Conversations With People We Value

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Conversations With People We Value #48

In conducting research for “The Lost Royale,” I had the good fortune to stumble across fascinating and worthy stories depicting events in Europe during the months leading up to WWII. For me, one story rose above the others. Left forgotten in the dustbin of pre-WWII history, this heroic tale captured what would prove to be the unfathomable irony that informed daily lives as the fevered madness of a few evil men propelled mankind towards unthinkable horror and world war.

The following recounts the efforts of Britain’s MG in 1939 to set land speed records and break the 200 mph barrier in Adolf Hitler’s back yard.

MG shatters records on Hitler’s “Salt Flats” in the shadow of WWII

Major Goldie Gardner in MG EX135 at Dessau, Germany 1939

As the ominous clouds of impending conflict gathered on the horizon, May 1939 witnessed a factory racing team from Britain’s MG set sail for Nazi Germany with great hopes for returning with a fistful of records set by its experimental MG EX135. The “Dessauer Rennstrecke” (Dessau race track) ultra high speed test track section of the autobahn awaited MGs arrival.

Led by its accomplished driver Major Alfred Thomas “Goldie Gardner,” a highly decorated British army officer in WWI, MG had set its sights on breaking speed records for the 750cc to 1100cc International Light Car Class.

Dessauer Rennstrecke

Though an ambitious goal, MG eagerly embraced the challenge. It reflected the plucky little company’s DNA. While the Depression had exacted a terrible toll in bankrupting many small car companies, MG’s decision to embark on a racing program had produced international recognition and with it many orders. Right up MG’s alley, the challenge to set 1100cc class records now sat squarely in its sites. Only time would reveal an added opportunity that MG would seize to expand the EX135’s record performance.

In retrospect, the choice of the Dessau track represented an interesting window into the mind of Adolf Hitler and a curious insensitivity by others to the realities of the day. Hitler’s notorious envy of things possessed by others often lead to his taking that which he desired or if not possible, then to at least copy it. That America had the Bonneville Salt Flats to test high speed vehicles and set records galled “The Fuhrer.” Nothing similar existed in all of Europe much less Germany. The Dessauer Rennstrecke represented Hitler’s effort to address this German shortcoming.

In the 1930’s the great ribbons of concrete comprising the German autobahn system ranked in the minds of many as an amazing wonder of the world. As well, for Hitler it provided a solution for solving his lack of a high speed testing site. To create his German “Salt Flats” Hitler had a ten kilometer section of the new autobahn between Dessau and Leipzig widened to roughly 25 meters with the center median paved to make one exquisitely flat concrete race track. Its surface so perfect some believed it to be hand finished. Its pillarless bridges and absence of interchange exits left no doubt as to its intended use as a high-speed track ideal for races and record attempts. The gracefully arched bridges seemed intended to serve as gun sights to guide drivers attempting high speed records. Here Rudolf Caracciola in a Mercedes-Benz W154-based streamlined special achieved 399.6 km/h (248.2 mph) over the measured mile for a world record.

For MG, the Dessauer Rennstrecke’s close proximity to England as compared to the Bonneville Salt Flats certainly made it attractive. However, the choice of Dessau, as well, seemed to indicate a certain resignation to the existing troubled world condition leavened with a bit of British “Carry on regardless.” And MG would indeed carry on with a very sweet piece of performance engineering and one very special driver at its wheel.

No standard MG sports car, the EX135 featured a 1086cc supercharged, 6-cylinder, 195-horsepower streamlined vehicle with a single purpose, go fast in a straight line. A British Racing Green beauty over 16-feet long, 5-feet wide and a little over 2-feet high with a wheelbase of 99”, EX135’s beautifully sleek streamlined design reflected the genius of designer Reid Railton. Those knowledgeable of his accomplishments consider Railton “A titan of 20th century high speed automotive engineering having collaborated with the likes of Sir Malcolm Campbell and John Cobb.”

Reid Railton trying on his EX135 creation

Called upon by MG to wrap the EX135 within a slippery wind cheating skin, Railton drew upon design concepts developed by Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union that employed aerodynamic patents of visionary designer and aerodynamics pioneer Paul Jaray. In the early 20th century Jaray advanced the use of wind tunnels in streamlining automobile and Zeppelin bodies. An added design challenge facing Railton included the six-foot three-inch and somewhat immobile frame of driver Major Goldie Gardner. It demanded special consideration. Indeed, Goldie Gardner stood out in many ways as a very special man.

Bearing his mother’s maiden name of “Goldie” as his lifetime nickname, Gardner, a decorated WWI British army officer had quickly risen through the ranks to be the youngest Major in the British armed forces. In 1915 as one of the first 98 officers to receive the British Military Cross (Similar to the American Silver Star) Britain recognized Gardner for bravery in battle.

In 1917 his reconnaissance plane succumbed to withering enemy fire. The crash resulted in Gardner sustaining leg and hip injuries that required two years of hospitalization, twenty surgeries and a subsequent life without the full use of his right leg. He would walk with a cane for the rest of his days. In 1921 the army discharged him as being medically unfit for military service. By 1924 Gardner despite his disability had embarked on a path to becoming one of the most accomplish racing drivers of his time. Through the 1920s and 1930s Gardner established a reputation not only for driving excellence but a broad spectrum of competencies. In 1935 he served as team manager for Sir Malcolm Campbell’s World Land Speed Record attempt.

In retrospect, while the focus of the story rests squarely on MG’s efforts to set records, stepping back for a broader view affords a noir undercurrent recalling the movie Casablanca.

John Dugdale a respected editor of The AutoCar Magazine in the 1930s had been invited to accompany the MG racing team to Dessau. His notes from that experience profile a world for which  the phrase “whistling past the graveyard” seemed painfully accurate. After crossing the English Channel Dugdale, accompanied by Goldie Gardner; Alan Bickwell, Public Relations Manager for Lagonda and George Tuck,

Giovanni Lurani, John Dugdale, Goldie Gardner

Publicity Manager of MG picked up their car and set out for Dessau Germany. Anyone long in the car business knows that publicity events in the good old days had many perquisites. In this case the four companions had at their disposal the latest V-12 Lagonda Saloon-de-Ville,  the brainchild of W.O. Bentley, revered founder of Bentley Cars. Dugdale swooned over the luxurious Lagonda saying, “A real beauty. A 4-door sedan with silky smooth multi-cylinder engine, 4-speed manual transmission and independent front suspension.” Living in the moment with Goldie Gardner at the wheel, they enjoyed the ride. Dugdale recalled cruising through Belgium and passing through the German town of Aachen. He said, “In that gorgeous summer of 1939 that balmy sunshine denied the ominous war clouds which had threatened for years.” How prescient, as not many years later Aachen would be the sight of possibly the toughest urban battle of WWII for American troops. Dugdale went on to recall his experience when he wrote, “We dined deliciously at the Rotisserie d’Alsace in Brussels then crossed the sinister fortress lined frontier passing both the Belgium Maginot and German Siegfried Lines.”

Dugdale’s recollections of positive interactions with members of the German military and public who would soon become sworn enemies took on a surreal quality considering what the near future held. Dugdale said, “It was quite an adventure going to Germany. War was likely to break out at any time. But that did not deter our little party of Englishmen led by Goldie Gardner. Besides he was popular among Germans as a typical British soldier type. The Germans even called him “Der Herr Major’” A few years earlier Gardner had been chasing speed records near Frankfort and as a former Royal Artillery Officer, he received an invitation to a local Wehrmacht officer’s mess to dine.

Interestingly Dugdale noted that in traveling to Dessau they passed through Hanover, once the house of Britain’s own royal family. Interestingly in 1917 with England during WWI experiencing a strong anti-German sentiment, England’s King George V decried that that all British descendants of Queen Victoria (A Hanover) in the male line would adopt the surname Windsor. Apparently it made things less confusing when explaining the mortal enemy thing.

All stood ready to run the next day. The plan called for challenging the records for the kilometer, the mile and the five kilometer on all the same runs.

6:00 am Wednesday May 31st found the EX135 poised and ready facing the length of the Dessauer Rennstrecke. Red lighting boards to mark the timed sections stood ready, painted lines had been retouched and a huge Zamboni-like machine swept the road surface.

With the sun bright and rising, 7:00 am saw Gardner arrive. At 8:00 am the EX135‘s super-tuned engine fired up after maybe a ten-yard push. After first sputtering and coughing as it woke from a week in storage, it then quickly smoothed to reach a crackling perfection. Time to go. Following the awakening EX135 down the track, observers in the Lagonda at 100 mph quickly fell behind.

Now ready for the run at the record, Dugdale positioned himself on a cross bridge about a kilometer south of the measured mile. If all went well the MG would be doing 200 mph as it passed below. EX135 though almost 10 kilometers away could be heard in the distance. Like a symphony of mechanical perfection, the music of the MG rose to a crescendo and then at 7,500 rpm held the note at a high pitched whine. A black dot first quite small in the distance, then ever larger grew to where its green color could be distinguished. Locked on to the center line the EX135 announced its passing with a trumpeting blast from its vertical exhaust.

Since the record would be calculated by averaging the speed out and back, the MG had been turned around and began its charge north with the record now at stake. In the distance the black dot again grew and the symphony reached its crescendo. The roar blasted up from below and the EX135 had again passed below. History had been made. It had set the “under 1100 cc” class record for all three distances with class records of 200 mph set for the kilometer and mile. EX135 broke 200 mph for the kilometer (203.54 mph) and mile (203.16 mph). The 5-kilometer finish fell just short (197.54 mph) while still setting a record.

German Soldiers with EX135

Gardner felt so pleased that he decided to go for the 1100cc to 1500 cc records. For Gardner it only required boring the 1086 cc engine out to 1186 cc and rebuilding the engine overnight. Interestingly, the MG team lacked some of the capabilities to do the rebuild and happily found that the Junkers aeronautics engine factory just outside of Dessau showed a willingness to help. Dugdale remarked that their generosity was quite startling considering that Junkers had the task of developing Germany’s latest twin-engine medium bomber the Junker JU88. Dugdale wrote, “This JU88 was a hot secret at the time. One of them flew fast and low over the record road early one morning. I snapped a photo that I brought back providing a useful record of its profile for RAF reconnaissance for the mass bombing to come.”

The record runs on Friday for the 1500cc class proved even more successful. EX135 broke 200 mph for the kilometer (204.28 mph), mile (203.85 mph) and 5-kilometer (200.62 mph)

With the record run completed but before departing Germany, Dugdale and his three travel buddies would drive the Lagonda to Berlin. There Gardner would speak of the record braking success for the BBC. While there Dugdale learned of a big event planned for the next day to celebrate the visit of a Yugoslavian dignitary. Dugdale chose to stay. His companions chose to return home.

The following day Dugdale witnessed what he called, “A glimpse of the Nazi propaganda machine at the height of its powers.” A mammoth celebration staged within the Berlin East/West City Axis, a massive 5-kilometer long central mall created as the centerpiece for Albert Speer’s grand architectural plan for Berlin. Dugdale wrote, “The city was crowded with marching spontaneous demonstrators escorted to their posts by double rows of SS troops. Little three-wheeled vans puffed among the crowds distributing the appropriate flags of the Reich and Yugoslavia. Postcards of the Fuhrer and Yugoslavian prince were on sale. Special magazines celebrating the return of the Condor Legion from the Spanish Civil War were selling well. Overhead roared over 150 Junkels and Heinkels, quite a lot of aircraft for 1939. A particularly hearty cheer went up for the Yugoslavian prince by the single expedient that 60,000 lusty throated Hitler youth had been imported. When all was done, the apparently carefree crowd broke up mixing with the helmeted Herman Goering troops whose marching songs echoed among Alfred Speer’s new government buildings.”

Shortly afterward, on a train back to Dessau Dugdale pondered the meaning of all he had witnessed.

Within weeks WWII would provide answers.


By |2023-09-15T01:19:40+00:00September 15th, 2023|6 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #47

Classic car auctions can be enormously entertaining events featuring wild mano a mano jousts of dueling checkbooks, or not. Much depends on the person at the rostrum wielding the gavel. In the case of Gooding & Company, the auction rostrum is home to one of the most capable and entertaining auctioneers in the world.

Meet Charlie Ross.

Charlie Ross, Gooding’s Master of the Auction Rostrum

Charlie Ross with David Gooding to his right

Clearly this auction presented an uncommon if not unique set of circumstances that played to my interests. While wiling away time in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I had learned of a Gooding & Company auction disposing of a local collection containing a diverse array of desirable and unrestored classic cars. Even better for me and quite unusual for Gooding, the auction would not be hosted in an expansive and elegant setting capable of accommodating an audience that could easily exceed a thousand.

1932 Chrysler CG Imperial Custom Roadster at Lynchburg auction

In this instance the feel would be decidedly boutique-like with the action taking place in a well preserved early 20th century Chrysler dealership that had housed part of the deceased owner’s collection. Rich with 1930s charm and character but sparing in space, there would be no elevated stage for displaying the car at bid in the flesh, so to speak. To accommodate the limited space photos of the vehicle being bid upon would be displayed on large screens flanking the rostrum. Up close and personal inspection of the vehicles prior to auction would take place in a nearby warehouse. Being set for April seventh in Lynchburg, Virginia it was only a short distance away for me and just a few days in the future. Best of all, it offered an excellent opportunity to interview the Gooding & Company auctioneer extraordinaire, Charlie Ross.

