat, available at extra charge, not available at start of production; (GWT) Silver Coast Metalllic, not available at start of production and (GXH) Sapphire Blue Metallic, not available at start of production
  • 6 interior color choices: Base-Jet Black and Shale/Cocoa. Luxury & Premium Collections-Jet Black, Shale/Cocoa, Medium Titanium with Jet Black and Caramel with Jet Black. Platinum Collection-Jet Black with Light Wheat and Very Light Platinum with Dark Urban/Cocoa
  • Available free-flow options: (ZCD) Compact spare (available on base model and all Collections); (C3U) UltraView sunroof (available on Luxury Collection); (1O6) CUE Infotainment System with Navigation (available on Luxury Collection); (PCW) Driver Awareness Package (available on Luxury Collection ); (RQA/RQ9) 20" Wheels (available on Premium Collection. Not available at start of production); (PCX) Driver Assist Package (available on Premium Collection. Not available at start of production); (DB3/DE8) Rear window sunshades (available on Premium Collection)
  •  Notable standard features: Magnetic Ride Control; Automatic level control, rear air springs; Brembo brakes; 19" wheels; Adaptive Remote Start; 10 air bags; Bose audio with CD player; CUE; Dual USB ports, SD card slot and auxiliary jack; HD radio; Power door locks; Electric glove box release; Keyless Access with push-button start; Power rake and telescoping steering wheel; 10-way power driver and front passenger seats with 4-way power lumbar; Cut and sew interior; Leather seating surfaces; Real wood trim; Capless fueling; HID headlamps; Ultrasonic Rear Park Assist
  •  Luxury Collection-Adds the following to base model: (NR7) Heated steering wheel; (A45) Memory Package; (KA1/KU1/KU3) Heated/ventilated driver and front passenger seats; (KA6) Heated rear seats; (TSP) Interior ambient lighting; (AP9) Convenience net; (UD5) Ultrasonic Front Park Assist; (UVC) Rearview backup camera; (PMA/PMB) Front seat thigh adjust; (MWN) Dual through fascia exhaust; (CE1) Rainsense wipers and Uplevel wood trim
  •  Premium Collection-Includes all content in Luxury Collection, plus: (UDD) 12" color reconfigurable cluster; (UV6) Head-Up Display; (T95) Adaptive forward lighting; (UQS) Bose Studio Surround Sound system; (CJ4) Tri-zone climate control; (UFL) Driver Awareness Package; (K16) 110-volt power outlet
  •  Platinum Collection-Includes all content in Premium Collection, plus: Leather-wrapped interior components; Opus full leather seats; Microfiber sueded headliner; (B58) Premium floor mats; Unique grille; Unique 20" wheels; (DB3/DE8) Rear window sunshades; (C3U) UltraView sunroof; (UFL) Driver Awareness Package; (PCX) Driver Assist Package (not available at start of production)
  •  (PCW) Driver Awareness Package includes ((UFL) Lane Departure Warning; (UFT) Side Blind Zone Alert; (UFG) Rear Cross-Traffic Alert; (UEU) forward Collision Alert; Safety Alert Seat and reflective LED display

2013 Cadillac XTS

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chrysler’s Fifties Hits and Misses

