Cars We Love & Who We Are

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More than the polished parts and hard to find pieces, the special interest vehicles people collect embody the character of each owner. “Cars We Love & Who We Are” profiles individual special interest vehicles and the proud owner committed to its preservation.

Cars We Love & Who We Are #34

Previously readers became acquainted with classic car restoration virtuoso Mike Gassman through stories he told about others. It would be a disservice to you dear reader if I neglected to share with you Mike’s own story.

Descending once again through Rockfish Gap to the floor of the Shenandoah Valley and Waynesboro, Virginia, I weave through some back roads that hug a railroad siding. In making a right turn away from the tracks a row of low clean white adjoining structures come into view. They feature a spotless showroom recalling the modest (compared to today’s massive highway automotive cathedral) masonry structures with huge window panes typical of mid-20th century family owned dealerships. Eye candy for any passerby, the showroom features a tightly organized array of pristine restored 50’s and 60s vintage British sports cars. Their meticulous curation offers a hint of the passion for perfection that drives the robust beating heart of Mike Gassman’s restoration business, Gassman Automotive.

The story begins on a mountain top in Afton Virginia.

Read the car, not the book and other words of wisdom that pave a path to Pebble Beach


She opened her front door wearing a wedding dress. It is 1977. High atop Afton Mountain in Western Virginia a woman Mike recalls as Martha stands smiling down from the open doorway. Her wedding day preparation had been interrupted by a knock at the door. A boy of maybe thirteen years had come to inquire about a forlorn 1969 Triumph TR6 moldering out in the field by Martha’s house. Featuring a rose bush violating a structural integrity that could not cast a decent shadow, the TR6 could best be described as a heap. With his father visible in a car waiting on the country road, the boy asked if she wanted to sell it. “Yes I do,” responded the bride-to-be with a kind forthright demeanor exhibited by adults suddenly aware of their role in a teaching moment. “How much do you want?” the boy asked. “How much do you have?” asked Martha. “Forty five dollars,” offered the boy with the air of a question. “That is perfect. That is exactly what I want for it,” responded Martha and in so doing gave the young boy a wedding day gift that would continue to give for the rest of his life. Martha had sold thirteen year-old Mike Gassman his first car. Watching from the road, Mike’s dad witnessed a plan he had set in motion taking shape.

Mike says, “My 13th birthday present from my dad was a copy of a contract. And it stated, I Mike Gassman for the next two years, will devote every night and every weekend to restoring a car that I pay for and on which I do all the work. In return, my dad will stand next to me for two years and teach me how to restore a car. He will never physically touch it with his fingers, but he will teach me.” In looking back Mike calls it the most invaluable, the most incredible gift any young man could ever receive. Mike eagerly signed it. All of which quickly led to Mike knocking on Martha’s front door. In short order a tow truck dragged the “heap” to Mike’s house and the “fun” began.

With Mike’s dad conducting a comprehensive “hands off” restoration education, Mike dove in and never looked back. Mike says, “My dad showed me how to do a block and tackle. I pulled the body off the car. I sandblasted it. You could throw a rock through this car. It was so rusted. I made all the panels. I brazed them all in. I did all the bodywork and I painted the car one piece at a time over the next two years.” Mike’s dad had exceptional restoration skills and taught his son old school lessons about laying down lacquer paint. He went so far as to teach Mike leading techniques. Mike says, “His many years working with toxic lead is probably one of the reasons he is not here today.”

Mike finished the car at the age of 15 years and 7 months. He says, “In Virginia you had to be 15 years and 8 months old to get a learner’s permit.” Mike would sit in his TR6 for a month waiting for that day.

Mike Gassman and his 45-year old restoration of Martha’s “heap.”

Mike says, “I did every single aspect of that car between the ages of 13 and 15.” Standing in his showroom, now, Mike concludes by turning my attention to a pristine light beige TR6. Mike continues, “And here it is 45-years later. Unrestored since I finished it.”

Mike says, “It was my only car in college. It probably has 25,000 miles on it.” It retains the same paint he applied 45-years ago. With deserved pride Mike says, “It has taken multiple first place trophies.”

Over his 40-plus years in auto restoration Mike has developed a philosophy that informs all the automotive work he performs. Mike says, “I am as passionate about this work now as I ever was if not more so. I love this stuff. It is not just iron.” He believes that the culture and character defining the subjects of his passion will never happen again. For him, the 60s and early 70s stands as the greatest time for cars ever. He freely admits one could spend $500,000 on restoring a TR6 and it still would not be as quick as a new Nissan Sentra. Mike says, “That’s not the point. With my cars when you walk out of a Walmart you don’t have to figure out which one is yours.” He believes that anybody can buy a Miata that can outperform these half century old sports cars. However, Mike says, “Sadly, the new cars have no soul.”

Mike welcomes customers that want perfection. He builds to the desires of individuals that always wanted a certain car and finally have achieved a point where they can afford the best one. Mike says, “I have nothing here that anybody needs, nothing. What I strive to offer is a whole lot of what people want.”

Mike, and his experienced and gifted Gassman Automotive crew, over many years, have honed the ability to perform a superior restoration for those looking for the best. As well, he takes pride in focusing those same abilities on servicing customer cars ranging from bug-eye Sprites to Maseratis.

One man who has had a significant impact on shaping Mike’s philosophy would be Paul Russell. Internationally respected as a master restorer Paul presides over one of the world’s most respected restoration shops. Mike greatly admires Paul for the superior work, professionalism and generosity he has experienced in dealing with the man and the staff of Paul’s globally revered Paul Russell and Company. Mike says, “While Gassman Automotive was performing a total restoration on the first 1952 Ferrari 212 Inter Geneva Coupe by Vignale, Paul was restoring the sister car at the same time. It afforded me a priceless opportunity to share information with a master.” Two things that Paul told Mike made a profound impression.

Paul emphasized that in properly dealing with an important automobile restoration “read the car, not the book.” What did he mean by this? Mike says, “To me it meant, if there’s a hole in a fender, is it jagged. Did somebody drill it. If it was stamped, why do you think it was there? What would make sense? Why would you put a hole there? Ask, are there any other cars that have a hole there before you weld it shut? That was incredibly valuable advice, especially when doing a prototype like the 212, one of only six examples. Finding a hole could lead you down a road of inquiry searching for answers to why is it there and what’s missing? That was very helpful.”

Secondly, and what Mike considers the most valuable advice came when Paul shared the following as recalled by Mike, “Pretend that whatever you are working on whether it is a wiper motor or a complex quarter panel, it should be treated like it is the only thing you are taking to Pebble Beach where it will be presented on a mirrored table to represent the sum of your abilities.” Mike says, “If you take that advice to heart you have no choice but to build a 100-point car but without that mindset it is impossible to build a 100-point car.” Which raises the question, how did Mike get into the concours winning restoration business?

With a wife and two young children, the year 1990 found Mike working to make ends meet selling cars for a Nissan Subaru dealer during the day and working on Triumphs at his house from 9:00 at night until 2:00 in the morning. Mike says, “The new car market had fallen apart. I was getting paid $50 for every car I could sell. With this 24/7 grind I had reached my limit.”

So Mike took the little bit of money that they had saved and bought the first building, all 1500 square feet of it. He was all in. Over the next decade he developed a restoration shop focused primarily on British sports cars. Gassman Automotive differentiated and distinguished itself with its rare ability to perform everything in-house. Mike says, “We do all of our own motors, transmissions, overdrives, wiring, body fabrication, paintwork, upholstery and assembly. As well, Mike in prior years had exhibited great foresight that would prove to serve him well.

Through the 1980’s, with Triumph and MG going belly up, Mike bought out the NOS parts inventory of many shuttering British car dealerships. At the same time he aggressively prowled the swap meets at Carlisle, Hershey and any other event offering the possibility of NOS parts. Mike says, “Over the years I have made hundreds of trips bringing back trailer loads of NOS British car parts.”

Focused with his determination to be a go-to place for those seeking superior quality, Gassman Automotive started to get noticed. People realized Mike and his shop meant business. Attention came their way even as they restored lower-end cars at first. Gassman Automotive became recognized for producing the high-end restorations of cars such as TR6s and MGBs. They gained a recognition for quality panel beating and their dexterity with aluminum.

Ferrari in early stages of restoration

Interestingly at that point while Jaguar and Healey restoration work seemed a step above his client base, the quality of the work coming out of his shop stood at a Ferrari level. It was just a matter of time.

It occurred when a client sent Mike a TR250 for a full restoration. At the same time the TR250 owner sent another of his Triumphs which had been subjected to a very expensive restoration by another restorer to the National show. At the event the Triumph restored by the other shop received a sound beating at the hands of a participating car that Mike had restored. Learning his lesson the client sent his losing car back to Mike to “fix it.” Mike says, “We did our job to our standard and sent it back. He took it to the Nationals and won first place as well as a Vintage Triumph Register National “Best of Show.” A few years later in around 2010 the same client returned with a new project that would be the breakout opportunity for Mike and Gassman Automotive.

The client had purchased a 1952 Ferrari, the first of six prototype 212 Inter Geneva Coupes by Vignale and wanted Mike to restore it. Mike says, “I flew to Indiana to look at it. I’ll admit it was extremely intimidating to me. So many pieces were missing or broken. Worse there was never a spare part made for that car. Everything would have to be handmade. Of course, I said yes.” It would be Mike’s first “right at a million dollar” restoration. After two years the finished Ferrari went to Cavallino where it received a Platinum Award. It then went to Pebble Beach followed by a trip to Arizona for the 2014 Gooding Auction in Scottsdale.

Mike, pointing out for those that do not appreciate the significance of an invitation to Pebble Beach, says, “Even the “worst” car at Pebble beach rates as an incredible automobile. There are no “also-rans.”

The Gooding catalogue promoting the 2014 auction described the Gassman Automotive restored Ferrari 212 as follows:

  • A Spectacular Example of Italian Custom Coachwork
  • The First of Six Such Vignale- Bodied Coupes
  • Displayed at the 1954 San Remo Concours d’Elegance
  • Fascinating, Well-Documented Provenance
  • Exquisite Restoration to Original Appearance
  • Retains Original, Matching-Numbers Engine
  • FCA Platinum Award Winner at the 2013 Cavallino Classic
  • Displayed at the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

Mike says, “At the time it set a world’s record for that car by selling for a total of $1,787,500.”

The masterful craftsmanship that distinguished that rare Vignale-bodied Coupe put Mike and Gassman Automotive of little Waynesboro, Virginia on the international map of people with whom you could trust your Pebble Beach worthy car’s restoration.

Mike says he hopes Martha would be pleased.

By |2023-03-16T15:45:44+00:00March 16th, 2023|0 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are #33

Like a blue ribbon bloodhound tracking a scent, Dr. Fred Simeone possessed a remarkable ability to sniff out a trail of ownership regardless of how faint the trace. He employed the brilliance, tenacity and ferreting instincts that distinguished history’s great sleuths in his unearthing of long lost historically important car provenance.

Clearly, Dr. Simeone’s love and passion for meaningful classic cars did not stop at the mechanical and aesthetic wonder of the automobiles he owned and cherished, as well, he passionately embraced the pursuit of their accurate and detailed backstory.

He focused not only on the history of significant automobiles in his collection but extended his laser-like forensic curiosity to historically significant cars owned by others that suffered from gaps in time that demanded authentication.

What follows provides some of the detailed backstories unearthed for cars in the Simeone Museum.

Dr. Fred Simeone’s Mona Lisa car legacy, Part 2, Fascinating backstories of cars he preserved.

Dr. Simeone conducting a class on researching provenance

In authoring the preface to a wonderful book called The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles Dr. Fred Simeone wrote, “To those who believe an owner has the right to do whatever he wishes with his car in terms of use or modification, there is no need to follow another precedent. But to those who acknowledge that their preserved car has special significance as an example of the industrial age’s greatest gift, we suggest that you pass it on to future generations as it left the hands of its creators.”

In creating what many consider to be the finest automobile museum in the world, Dr. Simeone amassed and curated a pantheon of historically significant vehicles from the 20th century and cared for each with a brilliant consistency faithful to his written words. History in general and the automobile culture in particular are far better for it. As shared by Simeone Museum Director of Programs Harry Hurst, the following stories illustrate the value as an historic record and teaching tool afforded future generations by Dr. Simeone’s unwavering dedication to preservation.

1909 American Underslung

One of the Simeone Museum’s oldest cars on display, a 1909 American Underslung visually distanced itself from the constellation of new automobile marques fighting for life in the frantic automobile market of the early 20th century. Even though it belonged to the early iteration of “new car” offerings it stood out, even to this day, for a decidedly sporty stance. Its intention to be a worthy competitor in racing events demanded the ability to traverse high crowned rutted roads, ford streams and successfully face obstacles like tree stumps. Such were the challenges commonly encountered in its day because race tracks had yet to be built. Courses for races instead extended from city to city.