I had never personally met auctioneer and BBC antiques expert Charlie Ross but I had seen him in action and enjoyed and admired his work.  The following quote says it all:

        “Without doubt the finest auctioneer I have ever seen in action is Mr. Charlie Ross. Charlie’s vast experience and ease on the rostrum,
         combined with his charm and quick wit, enable him to engage and keep total control of a room that is sometimes as large as two
         thousand people.”

Quite the performance review indeed, especially from the man who owns the company. That quote comes from David Gooding, President and Founder of Gooding & Company. For those unfamiliar with Gooding & Company, it is recognized as one of the premier auction houses in the classic car market. One can measure Gooding’s success in the fact that, to date, Gooding holds the world sales records for 12 marques including Ferrari, Porsche, McLaren, Duesenberg and Bugatti. It is not a coincidence that since Gooding & Company’s inception in 2004 the auctioneer for every Gooding auction but one has been Charlie Ross. (A detached retina forced his one absence).

I jumped at the opportunity to request an interview with Charlie Ross. The Gooding staff could not have been more accommodating. Specific thanks go to Gooding Publicist Pauline Pechakjian.

Chrysler dealership (Location of Gooding Lynchburg auction)

Residing at the pinnacle in the field of auctioneering, Charlie Ross exudes the consummate professionalism of an astute English barrister and the awareness of a seasoned entertainer, all leavened with a dry, sly, quick and engaging wit. He puts all of it to work in orchestrating the sale of some of the world’s most prized articles to many of the world’s most wealthy and knowledgeable collectors. Wielding a seamless synergy of superior platform skills with a proper British tongue, Charlie consistently manages each auction in a supremely entertaining fashion while fairly serving the interests of both seller and bidder alike. Charlie’s path to success, however, did not come by way of childhood dreams realized, quite the contrary.

Early on Charlie dreamed of emulating his uncle Mac. Charlie recalls, “Uncle Mac was a dentist who lived at the absolute top of the tree so to speak.” His uncle Mac had a practice on prestigious Harley Street in London. Charlie says, “He was Winston Churchill’s dentist, Bob Hope’s dentist. The list of notables goes on and on.” In Charlie’s mind his future had been decided. He would be a dentist to the rich and famous just like his Uncle Mac. However, taking the entry exams required to pursue a career in dentistry quickly quashed Charlie’s dreams of a rich and fulfilling life fixing teeth. Apparently Charlie’s many gifts did not include those necessary for success in dentistry. However, his future held in store a vocation that would involve him with a cohort not unlike that of his Uncle Mac.

1932 Chrysler (rear)

Plan “B” commenced with a reversal in family fortunes that dictated that Charlie, then 18-years old, find work, Now! Two choices presented themselves. One dealt with processing fuels. The other offered an opportunity to join a firm of local auctioneers who Charlie says, “Sold your house, your farm, your chickens, your furniture and so on.” Charlie’s decision clearly favored poultry over petrol. He joined the auction firm of W.S. Johnson & Company in September of 1968.

By October first Charlie found himself auctioning pens of chickens in England’s open air Bletchley Market. As Charlie proudly relates, soon afterwards his auctioneering skill elevated his status to auctioneer of turkeys. Proudly recounting his success with turkeys, Charlie says. “In the week before Christmas in 1968 I sold 967 dead turkeys, individually. What a triumph that was for my career.” He began sensing the seeds of a future. Indeed, his vision proved out. As his employer had an auction room for antiques, Charlie quickly advanced from avian auctioning to gaveling antiques. In retrospect, no doubt could exist that this opportunity would set the course for the rest of Charlie’s life. And Charlie remembers the moment the die was cast.

1934 Mercedes-Benz 500 K Offener Tourenwagen (in foreground) at Lynchburg auction

Charlie remembers clearly saying, “In the furniture auction room I was working for a fine man named John Collins who was a superb auctioneer. It was at that time, I was 19-years old, that I fell in love with antique furniture.” Charlie would stand in the back of the auction room and soak in the beauty, craftsmanship and history of the pieces that would cross the auction block.

The pivotal moment in Charlie’s life arrived when John Collins, in the middle of an auction, stopped the action to inform the audience, “Ladies and gentlemen Mr. Ross will now take over.” With that the wise John Collins surrendered the rostrum to the very young Charlie Ross who Collins knew was ready. Charlie says, “It was the best possible way to do it. It gave me no time to worry. Just do it.” Charlie did. Indeed there would be no stopping him. By 1983 he had his own saleroom. Then came the big break.

By the turn of the new century, Charlie, with his passion for antiques and a special love for Georgian furniture, had become somewhat of a BBC personality. His encyclopedic knowledge of antiques had him featured on BBC programs like Antiques Road Show, Flog It and Bargain Hunt.

Then around 2003, a dear friend of Charlie’s, Peter Bainbridge, an accomplished auctioneer working with RM Auctions (now RM Sotheby’s) told Charlie that he had recommended him to David Gooding who had been President of RM Auctions. Charlie says, Apparently David expressed to Peter his intention to launch his new venture, Gooding & Company, with its first classic car auction. It would be at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2004. David told Peter that he had the site and the cars but needed an auctioneer. Charlie fondly remembers saying, “Peter proving our close friendship advocated on my behalf saying, there’s this funny old chap in England. While he’s got no car experience, he’s got a saleroom in Wobern and he’s a good auctioneer. In my opinion you two would get on very well.” David and Charlie did and the rest is auction history. Charlie offers very forthright answers about what others describe as an incredibly successful career at the Gooding rostrum.

“No,” admits Charley, “I do not know vintage cars like I know antique furniture. Gooding & Company’s expertise equips me with a detailed knowledge base beyond what I need to successfully manage the auction of the kind of top tier vehicles that cross the Gooding block.”

When asked how he has earned his reputation as a master at maintaining control of a room Charlie says, “Achieving and maintaining control? Have a clear voice. Sound authoritative but flavor it with a certain light-hearted air.” Charlie believes strongly that if you get people on your side they will do what you want them to do. He also makes very clear the penalty exacted by being too domineering. He says, “If you get too dictatorial the audience will rebel. Most everyone likes to take the “Mickey” out of someone that’s a bit too full of themselves.”

Charlie benefits as well from the presence of one particular colleague working the phone lines. That would be his wife, Sally Ross, better known in auction circles as Lady Ross. One of Charlie’s great interactions with Lady Ross came during the 2018

Audience at Gooding Lynchburg Auction

Gooding auction of Miles Collier’s 1935 Duesenberg SSJ once owned by Gary Cooper. In a positively electric auction environment approaching a frenzy, bids had blown by the low estimate of $10 million. Charlie smiling at the recollection says, “It was quite apparent that there were two people who really wanted that car at almost any price.” Lady Ross was going strong representing one bidder on the phone. Then with the bid having reached $15 million on a phone bid from the other bidder that drew a gasp from the crowd all eyes turned to Lady Ross. With exquisite timing in a room positively rocking, Charlie paused the bidding, and turning to Lady Ross at the phones across the room, said, ”Ladies and gentlemen hold on for a moment please. Lady Ross, you’re not bidding on your own behalf are you?” She said no and the room burst into laughter. To complete the story, the bidding carried on with Lady Ross dropping out at $19 million. The winning bid plus buyer’s premium reached $22 million.

Charlie says, “What a wonderful experience. You could feel the warmth of the crowd coming with you, everybody’s on your side, they’re on the bidders side. The crowd pulsed with the intoxication of a special moment when expert estimates were cast aside by a passionate desire shared by two people of means intent on possessing something exceptional, whatever the cost. It was a very, very exciting moment.” The $22 million result set a standing sales record for all Duesenbergs and, in fact, all Pre-WWII cars.

When asked if he has any preference for audiences, Charlie clearly prefers a crowd. He says, “It’s very possible to create a good atmosphere with fifty or sixty people in attendance.” That said, Charlie’s style and energy delivers the power to drive the largest of rooms. He makes no bones when saying that a very small live audience with most of the bidding offsite leaves precious little kindling to heat the room.

Vehicles for inspection at warehouse

A Brit by birth, Charlie finds members of different cultures express distinct personalities when participating in an auction. Charlie says, “I have conducted auctions in Mumbai, India. The mood there clearly projected a greater seriousness than say in American. Though the bidding was not on cars but footballer contracts.” He does believe Americans are better audiences. He says with conviction, “They are more fun, you know. At a Pebble Beach or Amelia Island, there’s somewhat of a party atmosphere. Of course, there are people there prepared to spend $10 million, $20 million. There’s also a lot of people there who are there just for, what the Irish would call “the crack” you know, the fun and the jollity.” When it comes to the English, not as much fun.” Charlie says, “In England people that deal in cars at the top end, in my experience, take themselves a bit more seriously. Without any justification I might add. They can be a bit arrogant. And I am an Englishmen talking.”

Vehicles for inspection at warehouse

Clearly reading the audience demands a specific skill regardless the venue. When asked Charlie says, “Experience experience. I do think rooms differ depending on what you’re selling. You know, if you’re selling chickens to a bunch of farmers, they are a very different breed from car collectors with million pound bids

at the ready.” However, Charlie emphatically states, “Everybody is a human being and responds well to being understood. If you can relate to them, whether being serious, or having a laugh or appreciating the spectrum of emotions in between, meaningful communication will occur.” Charlie says, “That is where I would like to believe my skill lies.”

Clearly a most important skill at the rostrum stands as the ability to “tease” out a price. Charlie says, “A little humor bordering on flippancy can provide a hesitant bidder with an appropriately gentle nudge to action.”

An example used by Charlie describes a situation where bidder “A” bids $1.1 million and bidder “B” bids up to $1.15 million. Clearly the pressure rests on bidder “A” and Charlie would like to see him go to $1.2 million but the bidder has turned hesitant. Here Charlie remarks, “I might take the liberty to suggest that, well frankly, if you’ve got $1.1 million you must have $1.2 million. It can work but other times a bidder has established a hard line. Then he will just smile and hold firm with his “no.”

Nobody has enjoyed a better seat to view the evolution of the classic car market and value trends at auction than Charlie. From everything he has witnessed, He says, “ First and foremost, the top-end has always ruled.” Someone once asked Charlie what were the cheapest lots he had ever sold in his saleroom. He responded, “The most expensive lots were the cheapest because ultimately, the number one lot is what everybody wants now. And subsequently, when it comes on the market again, in 5 years, 10 years or 20 years, everybody will still want it.” He has seen that the best or most expensive items over time, almost as a rule, gain in price. For more run-of-the-mill items, that does not necessarily hold true. He says, “Buyers don’t necessarily want the second grade or the third grade but the best is always the best.”

As to the tastes prevailing in the current marketplace Charlie expressed a clear opinion saying, “Modern, modern, modern seems to be the way forward. Modern and low mileage.” In referencing the cars of the Mark Smith Collection that would be crossing the auction block the following day, Charlie offered some pointed comments. With a hint of concern He said, “Interest in modern seems to trump pre-war vehicles. I am hoping that assessment will be proven wrong tomorrow. I say that because a lot of these wonderful cars in the Mark Smith collection are pre-war cars.” He went on to reflect on the tilt toward modern in bidder interests saying, “We’ve seen an explosion of interest in Porsches and Ferraris from the last twenty years, low mileage examples.”

Charlie shared his perspective on the interest expressed in modern cars by younger bidders, those referred to as “Youngtimers.” He reflected with a nod to the reality that the wonderful old collectors in their 80s and 90s, like old auctioneers, will not be with us forever.


He observes that despite their glorious nature and head-turning beauty, pre-war Olympian cars such as Duesenbergs, Packards, Lincolns and Cadillacs do not deliver the enjoyable driving experience offered by the modern tier 1 collectible. Charlie says, “I don’t believe the younger car enthusiast wants to be worried about whether his prized car will start or stop. Many don’t want to deal with it. I question their desire to stick their heads under the bonnet. They desire a car that can be driven with ease and enjoyed with little concern for reliability.”

In considering the buying population he serves, Charlie says, “I would like to think that the person buying these best cars is  cut of the same cloth as a chap with a Ferrari 250 GTO who turned up at one of our auctions driving it. This is a car worth $30 million, $40 million. He parks it outside and the people, this happens to be in England, are shocked by his driving it. The owner’s response, ‘Of course I bloody well drive it. It’s a car.’”

In closing, Charlie, in considering the David Gooding quote, admits, “There are a lot of auctioneers in the world, David’s comment makes me feel very warm. It makes me think that, in life, there is one thing I can do well.”

Very well, indeed.

By |2023-04-27T13:57:37+00:00April 27th, 2023|2 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #46

Spending time as I do in the Blue Ridge Mountains offers a great opportunity to commune with the beauty of nature. However, where I stay, being at the end of a serpentine dirt road snaking its way deep into the forest, affords a level of social connection just north of Neil Armstrong’s solitary stroll on the moon. Jeremiah Johnson I am not. So to break the spell of the woods, I often go in search of stories. The other day my friend Eddie, mentions a local restoration specialist. Game on.