1956 DeSoto Fireflite Sportsman 

A few are famous, many are overlooked and most are affordable

Forward Look, Adventurer, Fire Sweep, Firepower, Golden Lion, Letter Car and Hemi: As I wrote those names, a series of images flashed past, each one a pure evocation of a moment in the Fifties. But even with these icons, not to mention NASCAR Grand National titles, world speed records and a Car of the Year award, Fifties Chryslers were at best a distant third place in sales. And how many 1957 Chevrolets do you see for each ’57 Windsor spotted? While Ford and Chevrolet could sell a quarter-million of not just one model, but a single bodystyle, Chrysler or Dodge divisions would have been thrilled with those numbers for the whole lineup, especially considering how many unsold cars they sometimes had at the end of the calendar year.
Aside from a few bright spots such as 1957, the Fifties were a decade of decline for Chrysler. They barely sold half the cars in 1959 that they did in 1950. The worst damage was, arguably, self-inflicted. If they were known for anything, it was as makers of dependable, reliable cars. But all those 1.35 million cars they built in 1957—for one year darn close to the Ford and Chevrolet totals—came back to bite them, because many of them weren’t very good. A combination of poor design and low quality materials had them rusting, vibrating and breaking at unacceptable levels. Hoping to hold onto sales from that year, Chrysler largely reused styling while working on fixing the cars, which made things worse—dealers were unhappy about not having new-looking models, especially when they had to sell, say, a Dodge Lancer against the Impala. Customers saw them and thought of the ‘57s. Sales dropped almost in half and continued to fall, with company finances going into the red for the next two years.
Chrysler started the decade at a disadvantage, with lightly restyled ‘49s for their 1950 lines. They were efficient, modern, dependable and sensible, and desperately unappealing to the style conscious buyers of the dawning decade. Still, those sold on their quality were enough that Chrysler was again looking at being the Number Two automaker, until a 100-day UAW strike cut the legs out from under the company. In some ways, it took close to 20 years for them to recover from that three-month interruption, which says less about how disruptive it was and more about their razor-thin margins. New styling in 1953 pulled them briefly out of a three-year decline in sales, but it didn’t last long and they were falling into a hole by ’54. Earlier, with the American public buying anything on wheels after the War, Chrysler had little incentive to innovate and had even gone to Number Two in sales. As soon as the fever began to wane, though, their weakness was revealed. Ford took over second place in 1952, and the whole economy got particularly cool. According to Allpar, WPC News once reported that in 1954, Chrysler sold new cars to used car lots just to keep the numbers up.
They were in trouble borrowed a quarter-billion dollars from Prudential, while essentially turning the fate of the entire company over to one man: stylist Virgil Exner. Exner wasn’t able to do much on the ‘54s, but his Chrysler and Imperial Forward Look/Million Dollar Look (Two Hundred Fifty Million Dollar Look doesn’t roll off the tongue) was universally acclaimed, and Chrysler’s 1955 sales weren’t topped again until 1964! Exner protégé Maury Baldwin took the 1956 Dodge and Plymouth lines further, although they couldn’t quite recapture the magic of the previous year.
With the phenomenal successes of the ‘55’s empowering his position, Exner went all out on the 1957 line-up. Advancing designs that were supposed to be in the pipeline for years later, he introduced the utterly distinctive quad-headlamp front end and tower-style tailfins and the company set an absolute record for single year sales. But as I mentioned, it was too much at once, and Chrysler product buyers were shocked by unfamiliar quality control problems. The facelifted ‘58s were better, but still not good enough, not when there was an Impala at the dealership across town. By 1959, after two years of Chrysler engineers working to address the failings if the ’57, the cars were right again, if still using the 1957 chassis.
Plenty of Chrysler Corp. models sold more than 100,000 copies in a year, primarily Plymouths, but it was a rare that a single body could reach that mark. Through the decades, fleet sales were a big part of the mix for Dodge and Plymouth, and like today, many departments turned their cars over every other year. Chrysler was generally ahead of the curve in developing police package models, so those can be very interesting, high-performance choices for collectors today. The other big piece of Chrysler production in the Fifties was wagons, as much as 25 percent in some years. They’re lot less than a quarter of the cars for sale today, well under one in 10, with Plymouths making the highest proportion, followed by Chrysler. You’ll find a few Dodge and almost no De Soto wagons for sale, but unless they’re woodies, they’re not likely to be overly expensive.
So Chrysler finished the Fifties with bad news, plus a tarnished reputation which would dog them for years. And it’s a funny thing about an episode such as that: long after it shouldn’t matter, people can still have a bad taste. Maybe the idea that Chryslers weren’t much good was baked in when you were growing up; or maybe it was your dad who had the bad experience, but notions like that can work their way into the national consciousness. For collectors who aren’t so prejudiced, though, that leaves the cars themselves with less love than they really deserve.
Chrysler often seemed to be building cars for the previous year, or maybe somewhere else, making them tall when Ford and Chevrolet went low and wide; or abandoning a long wheelbase while everyone else got a stretch. But the great thing about buying one now is that you don’t have to care if a ’53 Plymouth doesn’t look as cool as the ’53 Pontiac in your neighbor’s driveway. You can like it, or not, strictly on its own merits. You’re not also buying a blue blazer and white flannels—whether it’s in fashion no longer matters.
Nevertheless, some Fifties Chryslers are more fashionable than others and correspondingly expensive today. You know all about the Chrysler 300 series and DeSoto Adventurers; or if you need a refresher, browse through the archives of this magazine. If you own one, I salute you and your IRA on wheels. But looking through the dozens of Fifties Plymouths listed in Hemmings at press time, not one was over $100,000, and there were 48 under $50,000. The top of the Plymouth market is dominated by variations on the Fury theme.
 The Dodge scene was almost exactly the same, with a similar number of cars—just a few D500s over $50,000, but drivable Coronets for $7,000. As you move up the ladder, DeSotos, Chryslers and Imperials are more expensive, but never do you run out of affordable options. In fact, very good quality cars from all five lines are easy to find under $25,000, although I admit that the closest Imperial for sale that meets those criteria (a 1956 Imperial Southampton four-door hardtop) was about 1,500 miles from home. But that’s just an excuse to get familiar with a series of local Chrysler clubs.
You will also find your best deals in the 1950-’54 era. There were dozens of Mopars from those years in Hemmings, but only a few were over $20,000. Most of those were convertibles. The flip side is that those early Fifties Mopars are not often restored, so don’t expect the reproduction parts supply to be wonderful. Fortunately, if you’ve been intrigued, among those reasonably priced cars you can still turn up relatively unmolested, unrestored examples. If you’re looking for a distinctive, well-built and comfortable Fifties car, it almost doesn’t matter which Chrysler Corp. product you choose. Outside of WPC Club meets, the odds are slim there will be another at any show. You’ll have the satisfaction of having people walk past better-known and more expensive models to talk to you about your rare Mopar; the satisfaction of helping to keep a heritage that’s too-often overlooked alive; and the fun of driving these great cars that were such a big part of our landscape in the 1950s.