By positioning the chassis below the axles for a performance oriented lowered center of gravity, it gained superior handling, a sporty visual signature and its product name. Use of tall 40-inch tires afforded ample road clearance by compensating for the lowered center of gravity.

The Simeone model features a 571 cubic inch engine producing 60 horsepower. When new, it sold for around $4,000 at a time when the average American worker earned roughly $400 a year. Its comprehensive backstory comes courtesy of the work of Walter Seeley an Underslung enthusiast who starting in 1960 dedicated over a decade of his life to fleshing out this cars history going back to its original owner Mr. F.C Deemer a coal baron from Brookville, Pennsylvania.

As an early milestone in competition design, Harry Hurst compares it to the Ford GT40 as marking one hundred years of progress saying, “the Underslung had 40-inch tires, a century later the Ford GT40 barely stood 40-inches tall, period.”

1921 Duesenberg 183 Grand Prix

Sometimes life places something so close that you do not recognize what stands before you. Such was the case with the Simeone 1921 Duesenberg. Originally purchased off a Philadelphia used car lot by Dr. Simeone’s father and “car guy,” Dr. Anthony Simeone, neither father nor son considered anything about the race car as representing something uniquely special. It had been painted yellow and raced locally years back before being pushed into a corner of the dimly lit downtown parking garage where Simeone cars had been stored well before the museum became a reality. Hurst says, “Years back Dr. Simeone had invited Jay Leno to visit the parking garage to see the collection. Accompanying Leno happened to be Randy Ema, probably the world’s foremost expert on the Duesenberg. As they passed by the dimly lit resting place of the ’21 Duesenberg Ema says, “Well Fred you might want to rethink this car.”

Surprised at Ema’s comment about a car that had languished in his own garage, Dr. Simeone quickly drilled down. Hurst says, “Ema expertly applied his jeweler’s eye to the seemingly unremarkable Duesenberg.”

According to Hurst, Ema called out a number of things that distinguished this Duesenberg in significant ways. Right off the bat Ema flagged the existence of a cutout on the passenger side of the cowl being extraordinarily rare, its purpose to afford a riding mechanic a place on which to hold. Furthermore this car featured four-wheel brakes, a feature not found on cars raced on American tracks. Cars racing in America only had rear-wheel brakes because in America drivers only used brakes when coming in for a pit stop not when racing. Adding to its rarity, this Duesenberg had hydraulic brakes and no Duesenberg in 1921 came equipped this way except…the four Duesenbergs entered in the 1921 French Grand Prix. While not the Grand Prix winning car, the Simeone Duesenberg stands alone as the only original Duesenberg remaining of the four entered in 1921 French Grand Prix. Very special after al1.

1963 Corvette Grand Sport

It smoked engineers at GM that Shelby’s 289 Cobras ruled the roost on GT world championship race courses aroundthe world and at home while GM management had a strict ban on racing. Burning brightest with frustration Corvette godfather Zora Arkus-Duntov would have none of it and built an internal skunk works that raced cars though private teams. As well, with some backdoor funding support from pro-racing Chevrolet General Manager, Bunkie Knudson, Arkus-Duntov assembled the “Project Lightweight Program” that would spawn the legendary 1963 Grand Sport Corvette. Over 1000 pounds lighter than a stock Corvette, fitted with a 377 cu. in. 480 horsepower aluminum Chevy small block and just about every performance tweak on Arkus-Duntov’s Christmas list the Grand Sport was born a beast. And quickly died one. December 1963 in Nassau, Bahamas proved to be a hot time for Carroll Shelby’s Cobras, too hot. Too hot, as well, for the Corvette Grand Sport. In the only time when the Grand Sport and Cobras competed directly, the Grand Sports crushed the Cobras and everything else including Ferrari’s GTOs. Everyone noticed including GM management who, now aware of Arkus–Duntov’s sidestepping their racing ban, shut down the Project Lightweight Program for good. All Grand Sports quickly went to private owners.

GM sold Grand Sport 002 to Roger Penske. Penske sold it to his friend George Wintersteen. As an interesting side bar for all car enthusiasts who wished they had not sold “that” car years back. You know, the one that in recent years has sharply appreciated. Well, Wintersteen recalls selling 002 in 1967 for the princely sum of $6700. Grand Sport 002 then passed through the hands of a number of respectful owners until being purchased by Jim Jaeger, the co-creator of the Escort Radar Detector, in 1990. In 2008 002 became part of the Simeone collection. Today 002 stands as the only 1963 Corvette Grand Sport never to have been restored and, as such, contains a wealth of unique historic information.

Interestingly it has been conventional wisdom that a total of five Grand Sports existed. But wait. Apparently even world renowned museums can be in for a surprise. Hurst said that recently he had been in contact with John Mecom who owned the Grand Sports that raced at Nassau in 1963. Hurst says, “Mecom confirmed to me that the total stable of Grand Sports numbered six and he had a photograph of the six 1963 Corvette Grand Sports.

1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe

“Mona Lisa car”, the phrase honors a special vehicle for its unique achievement as a one-of-a-kind automobile. The Simeone Cobra Daytona Coupe CSX2287 merits the honor as the Cobra Daytona Coupe prototype, the only one built in the United States, the first to race at Daytona where it earned its name, the last to race in competition and in 1965 owner of 23 land speed records. Today, it ranks as the first automobile listed on the National Historic Vehicle Registry. It also had, for a period of thirty years, been lost.

After being retired by Ford when it turned Carroll Shelby’s attention to the GT40, the effort to sell these “old used” race cars met with little interest. They sat unloved in a corner of Shelby’s shop for years. CSX2287 finally found a buyer Jim Russell. Sale price $4,500. Ownership then passed on to “Wall of Sound” music produced Phil Spector. Advertised price $12,500. Spector became dissatisfied with its race track personality and manners but put off by the cost to “civilize” CSX2287. Now, as a disenchanted owner with a fistful of speeding tickets, he sold the Cobra to George Brand his body guard in 1971. Word had the purchase price at around $1000.

Later on Brand gave the car to his daughter, Donna O’Hara. In 1982 O’Hara and her husband divorced with Donna O’Hara getting the Cobra. At that point O’Hara went off the radar as did CSX2287. Stories told include many offers including one from Carroll Shelby being ignored or rejected. At times O’Hara gave mixed signals as to the existence of the car. In 2000, still possessing the Cobra and without leaving a will, O’Hara died. Through the courts ownership passed on to her still living mother Dorothy Brand. Without the space or interest in untangling the subsequent decade of convoluted legal wrangling leave it to say that CSX2287 entered the Simeone collection where it sits on display today.

1927 Mercedes-Benz Sportswagen S-Type

In 1927 Mercedes-Benz built eight Sportswagen S-Type sports cars produced under the direction of Ferdinand Porsche. Powered by a 6.8-liter, overhead cam, and supercharged inline-6 engine delivering 180 horsepower and with four-wheel brakes, this, then, state-of-the-art sports car dominated the track at its introduction. Entered in the first German Grand Prix in 1927 at the newly completed Nurburgring Race Track, these works cars finished first, second and third. Today, only one of the eight Sportswagen S-Types still exists. That sole remaining car, driven by race winner Otto Merz, now resides in its original race condition at the Simeone museum. An interesting piece of historic trivia, Race winner Otto Merz had been a chauffeur driving in Archduke Ferdinand’s motorcade when the archduke was assassinated sparking World War I.

A cash-strapped Mercedes-Benz’s earmarked the Nurburgring winning Sportswagen (33679) for sale in the United States. After the sale to a New York buyer fell through, it shipped 33679 to Mercedes-Benz Motor Company, 6063 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles for a quick sale to a Mr. Baldwin in 1928. An information gap then occurs with the trail being picked up around 1934 with confirmation of its ownership by a Mr. Robert Day of Beverly Hills. Day sold the car to Mr. Fred Torsen from whom it was purchased by Mr. Bayard Sheldon. Sheldon a long time owner drove the car extensively including a coast to coast cross country adventure. In 1973 Mr. Ben Moser purchased 33679. Despite intending to enjoy long term ownership in 1975 life got in the way for Moser and 33679 entered the Simeone Collection.

1952 Cunningham C4R Roadster

A story, both humorous and telling, as recalled by Director of Programs Hurst evidences Dr. Simeone as a man of scrupulous integrity and honesty. It involves the Cunningham C4R displayed as the winner of the 1953 Pillar of integrity and honesty

Prior to Ford’s 1960s GT40 program, Briggs Cunningham stood as the driving force behind the post war effort to win as an American builder racing at LeMans. The handsome Briggs Weaver designed, 325 horsepower Chrysler hemi V8 powered C4R proved to be the pinnacle of Cunningham’s effort to win Lemans. Cunningham produced three C4R cars. In all the events they entered the three cars they won 74% of the races entered and finished 84% of the races they started. Their success convinced Cunningham the C4R would be his ticket to victory at Lemans. It would not be so with Cunningham’s highest finish at LeMans believed to be 3rd.

The Simeone collection’s Cunningham C4R offers compelling   proof that provenance can never be assumed no matter how sound the supporting evidence. The following information comes from Dr. Simeone’s writings on the Simeone Museum website describing his research confirming the authenticity of his Cunningham C4R.

Dr. Simeone possessed the ad from the October 1954 Road and Track magazine placed by Alfred Momo the race preparer for Cunningham advertising for sale the C4R, now in the Simeone Collection. The ad represented the car as both the 1953 Sebring winner and the third place finisher in the 1954 LeMans. Purchased by noted driver Charles Moran Jr., it participated in 1955 and 1956 SCCA events with both Moran and Fred Wacker driving. With the passing of Moran the car sold at an April 25, 1970 Parke-Benet auction. The auction catalog described the car as the 1953 Sebring winner. In subsequent years the C4R raced in vintage events frequently bearing the number 57 worn by the 1953 Sebring winner.

Tiny Gould, a dealer, placed the winning bid at the Parke-Benet auction before passing the car along to Warren Collins. The subsequent string of ownership included Henry Faulkner and in 1983 Robert Williams. During William’s period of ownership he drove in 1984, 1986, 1987 and 1988 Mille Miglia retrospectives. During these events co-drivers included renowned drivers Augie Pabst and John Fitch. Following the 1988 Mille Miglia event a restoration was performed with intense vigilance over authenticity. Subsequently after appearing in racing and show events the C4R joined the Simeone Collection.  This brings us to one day when years later Dr. Simeone walked into Hurst’s office with a fuzzy black and white photo.

Hurst says, “Fred asks can you blow this up?” Hurst scans the photo, blows it up, performs a little Photoshop clean up and delivers the enhanced photo. It’s clear enough to make out that it’s the Sebring C4R.” It has number 57 on the side in masking tape. Hurst remembers Dr. Simeone asking him to count the number of side louvers on each car. Hurst says, “I count the two rows of louvers on the car in the photo. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 and 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. We are standing by the museum’s C4R. I count both rows. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 and 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 – 9. WOW!” Now both start looking at other little things, differences that nobody ever noticed over the last half century. It becomes clear the Simeone car did not win Sebring. Hurst says, “Fred and I are the only two people on earth that have this realization. Do you realize what happens to the value of a car when it goes from being a winner at a major race like Sebring to only having a class win at ’54 LeMans? It is significant. And Fred looks at me and simply says, I guess we‘re going to have to change the sign.” Hurst says, I swear to God that was Fred in a nut shell. He was rigorously honest.”

1938 Alfa Romeo 8C2900B

When asked to name his favorite car, Dr. Simeone would not hesitate. The 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B owned his very enthusiastic heart.

Hurst tells a story on himself. Walking through the old downtown garage that housed the Simeone Collection before the creation of the museum, Hurst remembers walking with someone possibly Ken Gross, if not Gross then someone very knowledgeable. Hurst says, “As we pass the Alfa Romeo 8C2900B sitting in the shadows my walking companion comments that this may be the most valuable car in the world.” Hurst continues saying, “Now considering that the Mercedes-Benz Uhlenhaut Coupe went for $140 million I have no idea what the Alfa would bring.”

Winner of the 1938 Mille Miglia, Alfa Romeo’s 8C2900B towered as a technological and aesthetic wonder for its time. It wrapped the beautiful body by Carrozzeria Touring around an engineering tour-de-force including a 180 horsepower 2.9-liter inline 8-cylinder with double overhead valves, double overhead cams, twin superchargers, independent four-wheel suspension, a transaxle, and suspension dampers that were adjustable from the driver’s seat!

Alfa Romeo entered four 8C2900Bs in the 1938 Mille Miglia. Simeone Museum’s Chassis number 412031 driven by Clemente Biondetti won with a record setting time that lasted for 15 years.

In 1986 Dr. Simeone had his heart set on driving his 8C2900B in the Mille Miglia. Technicians worked feverishly to get the automotive love of his life ready on time. With his beloved classic Alfa prepared to perfection Dr. Simeone proceeded to arrange shipping. Hurst relates the story saying, “Because of its value Fred sought insurance for its transportation. The insurer responded with a breathtakingly steep premium. Fred then asked how the car would be shipped. It will be flown over came the response. Fred asked if it would be a commercial jet. The answer came back, yes. Fred responded by declining the insurance and booking a seat on the same flight saying if it crashes, I won’t care.”