Escaping from my forest sanctuary, I head out to meet a man who I would come to respect as an artisan. He works in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains where he produces Amelia Island, Pebble Beach and Cavallino quality work with a special place in his heart for British cars.

Meet Mike Gassman.

Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda with One of America’s Most Important Cars

1907 Thomas Flyer

Heading north, the Rockfish Valley Turnpike passes beneath the terminus of the Virginia Skyline and the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We are talking God’s country. Clinging to the western side of the mountain above the Shenandoah Valley this old blue highway cuts through the Rockfish Gap before descending to the valley floor below where my destination awaits.

Clean and white with a garnish of distressed old British sports cars from the 50s and 60s dressing the side lot of the shop, Gassman Automotive presents itself as a buttoned downed source of high end restoration services, NOS parts and restored vehicles for sale.

Mike Gassman welcomes me with the warm humor of an old friend. In his mid-50s, he possesses a forthright country geniality reflecting his farm family upbringing. Mike converses with the intensity of a high energy, engaging storyteller. Conversations reflect the technical acumen of a master restorer delivered with the flavor of comedian Ron White.

Time spent at Gassman Automotive offers rich servings of eye candy and good information. Mike’s business offers a great story. However, that story will have to wait to be told another day. Why? Because before I interviewed Mike he told a couple of great stories that I had to share, now.

As we walked through his fabrication shop, Mike motioned to a bare metal shell mounted on a rotisserie. It appeared to be a smaller mid-century coupe of European breeding. Indeed, it turned out to be an early 1960s AC Greyhound. It actually represented a very rare find considering the total production numbered just 83 with only three having left-hand drive with this being one of the three.

It had been off the road since 1968 and left untouched in a barn in North Carolina. It would spend the next year undergoing a full restoration at Gassman. As Mike told it, the really funny part of the story resided in the fact that it had sat quietly for over fifty years under a thick layer of dust in a barn within sight of Tom Cotter’s home. Yes, that Tom Cotter “The barn find hunter.”  As Cotter says, “They are out there, sometimes right under your nose.” Cotter must have laughed at this find.

With that story told and well received, it triggered Mike to bust out saying, “If you like barn find stories I have got one for you.” As told to me by Mike, it actually starts well before Mike was born in 1964.

Mike says, “My family ran a dairy farm in Alden, NY east of Buffalo. A widow lived on the farm next to ours.” Apparently the widow’s deceased husband had been good friends with Mike’s grandfather, so Mike’s father would farm her field for her. Before Mike’s birth his dad had a real thing for brass era cars. Mike says he heard his dad probably had 20 of them at one time. In the course of tending the widow’s farm Mike’s dad discovered her barn contained a terribly distressed but very interesting car from the brass era. Mike’s dad had his eye on it with intentions to buy. With that in mind Mike’s dad would take every opportunity to squirt a little oil in the cylinders and turn the engine.

At that time Mike’s dad supplemented his income of $45 a month from farming with money he could make flipping cars. Mike says, “He would buy a car for $5 get it running and sell it.” Though the widow’s car was in terrible shape she wanted $500. Mike’s dad felt the $500 price outrageously steep especially considering its condition.

Mike says, “I have heard this story a million times. One day in the 1950s as my dad rides over to the widow’s farm he sees a tractor-trailer backing its stainless steel trailer up to the barn. On the side it reads “Harrah’s.” Ken Gross writing in Hagerty/Insider quotes David Gooding recalling Harrah’s trucks saying, “There were semi-trailer trucks bringing cars that they’d picked up around the country, every few days – both cars that were pulled out of barns and new purchases. They had different car spotters in different parts of the country.”

While Mike’s dad had made offers for the car, they never approached the $500 asking price. He accepted the reality and helped load the car onto the truck. He watched the loading of two straw filled crates that contained the vehicle’s brass head lamps. Lastly he witnessed the loading of what would prove to be a very important old bicycle. And that, was that, until.

Over a half century later young Mike, born in 1964, had grown into a master restorer fine classic automobiles. In 2008 he had brought one of his restorations to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. On the day of the judging, in the early morning hours, he went to the underground garage where cars had been stored to detail his car. Right next to his entry stood the car that he recognized as the “wreck” his father recalled pushing onto Harrah’s trailer.

Michael knew more details than most about the 1907 Thomas Flyer that had won the 1908 “New York to Paris Great Race” and its grand prize of $1,000. (An interesting sidebar to history is that, at the time, the race sponsors The New York Times neglected to present the prize money to the winning Thomas Flyer team. It would be another 60-years, in 1968, that The Times awarded the money to driver George Schuster the only team member still alive.)

Michael knew that the Thomas Flyer finished first in 169 days beating the German Protos in second place by 26 Days. He also knew the significance of the headlights and the bicycle.

While the German entry, the Protos, had arrived first to Paris, the Germans had been penalized for cheating (The Germans had put their car on a train between Ogden, Utah and San Francisco) so the American had the race in hand until a gendarme refused them access to Paris and victory. Why? Parisian law required two headlights and the Thomas Flyer only had one. Unfortunately the Thomas flyers lost a headlight during a misadventures along the route. Just as things seemed poised on a pin head and ready to tilt towards ugly, a gentleman offered the team his bicycle which had a carbide lamp. After numerous failed attempts to attach the headlight, the team simply lifted the bicycle onto the hood of the car and held it there by hand allowing the Thomas Flyer to enter Paris and claim victory.

Now standing next to the Thomas Flyer he just stared as a man came over and began wiping the car down. Mike says, “I told the guy, my dad had a chance to buy this car in 1952 for $500. He looked at me like I was an idiot. I said believe it or not. He said I find it hard to believe.” The man then asked Mike where his dad lived and Mike said Alden, NY. Mike says, “His eyes lit up.” Mike then told him that his dad had pushed the bicycle next to it and carried the two crates with the headlights into the Harrah’s truck. Mike says, “Now the guy was listening. That I knew about the bicycle flipped him out. I learned later that day that he was the grandson of Ernie Schuster who drove the Thomas Flyer in the Great Race.” Mike says, “If you ever want to read a great book about it all get a copy of Race of the Century by Julie Fenster

Today, the 1907 Thomas Flyer that won the 1908 New York to Paris Great Race has been recognized for its historic importance by its inclusion in The National Historic Vehicle Registry. It now resides in the pantheon of most significant cars in American automobile history, treasured by the National Auto Museum where it resides and a priceless icon, which, Mike acknowledges, his dad passed on for $500.

By |2023-03-02T16:36:23+00:00March 2nd, 2023|4 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #45

“Maurice, come join us,” they called to him as he passed. Friends with whom I sat beckoned him to our table. Clearly, he recognized them and enjoyed their respect and warm feelings. A slight man with white whiskers and genteel manner, his charming and proper English accent left no doubt as to his British roots and breeding. A youthful 88-years of age, no dodderer he. With an exchange of pleasantries he begged off claiming weariness at day’s end and with goodbyes completed his after dinner departure.

My friends explained that he possessed a wealth of knowledge concerning fine art and antiques. His business focused on the purchase and sale of both. They marveled at the stories he shared. And, oh yes, during his early years in post-WWII England he refurbished and brokered vintage Rolls-Royce automobiles. They affectionately boasted of his encyclopedic knowledge of early Rolls models. Indeed his expertise with the iconic British marquee had earned recognition on both sides of the Atlantic. So much so that by the beginning of the 1970s his renown had drawn the attention of the Rockefeller Estate. Now living in America, Maurice accepted their offer to oversee the vintage car collection of, the now departed, past New York Governor and Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller.

Shortly after our dinner time introduction, I reached out to Maurice. Indeed he had great stories to tell and this one is a doozy.

Meet Maurice de Montfalcon.

A Silver Ghost story. Real or Fake? You decide.

Portrait of the real 60553 by Stephen Salmieri

Upon entering a small but tasteful antique shop in a tony New Jersey suburb, I see owner Maurice de Montfalcon. Exhibiting a frenetic blend of determination and confusion he moves about a room strewn with rare historic documents. All will prove to address the iconic 1907 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost in general and one specific 1907 Silver Ghost in particular. More about that in a bit. The shop presents itself in a sort of discordant integration of neatly arrayed upmarket collectibles and antiques overlaid by a blizzard of pictures, magazines and papers blanketing every flat surface. The scene recalls photos of Einstein’s office.

Maurice standing in front of 60553/565, with son (Sam Stevens Jr.) of original owner according to Maurice

Exuding warmth delivered with an air of preoccupation, Maurice, after the briefest of formalities, launches into a breathless description detailing the subject of his apparent obsession. In short order I am grappling with a torrent of historic, legal, and personal detail flooding my brain courtesy of Maurice. It focuses on one 1907 Silver Ghost in particular. Very possibly the first Rolls-Royce to come to America, one once owned by the Rockefeller Estate, as well, once a car for which Maurice had personally cared.

Much the self made man, Maurice, born in 1935, lived through WWII as one of those children shipped en masse on trains departing from London for the countryside to spare them from the relentless Nazi Blitz firebombing. By his early 20s he had been employed in the repair of complex surgical instruments and then sophisticated cameras such as Rolleiflex. Maurice, with classic  British reserve recalls saying, “I had a natural ability with mechanical things.” About this time his penchant for Rolls-Royce automobiles blossomed and he began purchasing and refurbishing early 20th century models. Over the next twenty years he worked his way through the labyrinth of the British automotive agency hierarchy to the point that he had achieved a high level of success and recognition from his work associated with Vintage Rolls-Royce models. Quite the stickler for accuracy, his conversations would be sprinkled with the specific chassis numbers of vehicles he would be discussing. Letters he submitted to publications such as MotorSport, would politely school writers on nuanced inaccuracies in their stories involving vintage Rolls-Royces. Self-confident in his knowledge, Maurice prided himself on the accuracy of his professional opinions. He took strong offense at those who challenged his knowledge, honesty and motives.

As the 20th century moved on, the 1970s found Maurice in America. It was at that time that the Rockefeller Estate had reached out to contacts in Britain in search of a person qualified to oversee the classic car collection of Nelson A. Rockefeller with its pre-WWI Rolls-Royces. Maurice came back as the answer. During the period spent overseeing the Rockefeller collection he developed a special affection for a 1907 Silver Ghost, #60553/565, recognized as the first Rolls-Royce delivered to America and a special vehicle of historic importance. He respected it. He cared for it. He drove it. And when the time came in the late 1970s to liquidate the collection he oversaw its sale.

To appreciate the manifest significance of Maurice’s story, if true, requires an appreciation for the importance of provenance, a vehicle’s history. As relates to authenticity, provenance can have a profound impact on a specific vehicle’s historic significance and, thus, its value. A perfect example illustrating the importance and often the difficulty in establishing provenance occurred with the 1952 Cunningham C4R displayed in the prestigious “Winner’s Circle” at the Simeone Museum. Identified as the winner of Sebring in 1953 and a 3rd at LeMans its accomplishments made this specific car historically significant and very valuable. For over sixty-years this car had been recognized by the cognoscenti of automotive racing history as the car that won Sebring, until. Until one day Dr. Fred Simeone, a man of unquestioned integrity and automotive knowledge, noticed that his C4R on display had one more louver on the side than the Sebring winning Cunningham in an old photograph. He recognized that his C4R no longer enjoyed the significance or the value it had before his discovery. Dr. Simeone, though the only person in the world who knew this truth, chose to changed the sign on the display to reflect the discovered truth of its lesser provenance.

If as told to me by Maurice, his story holds water, it would dwarf Dr. Simeone’s discovery and have a far greater impact on the automotive community. It could mean that a Rolls-Royce displayed as an historically important original model could indeed be a replica.

Maurice driving 60553/565 in London early 1980s according to Maurice

Maurice’s story tracks a convoluted tale of provenance. To best understand it requires an appreciation for a few 1907 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost chassis numbers. Chassis number 60553 belongs to a standard side entrance, Barker bodied Silver Ghost recognized as the first Rolls-Royce delivered to the United States. This makes it a very important and valuable car. Chassis number 60565 belongs to a Rolls-Royce body-less rolling chassis delivered to the same buyer a few months later. In the subsequent telling of Maurice’s story, the first Rolls (the one in the Rockefeller Collection) had its 60553 chassis plate removed during its ownership by the original buyer. Years later the owner affixed the chassis plate from 60565 to 60553 before the sale of 60553. In an attempt to avoid confusion in the telling of Maurice’s story, the chassis number 60553/565 will be used to describe the original 60553 vehicle which in later years would bear the 60565 identification plate from the other car.

As Maurice tells the story, he cared for 60553/565 as part of the Rockefeller Collection knowing its true provenance. In 1979 Maurice placed ads in car magazines promoting the liquidation of the collection. He says, “Then bad things started to happen.” He felt savaged by a letter published in the magazine Old Cars concerning the provenance of the Rockefeller Collection’s 60553/565 by a man, Millard Newman, who claimed that he owned the original 60553. Maurice felt his integrity, knowledge and character had been impugned by a very personal attack. Maurice says, “Newman’s letter took the shape of a personal attack. He wrote ‘”This is a deliberate lie only to enhance the value of the Rockefeller car.” “(Maurice) certainly does not know his Rolls-Royces. I doubt if he has ever seen my car and if he did he apparently did not know what he was looking at.’”

