Monthly Archives: October 2023


Conversations With people We Value #49

The immediate dopamine rush when discovering a previously unknown car brand bearing one’s first name is heady stuff indeed. Certainly for me. While a fairly lengthy list of automobile brands sport the last name of their founders, only one brand, Mercedes, took on a person’s first name in advance of making it famous. Or so I thought, until at a recent car show I pulled up next to a charming, if rudimentary, blue European sports car branded with the name Burton, my first name. And in this case it would be all about me. The surprise coupled with my healthy sense of self fired my curiosity. My total ignorance of the Burton brand would soon be addressed with my introduction to European car importer Simon Knott.

Meet Simon Knott and the Burton.

What’s a Burton?

With a slight autumnal chill in the evening air and a brilliant blinding sun hanging low in the sky, I slowly squinted my way into a spot on the field of a local car show. With my dazzled eye sight returning to normal, I turned to the car on my left. It strongly resembled a cross breeding of a Lotus Seven (Patrick McGoohan drove one in “The Prisoner”) and the 1950s British built Singer roadster. This MGTD-sized open sports car projected a charm and vigor that would seem to fit nicely as a runabout in a Florida, California or other sun drenched temperate community. Adorning the nose and the high cutaway door sills, elegant chromed script copy within an oval emblem spelled out “Burton.” I couldn’t help wondering, “Why choose that name?”

At the car’s left hand driver’s side a genial man with a fine British accent spoke to a group eager for details about the Burton. A smooth blend of salesman, tour guide and professor, he spoke in a most engaging and casual manner. Before the curious group of admirers he held forth detailing the virtues of the Burton. Clearly, this little blue sports car was the first Burton any in this gathering had ever seen. I would soon learn that the Englishman explaining its merits was Simon Knott whose company, Round Peg International, had imported it to America from the Netherlands.

As the crowd dissipated, I had the opportunity to ask Simon, “What’s a Burton?” and, for me, even more pressing, “Why choose that name?”

I learned that, by now in his 60th year, Simon’s life had included an eclectic mix of professions and accomplishments that culminated in his founding Round Peg International in 2019. Over its young life Round Peg would prosper by specializing in the import to America from Europe of very clean original Minis, Land Rovers, a few stray Citroën Deux Chevauxs (2CVs) and the solitary Dutch built Burton standing before us. Why choose that name? That question, like a buzzing mosquito in a darkened bedroom could not be swatted away. I returned to exploring Simon’s path to Burton advocacy.

Simon Knott

Initially trained as an aircraft engineer, Simon spent ten years  in the Royal Air Force servicing jet fighters and helicopters. By the late aughts, life had swept him to the U.S. and Mercedes-Benz of North America. Then, after ten years of serving the three-pointed star 2018 found him waving goodbye as Mercedes packed up and headed to Atlanta. Wanting no part of their southern strategy, Simon set about in a search of a new pursuit. Serendipitously, a whim morphed into a plan.

Unemployed and at a bit of loose ends, Simon, skilled at things mechanical and technical, bought a 1991 long wheelbase Land Rover 110. He says, “Frankly, I found the idea of getting my hands dirty quite appealing.” Putting his technical skill set to work he rebuilt it and put it on eBay. He says, “It sold in an hour.” Quick to grasp an opportunity, Simon recognized that a clear course of action had revealed itself. His future would be as a broker of pre-owned European cars. As he had spent much of his life driving and appreciating original 20th century Minis and Land Rovers he founded Round Peg with the express intent of focusing on pre-2000 Mini’s and Land Rovers. In short order Deux Chevauxs and the closely related Burton (more about that later) would expand Round Peg’s offerings. By October 2019 Simon had completed the rigor of acquiring his New Jersey dealer’s license. Game on for Round Peg. With approximately £150,000 to spend, Simon set off to Europe on a buying spree. It would prove to be one of many to come. Cutting to the chase, I asked THE question about the Dutch manufacturer, “Why choose that name?” Simon with his charming British accent and brevity said, “No idea whatsoever.” Disappointed, I pressed on.

When asked what inspired the naming of his company, Simon said, “For an individual, finding and buying a quality pre-2000 Mini, Land Rover or something unusual like a Burton, it can be a challenging task fraught with problems, missteps and frustration. It poses the classic square peg in the round hole situation. My business model strives to shave the troublesome corners off the square peg to make for a smooth round peg in a round hole buying experience.” He summed it all up saying, “The Round Peg experience for a client means a simplified buying experience.”