By |2023-01-19T16:41:44+00:00January 19th, 2023|6 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are #32

It was a few years back. I had no idea what to expect. But I had to try to get in. The Simeone Museum’s archive possessed a motherlode of historically significant automotive art and literature dating back to the birth of the automobile. Having committed to presenting at the Historic Vehicle Association International Drive Conference, gaining access to the Simeone Archive meant everything. I never anticipated it would mean benefitting from the personal attention, warmth and insights of museum founder Dr. Fred Simeone himself.

In our contemporary age of celebrity worship, vapid personalities who, without merit, condescendingly distance themselves behind digital walls act as if, with apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald, they are not like the rest of us. In such times, encountering ready accessibility to a man of profound accomplishment challenges accepted convention.

Yet, Dr. Simeone, a gifted and accomplished neurosurgeon of global renown, joyfully embraced engaging the public in a passionate effort to promote and preserve automotive racing history. With Dr. Simeone’s passing in June of 2022, his museum now lives on by embodying his same genius and desire for engaging the public to make a century of meaningful racing history available to all.

The following affords a look at the man behind the amazing living history Dr. Simeone spent his life building for the benefit of future generations and why visiting the Simeone Museum merits a high position on any car guy’s life list.

Now, join Drivin’ News in exploring the soul of the Simeone Museum guided by longtime friend of Dr. Simeone and Simeone Museum Director of Programs Mr. Harry Hurst.

Dr. Fred Simeone’s love, vision and priceless racing legacy   Part 1

Dr. Fred Simeone behind the wheel of a 1933 Alfa Romeo on a Demonstration Day

Harry Hurst’s love of cars and racing dates back to his teenage years spent as track photographer at Sebring in the 1960s. Decades later as an accomplished photographer, author, technical writer and racing mechanic, the inevitability of Hurst meeting Dr. Fred Simeone seemed a given. Indeed, 1995 witnessed their paths cross at a vintage car event in Philadelphia where Hurst and a friend stared at what appeared to be a breathtaking Aston Martin DBR1. Both questioned how it could possibly be an original here in Philadelphia.

Harry Hurst

Within earshot of their conversation, famous photographer and friend of Simeone, Michael Furman confirmed its authenticity as the Nurburgring race winning 1958 DBR1 and that it belonged to Simeone. The twains were about to meet. Like Furman, Hurst would become a dedicated supporter of Simeone’s vision for an automotive racing museum founded on the Spirit of Competition. Today, Hurst who conceived of the museum’s unique “Demo Days” focuses his 35-years of technical and marketing expertise in support of Simeone’s vision of creating the world’s premier automobile racing museum.

Starting as a dimly lit parking garage in Philadelphia the Simeone Museum came into its own with a freshly constructed and dedicated space in 2008. Since then it has been ranked annually as either the number 1 or number 2 automotive collection in the world with Miles Collier’s Revs Institute occupying the other slot.

Simeone grew up in the decidedly blue-collar neighborhood of Kensington in Philadelphia, where his father, a family doctor, served the surrounding neighborhood. Though not wealthy, his father had a great love for cars, a love he passed on to his son. To this day some of his father’s cars remain in the Simeone collection. Fired by his acquired love for cars, Simeone at an early age began collecting sales literature. As a teenager he would go to Hershey to build onto a budding collection that in the coming century would blossom into one of the finest and most comprehensive automotive literature and art collections in the world.

1958 Aston Martin DBR1

In those early years Simeone’s passion for collecting literature would bring him to the Philadelphia Free Public Library with its extensive collection of automotive literature. His continued presence moved the library staff to present Fred with a card that said, “This is to introduce Frederick A. Simeone. He is our representative, please extend any courtesy to him to support his acquisition of automotive literature.”  His passion drove him to do everything he could to ensure that the history of the automobile in general and extraordinary automobiles in particular would be properly told.

Simeone diligently pursued his automotive preservation goals while at the same time attending Temple Medical School, then residences at Harvard University and The Mayo Clinic before returning to Philadelphia to serve for 25 years as Chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Pennsylvania Hospital. As one of the world’s foremost neurosurgeons he was also considered the busiest. During his tenure his peers voted him the busiest physician in the United States. Hurst with enormous admiration says, “He would perform up to eight or ten surgical procedures every day that he was on. And realize that we are talking spinal and brain surgery.” At the same time Simeone co-authored “The Spine” the seminal text on spinal surgery that continues to be used to train new surgeons today. Hurst says, “It’s incredible to consider what he achieved in promoting the preservation of automotive history in light of his accomplishments as a neurosurgeon.” Remarkable indeed and achieved through a clearly held vision.

Fred Simeone as a boy

In describing Simeone’s vision Hurst says, “Fred envisioned not just the collection and preservation of these significant cars. It was to display these cars in a manner that interpreted their meaning. It’s the only automotive museum I’ve ever seen where the cars on display are used to emphasize the importance of the spirit of competition. How competition is used to improve the cars that you and I now drive.” Hurst points to the disc brakes that set Jaguar’s race cars above and apart from the competition in the 1950s.

Simeone believed strongly in the value of competition. Hurst says, “The belief that there can be no progress without competition stood as a real driving force with Fred. He especially felt it important to communicate that fact, especially to young kids. He loved talking with young kids.”

Of equal importance as a defining principle of the collection, preservation ranked way above restoration in the mind and vision of Simeone. Hurst says, “As you view most cars on display here, the thing that immediately strikes you is, oh my God, why don’t they take that apart and repaint it?” Hurst continues, “The concept of preservation? That is one of the most important legacies of Fred’s vision.”

When Simeone started collecting back in the early 1970s, nobody cared about old race cars. Vintage racing did not yet exist, so without anyplace to race obsolete race cars their value quickly approached nil. Hurst says, “Fred’s passion for racing drove him to start collecting these “worthless” old pieces of history.” Back then anybody interested in possessing such old cars would acquire one and immediately dismantle, rebuild and refinish it to sparkling “new.” Simeone, with collecting tastes that extended beyond old cars, also had an interest in other vintage collectibles including antique furniture. With antique furniture, anything that alters the original finish seriously degrades its value. Simeone applied that same aesthetic to his managing his car collection.

Dr. Simeone’s 300SL

The worth of an authentic vehicle as a valuable historic document is evidenced by the 1955 300SL in the Simeone Collection. Originally purchased by Simeone’s father Dr. Anthony Simeone in the 1950s (for somewhere around $7,000 to $8,000). It was his father’s pride and joy. Today that 300SL stands fundamentally just as it rolled out of the showroom. With both paint and interior original. Hurst says, “It is one hundred percent original to the extent that I just arranged for a gentleman to fly up to see the car to confirm the originality of his 1955 300SL. That man spent all day referencing the Simeone 300SL to determine his 300SL’s authenticity.” In today’s collector car world, the Simeone 300SL serves as the standard for determining the accuracy of paint finish, original upholstery stitching and so on. Hurst says, “So much can be lost if you replace something. If someone says I’m just replacing the carpeting…, NO! The carpeting may be a certain type. The backing, the stitching, the edging, all of that is only original once and sometimes it’s very hard to replicate.  Hurst goes on to say, “Fred would always say, something can only be original once.”

That belief now serves as the guiding principle for the presentation of his collection. With that said, Hurst says, “We do make sure that mechanically all cars are in excellent condition. Only, where absolutely necessary would we do any repainting or replacement.” Hurst went on to say, “That’s also why we don’t vintage race any of the cars, though all of the cars in the collection do run. We take them out twice a month for demonstrations on the 3-acre back lot beside the museum where we drive them around so visitors can see, hear, smell what these cars were like. However, mindful of their frailty, we do not push them to racing speeds. We run them. We do not abuse them.”

Simeone chose to direct his focus on acquiring racing cars that typically possessed headlights and fenders. Such cars could conceivably be driven on the road and, thus, entered in LeMans, Sebring and Daytona endurance races up to a certain point in time. Later years found this not necessarily the case. And indeed the period of cars represented in the museum skews to the early and mid-20th century. Hurst says, “That is our real concentration. Fred did not favor Formula 1 cars as he felt they had no relationship to production vehicles. Fred clearly felt that for a car to be worthy for inclusion in his collection he preferred production-based vehicles. That’s where Fred’s interest rested. He focused on how competition improved the breed and how that improved the cars that the public would drive.”

An important lesson learned by Simeone in creating his legacy came by way of his association with another famous car collector, Bill Harrah, legendary owner of Harrah’s Casino in Las Vegas. The lesson arrived by way of Harrah’s death in 1978 and the realization that Harrah had made no plans in his will for his collection. As a result, Holiday Inn took over the Harrah assets and started selling off a lot of the cars. Fred actually bought a Stutz, a Squire and the Ford GT40 Mark IV, from Holiday Inn.

With Harrah’s lesson learned, plans were well in place when time arrived for Simeone’s Museum dreams to come to fruition. By 2008 and the museum’s opening Simeone had donated his entire collection to the Simeone Automotive Foundation. He had taken the lessons of Harrah’s passing to heart and recognized the problems museums experience when the founder dies. Simeone had thoughtfully acted to ensure a stabile future where in his absence his legacy would be supported by a strong financial foundation and a dedicated and knowledgeable staff.

The story of what is widely considered the world’s preeminent automobile racing museum began with the passing, in 1972, of Dr. Anthony Simeone a family doctor in the blue-collar Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Seeding his brilliant son Frederick’s future with a bequest of $8,000, four old cars and an inherited passion for automobiles, the father set the stage for his son’s brilliant medical career and a realized passion to preserve the priceless history of automobile racing in the 20th century.


A future Drivin’ News will feature Part 2, Fascinating backstories of Simeone Museum’s Mona Lisa cars

By |2023-01-05T13:21:29+00:00January 5th, 2023|4 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are #31

Like many car enthusiasts, Leslie’s father, Pete LaFronz, had spent a good part of his adult life pleasantly consumed by an ongoing love affair with the car of his dreams. For over forty-years Pete, with his money and time, passionately stoked the flames of his obsession for a single family of sixteen-cylinder Cadillacs, the late 1930s “Sixteen.” For model years 1938 through 1940, the second and last generation of Cadillac V-16s or the “Sixteen,” as they were know, stood as the pinnacle of the American automotive hierarchy. Pete had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars amassing the bodies and parts to build two maybe three Olympian specimens. Largely a mass of bodies, parts and pieces, no one, except Pete, really knew what he had. Then Pete died leaving daughter Leslie as the Executor of his estate.

Meet Pete’s daughter and non-car enthusiast, Leslie LaFronz.

When the collection outlives the collector, a daughter’s point of view

A few weeks back a friend of mine had asked if I could help her niece, Leslie LaFronz, get a handle on what the niece’s recently deceased car enthusiast father, Pete LaFronz had left behind in a garage with no instructions.

Crunching through autumn leaves on the upwardly sloping gravel driveway, I passed a neat suburban single family home of 1930s vintage. Moving on I approached a handsome-two story carriage house capable of holding six cars. A single hint of its contents greeted me in stony silence. Locked in a rotisserie stand, a chassis that to the naked eyed looked worthy of a Peterbilt truck stood sentry. Though long exposed to the elements, it looked defiantly solid.

The carriage house I would soon learn was built two decades ago by Pete, who I would also learn possessed excellent technical and fabrication skills. Blessed, as well, with boundless energy and a strong will, Pete held no

fear of daunting projects. I would soon see further evidence of that fearlessness manifested on the other side of the secured garage doors.

Outside the garage a middle aged woman with an air of the overwhelmed busied herself with boxes of clutter amidst a scatter field of random debris. Such possessions, orphaned by the loss of their departed owner, express a cold absence of meaning as they no longer possess a context drawn from the life force of the individual to whom they once belonged.

Looking up from her task she introduced herself as Leslie LaFronz. A successful field hockey coach at Kean University, Leslie projected the quiet resolve of a capable woodsman who has found herself in a strange forest facing a challenge without a ready solution. One of Pete’s four daughters and Executor of Pete’s estate, Leslie has just begun scratching the surface of a daunting task that awaited her. With a tone blending foreboding and humor Leslie, facing back at me from the garage, asked, “Ready for this?” I was not.

Staring straight ahead as the garage doors opened to reveal its contents, I quickly grasped how truly fearless and I am sorry to say unreasonably optimistic, dare I say self deluded, Pete had been.

Feeling for all the world like the little kid in the movie “Close Encounters” who opens the back door to be overwhelmed by the unknown, I had not been prepared to face a significant percent of the remaining and rarest of the second generation Cadillac Sixteen. Filling the first floor of Pete’s garage can best be expressed as a Gordian knot of rare Cadillac bodies, parts and pieces, many of them priceless others worthless. To differentiate one from the other screamed for the truly educated eye of a vintage Cadillac expert. Apart from a comprehensive array of machinery to carry out a restoration, the six-bay garage floor served as home to a four-door convertible Phaeton, a 2-door convertible and a Coupe. Leslie recalled her father claiming that all the parts where there to do total restorations of at least two cars. Amazingly the bodies appeared original, solid and suffering from minor surface rust if any at all.