According to Maurice he responded to the letter stating in no uncertain terms that Newman’s car was a fraud. Maurice recalls saying, “That is when the attorney’s letters started coming in promising all types of hell about to rain down on me.” Maurice continues, “They sent all kinds of documents that I was directed to sign recanting my description of the Newman car as a replica.”  Actually Maurice emphasizes that he returned every letter basically having written that he would recant nothing.” All hell did not drizzle much less rain. He says, “They did nothing because I was right.” Maurice says, “I had the documentation, letters and photography to prove it.

During that turbulent period Maurice turned his attention away from vintage automobiles as a business to brokering art and antiques as a living. He would do so for the next forty years. Over decades the sting of the Silver Ghost kerfuffle subsided though never vanished. So why now?

What after all these years and at the age of 88 has brought the pain back with such intensity that he wants to write a book to defend his honor, integrity and reputation?

Pain from such events never totally disappears. It resides inside where the body keeps the score. It lurks poised and patiently waiting for a trigger to unleash its fury. Two months ago, after all those years, the discovery of an old letter tripped the trigger. The righteousness of Maurice’s fight for the integrity of the Rockefeller Silver Ghost “his Silver Ghost” returned with a hot vengeance. The letter authored in the 1990s by Samuel B. Stevens the son of the man who originally bought 60553, gave full color clarity to Maurice’s memories and brought bitter indignation to this still unresolved attack on his integrity. Maurice with a nod to inevitability says, “At this point if I die no one will ever know the truth.”

The following provides select pieces of the trail of evidence upon which Maurice stakes his claim to the true fate of 60553.


Newman car in restoration. According to Maurice, notice the incorrect distance between rear running board bracket and spring shackle. It is incorrect.
Maurice claims it is a proof of fraud.

According to Maurice a later photo of Newman car with repositioning of rear running board bracket to proper location closer to shackle.
Maurice describes it as the same fraud with new paint.


First page of Millard Newman letter to Old Cars in 1979 challenging Maurice’s opinion of Newman’ car


Page 1. Story from 1964 explaining how Willard Newman built a replica.


Page 2. Story by Millard Newman from 1964 explaining how he built a replica from a chopped down racing chassis.


Letter from Kirkland Gibson confirming his sale of a Rolls-Royce to Millard Newman and that it lacked any identification markings and debunks Newman’s story of finding the car in hay-filled barn. As well, Gibson states he had no doubt that the car he sold to Newman was newer than 1907.


1982 Letter from Jonathon Harley, British Vintage car expert, as explained by Maurice, seriously questioning the authenticity of the chassis sold by Gibson to Newman .


Page 1 of 1986 Letter from original owner’s family confirming early history of 60553 and debunking idea of it as a chopped up race car and suggesting 60565 was scrapped.


Page 2 of 1986 letter from original owner’s family confirming early history of 60553 and debunking idea of it as a chopped up race car and suggesting 60565 was scrapped.


1996 letter (fully legible in person) from family of original owner explaining 60565 ID tag on 60553




1990 Sotheby’s catalogue, which according to Maurice, misidentified 60553 and 60565. Maurice states that the red car is a fake and that the white car is the actual 60533 with the wrong chassis plate

Interestingly in 1990 Sotheby’s auctioned two 1907 Rolls- Royce Silver Ghosts believed to be 60553 and 60565. One identified as 60565 went for $2.8 million the most for a Rolls-Royce up to that time and the alleged 60533, depending on whether you believe Maurice or not, went for $2.05 million

So you decide. Which is the real 60553?

If you believe that Millard Newman found the real 60553 in a hay-filled barn, then the car sold at Sotheby’s in 1990 is 60553 and the first new Rolls-Royce delivered to America. Today, that Silver Ghost stands on display at the respected Peterson Museum.

But what if the case presented by Maurice is true? Then the car sitting in the Petersen would be a replica and whoever owns 60565 would actually own the first Rolls-Royce in America wearing the wrong chassis plate.

Who thought provenance could be so dramatic, suspenseful and exciting? Other than Maurice that is.

By |2023-02-16T14:44:38+00:00February 16th, 2023|6 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #44

Sometimes life taps our shoulder to remind us of the sacrifices others have made so that we have the opportunity to have so much. The recent passing of my friend James (Jimmy) Anagnost at age 98 did so for me.

In his later years Jimmy belonged to an ensemble of dedicated morning workout-aholics at a local gym. Though one of the older members, he showed up on schedule with a Cal Ripkin-like consistency for years without fail even into his 90s. An old soul imbued with values recalling a simpler time, Jimmy sported a sprightly elfin humor and laughing eyed geniality that earned him the love and affection of his gym buddies, men and women alike. Only in his later years did Jimmy honor me by breaking his good-natured smiling silence and share with me elements of his history. I found him both uniquely special as an individual and, again, representative of a generation. Jimmy’s story rightfully honors both him and his peers.

His story begins before the WWII Battle of the Bulge in 1944.

Fanfare for an uncommon man. A decorated soldier passes at 98

Jimmy Anagnost at MetLife Stadium

Born in July of 1924, little in his early years would prepare Jimmy Anagnost for the future that awaited him and millions of others like him. While that cataclysmic future bringing WWII awaited all, some, when finding themselves in fate’s crosshairs, forced to face cruel choices chose to respond to a higher calling. Such was young Jimmy of Nashua, New Hampshire.

“As a high school senior seeing the war in full swing, I figured knowing a little German might come in handy,” Jimmy said with a “did not need to be a rocket scientist” gesture. Jimmy would find his intuition about the benefit of speaking some German to be oh so true.

Jimmy in uniform

The following year after completing his freshman year at Springfield College on a Friday in June of 1943 Jimmy received his draft notice the next Monday. By November Jimmy found himself aboard Britain’s original HMS Queen Elizabeth. No pleasure cruise this. Being berthed five hammocks high in tight quarters together with wicked rough seas reduced the crossing to a six-day barf fest. A further wrenching of the ship’s collective stomach came with rumors that the QE1 had a Nazi U-boat in pursuit. The only stress relief resided in the belief that no U-boat had the speed to catch Britain’s queen of the sea.

Jimmy recalled, “Our destination would be Belgium. The Battle of the Bulge had broken out.”

For those unfamiliar with the “WWII Battle of the Bulge” It stands as the Nazi’s last major offensive of WWII and an all out effort in the dead of winter to split allied forces along the Western Front. It got its name from the large sag or “bulge” in the Allied line resulting from the German surprise attack.

It resulted in a frozen six-week blood bath in the dense Ardennes Forest of Belgium. Winston Churchill called it “the greatest American battle of the war with a deployment of over 500,000 troops. Adding to the frozen horror, a deep snow, freezing rain and record breaking cold temperatures brutally assaulted the troops with over 15,000 injuries resulting from the severe cold alone. Many of the soldiers were young men barely out of high school, just like Jimmy. In the end, the American forces prevailed and threw back the Nazi offensive though paying a terrible price in the process. According to the National WWII Museum, in what would be the costliest battle ever fought by the U.S. Army, American troops suffered over 80,000 dead and wounded.

All units in the frozen Ardennes meat grinder needed replacements, young Jimmy with the rank of corporal would be a replacement with a battered infantry division. His first exposure to death came with witnessing dead American soldiers being loaded like uncut cord wood into a truck. Jimmy said, “To this day, every time I see a truck loaded with cord wood it brings that sight back to life for me.”

Battle of the Bulge,  Ardennes Forest

Life came at Jimmy with increasing speed. A following morning  found Jimmy and his fellow replacements being stocked with supplies, ammunition and fed a breakfast of pancakes with chocolate syrup. Jimmy said, “A veteran from D-Day informed me that that breakfast was tradition before heading into battle.” He remembered the day being bitter cold and snow depths made it difficult to walk. Jimmy said, “Marching to battle I was scared. No conversations filled the air. A deathly quiet seemed to choke life itself. Not knowing what to expect fed my fear. In all my time in combat that was the most fear I ever had.” Once action started, Jimmy said, “I fired my gun. Yelled for my men to move forward and basically acted like a leader.” It helped eliminate his fear. It did not free him of experiences that would haunt his memories for the rest of his life.

Jimmy recalled coming under intense German fire. His friend Sergeant Joe Vosek hugged the ground next to him firing in the direction of the German attack. Jimmy heard a gulping sound. Jimmy said, “I turned and blood was flying everywhere. Joe had been machine gunned in the throat. Joe died. I was ordered to advance which I did but I will never forget Joe Vosek.”

One especially bitter day in this frozen hell Jimmy faced decisions that would forever impact the lives of his men and lives of those who depended upon them.

The following comes directly from Jimmy’s Commanding Officer’s recommendation of Jimmy for the Silver Star.

On 2 March 1945 as Company K 23rd Infantry (Jimmy’s unit) crossed the Urft River the enemy opened fire from 18 pillboxes trapping the company in a small open pocket. Strongly prepared enemy positions poured a hail of fire from three sides. The company found itself unable to withdraw because of enemy mortar and machine gun fire.

When 2nd platoon was ordered to withdraw Corporal James Anagnost volunteered to remain in position to keep in radio contact while the platoon leader reconnoitered a favorable withdrawal route to safety. Although it meant being dangerously exposed to enemy fire, Cpl. Anagnost with high devotion to duty took up the exposed position.

Upon receiving word to withdraw the 2nd Platoon he utterly disregarded his own safety to crawl from position to position to contact each man to order him to pull back. All the while Cpl. Anagnost was dangerously exposed to the hail of enemy small arms fire, automatic fire and mortar fire as he moved over the open and fire swept field. Only when he was sure that every man was withdrawn from the area did Cpl. Anagnost dash through enemy fire to reach the cover of a brick wall. There, with a handful of riflemen Cpl. Anagnost directed a rear-guard fight to cover the withdrawal of 3rd Platoon and other elements of Company K in the area.

Just as Cpl. Anagnost received a radio message to withdraw from his position, he heard a wounded man calling for aid from the open field in front of the wall. Aware that the platoon aid man was busy treating and evacuating several wounded men under cover of the brick wall, Cpl. Anagnost called for a volunteer to try to reach the wounded man. When no one responded he declared that he would make the perilous journey himself. Despite the advice and arguments of the other men that it was suicidal to leave the cover of the wall Cpl. Anagnost moved into the enemy fire crawling some thirty-five yards over the fire swept ground to reach the wounded man. Discovering that the man was wounded in the leg and arm and unable to help himself in withdrawing, Cpl. Anagnost dragged the man through the snow to the cover of the wall where he treated the leg wound and applied a tourniquet to the arm. Cpl. Anagnost then directed the men to withdraw to the rear and cross the river. He was the last man to leave the area and withdraw across the river.

By his high devotion to duty, courage and utter disregard for his own safety, Cpl. Anagnost was highly responsible for the successful withdrawal of Company K from its perilous position without staggering casualties and for the rescue of a wounded man who otherwise would have been killed or captured.

Two months later, Jimmy, now Staff Sergeant Anagnost and his men, after clearing two villages of snipers, moved on to neutralize several heavy gun placements targeting Allied troops at point blank range. After calling in a punishing heavy artillery barrage on the enemy position, Jimmy, surveying the scene from a location on high ground, realized that the enemy was surrounded. Clearly it would be in the Germans best interests to surrender and prevent the terrible loss of life assured by the impending withering fire awaiting to pound their inescapable position. Jimmy armed with his high school German, amazing chutzpa and basic decency volunteered to go forward alone into a clearing and facing the enemy line attempt to talk the Germans into surrendering. As described in the Army account:

S/Sgt Anagnost went forward to the enemy position and was met by a German with a bazooka pointed at him. At that time S/Sgt Anagnost was joined by Sgt Ray Legg, Albany, NY who whispered to Anagnost to hit the ground while Legg would shoot the German.

Jimmy in recalling the incident said, “My German was not that great. I was not getting through to the Germans that they were surrounded and basically faced annihilation. Ray kept whispering, almost imploring me, saying Jimmmmyyyy. I told Ray just one more chance.” According to the Army report, on this final effort “Another German soldier jumped out of a gun emplacement and yelled, ‘I’m from New Jersey we can make this work.’” Apparently the German soldier’s father, before the war, had come with the family to work for a German company in Edison New Jersey. Returning to Germany before the war, the son, still a German citizen, was conscripted. Jimmy said, “If you saw this in a movie you would say what a load of B.S. I guess what they say is true in war you see things that you just couldn’t make up.”

Jimmy as Shulton Rep judging for Miss Nebraska 1958

Jimmy’s actions resulted in the capture of over 50 flak guns that would no longer jeopardize allied planes, many 88mm heavy guns that would no longer kill allied troops and 250 prisoners who could no longer take allied lives and had been given the opportunity to live out their lives after the war.

In returning home after the war Jimmy finished his degree at Springfield College and set about building a good life after surviving a terrible war. Jimmy began a career with the Shulton Company best known for its Old Spice products. Jimmy represented Shulton products to military bases around the world. Interesting Jimmy once acknowledged to me that the most fear he ever experienced in his life occurred when going to Vietnam for Shulton in the mid 1960’s. Jimmy said, “You never knew who was the enemy nor how close they were. There was no enemy line. It scared me.”