To maintain a steady inventory, Simon employs a network of knowledgeable “Bird dogs” around Europe that keep a sharp eye out for quality cars to show Simon on one of his buying trips.

Opening the door to one of Round Peg’s two warehouses revealed three very clean Minis and the Burton. The three Minis a blue 1980, a green 1993 and a red 1996 all show exceptionally well with excellent mechanicals. However, in their midst resided the blue roadster I had seen at the car show. I quickly learned that while sporting a Dutch body it boasted a French heart.

As has been noted, Round Peg imports 20th century Citroen Deux Chevauxs and there the story begins. On one of Simon’s many buying trips he joined a Citroen specialist with whom he had worked for over 30 years. At one of the destinations he found a wealth of 2CVs and among them the blue Burton. Poised to head home to America with many cars but little cash, he closed the deal on the Burton with all the money he had left. With the Burton what exactly did He buy.

The brainchild of two Deux Chevaux loving Dutch brothers, Dimitri and Iwan Gӧbel, the Burton came to life in 1998 as a kit. Inspired by dreams of Jaguars, Bugattis, Delahayes and Morgans the brothers Gӧbel hand shaped a prototype sports car body that would mate seamlessly to the stock 2CV chassis. Citroen’s 2CV employed a traditional body on frame construction making replacement of the original body easy. By 2000 the brothers had Burton kits for sale. My buzzing mosquito, Why choose that name?

In the case of Simon’s Burton, despite the body coming with a 2011 Burton kit batch number, the fact that its chassis and mechanicals come straight out of a 1987 2CV meant it being titled as a 1987 model. As a 1987 model it met the 25-year waiver and could be imported into the U.S.

Deux Chevaux translates to, literally, two horses. It reflected the cars status when the Citroën 2CV was first introduced in 1948. Its horsepower rating for tax purposes was two horsepower. (It actually delivered 9 horsepower). Powered by a durable air-cooled 2-cylinder flat-twin engine, over its 42-year production life its output climbed slowly but steadily to a peak of 33 horsepower. A realistic top speed for most 2CVs fell in the 55 MPH range. Its transmission reflected a design that many would describe as curious. A gear shift described by some as an umbrella handle sticking out of the dashboard did, to its credit, provide four forward speeds though accessed through a rather non-traditional but easy to master shift pattern. Indeed much of the 2CV design featured unique solutions, possibly none more so than its suspension. Described in a road test by Britain’s Classic World TV that stated, ”The suspension in layman’s terms offers a big coil spring in a can tucked inside the rocker panels on each side of the car. They connect the front and rear wheels on both sides with the net result being a car that rides fantastically well over rough roads.” This system actually can adjust the wheelbase and caster automatically depending of the load, to deliver improved handling. In the road test the driver offered his opinion saying, “There is no car that contains so little and offers so much.” It actually seemed a living tribute to Lotus designer Colin Chapman’s oft quoted mantra of “simplify and add lightness.” Not without reason, the test drive described the 2CV chassis as the working class Lotus. Heady praise indeed.

In essence the Gӧbel brothers grasped the efficiency, potential and economy of the 2CV and translated it into a sports car experience but, why choose that name. I had to find out.

Burton Cars remains in business today both providing body kits and as a source for all things Deux Chevaux. I reached out to their home office. Their only contact came in the form of an email. My query, “Why choose that name? Nothing, crickets. I learned that Burton had been bought by French company 2CV Mehari Club Cassis of France. I called. A lovely English speaking French woman answered. She explained that this was no longer the company’s number. Au revoir.

Undeterred, well maybe a little deterred, I found the name of a North American Burton distributor, Mr. DeWitt. My pulse quickened when a man with Dutch flavored English answered the phone. “Why chose that name?”, I asked. “I cannot tell you,” he responded. “It is too complicated. Call Iwan Gӧbel.” He gave me a phone number. Aware of my logging international calls like an eastern European scam line. I dared not think about my phone bill.

However, I was not going to stop now. With my newfound mastery of dialing internationally, I dialed. Iwan Gӧbel answered. Hearing my voice he seamlessly switched to Dutch flavored English. I prepared for a long explanation. “Why choose that name,” I asked. Without equivocation and in less than two minutes, Iwan Gӧbel cheerily explained, “For months we were looking for the right name. We had a list of over 400. In the end we decided on Burton.” “Why?” I asked. He answered saying, “Because it was a name you pronounced the same in English, French or Dutch and it imparted the feeling of an English product.”