Looking about the garage “Sixteen” engines, short blocks, solid body panels and bright work resided within a perimeter defined by ceiling high shelves filled with neatly organized bins of parts, some labeled, some not. Like grout on a tile floor, any free space between this treasure trove of vintage parts was packed with cartons of magazines, books and random car related paraphernalia. Just trying to navigate through this maze of treasure and trash posed a physically challenging task. I was speechless. Leslie was not.

“There is much more upstairs, you know. Would you like to see that too,” Leslie asked posing the question with a blend of challenge to a newcomer and resignation to more evidence of a crushing burden she must shoulder. Climbing the garage stairs, the mantra of the late night infomercial “But wait, There’s more!” came to mind. And, yes there was more, many more parts and pieces.

Having surveyed the scene as best I could, I stood outside the open garage to share some thoughts and commiserate with Leslie in acknowledging the challenge she faced. It was then that Leslie added in an off-hand manner, “Then, of course, there is everything upstate.” Indeed, there is more. “Oh yes,” Leslie said, “My dad had stored a number of Cadillacs out in an open field in Sullivan County New York. He bought the property because he needed more space. I had to go see.

Driving through the back roads of rural Sullivan County brought me to property along a narrow country lane with an abandoned house and a large field with a fenced in area. Inside resided five late 1930s Cadillacs that, while solid, had begun the biblical journey of dust to dust.

For a knowledgeable car guy or gal, the task Pete, a loving father, had bequeathed to his loving children would have been a wicked time and energy consuming challenge. For four daughters with no collectible automobile experience or interest it loomed as a mind numbing abyss filled with unanswerable questions. Did it need to be this way?

Other than his family, Pete loved nothing more than immersing himself in the history and substance of the 2nd generation Cadillac “Sixteen.” With only a total of 508 built over its three model year production run from 1938 to 1940, the Sixteen was doomed to extinction courtesy of political, economic and technical realities for which no defense existed.

Cadillac introduced the V-16 just as the Great Depression crushed the market for Olympian cars. Timing could not have been worse. Of Cadillac’s total V-16 production of 4,376 units, two-thirds of all sales came in its first model year of 1930. Then the Depression dug in and ground on. Despite its stature as the pinnacle of automobile luxury and performance, Cadillac V-16 sales steadily declined through the Depression until 1937 when conventional wisdom believed Cadillac would discontinue the V-16. But, no, for model year 1938 Cadillac doubled down and introduced a 2nd Generation V-16. This Sixteen would, fifty years later, capture the heart of Pete.

Cadillac’s second generation V-16 introduced a totally new 431 cu. in. V-16 engine that was lighter and more efficient while delivering performance superior to the previous year’s model. Its exterior treatment and interior appointments supported Cadillac’s claim that the new Sixteen stood as the “World’s Most Luxurious Motor Car.” Over its three-year run the Sixteen came in six models; 4-door Sedan, 2-door Coupe, 2-door Convertible, 4-door Convertible, 4-door Town Sedan and 4-door Town Car. Pete had collected four, lacking only the Town Sedan and Town Car.

The demise of the Sixteen came at the hands of its value proposition. Despite its 16-cylinders, new technologies made the modern V-8 equally attractive while sharing the same body styles. And then there was the matter of price. The Sixteen cost over $2,000 more than the V-8. It has been pointed out that for the same price as a Sixteen, one could buy a V-8 powered Cadillac 75 with the same body and features plus a new Buick convertible and a new Chevrolet with change left over. The last Sixteen left the factory in December of 1939. None of this mattered to Pete.

In supporting his passion there appeared no limit to the lengths to which Pete would go to add to his store of authentic Sixteen parts and pieces. His efforts seemingly knew no bounds. No bounds indeed. Surveying Pete’s garage and upstate property revealed the extraordinary fruits of his efforts.

Leslie says, “Once in a while we would talk about his cars and he would reveal that he had over $250,000 in parts and pieces.” Pete would show Leslie an emblem for which he had paid $2000. She would look but could not see the value.

It would not be unusual for Pete to go to a show carrying a paper bag containing $10,000 in cash just in case he saw something he wanted. Leslie says, “He always dealt in cash. He also always wore his worst clothes in an effort to get a good deal. Never used a credit card.” Yet, despite his obsession with the Sixteen, Pete, over 40-years, never restored one.

Why did he go through all the trouble? When asked Leslie says, “Maybe it was about the hunt to find the pieces. Maybe the hunt gave greater pleasure than actually driving a completed car.” Leslie continues, saying, “We could never figure it out. We didn’t need to. If he was happy. We were happy.” The family feeling pretty much held that it was his money. He worked for it. He should enjoy it. Who are we to ask?”

Then, Pete died and with him went the passion and the knowledge leaving Leslie and her sisters with his collection and little if any understanding of what they now owned. When posed with the question – What could Pete have done to better prepare for the inevitable? – Leslie had some interesting thoughts.

Pete’s story offers valuable lessons for other car enthusiasts who do not care to look down the road when it comes to estate planning for all they have accumulated under the banner of their collectible automobile passion.

Leslie’s experience offers some valuable suggestions for those who want to do the right thing for the people they love who will be taking possession of the cars they love.

Leslie, a bright, no-nonsense and loving daughter makes it clear that much could have been done if her father had chosen to cooperate. Leslie had repeatedly suggested to Pete that they take a video camera and walk around the garage and capture his thoughts on the meaning, purpose and value of various items. Leslie says, “We could have recorded him pointing to things and explaining what they were and what he paid for them.” Equally if not more important in Leslie’s mind would have been for her dad to identify his assessment of the present market value of his collection. Another excellent idea of Leslie’s was her desire to have her dad make a list of friends and associates. Those possessing valuable knowledge could be an exceptional resource for Leslie as would a list of those with an interest in purchasing part or all of the collection.

In retrospect the daughters knew the problems they would face when Pete passed. Though Pete possessed great hearing, he turned a deaf ear when they suggested that he tag things as to year and purpose. Leslie says, “My sister even bought the tags, everything to do it.” She continues, “My dad said he would do it but it was so close to the end that he never did.”

In speaking to the Drivin’ News reader whether the collection belongs to you or an aging parent Leslie says, “Specific preparations need to be made for the sake of the collection and for those to whom it will be left.”

Leslie says, “I think you want your life in order. If you’re passionate about your family, or your legacy, then do the right thing. Have your will drawn up and include the description, evaluation and plans for disposition of your collection. If you want somebody to have something, make sure that they know that you have it in writing somewhere. It’s just so much easier for those who must sort it out later.”

In Leslie’s mind, making plans for the inevitable represents a necessary part of the proper stewardship of a collection, regardless of its size whether one classic car or one hundred.

In reflecting on one’s responsibility to a collection consider estate planning in the sense of providing fuel stabilizer for winter storage. It ensures your car will be ready to drive come spring. Except in the case of estate planning you are ensuring that your collection has the best chance of being loved when you will longer be at the wheel.

Drivin” News will be revisiting Leslie in the future to see how this challenge resolved but for now these are Leslie’s take away points to consider:

  • Record a video walking tour of a collection with commentary by the owner

  • Tag components identifying:

    • What it is.

    • What it cost when purchased

    • Its present value

  • Create a list identifying

    • Friends with knowledge about the collection

    • Individuals with an interest in buying part or all of the collection

  • Include the written document outlining your plans for the disposition of the collection contents.

  • Meet with an attorney

By |2022-10-27T13:05:44+00:00October 27th, 2022|10 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are # 30

My phone rings, and from the other end of the line (yes, I still have a land line) comes the voice of good friend and super car guy Bob Austin. “Would you be a judge at a concours event?” asks Bob. “Sure,” I reply and quickly follow with questions about who, where, what, etc. Bob replies that those details are fluid as this future event will be a first time event and presently stands as a work in progress. He explains that he has been asked to oversee creation of this newborn event’s maiden voyage. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, if you take your eye off the ball. Planning the event would challenge Bob’s sharp eye.

Let’s create a Concours d’Elegance! OK…How?

Named the Concours on the Palisades, the event came to life inspired by the local father’s efforts to focus public awareness on all that downtown Fort Lee, NJ has to offer. For those not from the area, Fort Lee offers spectacular views of Manhattan from its perch atop the Palisades cliffs that overlook the Hudson River that flows hundreds of feet below. At the start of the 20th century Fort Lee served as home to the early film industry that would soon move to a place called Hollywood. It also anchors the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. Save for major highways converging at the GW Bridge, Centuries old Fort Lee consists of predominantly two-lane streets.

Those with a memory for political theater may recall those predominantly two-lane streets were used to strangle the life out of, then, New Jersey Governor Chris Christy’s 2016 Presidential bid. At that time NJ state officials were accused of knowingly obstructing local traffic lanes going to the bridge at rush hour as revenge for a perceived political slight. The action choked commuter traffic back to the Delaware River (Yes, I am exaggerating but not much). Location for the Concours would be many of those same downtown streets. The Main Street, a quarter mile from the GW entrance, would be chock-a-block with classic and super cars for the concours. It, however, would be held on a Sunday.

James Liu, Bob Austin, Denis Glennon

The planning that went on in advance to make this work smoothly would fill volumes. The credit resides with Austin, the two founders of the event and Fort Lee Business District Board members Denis Glennon and James Liu, Tony Boniello who provided publicity through his Car & Caffe operation and a legion of enthusiastic and capable volunteers. To that should be added the Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich who enthusiastically embraced the concours to the point of participating in the judging process and a local police force that actually appeared to savor their role in ensuring a free and easy flow of people and wonderful cars. Let’s just say it was done well by all involved.

All concours are not created the same. Some car enthusiasts believe that the rarified air of some exclusive events can muffle the joy that such a glorious celebration of automotive art and history should impart. Pebble Beach comes to mind.

Others events possess no aspirations for tony grandeur but seek an engaging celebration of automotive beauty and the culture of enthusiasts that keeps the history and visceral pleasure of classic automobiles alive and thriving.

Originators of Concours on the Palisades sought to attract a general public with an event that celebrated the automobile with a structure and format that elevated it above the casual and loose structure of a Cars and Coffee. Its intended format sought to provide an environment that attracted owners of very special automobiles to publicly display these special vehicles in a setting offering scrutiny and recognition by knowledgeable judges. As well, the concourse originators wanted to provide a day of automotive and artistic education and fun that would bring the attention of an interested public to the special qualities of the downtown Fort Lee setting.

A basic threshold that must be crossed in most cases to elevate an automotive gathering from a cruise to a concours is judging. Fundamentally two styles of judging prevail. The most meticulous judging criteria can be found at events that are dedicated to a single marquee such as Porsche, Corvette or Rolls-Royce. Here a point system created by a cohort of OCD afflicted marque maniacs with too much time on their hands (Only kidding) serve as the basis for judging a vehicle’s every nut and bolt for correctness and authenticity using a 200 or 300 point system. Every flaw results in a deduction from the 200 or 300 point perfect score. To merit a trophy an entrant must exceed a certain minimum score such as 90 percent. Exposing one’s vehicle to such scrutiny of every nook and cranny from engine bay through interior to trunk can border on the unpleasant.

A second form of judging and the one employed at Concours on the Palisades originated in France in the 1700s and, appropriately enough, bears the name “French Rules.”

How you may ask could a system for judging automobiles originate two centuries before the car arrived. While 17th century French society lacked automobiles it had a wealth of fancy carriages. The first Concours d’Elegance took place in large part along the Seine River on Sundays. Here the wealthy would take their families out in their horse drawn carriage to picnic. Each, for the most part, would have a very nice horse, a handsome carriage, a lovely blanket and a very nice picnic set. As people then, as now, tend to compare, families would make an effort to have a horse, carriage, blanket and picnic set a bit nicer than the next family. One can almost sense the inevitable momentum of the one-upmanship that ultimately evolved to where prizes were awarded for the best horse and carriage and so on. It got to the point that how the children were dressed counted. Kids must have loved that.

Thus, French rules do not focus on nuts, bolts, authenticity and perfection. The emphasis resides on a vehicle’s overall visual impact as defined by the car’s style, beauty, elegance and presentation. A good story also adds value. The essence of the judging guidelines called for assessing the emotional response experienced by the judge himself. The wrong hose clamp? Not an issue. The hood stayed closed so engine detailing did not matter. Overall visual impact moved the needle. If the car’s appearance moved a judge to feel that, more than any other car in this class, he would want this car in his garage then this car went to the top of his list.

In advance, all judges had been instructed that their number one responsibility demanded that they be a goodwill ambassador for the event. In addition to their scrutineering responsibilities, each judge would introduce himself by name to the car owner, be friendly, ask for the story behind the car and thank the owner for bringing the car to make this concours possible.

At the end of the day the results rewarded all involved. The classes established for the concours differed from convention but different does not mean incorrect. Classes were based on country of origin.