In 1953 Jimmy married the love of his life Katharine (Kitty) Anagnost and raised a family with 3 sons and a daughter. Jimmy and Kitty’s marriage lasted 68 loving years. Kitty passed in 2021.

Jimmy’s later years had found him spending summers in Maine and when at his home in River Vale NJ attending a health club in Westwood, New Jersey. It was at that gym where Jimmy established himself as a beloved member of the health club family. Into his 90s Jimmy would work out diligently. He amazed his fellow gym rats with his vigor and by his sheer genuine joie de vivre and decency charmed

Happy 90th Birthday Kiss

the women and was beloved by “the guys.” That said, one friendship in particular stands out for both its apparent incompatibility and depth.

Over the years a deep, strong almost familial bond developed between Jimmy and fellow gym member New York Giants Pro Football Hall of Fame Linebacker Harry Carson. This friendship defied a phalanx of possible divisions from age, physical stature, regional roots, race, profession, celebrity and more. And in so doing, made a profound and universal statement about the deep transcendent nature of true friendship.

Jimmy roughly five feet seven inches tall and 150 pounds and Harry at six feet two inches and 255 pounds (He retired in 1988 and still maintains his playing weight) were so different yet so comfortable together. Harry deferred to Jimmy like a respected and beloved favorite uncle. Harry remained in constant contact with Jimmy right through Covid and during Jimmy’s time in assisted living right till his passing. Simply a joy to see them together. Watching Harry a bright, famous, revered, giving and personable man defer to Jimmy seemed a moving expression of a hero’s joy when focusing the spotlight on another.

Jimmy and Harry Carson celebrating Jimmy’s 90th Birthday

Harry’s deep affection and respect for Jimmy evidenced itself in 2015 when at Harry’s urging, the New York Giants honored 91-year old Jimmy during the NFL’s salute to veterans before a packed Metlife Stadium.

Announced to the full house by Harry, Jimmy walked on the field with a deliberate stride (all his gym friends told him to confidently stride out on the field and snap off a salute). Mission accomplished. Rising with a thundering roar from a single voice shared by the 83,000 fans, all in attendance celebrated the life of an uncommon man.

At 98 Jimmy has passed. Our lives are better because of the life he and his peers lived. Long live Jimmy.

Jimmy Anagnost will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

By |2023-02-16T14:33:21+00:00February 2nd, 2023|20 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #43

A recent crisp and bright December day delivered conditions that brought the big cat heart of my XK120 Jaguar to full roar. With the Jaguar feasting on the cool air and eager to run, Elaine and I had set out to visit an amazing and still thriving remnant of American Revolutionary War history, a three-century old Public House and America’s oldest tavern, “The Old 76 House.” I found it amusingly ironic to be behind the wheel of a very much alive piece of later day British automotive history. Once again the British were coming. My journey would travel routes once traversed by General George Washington at a pivotal time in American history when the battle for independence hung uneasily in the balance.

Now, join Elaine and me as we break bread with ghosts of the American Revolution.

Driving to history, Visiting America’s oldest tavern and the man who saved it

During the later colonial period, taverns served as the powerful pumping heart of Revolutionary fervor leading up to and during America’s War of Independence. Two of the most famous of these taverns, Fraunces Tavern in New York City and The Old 76 House in Tappan, New York, remain in operation today. Both have been operated by members of the Norden family. For a number of years Robert Norden oversaw Fraunces Tavern and for the past 37-years his son, Robb has owned and operated The Old 76 House.

The significance of the tavern or “public house” in colonial American history evidences itself in the central role it played in community formation. For a land patent (think of today’s incorporation) to be granted for the formation of a new town, e.g. Tappan, New York in 1686, the town actually had to have pre-existed as a town for one generation. The existence of a public house stood as a requisite feature central to a town’s formation, much like the role a grain of sand plays in the formation of a pearl. Colonial Tappan like its Mid-Hudson Valley brethren of communities featured a predominately Dutch and German population. Decidedly anti-British, they rejected the idea of using the British term public house or pub in their new community. Tavern instead would be their choice. And across America that tradition lives on today. In 1686 the site that would become the Old 76 House three centuries later came into existence as part of the newly created town of Tappan. By the time of the American Revolution the tavern bore the name of its, then, keeper, Casparus Mabie (Pronounced like the word “maybe”). Mabie’s tavern lived at the center of the gathering storm that would engulf the 13 colonies and ultimately change the world. Here, George Washington, Lafayette, Von Steuben, Lord Stirling, Anthony Wayne, Generals Green, Knox, Talmadge, Grover, and Alexander Hamilton, who actually lived in a room upstairs, ate drank and charted a future that would see the birth of the United States of America.

On July 4th 1774, two years to the day before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the New York Committee met at the site of the Old ’76 House and adopted the Orangetown Resolutions. With language foretelling what would come two-years later, voices emanated from Mabie’s Tavern that would join with others from across the colonies in a united call for relief from the oppression imposed by the British Parliament’s passage of the Intolerable Acts.

Located a short walk from the historic DeWint House that served as General George Washington’s headquarters four-times during the Revolution, Mabie’s tavern sat front and center to witness  events that would change the world.

With the war in full stride came an event that would indelibly mark Mabie’s Tavern on history’s ledger. In September of 1780 Colonial soldiers captured British Major John Andre who served as head of the British Secret Service in America during the Revolutionary War. After meeting with, soon to be reviled Colonial General Benedict Arnold, Major Andre had with him documents detailing General Arnold’s plan to surrender West Point to the British. Forced by failed efforts to return by boat to British controlled territory, Andre had to make his way through Colonial held territory by land. He did not make it past Tarrytown, NY.

The bar at Old 76 House

General Washington’s availability at Mabie’s Tavern, assured that Major Andre would be tried as a spy in Tappan, NY. There Andre could be confined at Mabie’s during his trial. The door to his holding cell remains in place at the Old 76 House to this day. Despite the high regard in which Andre was held by many Colonial officers including Alexander Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette, Andre, being found guilty as a spy, faced the gallows in Tappan on October 2, 1780 before a crowd estimated at 2,000.

Hearing of Andre’s capture, Benedict Arnold deserted West Point and, reaching the British warship, Vulture, fled for the protection of the British. Given a Brigadier General’s commission, Arnold would lead British troops against Colonial forces in Virginia. Retiring to England and infamy, Arnold avoided any punishment for his treachery. He died in 1801.

Letter written by Benedict Arnold found on Major John Andre

Fast forwarding to 2022, Drivin’ News has come to speak with Robb Norden the man who researched, restored and, now, owns and operates The Old 76 House. Warm, welcoming, exuberantly gracious with a ready laugh, Norden offers a high energy mix of menu recommendations leavened with a docent’s feel for sharing the stories this grand old building has to tell.

Though educated as an architect, life as a chef seemed a hard wired given for Robb Norden since early childhood. His grooming in the fine art of culinary excellence started at a young age. Robb says, “I never experienced a Thanksgiving sitting down. As a five-year old my family would put me in some crazy little costume and I would walk around the Fraunces Tavern dining room with apple juice refreshing everybody’s glass.” Not that he did not fight his family’s apparent predetermination of his future as a restaurateur. Despite the grooming by a father who operated Fraunces Tavern, Robb went back to college to be an architect. His father, believing that his son would not follow in the father’s footsteps cut Robb off. With a shrug of resignation Robb says, “Since I needed to support myself through school, I fell back on what I knew. Since the age of eleven Robb had been working in kitchens with a broad spectrum of culinary professionals. Conveying deep respect, Robb says, “The last kitchen in which I trained was the Union Square Café where I worked with Ali Barker a culinary pioneer and a master chef extraordinaire.”

Talking with Robb one finds his interests range far and wide.  His appreciation for preserving and enjoying items with a history extend well beyond the Old 76 House. A pilot, he enjoys flying his restored 1962 Piper PA-28. As well, as a hobby he updates vintage airplanes with modern avionics. A car enthusiast, he finds his pleasure in bringing old Porsche 911s and BMW 2002tiis back to factory spec. While also a diver, recreational chef and collector of artifacts associated with his interests nothing surpasses his passion for the living museum he brings to life each day when he turns on the lights of the Old 76 House.

Robb Norden at home in the Old 76 House kitchen

What triggered this perfect fusion of talent and passion? Robb explains saying, “In my 20s I worked as the preservationist overseeing the restoration. This took more than a year. During that time the owner’s involved me in discussions about the character of the dining experience they had in mind.” Robb responded by adamantly protesting their vision. Robb says, “Their vision was completely wrong.” He told them that they needed to embrace the fact that this is a tavern. The prior owners did not see it that way. He says, “They wanted to make it a very high-end restaurant. They wanted a poissonnier, saucier, two pastry chefs, their plan had more people in the kitchen than they would have had in the dining room. They would have been billing meals at $100 per person. In the 1980s it would have been as well received as billing a thousand dollars a person today.”

Not long after the discussion, Robb received a call. He had won over the owners with the wisdom of his vision. They conceded the site perfectly suited housing a restaurant that celebrated its rough hewn historic charm with a refined dining experience free of ostentation but oh so rich in character. That said, they had no interest in implementing it themselves. Robb says, “They went on to say that I had invested so much of my life into this building and my passion for it was so evident that they would sell me everything for $1…and…and for that $1 I would also be buying their restaurant corporation and their real estate corporation, both of which had crazy debt.” In considering this “opportunity” Robb explains his reasoning saying, “I was in my 20s. At this time in the 1980s a 20-year old couldn’t get a loan for five bucks. So now I would own the business. I would know how to run it better than they did. I would pay it all off.” Now, 37 years later as 2023 appears on the horizon, Robb acknowledges that he is still paying it off. While Bob clearly exhibits qualities associated with the classic Renaissance man, he acknowledges that while he has great acumen for certain things he possesses no acumen for others and he says, “Making money clearly resides in the no acumen column.”

His love affair with this proud old colonial lady from a distant past runs deep and strong. A few years back a physical exam revealed tumors that demanded immediate attention and removal. One of the attending physicians projected that Robb might have less than two years to live. With a grateful nod of the head, Robb offers a tight lipped smile and says, “It has been more than two years now. I feel fine. I feel free. But all that being said, it forces you to re-evaluate.” Inspired by that self directed  challenge Robb faced the question “What have I done with my entire life?”

Party in the house, The Old 76 House with Mark Sganga ensemble (Jen Heaney , Mark Sganga, Larry Eagle (obscured), Freddie Pastore, Candyce Giaquinto)

Robb pauses and notes that he has been here, in the room where we both now stand, for 37 years. He says, “I honestly believe I could have done great things in other areas.” He continues saying, “Did I waste this time?” He slowly looks about capturing and savoring all he sees, he leaves a silence hanging in the air and quietly says, “No.” Again pausing he then continues, “This is not a business. For me it is almost like a living breathing fine art project, like the David or the Sistine Chapel. I feel it is a great accomplishment because I don’t serve food here. I serve an experience and try and make those who are receptive to the fact that they in a building that has grown with our country and is still doing that self same thing. Equally impressive nothing here is artificial. There’s nothing fake. What we have as ornaments for lack of a better word are real, from start to finish, there’s no false cheesy prints. The armaments hanging around are real and were used in battle. When the floor deteriorates in a certain area, I don’t replace it with something that looks fake. I replace it with something that is obviously of fine quality. Now these floors are pine. And if I have to repair it, I use a fine piece of Oak so that people can say, well, that’s the older stuff. And that’s the repair, and the repair should be evident because this is the true place that remains. If you go to Williamsburg, which is great. It’s super for propagating that kind of American History idea. However, it’s Disneyland. Here is where everybody actually sat where they actually caused, so many important things to happen. And these are the actual beams and building and so on. And it’s been not only preserved but protected for years to come.”

Old 76 House, good spirits fill the room

In honest reflection Robb explains to people that his ownership of the Old 76 House is not so much a “living” as it is a life style. He agrees with the old adage that “you do not own a restaurant, the restaurant owns you. Clearly Robb loves his Old 76 House and he shares that affection with the customers he cares for through the camaraderie he promotes. Enjoying an eclectic taste in music, Robb promotes a musician friendly climate with music most every night that attracts a level of talent rarely encountered outside of premium music venues. Wednesday nights belong to an ensemble cast of respected musicians and session players who have played with the best and rank among the best and invite friends who are the best.

Some say the Old 76 House harbors ghosts, if so, then when the band starts, good spirits fill the room.


Drivin’ News will be taking a break for the holidays. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

May 2023 bring you joy and abundance.

By |2022-12-08T14:50:33+00:00December 8th, 2022|7 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #42

A recent Drivin’ News story, “When the collection outlives the collector,” resonated with a broad spectrum of readers. Its theme focused on the challenges facing adult sisters charged with disposing of their recently deceased father’s collection of distressed classic Cadillac cars and piles of associated parts.

Much of the feedback focused on the need for a collector to organize and preferably simplify the contents of a collection in advance of the time when it gets passed on.