I have now joined Mercedes Jellinek as having a car brand bearing my first name.

By |2023-10-30T15:55:52+00:00October 26th, 2023|4 Comments

Cars We Love & Who we Are #46

This late June day finds Fred Hammond cruising peaceably along a suburban four-lane county road. The car to his left has it’s left directional on indicating the intent of the woman at the wheel to turn left into an awaiting Marriot parking lot. Fred maintains his progress in the right lane only to have the, soon to be ticketed, directionally challenged driver to his left make a sharp right turn. I am pleased to report that Fred’s car with its plenitude of safety features functioned as intended when called upon. The good news, Fred fared far better than his car. As to the bad news, his car suffered fatal injuries. And this brings us to the point of our story.

Fred’s quest to purchase another set of wheels.

Carvana Confusion – Dude where’s My Car?

Carvana C70 Ad

Fred found himself priced out of a new car marketplace suffering from the turbulence of the post Covid era. This included limited supply, higher prices and high interest rates. In this environment he would be both unwilling and unable to replace his totaled 2021 Hyundai with a like model. At that point Fred turned his attention to finding a quality used car. He recalled, “My insurance picked up the cost of a rental car, about $30 a day. Starting from the day of the accident, June 16th, I figured that covered me until the beginning of July.”

For a number of reasons Fred directed his focus to Carvana. About Carvana Car and Driver had written, “Carvana is an online-only used-car retailer that performs almost all the functions a physical dealer would offer: buying and selling cars, accepting trade-ins, and financing purchases.” Fred says, “Based on the commercials, on the hype and everything else, I found Carvana interesting.” He does say that he had heard some disquieting things about their inability to deliver titles to people who purchased cars. However, it did not reach a point that discouraged him from exploring cars available on the Carvana site. As told to me by Fred, the following describes his Carvana experience.

Fred offered a number of reasons that made Carvana appealing to him. First and foremost it provided a broad selection of vehicles. Secondly, Fred found the Carvana 120-point inspection program very attractive. Being a veteran of the car business Fred understood that used cars most often required some repair of problems developed during their prior usage. Fred pretty much viewed the 120-point checklist as Carvana’s version of new car dealers’ Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) used car programs. Lastly, Carvana’s ability to provide financing offered a high level of convenience should he buy a car. Fred understood that getting financing when purchasing an older car especially 10-years or more could be very difficult. Armed with a down payment of $3000 thanks to the refund from his insurer after the totaling of his Hyundai, Fred explored the Carvana site. Success came quickly. His find was, to quote singer Robert Palmer, “Simply irresistible.”

Fred, as a long time Volvo fan had a sweet spot in his heart for their sturdy Swedish products. Upon opening the Carvana site, the stylish convertible jumped out at him like a loose $20 on a sidewalk. His find, a 2011 Volvo C70 convertible with retractable hardtop. It featured an uncommon and desirable Flamenco Red Metallic exterior with cranberry and black interior. Fred says, “In the Flamenco Red it is a visually striking car. The interior is not a pure red. It’s a red and black combination. It’s just a stunning looking car.” To boot, it featured factory late production 5-spoke wheels that Fred loved. The gleaming C70 listed for $15,590 and, Carvana offered financing. According to the Carvana site $2,750 down and $300 a month would have Fred cruising in a car he loved. The site said he could have it by the following Tuesday. Fred felt that this had real possibilities. He reached out to Carvana and expressed his interest. Carvana responded with a status report explaining that the car was not currently available. Its 120-point check-up had yet to be completed. However, he could put a deposit of $1000 down to hold it. Fred says, “That’s what I did. I really wanted that C70.”

Fred received a pre-order confirmation email indicating that he would be kept up-to-date with availability notices. Carvana also added, “We like your style.” Shortly thereafter Fred got an update that informed him that Carvana had upped the price of the C70 to $16,784, raised his down payment to $3000 and increased the monthly payment to $369.


Not happy, Fred felt no satisfaction would be achieved in trying to communicate with AI bots responding to a complaint. Seeking a more direct channel for redress, he scoured through the Carvana website to find a headquarters phone number in hopes of connecting with a sentient being. Success, he connected with a Customer Service Representative and learned that the elevated monthly payment included a maintenance program and a warranty. After much haggling to remove the unapproved programs the final monthly payment came to $308 though the down payment remained at $3000. Fred says, “The original quote, was essentially useless. It was just a come on. For me that was strike number one against Carvana.” Still Fred  decided to go through with it. He loved the car. With the details confirmed Carvana assured Fred he would be contacted upon completion of the 120-point inspection. Further adding to Fred’s frustration, despite his numerous requests, he had been afforded no opportunity to personally inspect the car.