Dick Santucci accepts Best of Show trophy for his 1954 XK120 Jaguar

A notable air of appreciation for the event itself permeated the owner’s ranks and those who comprised the admiring crowds. The only thing beyond the control of organizers was the weather. Just as the awards presentation began the skies opened up. Cars get wet, they survive. Winners receiving a beautiful crystal award could not have their spirits dampened. Though the two-foot tall “Best of Show” loving cup trophy won by Dick Santucci and his 1954 Jaguar XK120 roadster filled with rain water Santucci smiled with the grin of a man whose cup runneth over.

Link to video of 2022 Concours on the Palisades

By |2022-08-03T17:22:38+00:00August 3rd, 2022|Comments Off on Cars We Love & Who We Are # 30

Cars We Love & Who We Are #29

Miles Collier, writing in the August 2022 issue of Sports Car Market spoke to his belief that “the restoration of a car either produces an archetype that embodies the standard characteristics of that vehicle or a portrait that serves as an evocation of someone or something, that attempts to capture the essence of that someone or something.”

Collier states, “The restoration process always transforms, even destroys the past, if only by severing the car’s most important relationship, its connection to the selfsame and irrecoverable past.” He believes that the end result, no matter how meticulous and faithful the effort, will achieve no more than an approximation of the automobile’s lost reality.

His point is that the evidence of human stories engraved in the material fabric of the car makes it an emotional and powerful historical artifact that honors the car’s relationship to time and use.

His words made me reflect on the 1961 Corvette I have owned since 1967 and retained as original until a restoration necessitated by a fire in 2017.

The following looks at the restoration effort of my Corvette in the light of Miles Collier’s beliefs.

To provide a sense of the Corvette’s accrued life, times and use that translated into my, then, unrestored Corvette’s rich patina, I will begin with a piece I wrote for Hemmings to celebrate my 50th year of ownership.

 Applying Miles Collier’s archetype versus portrait conventions in assessing the restoration of my 1961 Corvette


Summer 1967 witnessed the Beatles joining Sergeant Pepper’s Band and marching off the touring circuit for good at the same time that 100,000 hippies descended on San Francisco for the “Summer of Love.” It may have been ’67 but I would experience it like Route 66.

Still a teenager, my summer of ‘67 was to be an American Graffiti experience rich with Jersey Shore adventures and cruising main streets across Bergen County and beyond.

My sophomore year at Newark College of Engineering, now NJIT, was in the books and the bill for first semester of my junior year fast approached. Tuition for the next semester loomed as the princely sum of $220.

With my sister Dorothy in 1967

Having just sold my 1959 MGA for $325, I was working hard at two jobs because I wanted to buy a Corvette as well as pay for school.

The ad in the local paper read “1961 Corvette, Honduras Maroon with white cove, 283 with dual quads.” The classified now tossed to the kitchen table was still warm from my touch as I hit the road for Bloomfield, New Jersey. I was not disappointed. There it stood, strong and clean. A brief conversation revealed that it had been sold, but was again available because the previous buyer could not swing the bank loan. $1300 was a lot of money in 1967. I had $1200. Never-the-less I committed to returning the next day with the cash. Over the subsequent 24 hours I sold anything I had of value including my once treasured Lionel train set that filled my basement. At final accounting I had supplemented my bank roll by $125. I bought it.

Unthinkable now, but in 1967 on Saturday nights, youthful drivers across America in cars of every description would cruise around the center of town. Summer nights witnessed an unbroken string of cars that slowly crept along downtown main streets. A hormone laced dance of cars, flirting glances and laughter, it played out against a backdrop of deep throated Detroit iron and the aroma of engines running rich on Sunoco high test. I loved it.

This great horsepower driven rite of passage inspired iconic American rock groups like the Beach Boys to memorialize it in song and Spielberg and Lucas to put it in movie theaters with American Graffiti.

Corvette gets its Keystone mags in 1968

Main streets seemed to be filled with guys congregating on corners and girls strolling to nowhere in particular. Guys would drive around and, if they saw a couple of girls they liked walking down the main drag, there would be an invitation to go for a ride. The response would often be a giggling yes. Again unthinkable today.

While my Corvette only had two seats, I could fit four people as long as at least two of them were pretty girls.

Years passed and the early 70s saw me return to graduate school. A lasting memory finds me alone and cruising along Route 81 north of Binghamton, New York bound for Syracuse University, my future alma mater. The Chevy small block smoothly rumbled at speed. Midnight approached. Wind danced through the open cockpit. A starry summer sky hung like rich black velvet populated with diamonds twinkling in a jeweler’s case. A full moon poured moody light upon the sleeping village in the valley below. Cruising at 70, I climbed a high banking turn where the valley floor quickly fell away. For me that frozen moment in time captured a peace and sweet loneliness that connected with me in a way that freed me from ever again wondering why I so loved the open road.

With nephew Michael in 1975

Upon returning from graduate school, I discovered that my nephew Michael, age three, had taken a fancy to the Corvette. My sister said yes, he could go for a ride, but only if I installed a seat belt for him. Forty-three years later the car still has the one seatbelt. Michael now lives in North Carolina with children of his own.

Life like a road has rough spots. My father was a life-long smoker and car guy. I picked up one appetite not the other. We would work on the Corvette together. Swearing and laughing. It served both of us well.

By 1980 emphysema had robbed him of his ability to breath. His heart beat strong but his lungs were gone. He was taken to Holy Name Hospital to address what could be done to ease his passing. The time came when all that could be done was accomplished. He would go home. While the nurses recommended arranging for an ambulance to take him home. I said no. I hooked up an oxygen system in the Corvette. When they wheeled him to the hospital entrance the Corvette was waiting to take him for one last ride.

With nephew Michael and his son Michael in 2019

1994 found my mother who had nurtured my appreciation for great books and a love of history suffering from the mental ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. When I would visit her at a care facility, as I frequently did, her affliction had reached the point where her recognition of me would drift in and out. I learned a lot about Alzheimer’s during that time. One thing was that memory does not deteriorate uniformly. I would wheel her out to the facility parking lot on sunny days and bring her by the familiar Corvette. I would open the passenger door and sit on the sill facing her in her wheelchair. Sitting there under blue skies old memories would flash across her face like short lived sparks and disappear. My mother would smile.

As time passes I find that others with cars and stories gravitate to like souls. In recent years a number of friends gather on early Sunday mornings a few times a year at the International Crossroads in Mahwah, NJ. We call it the “Classic Car Dust Off Breakfast Run.” We pick a diner somewhere within 50 miles and embark on a traveling car show.

I am blessed that these are the best days of my life. And come July, I will celebrate 50 years of history with a numbers matching Corvette that remains original after more than one quarter of a million miles and continues to make memories.

2017, at least for me, will be another summer of love.


…And now it is 2022

With Jeff Buchak who carried out the restoration. 2018

Now 5-years hence, fire damage in September of 2017 would result in a complete restoration. Details of the restoration have been chronicled in the September 2019 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines.

In differentiating between Collier’s choice of archetype or portrait, I believe my restoration effort walks a slim line straddling both. In doing so I acknowledge that my restoration effort, in seeking to retain elements directly associated with the use experienced and the passage of time, incorporates original components that fall short of showroom “archetype” condition. I deem that a plus not a negative.

My goal in executing the restoration was three-fold. I wanted to preserve my Corvette’s ability to afford the driver a time machine by informing their driving experience with the qualities of that period of automotive history. So, no restomod for me, thank you.

Secondly, for those friends and family members who knew and shared my history, I strived for a way to connect with the energy of that driving and living experience to instill a feeling for that history for those who shared in it.

Finally the car needed to be right. By that I meaning functional in a way that communicated a driving experience that possessed authenticity.

The door panels that have been touched by every meaningful person in my life since I have been a teenager remain in place. The sill plate where I sat to capture fleeting memories with my mother retains its original place of honor. Trim pieces that have reflected the passing scene of every drive I have ever taken continue to do so. The door handle my father pressed down when departing from his last drive continues to function nobly without complaint. The Wonderbar radio that reported the passing of history and any music available on an AM channel sits functional as it has since the day it left the showroom. The Goldwater-Miller presidential campaign button has been left where it was found with the spare tire .

On the other hand, The history recorded in the scars and abrasions of the slings, arrows and dings of outrageous happenstance have all been swept away by a superior prep and paint process. So the paint scar earned through years of hard top use is left to memory as is the gash left by the mishandling of the hard top by a past girlfriend who was “helping” me. To that list belongs paint worn off by decades of polishing, the many scars acquired in decades of open water transport on Martha’s Vineyard ferries and the meteor shower of road debris kicked up over a period spanning the administrations of ten United States Presidents. While all the scars are but a memory the color itself, though not the chemistry producing it, exhibits an amazing fidelity to the original Honduras Maroon.

Collier’s perspective on the desirable qualities guiding a restoration speaks approvingly of a process that honors the automobile’s relationship to time and use. And, in the rare instance of a long period of single ownership, I would add, the life shared with the owner.



By |2022-07-07T11:58:39+00:00July 7th, 2022|6 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are #28

What matters? As a culture what objects should we, as Americans, care about enough to protect? What should be recognized as a defining element of our culture’s evolution worthy of recognition and preservation? In 1966 by an act of Congress, the Federal Government established the National Register of Historic Places. This act authorized creation of an official list of historic places in America worthy of documentation and preservation. Today, the list includes almost 100,000 properties  comprised of buildings, sites, districts, structures, and objects, but no automobiles.

No automobiles!!! What single object has played a greater role in the evolution of American culture than the automobile?

This glaring oversight received remedy in 2013 with creation of the National Historic Vehicle Register (NHVR)through the collaboration of the U.S. Department of Interior, the Heritage Documentation Programs, the Library of Congress and the Historic Vehicle Association (Recently renamed the Hagerty Drivers Foundation, HDF). Tasked with the recognition and documentation of the most historically significant automobiles, motorcycles, trucks and commercial vehicles in America’s past, the NHVR faces a daunting task. As of today 32 vehicles have been honored with recognition.

Let’s take a look at what makes them so special.

Judged the 32 most historically significant cars in America. Do you agree?


How to pick the vehicles that matter most? Right off the bat inclusion does not necessarily require the vehicle to be the best of its breed.

NHVR has established four defining criteria that affords eligibility to the register. A vehicle only has to meet one of the criteria to be considered eligible for entry.


1.The vehicle must be associated with a meaningful trend in American automotive history or culture or a significant event or events.

2. The vehicle is associated with the life or lives of a person or persons who played a significant role in American history or culture.

3. The vehicle must achieve distinction based on design, engineering, craftsmanship or aesthetic value.

4. A vehicle of a particular type that was the first one produced, the last one produced, is a rare or the sole example or is among the most well-preserved or authentically restored surviving examples.

These four criteria go a long way in making sense of what could otherwise be a list possessing considerable mystery. It certainly can provide clarity in explaining why your pristine 1967 427 Corvette is doubtful to make the cut but a 1964½ Mustang coupe with a straight six, automatic transmission and the lowest VIN# known would seem to be a lock.

Diane Parker, Vice President of the Historic Vehicle Association, speaking in 2019 said, “The National Historic Vehicle Register was created to fill a gap in our history. As you can imagine, we have a little bit of catching up to do,” Parker said. “There are over 2500 makes of vehicles out there, but we’re going to do this one vehicle at a time. For us, the National Historic Vehicle Register isn’t our mission, it’s our passion—it’s our purpose.”

Once selected, a chosen vehicle experiences a breathtaking level of documentation to assure that every attribute will be available to scrutinize for future generations.

A significant benefit to that goal resulted from an extraordinary act of selfless generosity in support of the NHVR that would save countless hours and dollars.

Documentation demands a venue affording an extraordinary level of technical sophistication and cleanliness in a spacious environment. At the outset, documenting the first few cars demanded finding a warehouse or studio near the subject vehicle to which all necessary equipment had to be transported. Realize that meant transporting and setting up all the equipment to conduct the photography, photogrammetry (the science of obtaining reliable information about physical objects by recording, measuring, and interpreting using noncontact sensor systems), 3D scanning and videography. Needless to say the need for such mobility posed an arduous and expensive task.

Now comes the generosity. When hearing of this logistical nightmare Nikola Bulgari, founder of the NB Center for American Automotive Heritage in Allentown, PA, simply said, “Do it here at the N-B Center. We will build a permanent studio with the all the technology hardwired in and positioned.” From then on it was game on.

As of today these 32 Vehicles have been selected for inclusion in the NHVR list. Do you agree?

1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe

The initial entry to the NHVR, the Daytona Coupe touched every base for criteria meriting selection . Created by Carroll Shelby, designed by Peter Brock, this, the first Daytona Coupe, powered by a 289 cu. in. Ford V8 delivering 375 horsepower was capable of speeds over 180 mph. Known as the CSX2287, it stands tall in the pantheon of most significant American vehicles in history. In 1965 in winning an FIA-sanctioned international series, this Daytona Coupe made a major mark in US automotive history.