Inspired by the research of Drivin’ News friend and “avid car guy,” Rocco Scotellaro, Drivin’ News will explore channels available for collectors to dispose of their collection’s contents. The word “dispose” may seem a rude assessment in contrast to the more positive “sell.” Unfortunately, while most classic car pieces and parts have a value, the market for some items associated with classic cars especially pre-war cars may be melting out of the population. For the sake of one’s progeny, information about purpose and worth can be invaluable.

With that said, Drivin’ News explores managing down a collection.

How to manage down a classic car collection.

Mr. Doan and his collection being auctioned by VanDerBrink Auctions

Disposal of classic car parts, pieces and print materials presents a daunting task even for the collector who knows what his collection contains. Thus, avenues for clearing out parts and pieces will be the focus of this article. For a discussion of the sales channels for complete and running vehicles, readers can refer to the October 14, 2021 Drivin’ News story, Comparing classic car sales platforms.”

The plight of the four LaFronz sisters featured in the Cadillac story hit home for both the younger readers who might be on the receiving end of a collection and the not so young audience members (You are not going to catch me calling my friends old) who find themselves staring at piles of vintage car parts accrued, often times, over decades. In hearing the sisters’ story, younger potential collection recipients can envision the painful loss of a parent complicated by the daunting task of disposing of items for which they have neither an interest in keeping nor a knowledge of their value. For older collectors, with most residing in an age bracket frequented by grandparents, the task of planning for the disposal of their collection presents the potential for an equally unpleasant experience. Issues relating to one’s mortality offer little in the way of pleasant reflection.

LaFronz sisters’ Cadillac collection chaos

Today, many longtime collectors with a clear eye on reality, some grudgingly and others with a quiet nod to inevitability, find themselves coming around to facing the responsibility that rests alone on their shoulders to do right by their collection and those who will assume the responsibility for it. Whether being kept in the family or organized for liquidation, they know they need to prepare their collection for the transition.

Rocco Scotellaro has been a life-long car enthusiast and collector. A professional engineer, Rocco had been my student during my brief stint as a middle school science teacher in the time of the first Nixon administration. We reconnected 50 years later when he registered for an adult school class I presently teach on collectible automobiles. With a special place in his heart for classic Pontiacs and C2 Corvettes, Rocco has accrued a mountain of parts during his decades of restoration activities. In a concerted effort to keep his inventory under control and promote marital harmony, he has developed significant expertise in the avenues for turning excess inventory into cash while reducing that mountain to a mole hill.

To equip collectors with effective tools for disposing of parts and pieces no longer needed, Drivin’ News has combined the work of Rocco and the widely respected Drivin’ News research department to offer an overview of proven avenues to reduce the clutter and make a few bucks.

Seek help!

SPECIAL NOTE: If you have a space filled with an eclectic jumble of random car parts that you passionately defend against any suggestion to reduce the chaos, you have crossed the line and are, indeed, a hoarder. Seek help.

Before charting a path for the sale of items in a collection, it is paramount to be clear on the scope of what is being sold. A manifest difference exists between clearing out some NOS and used parts for which you no longer have a need versus a one-time disposal of a barn chock-a-block with bodies, chassis and shelves of associated parts. Answers to the “How to” question can range from creating a small side business that serves as a pleasant distraction and makes a few bucks all the way up to contracting a professional auction house with the market savvy and resources to move everything at one time. The spectrum of solutions existing between those poles demands an honest assessment of your knowledge, your time and your objectives.

As an example, the adult sisters in the distressed Cadillacs story face real choices. At a disadvantage with their lack of knowledge as to the value of the collection, they could contract with a respected auction house that deals with the disposition of such lots. The benefit would be that the responsibility for resolution of the matter would no longer be the sisters’ day to day concern. However, the cost for this convenience could be a significant percentage of the money raised at auction. This also assumes that a reputable auction house would take on the task, meaning it has assessed that money could be made. For those predisposed to such an arrangement the frightening possibility exists that a reputable auction house would determine that auctioning the lot was not worth the effort.

A second alternative exists where the sisters seek venues where they can advertise the total collection at a set price or ”Best Offer.”

Lastly for consideration here calls for the sisters to assume the responsibility of parting out the collection through venues where individual parts or batches of parts can be offered for sale. The phrase “daunting challenge” was specifically created to be applied in situations like this.

As we review different avenues for the disposition of parts we will return, from time to time, to assess its applicability in the case of the sisters’ inherited distressed Cadillac collection.

All avenues for parts sales have a few basics in common. Every one involves displaying the item, agreement on a deal, payment for the purchase and transfer from seller to buyer.

Rocco Scotellaro doing business even in the time of Covid

Display – Description of an item can be in person or through a written ad and/or photography or video.

Confirming a deal can either be in person or through electronic communications.

Payment can be in the form of cash, check, PayPal, or apps such as Venmo or Zelle. As explained in Forbes Advisor, Zelle (rhymes with sell) and Venmo rank as two of the most popular P2P (person-to-person) mobile apps providing digital payment services. Zelle allows you to send and receive money instantly between U.S. bank accounts. It partners with over 10,000 financial institutions with over 1.8 billion made between its inception in 2017 and 2021. It enables you to send money quickly from your bank account to anybody you pick. In a matter of minutes.

Venmo, unlike Zelle functions as a digital wallet, allowing you to accrue money in your Venmo account to pay for future purchases. Money transferred through Venmo arrives in your account instantly. The recipient can then keep the funds in their Venmo account or transfer the money to a linked bank account. Money is not available instantly unless you pay a fee.

PayPal offers a much more comprehensive menu of services with  users in over 200 countries. Its broad international reach is accompanied by a complex fee structure. Unlike PayPal, Zelle and Venmo only serve users in the U.S.

Transfer either is through an in-person exchange or by shipping. This involves packing and selecting a shipper.

Packing – Rule 1, if you are shipping an item pack it well. The last thing you want is a shipment damaged. Returns and insurance are a real hassle. Double wall boxes are the best. Big stuff can be a challenge. Packaging large body panels and engine blocks are best not attempted by the inexperienced.

Shipping – Size more than weight matters. A large light door panel will cost more to ship than a small heavy engine component. Small items are well served by flat rate boxes available at the post office. UPS and FedEx offer a menu of delivery schedules and prices. If you ship enough you can get a price break. Shipping without a doubt adds a level of complexity avoided with a simple hand-off.

Garage SalesBasically, a garage sale requires writing an ad that can be placed on Craigslist, a local garage sale website or a local newspaper. If your garage sale will be primarily car parts and pieces it is important that you reach out everywhere to alert your intended buyers. A properly placed clear ad promoting “Car Stuff” for sale will draw car guys like flies to, well to whatever flies are drawn to.


  • Easy
  • Free
  • Buyers interact with item before sale
  • All cash transactions
  • Items sold as is,
  • No taxes
  • No shipping


  • Days of preparation to organize, price and label items. Write the ad Make and post signs.
  • Need to sell at lower prices (Be prepared to negotiate because everyone wants a deal)
  • Weather dependent
  • Limited customer base
  • Thieves cruise garage sales to distract the seller and take things. It is best to have a few helping you. Don’t be bullied and be alert to distractions and confusion.

Garage sales are hard work. They can also be fun and profitable. In the following example Rocco describing one of his garage sales the past summer (keep in mind that Rocco is good at this). Rocco says, “I put an ad on Craigslist for “tools” in the automotive section. I had good traffic maybe 50 people over the two days. I had been collecting carpenter planes. I had maybe 15 of them displayed. The first guy there asked how much for all of them. He bought them all. First sale, $350.” In two days I sold two thousand dollars worth of stuff. It is worth the effort.”

This is not to say that this happens every time. Sometimes it can be a dud. That is life. But, most often if you advertise properly, have good stuff and are willing to deal, sales will happen.

Swap Meets/ Car Shows/ Flea Markets

From the local car show to the sprawling acres of Hershey, Carlisle, Charlotte Motor Speedway and the like, the basics of a swap meet remains the same only the size of the event differs.

Hershey Swap meet

Basically a swap meet is like a big flat area filled with a whole bunch of garage sales. That said swap meet participants are certainly a notch above a garage sale in the organization of their operation. Usually for swap meet participants, it is not their first rodeo. That said one can usually expect a large friendly gathering of like minded car enthusiasts having a good time and eager to buy something. Offerings at swap meets extend across the spectrum of car enthusiast needs. Small swap meets have some professional participants mixed in with folks that bring stuff that would be found at a garage or estate sale.


  • A far more targeted audience than a garage sale
  • Buyers interact with item before sale
  • Cash sales
  • Higher prices
  • No shipping
  • Secure environment


  • Must pay for Vendor space
  • Must pack and transport stuff to location
  • Cost of travel/ lodging (if overnight)

Craigslist/ Facebook Market Place

Kind of the wild west of online shopping. Real bargains and real misinformation. Like garage sales everyone has a bargain in mind. That said, I have sold parts and cars on Craigslist. Think of these sites as having both wheat and chaff. It remains up to the buyer to sift through it.

Craigslist also is rife with scam artists. One particular one has a very motivated caller who desperately wants to buy whatever you are selling. Unfortunately, the caller will be out of the country so he will send over a friend with a certified check to pick up the item. A deal sweetener of say $100 or, if it is a large purchase, $500 will be added to compensate you for the inconvenience. If the seller goes along, the item is picked up in exchange for the certified check. Only two weeks or so later does the certified check prove to be worthless. Always be wary with Craigslist.

An increasingly major concern with Craigslist is personal security. As reported by NBC News, a robbery arranged on Craigslist is the perfect crime. Whether the victim is buying or selling an item, he or she arrives at a meeting with either a wad of cash or something valuable.

Such meetings often involve the disclosure of much personal information, including phone numbers and home addresses. A clever robber may even persuade the potential victim  to disclose tidbits like work schedules or number of adults in the household at a given time.  And while most consumers are now appropriately skeptical of e-mail from criminals, many let their guard down when a person-to-person meeting is arranged. One very common example occurred in sleepy suburban Bogota, NJ. There a man selling a MacBook on Craigslist had arrived on a sleepy suburban street to meet a buyer responding to the seller’s Craigslist ad. The buyer approached the seller and started counting out the cash. With his focus on the alleged buyer the seller did not see the man who shoved a shotgun in his face. The men then grabbed the computer and ran off. It is becoming increasingly common. Police call it robbery by appointment.

Be warned. Be careful.

Due to this trend many police departments are setting up an area at the station where such exchanges can be made safely.


  • Free targeted audience
  • Usually a cash sale
  • No shipping unless buyer chooses to (Be careful)


  • Must submit ads with photos
  • Limited/local audience
  • Must field questions
  • Must arrange for pickup and payment
  • Security concerns


Ebay represents the online sales 900-pound gorilla in the room. With a potentially global audience and easy payment options eBay grew into an international phenomenon. Unfortunately accompanying that growth has come a complex and off-putting fee structure.

Rocco has developed some pretty strong feelings about eBay based on his years of experience. He says, “eBay is pretty interesting but it can get very complicated and it is getting more complicated by the day. Their terms and conditions seem to change every quarter. I’m kind of glad that I’m running out of stuff to sell because it’s getting more difficult and less worth the trouble. eBay can easily take 15% of your sale.”


  • Wide targeted audience
  • Available access to meaningful sales data
  • Higher prices as compared to garage sales and Craigslist
  • Can target your market to global or U.S. only


  • Fees
  • Tax liabilities
  • Required record keeping
  • Necessity of shipping
  • Have payment procedures
  • Necessity for ad copy and photography
  • Be prepared to answer questions
  • eBay rules and regulations

Primarily BaT has evolved into the premium on line community for the sales of special interest vehicles. Parts are a very small piece of their offerings being primarily confined to high end components primarily wheels.

 Car Club Forums

Pretty much have the feel of a craigslist targeted to a specific and often knowledgeable audience.


  • Targeted audience
  • Knowledgeable audience


  • Very informal
  • Necessity for shipping
  • Must be comfortable with online discussions


High-end auctions such as Gooding, RM Sotheby’s, Bonham’s and their ilk primarily focus on the disposition of premium special interest cars or collections of special interest vehicles. They will deal with parts if they come with the collection.

However other auctions have made a name by serving the need for disposing of collections not necessarily comprised of pristine classic cars.

One example is VanDerBrink Auctions. Owned and operated by Yvette VanDerBrink, the company focuses its operations in America’s heartland having run sales in 17 states, but it’s hardcore heartland, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota where the company and founder have made their respective reputations. To see how they operate visit their website Even if they do not operate in your area, it affords a good reference for what to look for if you want to move a mixed car and parts collection at one time. For the “Cadillac sisters” finding a suitable auction house might be the best solution to their disposal challenge.


  • Relieves you of the responsibilities of disposal.
  • One single financial transaction
  • Your sale is advertised to a targeted audience
  • You don’t have to write ads or do photography
  • No security issue
  • You have the best chance to get the best value for the collection


  • The collection needs to be large enough to make it worth while
  • The service comes at a price
  • Demands research to confirm the auction you select meets your standards.
  • You may not get what you want but what the market will pay.