Now, however, he received notification that the C70 had been transported to a nearby location in Midland Park, NJ and would be ready for delivery Thursday July 29th.

At this point Fred signed all the papers only to, now, find to his consternation that the APR on his loan would be 17 ¾ percent. He said, “They never discuss the interest rate until after you sign the papers. Strike two for Carvana.” Fred let it go for the time being while proceeding to begin exploring personal loans to essentially get the car while dispensing with Carvana financing.

Suddenly Carvana alerted Fred to a postponement of the delivery date. A problem had surfaced requiring the Volvo to return to the shop. Delivery would now take place on August 3rd.

Having been approved by a local credit union for a personal loan with an APR of 8% and anticipating taking delivery of his much delayed C70 on August 3rd, Fred returned the rental car, the expense of which he had been carrying for almost a month. He had arranged for insurance. Excitement built as Fred’s girlfriend Nadine drove him to the delivery location. In the words of historic NASA mission control, “Preparing for lift off.” Mid journey, Fred’s phone rings. “Houston we have a problem” (To continue my NASA theme). A Carvana Maintenance Manager in Midland Park informed Fred that considerable problems existed with the C70’s retractable roof. He described a headliner that hung down and a roof that would not close properly. He assessed the whole mechanism as inoperable. Fred’s described his first thoughts saying, “How was this missed by the alleged rigorous 120-point pre-sale inspection?” Fred went on to say, “If you look at the pictures on the website, they show the car with the roof down and there’s nothing wrong with the headliner and there’s nothing wrong with the roof. It went down and went back up.”

Carvana re-rescheduled delivery for August 10th. Now on a first name basis with the people at the rental counter, Fred rented another car on his credit card at $30 a day. At this point  Carvana introduced a phrase that would serve as the Greek Chorus for the remainder of Fred’s Carvana experience. When Fred expressed his concern about the problems seemingly overlooked by the 120-point inspection, Carvana’s responded saying, “You can always cancel the deal.”

As August 10th fast approached. A new Carvana status notification informed Fred, “We still have problems. We’re waiting for the headliner.” Delivery re-rescheduled to August 19th. Cue the Greek Chorus. “You can always cancel the deal.”

Accompanying the arrival of August 19th came a call from Carvana. Parts were still on order. Cue the Greek Chorus. “You can always cancel the deal.” Fred says, “It is now August 19th. Still no car. We are talking 19 days since the car was originally supposed to arrive. At $30 a day for a rental car we are looking at $570 plus insurance for the car I don’t have.” At this point Fred, an ever patient man, had grown increasingly irritated. As well, the financial burden had started to weigh heavily.

Out of frustration Fred started exploring alternatives. Fred says, “That’s when I started looking elsewhere and happily found a 2005 Jaguar XK8 convertible with 65,000 miles in Pennsylvania. Very nice car, low mileage and actually priced $3,000 less.

Still with lingering hopes of rescuing the C70 from being lost Fred, the following week, reached out to see if Carvana had any updates. Carvana’s response, “No, we’re still waiting for parts, but we anticipate delivering the car on or about the 31st of August.” Fred says, “I had been on the hook with Carvana from mid-July to the 31st of August. I had committed to the deal and I had been paying insurance on a car I didn’t have. With all that I still continued to drive a thirty dollars a day rental with no commitment from Carvana as to when they could deliver the car. Cue the Greek Chorus, “You can always cancel the deal.” Strike three.

Finally getting off the phone after hearing Carvana unable to commit to a firm delivery date, Fred decided to take Carvana’s advice. He called up the dealer in Pennsylvania and put a thousand dollars down on the Jaguar. He then called Carvana back and cancelled the deal.

In assessing his Carvana experience Fred says, “After getting off the phone with them and they could still not give me a firm date for delivery, I lost all trust in them. Their inability to answer any questions, their lack of transparency, their inability to diagnose a problem or honor a commitment, it all eroded any sense of trust. I gave them the benefit of the doubt and they betrayed it at every step.

Sadly all of their actions supported their mantra, “You can always cancel the deal” and despite Fred’s best efforts he finally did.

By |2023-10-12T14:00:59+00:00October 12th, 2023|8 Comments