1964 Meyers Manx “Old Red”

Built by legend Bruce Meyers, “Old Red” was the first fiberglass dune buggy and the prototype rear-engine VW powered Meyers Manx that inspired the dune buggy craze. While Meyers built roughly 7000 Meyers Manx dune buggies it inspired over 250,000 copies making it the most replicated car in history.



1938 Maserati 8CTF “Boyle Special”

The most successful car to ever compete at the Indianapolis 500 race, the Boyle Special with its two wins, two third places, and one fourth place in a racing career that spanned the late 1930s to 1953 established its exalted place in American racing lore.



1918 Cadillac Type 57

The only remaining passenger car that served in WWI in France. Steeped in historic value and wartime service this 1918 Cadillac saw extensive use across war-torn battlefields of Europe while driven in support of The American Expeditionary Force by its owner and YMCA volunteer Rev. John Hopkins Dennison.


1947 Tucker 48 Prototype

Created by Preston Tucker, the Tucker, certainly holds a brief but outstanding place in American automotive history and design. Though only 51 cars would be produced, the Tucker’s impact on the automobile industry, automobile innovation and automobile lore far exceeded its limited life.



1940 GM Futurliner

GM launched the Parade of Progress in 1936 to promote the scientific and technological achievements of America as part of a traveling educational show. The Parade of Progress featured three distinct “tours” from 1936 to 1956. This is one of twelve Futurliners created in 1940 for the second tour of the Parade of Progress. All Futurliners served as transport trucks and display stages for the exhibits.



1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL

Brain child of Max Hoffman, notoriously aggravating but savvy, distributor of Mercedes-Benz automobiles in the 1950s, the very expensive 160 mph 300SL offered a road-going sports car based on the Mercedes-Benz W194 race car. It achieved its goal of targeting the U.S. market with over 80% of Gullwing production was sold in America. Clearly Max got this one right. Today it remains one of the most desirable classic cars in the world


1940 Ford Pilot Model “Jeep”

In 1937, with clouds of war forming, the US Army invited bids on designing a quarter-ton lightweight utility vehicle. Manufacturers were invited to submit prototypes to meet the Army’s specifications. Ford, American Bantam, and Willys-Overland were left standing for the final cut and were charged with producing more prototypes for further evaluation.

Willys-Overland would actually win the Army contract but, due to the needs for a lot of jeeps to be produced quickly, Ford with its superior production capabilities was awarded the contract to produce the Willys-Overland design. The critical role played by the rugged jeep in WWII is now legend.

1909 White Model M Steam Car

As 27th President of the United States, William Taft possessed a great interest in automobiles. He converted some White House stables into a four-car garage which held an electric vehicle, two Pierce-Arrows and this White Model “M” Steamer. Recognized as the first Presidential Limousine, it is the only remaining car used by Taft.



1962 Willys CJ-6

This 1962 CJ-6 was the personal vehicle of Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States. He favored its use at his 688-acre ranch near Santa Barbara, California. While not a favorite of Nancy’s, Ron loved using the scruffy red jeep for heavy duty ranch work. Due to Reagan’s declining health the CJ-6 was sold to the Young America’s Foundation in 1995.




1911 Marmon Wasp

Winner of the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, the Marmon Wasp driven by Ray Harroun averaged a speed of 74 mph with the whole race taking about 6 hours and 42 minutes. Aside from winning the first running of a great historic race it also features the first documented use of a rear-view mirror on a race car.



1907 Thomas Flyer 4-60

This Thomas Flyer won the 1908 New York to Paris Automobile Race. In traveling over 22,000 miles in 169 days, it is one of only three of the six competitors that completed the competition and was the only American car entered. Its margin of victory over the second place finisher was 26 days. The victory drew great attention to the early American automobile industry and world-wide recognition to America.




1920 Anderson Convertible Roadster

In the age of Detroit dominance in automobile manufacturing, Anderson stood out as a  manufacturers based in the South. Between 1916 and 1925 Anderson produced over 5,000 cars in Rock Hill, South Carolina with the aim of attracting local buyers.

With few examples of Anderson products existing today, this is believed to be the sole surviving example of the Convertible Roadster design. It’s patented design which allowed it to switch between two or five-seater configurations, along with its rarity, made it a prime candidate for register inclusion.


1938 Buick Y-Job

Until the Buick Y-Job, auto shows never featured concept cars. The Buick Y-Job was the first. Styled by the famous GM head of design Harley Earl, the Y-Job sought to create a design language for future Buicks.

Possessing power-operated hidden headlights, electric windows, and wrap around bumpers the Y-Job bristled with features, concepts and executions that would inspire automobile designers for years. It also paved the way for the legion of concept cars to come. A fully functional vehicle, it would be driven by Earl for many years.

1967 Chevrolet Camaro

In responding to the dynamic success of the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet worked quietly on a response that in itself would significantly impact the pony car market. Released in August of 1966, the Camaro began a storied and highly successful career. After being left to deteriorate, this Camaro was identified as the very first model to be produced and subsequently enjoyed a total restoration returned it to its original condition.



1932 Ford Model V8

A landmark execution of that established the benchmark  for the hot rod as a stripped down V8-powered Ford roadster. The creation of Bob McGee who upon returning from serving in WWII returned to his first love, hot rodding. This definitive example of a trend setting concept took a 1932 Ford roadster and transformed it by cutting and shaving the bodywork, lowering the suspension, upgrading the engine, installing custom upholstery and treating it to a custom red paint job.


1951 Mercury

Masato Hirohata returned from the U.S. Navy in 1952 and let Barris Kustoms of Los Angeles loose to pursue their passion in what he wanted to be the world’s wildest custom Mercury Coupe. Chopped and dropped to the ground  with extraordinary and meticulously executed  design details and outrageous paint this coupe continues to wow people 70 years later. The Hirohata Merc won ‘best in class’ for custom Mercurys at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.


1964 Chevrolet Impala

Capturing the creative vision of the late Jesse Valadez this 1964 Impala stands as the gold standard for the low rider community that originated in Los Angeles in the early 1970s. This example is the third of three cars built by Valadez and named Gypsy Rose. Over 20 gallons of clear lacquer cover the candy red and pink paintwork. Hundreds of rose details create a unique exterior. A crushed velvet interior, complete with cocktail bar and chandelier round out this one of a kind featured on just about every custom car magazine of its time.

1933 Graham 8 Sedan “Blue Streak”

A significantly transformative design, the Graham Blue Streak ,released in 1932, incorporated streamlined styling featuring a laid-back grille, innovative chassis design, body-colored headlights, wrap around “skirted” fenders, pearlescent paint and a totally concealed frame. So obviously appealing, these design features were quickly adopted by other manufacturers. By 1933 Graham advertised the “Blue Streak” as the most imitated car on the road.


1896 Benton Harbor Motor Carriage

The Benton Harbor is significant as one of the oldest intact automobiles built in the United States. The Benton Harbor Motor Carriage or “motocycle” was designed and built by Albert and Lewis  Baushke of Benton Harbor, MI, owners of Baushke Carriage Works, and William O. Worth, an engine builder and inventor from Chicago, IL.



1968 Ford Mustang

The long lost 1968 Mustang fastback driven by Steve McQueen in the movie Bullitt. What more needs to be said?


1985 Modena Spyder

This Ferrari 250 GT California replica was made famous for its starring role in the 1986 film “ Ferris Bueler’s Day Off.” Like the Bullitt Mustang, what more needs to be said?


1927 Ford Model T

This is the fifteen-millionth and final Ford Model T to be produced, this car rolled off the revolutionary assembly line driven by Henry Ford himself in 1927.




1984 Plymouth Voyager

As the first car-derived minivan the Plymouth Voyager and its sister Dodge Caravan literally created a new class of automobile that transformed consumer tastes and the car business. American families no longer had to rely on giant station wagons for transport.

This particular Plymouth Voyager was the first to roll off the assembly line and was kept in its original condition by Chrysler Corporation.


1969 Chevrolet Corvette

In 1961, General Motors piggybacking on the popularity of astronauts worked with Jim Rathmann Chevrolet on a leasing program for the astronauts – lease a Chevrolet of any type (including Corvettes) for $1/year. Most astronauts preferred the Corvette.

By 1969 the third group of astronauts now with the Apollo program were landing on the moon. In 1968 the trio for Apollo 12 astronauts Alan Bean, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon leased a matching trio of 1969 Corvette Coupes. Each was Riverside gold with custom black “wings.” By appearing on the cover of Life magazine, these became the most famous of the “astronaut” Corvettes.

1966 Volkswagen Transporter

This VW Transporter was the property of civil rights pioneer Esau Jenkins and his wife Janie B. Jenkins in Charleston, South Carolina. Successful business owners and parents of 13 children, the Jenkins became leaders in their community. Throughout their lives, they strove to better the economic, cultural, and political situation of African Americans on Johns Island and the surrounding area.

In approximately 1967, Esau purchased this used 1966 Volkswagen microbus. It was utilized by the Jenkins as their primary means of transportation and to support their various initiatives where it became a fixture in the Charleston area.

1921 Duesenberg Straight Eight

Up until 1919 the Duesenberg brothers focused on engineering excellence and racing. At that point they decided to expand into production of passenger cars. In 1919 Samuel Northup Castle placed an order for a Duesenberg Straight Eight and, thus, was destined to  become the first owner of a Duesenberg passenger car when he took delivery of his Straight Eight in 1921. Technically advance far beyond its competitors, this is the first Duesenberg passenger car.


1970 Dodge Challenger

In 1969, 27-year-old, combat veteran, Purple Heart recipient and Detroit Police Officer, Godfrey Qualls special ordered this 1970 Hemi Challenger. Qualls pretty much checked all the options boxes and Special Edition (SE) packages including a 426 HEMI engine, “Super Track Pak” with four-speed manual transmission, shifted via a floor mounted Hurst pistol grip sending power to a Sure-Grip Dana 60 with 4.10 gears. Known as the “Black Ghost” because he would seemingly vanish for months after making a few runs on Woodward, Telegraph or Stecker St., Qualls was rarely bested in his street racing days.


1981 DeLorean DMC-12

Doc Brown’s time machine in the 1985 hit film “Back to the Future.” Again what more needs to be said?


1979 Lamborghini Countach

Poster art for just about every kid of that period, this 1979 Lamborghini Countach LP400 S, represents generations of car enthusiasts’ passion for speed and the open road. Introduced in 1971, the radical mid-engined exotic Countach fired the starting gun for the race to produce the ultimate super car just when, counter intuitively, economy and practicality were coming into vogue.

This particular Countach gained fame in the 1981 film “The Cannonball Run.”


1963 Chrysler Turbine Car

The Chrysler Turbine Car featured a turbine jet engine housed in a Ghia body and was the latest iteration in Chrysler’s decades-long attempt to bring a turbine-powered car to the market. Fifty of the 55 original cars wearing identical metallic bronze paint, black vinyl roof, and bronze interior—were distributed to households in the U.S. as part of a consumer research project. The results were promising, but the cost to mass produce the vehicles was not.


1952 Hudson Hornet

From 1951–55, Hudson dominated stock-car racing just as the sport was beginning to take off. This one, prepared by legendary mechanic Smokey Yunick went to the track in the 1952 season. This Hudson is the only NASCAR-raced Hornet known to exist.




If asked my opinion for vehicles worthy of inclusion in the NHVR my two additions would be:

1949 – 1954 Jaguar XK120

While the MG introduced sports cars to service men, It was the sexy and fast Jaguar XK120 that offered a beautiful car for a date on Saturday and a performance car that could be driven to the track where it could win on Sunday, all in one. Its beauty appealed to those with money and its affordable was very attractive to those who wanted to race.



1966 Volvo P1800

Irv Gordon’s 1966 Volvo P1800 that the Long Island School Teacher bought new covered well over an honest 3,000,000 miles with Irv at the wheel during a period of 52 years till he passed away in 2018. Irv and his P1800 was an advertising God send for Volvo and its story of Volvo durability was known around the world.

By |2022-06-09T15:06:02+00:00June 9th, 2022|6 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are #27

It just seemed too good to be true. The event, to be conducted at the NB Center for American Automotive Heritage in Allentown, PA in April of 2019 would pack three-days with a rich mix of high quality historic vehicle themed presentations, live activities and behind the wheel vintage vehicle driving events. Attendees would include curators from world renowned automotive museums, university professors focusing on historic preservation and keepers of the vintage automobile flame from around the globe. Objectives of the conference stood out as refreshingly simple, engage, teach, learn and have fun.

With the concept and execution polished over the prior two years this third year promised to bring to fruition the total experience organizers had envisioned. As a long time member of the Society of Automotive Historians I was eligible to attend. This third year would be special. However, just how special would be impossible to foresee.

The amazing Third (and final?) International Drive History Conference

Hagerty automotive heritage dream conference. Gone for good?