Marque enthusiast club publications

Cadillac enthusiast Magazine

Major marques such as Cadillac (The Self-Starter), BMW (Roundel), Porsche (Panorama) and many more have publications published by enthusiast organizations. These publications have classified sections where cars and parts can be advertised. If you are seeking to dispose of parts for that brand these publications offer a great opportunity to connect with people possessing a passion for what you may be selling. While far more work than an auction, this type of advertising of a single lot for sale could certainly be a consideration for the “Cadillac sisters.”


  • Marque specific
  • Knowledgeable audience
  • Higher prices
  • Less wasted communications


  • Necessity of shipping
  • Have payment procedures
  • Necessity for ad copy and photography
  • Be prepared to answer questions

 In the end choosing a path for disposal of part or all of a collection comes down to issues of time, money and emotions. Do you have the time to personally manage a sale? Do you need to wring out every penny possible from the disposition. Does finding a “good home” matter?

For those considering thinning or disposing of a collection, the avenues for disposition offered here could prevent the bequeathing of a collection in chaos from turning into a gift wrapped in a headache.


By |2022-11-25T13:19:22+00:00November 25th, 2022|Comments Off on Conversations With People We Value #42

Conversations With People We Value #41

The allure of blue highways in many ways draws its power from the potential to discover unexpected cultural treasures along the twists and turns of less traveled byways. On a recent journey I found one.

It certainly offered the most understated of promotional roadside signage, even for the blue highways of Western Virginia. “OPEN” read the flapping flag next to a narrow road that climbed into a dense forest. However, for me its simplicity generated an irresistible draw. Turning off the highway put Elaine and me at the bottom of a steep narrow road that snaked up a hillside and, with a sharp hairpin to the right, twisted out of sight.

I would soon learn that this serpentine climb would lead to the century old Wood Ridge Farm in Woods Mill, Virginia, now, battling to survive the forces of our modern world with a brilliant strategy devised at the intersection of cold reality and the genius of its fourth generation owner.

Meet Barry Wood the visionary owner of the 300-acre home of the Wood Ridge Brewery and so much more.

Saving the farm. Barry Wood’s beach club on the Blue Ridge

Cresting the steep climb we faced a broad expanse of land rich with plowed fields and traditional farm buildings and equipment. Unexpectedly, integrated into this bucolic setting resided structures and features that were anything but traditional farm trappings. I resolved to meet the owner and ask, “What’s your story?”

I pulled into an open space in a large parking field filled with cars and dusty pickup trucks that worked for a living. All pointed towards a rough hewn, pin light adorned, handsome log building. It stood two stories high with open decks overlooking a sandy expanse filled with tropical trees and foliage.

Wood Ridge Farm Brewery, alive at night

Elaine and I walked in to be immersed in a beach-like party atmosphere with a live sound track from the stage and the competitive banter from the corn hole competition in process. Pretty young women holding beers socializing with attentive young men blended with families herding kids and dogs, retired couples and milling family groups. A genial mix surrounded the good natured competition on the corn hole courts. Others drifted along sandy trails edged with tropical flowers, banana trees and palm trees. Paths to the left led to a Tiki bar with a completely different musical track and vibe. Further on led to a food court with an outdoor brick oven pizza facility and the “Fired Up Curbside Grill” food truck.

Turning to the right led down a palm lined path to a sand volleyball court. To the side a huge natural tree-based Virginia L-O-V-E sculpture stretched 15 feet in the air. For those who do not know, Virginia has promoted the creation of large artistic LOVE signs that reflect the character of a tourist destination. Barry’s farm may have the largest of its kind. To the right one can hit golf balls on a 300 yard driving range. Off to the distant left of the driving range across a meadow stands an imposing five-acre corn maze. To its left resides a children’s obstacle course and petting park.

A long look at the brewery, driving range and corn maze

However, without doubt the centerpiece of this agrarian fun park is the Wood Ridge Farm Brewery. Here the young women and everyone else purchase beer brewed on location with the process visible through large windows directly behind the bar.

Asking a few questions we learned that the owner’s name was Barry Wood and were directed towards a man in a cowboy hat and jeans intently shucking oysters by a fire pit. We introduced ourselves then asked “What’s your story?”

Owner and visionary Barry Wood shucking oysters

Middle aged, friendly, fit and direct Barry clearly communicated the persona of a man of conviction with his words and deeds. Yes, a country boy, but also a licensed pilot, deep sea diver, past successful businessman and, now, a farm owner facing a world of challenges. Armed with an impressive skill set, astute business sense, fierce commitment to succeed and a love for sandy beaches (which explains the caribbean beach bar motif) he showed no intention of backing down from the challenge.

With the sale of the land he leased for his successful retail farm market, Barry, in 2000, chose to move to and re-energize the farm he had inherited from his father. With the house vacant for over 25 years and the land suffering from little attention for decades Barry took over a farm in dire need of help.

“It’s real simple,” stated Barry Wood with a relaxed Virginia drawl, “Today, as a small farmer you can’t make a living with a farm just by farming.” Made equally clear, was Barry’s absolute conviction to preserving the farm in its totality and in his family.

Wood Ridge Farm Brewery

Barry spoke of inheriting his grandparent’s 300-acre farm over twenty years ago and the subsequent decades of challenges, efforts, successes, failures and lessons learned. He left no doubt that the most profound lesson delivered came by way of a modern world of costly fuel, expensive equipment, low commodity prices and the competition of massive corporate farms. He spoke of the realization that for the farm to survive intact for future generations it demanded original thought way outside the box of traditional farming solutions. Fate had clearly been kind in placing the right man in charge at the right time.

“Creative agritourism,” said Barry as he fired up his Ford pickup filled with the tools, debris and dog hair that left no doubt as to Barry’s deep involvement with running the farm. Barry says, “Not much of a choice. Let the farm go or go the agritourism route to keep the farm alive. To me agritourism means getting people to pay for the beauty, experience and enjoyment I can create and at the same time eliminate their need to get on a plane or drive somewhere else to get what I am providing here.” Clearly Barry sees a future built on creating atmospheres for families where they feel comfortable.

Barry insisted that I take a tour of the farm with him before I asked any questions. I did not need convincing.

Beginning at the top of a broad downward sloping expanse, Barry showed how the area had been repurposed to be home to the massive corn maze, a golf driving range, areas for crops and in the distance, set against the mountains of the Blue Ridge, all of the structures to support both the traditional farming activities and those demanded to serve the entertainment needs created by the agritourism activities.

Moving on, we entered the dense surrounding forest, the Ford pickup seemed to willingly absorb the punishment of the deeply rutted trails. Both Barry and the Ford treated the bone jarring ride with the indifference of an urbanite on a transit bus. I hung on.

Our next stop offered a primer on the mindset Barry applies in implementing his agritourism vision and the operation of traditional farming activities. In a cautious world of bureaucracies that demand preliminary plans, meetings, approvals and, above all, specificity he employs a creative process that can best be equated to a quarterback calling audibles at the line.

Descending a hillside brings into view a tranquil lake and handsome three-story log cabin with covered decks on the two top floors.

Commenting on the beauty of the small lake, I could understand why he built this handsome log house next to it. I did not realize until later that he first had to build the lake.

Barry explained that the cabin started out to be a bathroom because when the family would have beach parties there the girls would have to run into the bushes to pee. The girls made it very clear that they wanted a bathroom by the lake. He offered to build an outhouse. “No way,” they protested, “spiders and snakes!”

Barry agreed to build a bathroom. To do so required building a one-room cabin. This meant digging a basement and pouring walls. He said, “I decided it wasn’t big enough so we added a bedroom. Then I realized that the bedroom would block the view of the lake so I turned the bedroom into a sun room and went up to a third level for bedrooms.” To finish things off he added decks. He now rents it.

I told Barry that such a lovely lake made it a perfect spot for the cabin. He then added that he had created the lake some years back as well. He says, “My intention was to excavate a little swimming hole for the kids with the help of a friend with a small bulldozer.” Six weeks later Barry had involved eight pieces of excavation equipment including a mammoth Caterpillar D8 bulldozer. Barry adds, “When we finished, the lake reached a depth of 27 feet and the dam a height of 32 feet.”

As would become evident on my subsequent tour of the farm, Barry has employed a free form genius that manifested by taking the seed of an idea and running with it as it gained momentum until finally, over time, it matured into a realized and complete execution. Concurring Barry says, “I can’t do something until I “see” it in my mind. Sometimes I will lose the vision. Then, maybe at 2:00 in the morning “pop” the vision returns and I can proceed.”

Vineyard in the making

Barry’s sturdy Ford navigated the roads as he shared stories of his efforts. Both presented a very bumpy ride. His litany of efforts include raising alpacas, growing shrimp and running 49,000 feet of drip line during a drought to raise watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, squash, zucchini and more. Deer ate every melon and cantaloupe.

A litany of Barry’s 20 plus years of efforts to preserve and promote Wood Ridge Farm clearly displays a tenacity that offers tribute to the human spirit.

Then around ten years ago, Barry heard that distillers had their eyes out for good size farms to raise barley that would be malted for making beer and whiskey. Game on for Barry. He believed that locally raised and malted barley would be very appealing to the craft brewers and distillers in the region. He went to Canada to learn proper malting and built a specialty barley malting facility on the farm. Wood Ridge Farm would malt barley just like it was done 200-years ago. With his successful early efforts he used the malted barley to brew Wood Ridge Farm’s own beer. To quote from Genesis, “And it was good.”

With the proof in the bottle, so to speak, Barry went on the road to sell his specialty malted barley. Initial efforts met with success but the spotty nature of demand presented problems. Buyers would only purchase when the fresh hops were available and resistance to the price he needed to charge for his premium specialty malted barley met with resistance from distillers that could get by with lower quality malt. Barry says, “So I pretty much just got pissed off one day and got on my backhoe and started digging footings. I would build my own brewery.”

Inside the brewery

As Barry started digging footings around 2014 he discovered that he would be exceeding the maximum allowable footprint before triggering environmental rules dictating retention ponds and other requirements. He chose to reduce his footprint and build a second floor. With the bones of the Wood Ridge Farm Brewery established, he went about harvesting timber for the farm’s saw mill to create the boards to complete his rustic vision that stands today as the beating heart of a healthy Wood Ridge Farm tradition.

As Barry takes a moment to reflect on the present state of the farm, He is first quiet then says, “Yep, creative agritourism and the fact that we raise our own barley and malt the barley like it was done 200 years ago, there’s easier ways, but that’s the way we do it. And it’s working.” Then he allows himself a well earned smile.

By |2022-11-25T13:09:14+00:00November 10th, 2022|Comments Off on Conversations With People We Value #41

Conversations With People We Value #40

Having made a few friends along the Blue Ridge Mountains, it was not a total surprise to run into one at a local car show in the wine country of western Virginia. While doing a little catch-up with my friend and Drivin’ News reader Dick Carroll, he abruptly pointed across the grassy show field to an older gentleman with a weathered countenance, easy manner and a T-shirt adorned with restored pick-up trucks. “There,” Dick said with absolute conviction, “Is a man with stories to tell.” Dick continued, “He is a gifted craftsman known for the beautiful vehicles that role out of his garage. To confirm my understanding I asked, “He has a restoration shop?” No, he has a garage at his house where he does everything including paint. And no he does not have a spray booth.

Meet Septuagenarian Benny Bryant, a rural Rembrandt of restoration.

Benny Bryant’s 50 years of building Blue Ridge beauties

Benny Bryant in his 1964 Plymouth Fury

Unassuming yet quietly confident in his ability to artfully craft wood and steel with skills for which he thanks the good  Lord, Benny Bryant projects the grounded presence of a man at peace with himself and his seventy-five years of life lived in Nelson County, Virginia.

Speaking with a voice possessing a slow talking sincerity reminiscent of a cowboy recalling truths around a campfire, Benny lays out his story like a chef’s timely delivery of each subsequent course for a well prepared dinner.

Benny with 1955 Ford

As a teenager Benny began a life-long career in the automotive business by prepping new cars at the local Ford dealer in 1964. It was at that time that Benny bought the first car of his own that he would work on, a 1955 Ford.

One of the few perks of his entry level position resides in the Pantheon of his young life’s experiences. He remembers prepping new Fords for delivery and driving numerous high performance 289 mustangs and a very rare 1965 Galaxy 500 with all the right boxes checked: 427 check, 2x4s check, 4-speed check. A fun job, but not forever.



Benny and son Benji

Benny migrated to what would be his life’s work in the automotive parts business from which he would retire after 43 years as the owner/manager of a Fisher-Federated parts store. During those years Benny would build a family and populate his spare time honing his God-given abilities for restoring distressed vehicles. Indeed his two passions, love of family and love of restoration would interweave seamlessly as he shared his passion with his children and their children. Benny’s long life and passion had blossomed into a family affair. He says, “My son Benji stayed out here in the garage with me from the time he was probably two years old up until he got married and left at about 30.” Benji became a serious contributor to projects about the age of 14. Benji says, “I learned so much. We did a little bit of everything. I mean we pulled motors, did body work. We would just tear things apart head to toe. My dad and I got along good. It made things easy.”

Once retired, Benny would kick his passion for classic vehicle restoration into high gear as a full time pursuit that would sustain him and his family. He says, “I am not a wealthy man. Restoring cars defined my retirement plan.” The last decade witnessed Benny hit his stride as the consummate restoration artist possessing a special affection for pickup trucks. For those who know Benny, an added mystique enhancing the personality of what Benny creates resides in where he makes his restoration magic happen, the garage behind his home.