1910 Packard

A buzz of excitement built as attendees from both sides of the Atlantic filed through the NB Welcome Center better known as The Lodge.  This handsome structure communicated a feeling of handcrafted rough hewn elegance. Constructed of stone and wood reclaimed from dismantled farm structures from the surrounding area, it embodied the preservationist character and philosophy that ran deep through the NB Center and in the heart of the host for this extraordinary gathering, Mr. Nikola Bulgari. Indeed, the NB in the NB Center’s name stands for Nikola Bulgari. He of the famous Bulgari Jewelry family.

The Lodge

In 2017 Mr. Bulgari a passionate advocate for preservation of 20th century American automotive history, joined with the Hagerty supported Historic Vehicle Association, The Society of Automotive Historians and the College of Charleston to launch the International Drive History conference concept. For the conference site Mr. Bulgari generously provided the perfect home, his beautifully manicured 27-acre NB Center grounds. His facility included a dedicated track, fully restored drive-in theater and a campus that served as home to workshops capable of executing the highest level of restoration, fabrication and refurbishment. Only a few years back Mr. Bulgari had resurrected this property after it had languished for years as a trash strewn abandoned drive-in theater in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The story behind the NB center offers a wonderful tale of the magic that can be conjured at the intersection of serendipity, talent and passion. The International Conference concept, represents one of the many meaningful creations resulting from Mr. Bulgari’s preservationist vision. Mr. Bulgari’s vision extends to focusing the magnetic draw of the NB Center and his car collection as a powerful tool to promote fund raising events for worthy causes.

NB Center, 27 acres

Gathering for the welcome breakfast at the Historic Vehicle Association National Laboratory housed at the NB Center, attendees walked about among examples of the 24 (as 2019, more have been added since) culturally significant vehicles that had been recognized by their inclusion in the National Historic Vehicle Register. The Tucker Torpedo hand built prototype, Ferris Bueller’s faux Ferrari, the 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe designed by Peter Brock, a 1918 Cadillac Type 57 (the only remaining passenger car that served in WWI in France), all represented the automotive history that the men and women in attendance work so hard to preserve and promote as fundamental to understanding the American automobile culture of the 20th Century. The wonderful story of the National Historic Vehicle Register will be featured in an upcoming Drivin’ News feature.

Mingling among the attendees making new acquaintances and rekindling old friendships strolled guest speakers Nicola Bulgari, Dr. Fred Simeone, Ed Welburn and McKeel Hagerty. A sample of presenters scheduled to speak on topics specific to vintage automobile history and preservation included senior representatives of The Henry Ford Museum, GM Design Center, Hemmings Motor News, National Corvette Museum, Indianapolis Motor speedway Museum, The Studebaker National Museum and professors from 10 colleges and universities including Stanford and Bucknell. An extraordinary wealth of knowledge all sharing a preservationist mindset filled the room. And then the fun began as attendees walked out into a sunny and brisk April morning.

Stephen Babinsky and 1910 Packard

There, cars from the 20th century dating from the early teens through the 1960s stood idling by the NB center’s driving track poised to begin the day for conference attendees in a most extraordinary way. Here, participants would have the opportunity to drive these beautifully restored time machines primarily sourced from the Bulgari Collection.While Mr. Bulgari is known to save his greatest fondness for Buicks, an affection that dates back to his childhood in post-WWII Italy, he has preserved a broad spectrum of 20th century American makes and models.

Mr. Bulgari cheering on happy drivers

In 2019 Bulgari’s Allentown Collection numbered around 150 vehicles, predominantly American cars from the 30s, 40s and 50s. Very possibly the most astounding aspect of his collection resides in the nature of the vehicles upon which he has bestowed his loving stewardship. His interest does not focus on the Olympian cars of the past such as Duesenbergs, Packards, Cadillacs and others favored by the wealthy. He knows they have their patrons and will be preserved. Mr. Bulgari has trained his attention on the everyday vehicles that populated the general public’s experience during their mid-20th century lives. He believes that preserving these once, but no longer, common place and affordable cars from yesteryear serves a critical role in understanding the profound

Keith Flickinger in upholstery shop

impact of the common place automobile on everyday American life of the period.

Stunning proof of Mr. Bulgari’s deep conviction to preserve these once common and now rare vehicles in their original condition evidences itself in the comprehensive restoration complex located at the NB Center. Every detail benefits from the highest quality restoration. For example, a 1940 Hudson with a value of roughly $40,000 for the best one in the world could receive a $200,000 restoration. This might entail finding a manufacturer somewhere in the world that could accurately replicate the original cloth covering the door panels. At the NB Center’s restoration campus money does not halt the pursuit of originality.

Fidelity to the original construction reigns supreme. As an example, the wood and joints in the roof of a 1934 Nash Brougham under restoration has to be a perfect match to the original even though, once covered by the headliner, the structure will never be seen.

Once restored, Bulgari’s cars benefit from constant monitoring, maintenance and track time. After being driven every car enjoys a thorough inspection. Periodically every engine has its oil subjected to testing for contaminants that would indicate unacceptable engine wear.

1917 Pierce-Arrow

It should be mentioned that the whole restoration operation benefits from the brilliant and personal oversight of two brothers, Keith and Kris Flickinger. Starting with Keith in 1995 both have earned Mr. Bulgari’s complete and total confidence. Both brothers possess the full spectrum of technical skills to carry out superior restorations and an easy communication style allowing them to educate visitors in a clear and entertaining fashion as to exactly what they and their roughly dozen elite craftsman do.

On this brisk April morning an array of meticulously restored vehicles awaited eager drivers lined up for pretty much a once in a lifetime opportunity. From a 1910 Packard Runabout, a

1929 Lincoln

1917 Pierce-Arrow, through a 1930 Lincoln, a 1936 Plymouth, a 1940 Buick convertible up through a 1950 Oldsmobile convertible and many others provided a visual banquet and a rolling and deliciously interactive automobile history lesson on the first half of the 20th century.

Leaving the driving experience behind, participants enjoyed strolling through the pristine Collection Buildings holding the immaculate vehicles comprising the Bulgari Collection. Over the next two days an information rich menu of presentations were offered on two parallel tracks from which participants could choose to tailor the conference offerings to their personal interests. Track one focused on Preservation and Conservation. Track two featured subjects specific to Documentation and Interpretation.

A sampling of topics included:

1950 Oldsmobile

  • A round table discussion on Design, engineering and Performance with Mr. Bulgari, Dr. Fred Simeone founder of the Simeone Museum and Ed Welburn retired GM Vice President of Global Design.
  • Diane Parker, Vice President of the Historic Vehicle Association presenting the Civil Rights story behind the inclusion of a 1966 VW Type 2 T1 Microbus in the National Historic Vehicle Register.
  • Guest Speaker McKeel Hagerty
  • Simeone and Jonathan Sierakowski explaining the intricacies of Vehicle Provenance: Investigation, verification, how and why.
  • Preservation of the original Tucker
  • GM Heritage Center Preservation Practices
  • Interpreting the automobile in history- a group discussion featuring senior representatives from:
    • The Henry Ford Museum
    • National Corvette Museum
    • Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
    • Studebaker National Museum
    • Boyertown Museum

The International Drive History Conference represented a glorious success on so many levels. Like minded and well informed car enthusiasts enjoyed a content rich environment within which they could meet and benefit from others in attendance.

LeSabre hot laps

Possibly the most striking experience in which I participated occurred after the end of the formal conference. Having lingered a bit, I made my way across the track to my car when I realized that a number of staff members and Mr. Bulgari had cars out on the track doing hot laps. Yes hot laps in a 1950s Nash-Healey, a 1955 Chrysler 300, and yes, the 1951 GM Le Sabre Concept Car among others. What glorious fun. Laughter, smiles, good vibes the smell of tortured tire treads and screaming vintage engines reclaiming the joy experienced decades ago. All present seemed imbued with an infectious innocence. And then Covid came to town. With it came cancellation of the 4th Conference in 2020. Much the same story cancelled years 2021 and 2022.

During this time of change Hagerty has been ensnared (possibly the choice of words betrays feelings of concern held by some in the classic car community for what has been the Hagerty gold standard) by the Wall Street SPAC financial engineers. Hagerty has gone public.

In researching this story I found that the HVA has subsequently gone away. It has been replaced by the Hagerty Driving Foundation (HDF). My hope falls into the “A rose by any other name smells as sweet” category.

That said, In researching the HDF site, I found no mention of the International Drive History Conference concept. I followed up on my concern with a respected and knowledgeable friend in the industry. Based on his remarks it seemed evident to me that I may have experienced the best and sadly the last International Drive History Conference. I hope I am mistaken.

A small but respected automobile enthusiast conference promoting learning, preservation and excellence should not be thrown aside. It deserves a place in the HDF business plan. Hagerty always seemed to get it. I hope HDF still draws from its Hagerty roots. I have no reason to believe otherwise, yet.

By |2022-05-27T16:57:24+00:00May 26th, 2022|Comments Off on Cars We Love & Who We Are #27

Cars We Love & Who We are #26

A few years back while speaking with my good friend Bob Austin the topic of his brother’s unique sports car came up. He explained that his brother Rick’s 1964 Devin C, purchased in 1973, represented one of literally a handful of custom performance cars made by a man named Bill Devin. When Bob shared a photo of his brother’s car, I realized that I knew that car. I had seen it parked on the main street of Teaneck, New Jersey over 40 years ago and never forgot it. Clearly a Devin’s bantam weight and sporting character had left a lasting memory.

Now, to celebrate the fast approaching 50th anniversary of Rick Austin’s continued Devin ownership, the story of Rick and his Devin C.

A Devin’s 47-year journey from scrap heap to Pebble Beach

Rick with his Devin C at the Quail                                                           Photo: Brian Miller

August 2017 found Rick Austin luxuriating on the manicured grounds of the Quail, the most exclusive of all Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance events, he and his Devin enjoyed the spotlight as honored invitees. This being the world’s pinnacle event to recognize classic car royalty, it is doubtful that his fellow celebrant’s cars began their Quail star turn in similar fashion, which would be at a DPW scrap yard in Nanuet, New York.

At the Nanuet, NY DPW

First spotted by Rick’s brother Bob in 1973, the rather forlorn red Devin resided on a construction trailer at the Nanuet DPW scrap yard. At the time, Bob told brother Rick about his sighting and thought it interesting. It should be noted that the Austin brothers share a marked lifelong affection for unusual vehicles. Morgans, Crosleys, Jeepsters, Avantis, MGTDs, Minis, all have graced Austin driveways. The Devin fit the mold perfectly. As Bob now tells the story, he meant that it held interest as something Bob, himself, would buy down the road. Rick, however, took right to the road and drove up to the DPW yard the next day to inquire as to the Devin’s availability.

“How much?” Rick asked. “$400,” came the response. “Sold,” came his reply. Adding insult to injury, Rick used Bob’s trailer to bring the Devin to Bob’s house where both would work on carrying out the rebuild. It should be noted that Rick’s jumping Bob’s claim produced no strain in the Austin brothers’ lifelong friendship.

The Devin back story offers an interesting version of a tale oft told of a young man returning to California from WWII with talent and a passion. In this case the young man was Bill Devin and he held a passion for sports cars and racing. Possibly a precursor foretelling the Austin brothers fondness for Bill Devin as a kindred spirit came with Devin’s early success racing a Crosley Hotshot.

After the Crosley victories, Devin quickly moved up the race car food chain. By 1953 Devin had found Ferraris to drive including the ex-Phil Hill 212 that he bought from Luigi Chinetti and drove to a 3rd place at Palm Springs. Shortly thereafter, his plan to drive a new Ferrari at the 1953 24-Hours of Le Mans was derailed by a production back-up at the Ferrari factory. Devin clearly was the real deal and not just as a race driver. He had a serious vision about how a winning car should look and perform.

Bill Devin                Photo: John Priddy

By 1956 Devin had created a chassis that housed a twin-cylinder overhead cam engine wrapped in Devin-Panhard bodywork. He built twelve of them. One won its class in the 1956 SCCA national championship. By now, Devin had become a player in the fiberglass body business. He sold bodies to fit Porsches, Healeys, Triumphs, VWs and more.

With success, came Devin’s greater dream of building cars of his own. Working with an Irish chassis builder specializing in fabricating rolling chassis ready for a body, Devin’s dream materialized. With a frame from Ireland married to a fiberglass body by Devin and powered by a Corvette small block V8, the spirited Devin SS came to life. Weighing almost a half-ton less than a period Corvette, its performance was breathtaking. Unfortunately so was its price. All the Devin SS high-tech handcrafted powertrain and suspension technology came at a steep cost, roughly $10,000. Sales proved elusive. A return to the drawing board gave birth to the ultimate Devin, one both fierce and relatively affordable.

It featured a new tubular frame design sporting a shorter wheelbase than the Devin SS to provide an optimized geometry for utilizing Porsche and VW suspension components. By accepting, as well, both Porsche and VW rear engine drivetrains, it provided both high performance and more affordable versions. Named the Devon D. The D, for Deutschland, indicated the intended German componentry. It cost about $3,000. What then defines Rick’s Devin C?

At  the Quail                  Photo: Brian Miller

Whether true or not, the story told speaks of the Porsche powered Devin Ds beating Porsche’s own cars. This apparently did not sit well with the Porsche folks. Word on the street had any Porsche dealer selling engines to Devin losing their franchise. Undaunted Bill Devin knew Chevrolet had just developed its own air-cooled rear-engined car, the Corvair. Not only was Chevrolet’s new boxer engine air-cooled but it featured six, not four cylinders. Devin adapted the chassis to accept a modified Corvair powertrain and rear suspension bringing the Devin C (for Corvair) to life with a price tag of roughly $4,500. That life would end shortly before the close of 1964 due to market pressures. With all said and done, Devin had built 25 complete Devin Ds and 23 Devin Cs.

When asked what had originally attracted him to the Devin, Rick says, “The curves were just beautiful, even in the scrap yard. It was a Ferrari for me.” Rick had no idea what it was. He says, “If it wasn’t for the badge I never would have known.” He just saw it as an amazingly cool car. Together with the fact that he had nothing to work on at the time made the buying decision a slam dunk.

Rick under frunk lid and friend Dennis Grable during rebuild #1

By purchasing the Devin, Rick ensured he had plenty to work on for what would be a long time to come. Starting with a blown engine, a damaged front end, holes in the body created for affixing scoops to increase air flow to the engine, no seats, no windshield and a wealth of scrapes and dings his scrap yard Devin demanded a complete rebuild of the engine and a total redo of the body.

During this early rebuild period brother Bob, while driving through the neighborhood, amazingly stumbled across another forsaken Devin. This being one of the 25 Devin Ds built. Trailered home, it would serve as a very useful parts car. Rick says, “That second Devin is where the seats came from as well as the hood, the trunk lid and both doors.” Bob with a self deprecating laugh acknowledges that he cannot believe that with the needed parts scavenged he threw the rest away.” With a shrug he says, “Who knew?”

An interesting bit of accidental provenance research came about when Rick realized that his serial number “D.C. 1-6” had no buyer notation in the Devin company records. In these days of 17 digit VIN#s, Rick’s Devin serial number is a pointed reminder of how things have changed, as if we needed a reminder, since the mid-20th century.

In later years Rick with the help of respected Devin authority John Priddy concluded that Rick’s car had been on display at the 1964 New York Auto Show and that it had been sold at the show. This explains a couple of facts. One it explains how Devin serial number D.C. 1-6 got to New York from L.A. Secondly, all of the other Devins except Ricks D.C. 1-6 had names next to the serial number indicating the purchaser. As Rick says, “Bill Devin was a great guy but not necessarily a great record keeper. He sold mine at the New York show and never recorded the buyer.”

Rick and rebuild #1 in 1975

Picking up the story in 1974, Rick enjoyed the fruits of his first rebuild and drove his red Devin until 1979 when he got married. His new family responsibilities banished the Devin to a distant corner of Rick’s life where it sat untouched until 2000 except for a brief period of operation in 1989.

With the arrival of the new millennium, Rick set about to do a second rebuild. With all good intentions but little time, the process would extend to about 15-years. In 2005 the Devin, now pretty much gutted, received the Chrysler Patriot Blue paint that still shows well today. Over the next ten years all the internals received the attention Rick would have liked to have lavished much quicker. With all the bills to show, Rick totally rebuilt a 1967 Corvair engine. Machined .040 over with a 288° cam and four Rochester 1-barrel carburetors, it delivered 140 horsepower.

When asked about the speed and stability of his completed Devin, Rick, admitting to achieving 110 miles per hour, responded with brutal honesty, “At 110 miles per hour stability is horrible.” Weighing in at breathtakingly light 1240 pounds Rick actually welded in a piece of Volvo truck chassis forward of the front suspension as a location to mount the battery and add weight.

Almost simultaneously with completion of the second rebuild, Rick received notification from co-chair of the Devin Registry, Brian Miller, that for Pebble Beach 2017, Devin would be the honored marque. He asked if Rick could attend with his Devin.

Rick says, “I immediately contacted Bob and he was all in. I was thrilled to be able to share this experience with my brother.” Rick started road testing his Devin the week before shipping it to Pebble Beach.

Bob and Rick Austin at Pebble Beach

In describing his Pebble Beach experience at the Quail Rick does not hold back. He says, “It was the most amazing event in my life. The number of phenomenal vehicles was simply astounding.” He goes on to say, The people were lovely. The food was fantastic.”

In assessing the crowd response, Rick first acknowledges that Devins adorned with numbers and stripes drew a decidedly younger group of admirers. As he describes it, his Devin with its dark blue, more reserved, presence drew the attention of an older demographic. However, Rick says, “Regardless of age everybody looked at all the Devins on display.”

Back home Rick enjoys his Devin as his daily driver pretty much weather be damned. While he acknowledges that, today, any kid with a built up Honda Civic can go faster, Rick says, “My little Devin stands tall as the most exhilarating car I have ever driven.”



By |2022-05-12T19:03:06+00:00May 12th, 2022|Comments Off on Cars We Love & Who We are #26

Cars We Love And Who We Are #25

My eye had first been caught by a two-tone 1962 pickup truck version of the T1 VW Bus. Resting in a bed of dead weeds, it resided in a distant field far below my rural mountain road vantage point. However, while the iconic VW held my primary interest, my inability to identify the pair of battered Porsche-like sports cars accompanying the VW on that overgrown field began to gnaw at me.

I had to go back for the story. Little did I know the extent of the story that awaited me.

Mr. Thomas’s forest of old Porsches, VW buses and more

Cameron Thomas and his 1962 VW pickup

My determination took me down to the base of the steep slope in search of answers and access to the, apparently, once loved but now forlorn trio. I snaked my way along a narrow descending dirt road that brought the field closer. Arriving at a rustic country home, I sought someone capable of answering the question ”what’s the story behind the orphans in the field?”

Met by a pleasant woman with a phone to her ear, I explained my interest in abandoned classic vehicles for a Drivin’ News story. She forthrightly explained that her husband owned the cars and he would have all the answers to any questions I might have.  She directed her attention to the phone and then back to me. He would be waiting in their large hay field down the road, she explained.

As I rumbled down the dusty gravel access road that traversed the hay field, a moldering but quite complete 1963 Buick Riviera and a distressed T2 VW van came into view. I sensed that there would be much more to the story than I had anticipated.

A walk in the woods

There waiting to greet me, stood master stone mason Cameron Thomas. A slender wiry man who, though in his late 70s, possessed a handshake like a leather skinned vice that left no doubt that he remained quite active in the day to day operation of his stone business. With a ready smile, a quick wit and an easy southern accent, Cameron said, “My wife tells me you have an interest in cars.” Then, with a friendly gesture he directed me toward a wide path into the nearby forest. Cameron said, “You might find this interesting.” Interesting indeed.

We turned our backs to the Riviera and VW van, both left for later discussion and moved into the woods on a single lane width trail. Early on, the view through the leafless trees of a forest in winter showed glimpses of shapes and colors that hinted at what awaited. Shortly thereafter, the path widened to reveal my first glimpse of multiple clearings where an eclectic array of vehicles possessing a heavy German accent lay strewn about the landscape.

Porsches of numerous flavors, VW Westfalias, Beetles, and Rabbits together with a sprinkling of British sports cars and a stray Jeep, all in various states of disrepair and degeneration populated the woodscape.

Staring at this assemblage, it appeared to be the land where air-cooled and German vehicles came to die.

Cameron explained that he began amassing his collection of over sixty automobiles about 50 years ago. Back then in his 20s he had formulated a retirement plan that called for accumulating desirable automobiles with the intention of building a workshop where, when he had the time, he would refurbish the cars and sell them.

Cameron admits to being partial to air-cooled German cars. He says, “ The air-cooled stuff was more of what I was looking for. My interest kind of transformed into a hobby.”

Many of the cars came to Cameron in good or at least running condition. So what happened? When asked the 64 thousand dollar question “why were they left outside,” Cameron says, “With the demands of my business, I never got around to building the workshop and we were too busy buying to do any selling. If a car experienced a problem, there always was a place for it in the woods.” With Cameron owning a large expanse of fields and woodlands there clearly existed an element of out of sight out of mind.

T-Boned Westfalia

Entering the opening in the woods a battered 1972 Type 2 VW Westfalia greets us. Cameron explains that he purchased it and together with his son Jon refurbished it for Jon’s high school transportation. Leaving school one winter day Jon fired up the Westfalia and without letting it warm up made a dash to leave the school parking lot in front of a school bus that was descending from a good way up a hill. Cameron says, “My son made his move and made it to the middle of the road when the cold engine stalled. After leaving a 70-foot skid mark the bus T-boned the VW on the driver’s side.” The energy of impact delivered a blow sufficient to deposit some of the chrome letters from the hood of the bus onto the VW’s front seat. As for his son, he walked away with a few bruises. Lucky kid.

Next to the Westfalia a 1984 928 Porsche, one of two Cameron has accumulated, had a history of outrunning the local Corvettes. Cameron says, “It had a good bit of work done on the engine.” Cameron drove it for a year or so around 2005. In thinking back he says, “I can’t really think of a good excuse for parking it in 2007.”

Behind the 928 can be found the T2 Westfalia that Cameron bought right after his son’s accident. He says it was a good driver, that it was pretty much complete, including the original interior, when he bought it in 1980. It has sat unmoved in the woods since Cameron bought it.

Moving to our right brought us to another Werstfalia. Camerson acquired it in 2000 and except for winters drove it fairly regularly. Then after sitting for the winter of early 2005, he sought to fire it up in the spring of 2005. The engine locked up. Banishment to the woods quickly followed. On the plus side it remains a Westfalia with a solid and an original interior. On the down side, some windows are broken or gone and it features first class spider webs.

Cameron and his row of 944s

At this point evidence of a clear pattern has taken shape. It appears any vehicle that suffers failure merits banishment to the Cameron Thomas forest trail.

The fate of Cameron’s five 944 Porsches gives strong substantiation to the one strike and your out in the woods theory.

Arrayed in a neat row of five 944s, the first and last in line rated as good drivers when purchased. Others came from junkyards or the garages of people who had given up on their restoration.

One of the 944s had jumped the camshaft and bent all of the valves. Cameron and friends removed the head and reassembled the engine. When they fired it up as Cameron says, “It started screeching like a banshee and that was that. We must have missed a bent part in our rebuild.”

1963 Buick Riviera

Upon returning to the hay field, I asked about the Buick Riviera. Purchased in the early 1970s, Cameron says, “It was in good unrestored condition and a fine driving vehicle. Up until he had bought it the Buick had never spent a night outside of the garage.

What happened? Apparently that Buick had a two-piece drive shaft with a center U-joint. The U-joint went bad. Cameron says, “At the time I had a great deal of difficulty finding a replacement. By the time I found one my interest in the Riviera had passed.” The Riviera has sat ever since.

As we approached the end of the abandoned car trail of tears a 1963 Willy’s Jeep came into view. Cameron had come found it in Florida years back and trailered it back to Virginia. It has spent considerable time in the woods. Cameron says, “It is solid with less than fifty thousand miles on it.”

Chalon re-body

And at last we come to the trio that initially captured my attention. The two sports cars left for dead in the field are two Chalon rebodied 1972 914 Porsches. The brainchild of a California parts distributor, the Chalon kit imparted a 914 with a more aggressive slant nose presence.

The engines in Cameron’s two Chalon 914s remain 4-cylinder but brakes and suspension components reflect significant upgrades. Both cars ran strong when purchased and Cameron drove both with pleasure until the large tree fell crushing both.

Interestingly the most functional and except for his 1941 International military truck the oldest in Cameron’s collection is his 1962 T1 VW pickup. Purchased in 1985 the pickup features a 1600 cc beetle engine, upgraded brakes and a later transmission. Unlike its brethren in Cameron’s collection, with current antique vehicle tags, this VW stands poised to hit the road.

In honest reflection Cameron realizes his retirement plan, like a garden untended, took on a life of its own. He admits that he didn’t appreciate how much the cars would deteriorate over time.

1963 Willys Jeep

Now what? At this point Cameron says, “My son has made it clear that he does not want to live on a junk yard. He would like to see everything gone except the orange VW Westfalia we purchased to replace the one T-boned by the school bus.” Cameron acknowledges that there will be some head butting between he and his son on the issue. Cameron also accepts reality, saying “I accept that they need to go. I’m not going to live long enough to work on them all now.” Of the sixty he accumulated he has sold twenty. He says all are available. Anyone with a serious interest can contact him by email ( When asked if he could only restore one of his cars which would he choose, interestingly he chooses the 1963 Willys Jeep. He says, “It is solid and simple which translates into an ideal candidate for refurbishing.”

Having seen a lot in his 78 years, Cameron in his easy southern way and with a reflective knowing smile says, “Time takes its toll. It comes along slow, but it is always coming.”

By |2022-03-23T01:57:58+00:00March 18th, 2022|10 Comments