A handsome and neatly manicured residence, featuring many pieces of hand-made furniture crafted by Benny, sits on the side of a quiet country road that is now paved. For many years that was not the case.

Benny’s garage

Behind the house a two-bay garage two cars deep with a single lift and an upholstered recliner (more about the recliner later) provides the stage where Benny performs. To appreciate the achievement Benny’s work represents, demands a look at where it takes place. Neat, clean and organized with photos on the walls and trophies on shelves accompanying all the equipment Benny needs to turn trash into treasure.

For those raised on watching high tech restorations on the Velocity Channel, Benny’s garage (Wow what a great name for a TV show) offers a stark contrast. Benny in describing the technical sophistication of his garage says, “We do it with nothing. I got a little welder and that’s all really that we got. Heck, I got a few little old body tools. I got a couple of D.A.s (Dual Action sanders) and some grinders and that’s it. That’s all we got. In describing work on two of his projects he says, “All that frame work under that Plymouth and the one under that Nova both, we built lying on the floor with grinders, cut off wheels and a little weld.”

In looking at two of his restorations up close and personal the paint showed well. When asked about his paint booth, Benny responded, “I don’t have one.” Benny shoots all his restorations in his garage.” When asked how, he explains that he first sweeps out the garage and wets down the floor. A powerful fan fills a window to draw out dust and fumes. He often shots with a Binks spray gun but other equipment as well. When first visiting Benny’s garage two examples of his work grace his driveway.

Benny’s 1964 Plymouth Fury

With an aggressive stance and a dazzling red paint job a pristine 1964 Plymouth Fury says all you need to know about Benny’s work ethic. Owned by Benny for over 50 years, this Mopar beauty through pride and service has earned its place as part of the Bryant family. He says, “My daughter was born in ‘72, I bought it just before she was born and it brought her home from the hospital.” While loved, his Fury has not always enjoyed such an easy life. He says, “When we first got it, we kind of treated it like a four-wheel drive truck even though it was only 2WD. Out front of our house used to be a dirt road and in the wintertime the ruts were real bad. So bad I broke the steering box off it.” Luckily the panels remained good with damage primarily to the chassis.

Since surrendering its daily driver status, the Fury has been repainted twice and reupholstered twice. Its present garage applied lustrous red skin was applied 20 years ago. The chrome, done over 30 years ago shows very well. The stainless steel grill and all other trim are original. Everything is basically as new including the engine. Its aggressive presence screams 413 wedge but no, power comes from a 318 with a two barrel. When asked why the modest power plant Benny says, “Money. I had a wife and two children and I was the only one working.”

Today Benny’s Fury has 208,581 miles and counting.

1964 Fury on 2001 Hot Rod Power Tour

When asked to tell a good story about his Fury, and knowing Benny, it had to involve family as well the car. And the story is a good one. Benny’s son Benji drove it the full length of the 2001 Hot Rod Magazine Power Tour.

For those not familiar with The Hot Rod Power Tour it began in 1995 as the brain child of the Hot Rod Magazine staff. Basically intended as the world’s largest traveling car show, its intention was to invite car enthusiasts of all stripes to participate in a seven-day gearhead circus and carfest that traveled across the country. The point of the tour is about driving your car, seeing new parts of America, meeting more people and sharing the total car experience. Today, it involves thousands of cars and tens of thousands of people. In 2001 the tour kicked-off in Pontiac, Michigan, ran for nine days and 2,414 miles and concluded in San Bernardino California. Benji and a friend ran the full tour across the country without a mechanical issue.

1964 Savoy pre-restoration

Clearly with a soft place in his heart for ‘64 Plymouths, Benny performed an amazing transformation on a ‘64 Plymouth Savoy that was well along the journey from dust to dust. He says, “Bought it at the West Virginia line and brought it home. Seeing it, everybody said why in the world did you bring a pile of junk like that home. The front end was just about rotted off. No floor boards. The cowl where the windshield wipers went had been eaten completely out of it so badly that the windshield wipers fell down inside of the car.” But Benny had a vision and a spectacular one that would become a reality.

1964 Plymouth Savoy on 2003 Hot Rod Power Tour

It began by moving the front axle six-inches forward and the rear axle 13-inches forward. Why? Benny says, “Well back when I come along about everything at the drag strips was altered wheelbase cars and I just loved them for their looks. To me they just are beautiful.” When completed, the

Savoy had a Dana 60 rear, a really strong 383 Chrysler V8 and a four-speed all wrapped up in one mind blowing bad-ass black Mopar monster. Of course, Benji took it on the 2003 Hot Rod Magazine Power Tour.

As pickup trucks star in Benny’s mind as a favorite restoration subject, his red and white 1972 Chevy C10 shines like a gem with roots very different than that of his Fury. Benny says, “Bought the chassis in one place. Bought the bed in another place. Bought the cab in another place. A guy give me his two front doors and the two front fenders. I bought the hood in another place.” Now, completed, it has a Chevy 350/350, lowered springs in the rear and cut coils in the front, new upholstery and new paint. When asked how long ago he started this project he says, “A year.” Benny does not drag his feet with a project. A partial list of his projects since he retired boggles the mind.

Benny’s 1972 Chevy pickup

In the past seven years Benny has done two Dodge diesels, an ‘89 Ford F-150 short bed, ‘96 Ford F-150 short bed, 13 Ford Rangers, 19 Toyota pickups and two Chevy S10 pickups. In the years prior to retirement completed projects included: A 1932 Ford 3-window coupe, Three 1972 Chevrolet pickups like his, one Jeep, a Bronco, a ‘32 Ford 5-window Coupe, ‘31 Ford 2-door sedan, 1964 Plymouth Savoy and a 1967 Chevy II tubbed with a 355, Littlefield blower and 2x4s. There were more. This, now, brings us to the La-Z-Boy in the garage.

Benny in his recliner

When asked why he has a recliner in his garage Benny says, “It’s because I am 75-years old. I have had two heart attacks and I have had triple bypass surgery. At this point in life I work about 10 minutes and sit about three or four minutes and then, maybe, I can work another 10 minutes. I love what I do.”

Benny Bryant’s extensive roster of masterful restorations leaves no doubt as to how well he has succeeded in sharing the fruits of his passion with family and friends alike. And he continues to do so in his reclining years.

By |2022-11-25T13:08:43+00:00September 29th, 2022|4 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #39

With Alaska in my rearview mirror, the late summer sunshine inspired a journey south along the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of stories to be found on the country byways that splinter off from the great mother road of the rural southeast in North Carolina.

Some stories stoked an inspiring blend of incredulity and awe such as that of the engaging gray haired gentleman with a roadside repair business sharing space with an array of deteriorating foreign and domestic classic cars snuggled fender to fender like sardines in a can. He began collecting vehicles around his ninth birthday. His collection, now, stowed away in nondescript chicken coups and barns included hundreds of cars and over 1,000 motorcycles.

Another story came alive when stopping at a farm stand nestled in a valley bounded by thickly forested mountains. That stop introduced me to a remarkable gentleman, retired rocket scientist and Apollo 11 team member. Together with his sister he continued his extraordinary life by buying an historically significant orchard and by turning it into a non-profit 501c3 changed lives while preserving and promoting the culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Those, however, will be stories told another day.

This week’s story tells of a man who created a community designed for classic car enthusiasts.

Meet Allan Witt visionary developer of Hawk’s Hill.

Visiting a community built for car enthusiasts

Departing from the Holly & Ivy Inn B&B in Newton, NC we headed out on some twisties toward Lenoir, NC. The Holly & Ivy deserves a shout out as easily the best bargain in a refined B&B I have ever enjoyed. At $92 a night this immaculate and exquisitely appointed restored Manor House of a 19th century industrialist could be considered a bargain at twice the price.

In Lenoir, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, resides Hawks Hill a community dedicated and tailored to the interests of the collectible car enthusiast. Created by now retired businessman and British Car enthusiast Allan Witt, Hawks Hill migrated from vision to reality over a period starting with the purchase of the land in 1987. At that time Allan and his now deceased wife Patricia, who passed in 2016, purchased a beautiful, wooded 108 acres in Lenoir. Allan gives much of the credit to Patricia, who owned and enjoyed her 1958 Morgan, for sparking the concept of a collectible car friendly rural community.

Passing the sign announcing the entry to Hawks Hill, one proceeds up a smoothly paved serpentine drive through a thickly forested community. In the age of clear cutting and cookie cutter homes, the handsome houses of Hawks Hill enjoy a setback that subordinates their presence to promote a pleasing sense of a forest ambiance.

A sloped driveway snaked up to Allan’s residence. The attractive home at the top included an attached garage with a lift and space for three vehicles. Across the driveway stood a handsome barn capable of accommodating 6 cars in various states of repair including a bare Jensen-Healy body on a rotisserie stand. Down the sloping approach to Allan’s home stood yet another barn that accommodated six cars. As the man espousing the vision of a car enthusiast community, Allan clearly walked the walk.

Allan Witt, Sherrill Eller

Walking about his property with his companion Sally Tatham and his friend and skilled mechanic Sherrill Eller Allan details how the vision of a car enthusiast community manifested itself as Hawks Hill.

Allan says, “When I sold my business in Connecticut my wife and I looked at the property we had bought here and didn’t know what to do with it.” Allan and his wife decided to subdivide it into lots of over 1 acre each and sell the lots in phases. In the early 1990’s phase one with nine lots went on the market. None of them sold. There was little interest. It was time for a plan B for phase 1. It was at that time that Allan’s wife said, “You like cars. Lots of people like cars. Why don’t we make a car community out of it?” Allan loved the idea.

Step one, they advertised in “Old Cars Weekly” which ranked as their magazine of choice. Allan says, “It came out weekly. It was inexpensive.” And it was brilliant. Quickly after placing their ad the first half dozen lots had sold. Hawks Hill had a working plan and they would hold true to its winning formula. Over the ensuing years Hawks Hill rolled out four more phases. Hawks Hill contains a total number of 48 building lots. At the age of 86, Allan has no plan for a phase 6 to sell the final five lots.

While a “car guy,” Allan sought to tailor amenities that could be enjoyed by a broad spectrum of families and individuals alike while resonating strongly with car enthusiasts. Hawks Hill features an unusual integration of features appealing to both those with an affinity for hiking though the woodlands and those who savor driving through the forest.

Club House with 8 bays

Almost assuredly unique to Hawks Hill would be its 2-story clubhouse that features a downstairs offering eight (8) shop bays. The bays have a full complement of tools including access to a lift and machinist tools for fabrication. A milling machine, a lathe, sheet metal tools, sand blasting equipment, a large capacity air compressor and more stand ready for any home owner’s use.

The upstairs contains three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a giant kitchen, a huge living room and a wood burning fireplace. Allan says, “Fundamentally it is a guest house.” The upstairs also contains a club room for gatherings.

In driving around Hawks Hill the sensitivity of car enthusiasts to the importance of the necessary space to properly pursue their passion makes them hyper-vigilant. For car guys, encountering space in abundance borders on a religious experience. In driving through Hawks Hill, the presence of a wealth of space to nurture the passion screams out. Handsome homes with three bays incorporate independent structures that attractively provide an additional three, four, or five bays. Jaguars, Healeys, Mercedes, Model As, muscle cars, supercars, fire engines, name it, all find a home here. At the wheel, it would appear the quality of the roads serves to celebrate an avocation built on the joy of driving.

Demographics of the area began as predominantly retirees. However, with the recent explosion in work-from-home opportunities that mix appears destined to change.

Allan’s House and attached garage

Allan says, “It is extremely affordable to live here.” He has his three buildings on over ten acres with taxes in the area of $3,000. He says, “At this point I do not see additional new construction happening. When a house goes up for resale it sells very quickly.

If you want to live where you can walk to downtown, Hawks Hill is not the place for you. That said, if you want to live in a region rich in automobile activities they abound in the area. Allan says, “There is lots of car stuff around here.” The first of each month Lenoir has a downtown cruise that pulls over 500 cars. Allan points out that there exists a number of marque and non-marque specific clubs in the area. Most interestingly, a race track at North Wilkesboro that closed in 1996 has received state funding to rebuild and reopen. Allan says, “It is already reopened and they are having a variety of races including stock car and sprint car. Last week Dale Earnhardt Jr. was racing there.” As well, other speedways abound. Allan says “Antioch Speedway, Tri-County Speedway and Hickory Speedway add to the motor sport offerings in the area.”

Sally Tatham, Allan Witt and 1980 IH Scout

As to Allan “the car guy,” he pretty much sticks to the British offerings that almost exclusively populate his collection. He has a special affection for Jensen-Healeys of all stripes and Austin-Healeys though a few Humber Super Snipes have found their way into his heart through the years. However, somewhat surprisingly, his favorite may be a rare American in the fold. Produced for only one year, Allan’s totally restored 1980 long wheelbase turbo-diesel International Harvester Scout sits in the catbird seat at Hawks Hill.

By |2022-11-25T13:07:13+00:00September 15th, 2022|4 Comments