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Conversations With People We Value #55

So the friendly hostess at the Tom Quick Inn in Milford, PA says, “Oh yes, three blocks down, turn right and go a short ways. It’ll be on your left. Mr. Helms sells all kinds of real old cars there.” Her words possessed a genial warmth that clearly communicated this man’s position as a long time and respected member of the community.

With my penchant for exploring blue highways and back roads, a “Sure do” response when asking local folk about knowing any interesting neighborhood car people fires the passion I possess for the car culture and, certainly demands investigation.

Meet Mr. “T,” Dave Helms, a life-long vintage Ford enthusiast and the go-to guy for Germans looking to buy a Model T.

This Mr. “T” Sells 100-year Old Fords to German Car Enthusiasts

Dave Helms with his T Roadster pick-up

In a split second, mid-20th century memories of gas stations from my youth rushed to mind. In pulling into Dave Helms’ Gulf station in Milford, PA, I had crossed over the iconic pressurized black air hose of yesteryear. Its analog age purpose, to trigger a bell alerting a pump jockey that a new customer had pulled in. That bell alert, once a ubiquitous element of Americana, now found itself scarcer than a red, crank “Tireflator” dispensing free air.

Finding a space to park, I pulled up alongside a 1918 Ford Model T Runabout. Apparently in fighting trim, it appeared ready to confidently sputter down the country lane bordering the station.

Inside Dave’s Office

The station’s front glass door hung open propped by a kitchen chair. Positioned to its right stood the cage housing Dave’s prize chicken, Henrietta. I breezed through the open doorway. Henrietta a champion egg layer, pecking for food on her cage floor, seemed nonplussed by any human foot traffic. Through the door and no more than three steps in, I found myself immersed in a living archive recalling 100-years of American car culture.

Clean and organized though festooned with black and white photos of family and yesterday, the office of Helm’s Service Station and Antique Autos clearly reflected the man who built it all, Dave Helms. A spry 75-years of age, Dave’s workday at first appeared to me to alternate between doing paper work at his organized desk, chatting with his many friends and moving with a deliberate pace from behind his desk to pump gas for his mostly local clientele. I would soon come to learn that Dave’s life involved far more than first met my eye. Despite the fact that in Pennsylvania you can pump your own gas, it does not seem that Dave regularly affords many customers the chance to do so at his Gulf station. Dave with his genial nature, retains the personal service ethos acquired in his youth.

Dave’s Grandparents during WWII

Hesitant to speak at first, Dave warmed up to describing various photos displayed around the room. He explained the faded black and white photo of a couple posing by a 1940 White tanker truck. It showed his grandparents when they ran the station during WWII. Though a fuel delivery truck, tires hung draped all over the truck. Dave explained that during the war the scarcity of tires made tire repair critical for the civilian population. Starting in 1942 a civilian could keep just five tires. All others had to be surrendered to authorities. Civilians received stern warnings that no one could trade, buy, or even recap tires. Everyone took great care to routinely inspect tires twice a week or more. People checked air pressure and searched for small “cuts or bruises” in order to immediately repair them before a catastrophic failure. The fuel truck came draped with civilian tires needing repair. To emphasize the point of the photo, Dave’s grandfather has a tire hanging around his neck.

Dave tells the story how the station began in 1930 when a Scranton, PA coal company needed a fuel stop for its coal trucks making deliveries to New York City. Contracting with the coal company, Dave’s grandfather put in a gasoline storage tank to refuel the coal trucks. Diesel was not used as a truck fuel until after WWII. Any time of day or night a coal truck could pull up, toot its horn and Dave’s grandfather would come out to do the refueling. This arrangement lasted until 1932 when Dave’s grandfather after two years of steady requests from locals wanting to buy gas, opened as a retail gas station. Decades moved on until 1969 when, with the passing of first his grandparents and then his father, Dave took over the business. However, five years earlier, 1964 would have seen Dave buy and sell his first old Ford.

Industrious even as a teenager, Dave took on the family business started by his grandparents. In the ensuing years Dave developed two paint and body shops, expanded the gas station, built the used antique car business, bought real estate and worked 362 days a year. On what three days did he close? Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. Close, yes, but relax? Not so much.

Dave explains that every Thanksgiving he clears the warehouse storing his vintage car inventory. Once emptied he blows out the building and cleans the cars. New Years Day he picks a random project that needs doing. On Christmas he actually relaxes.

Interestingly only the last ten or fifteen years has seen his Model T business blossom. Even more surprising the driving force shaping his newfound market came from dedicated Model T enthusiasts located in Germany of all places. Dave says over the last decade or so he has sold hundreds of Model Ts, with most delivered to Germany. Now, before exploring the German affinity for Model Ts, a worthy first step begins with the vehicles Dave sells and where he finds them or in some cases how they find him. Keep in mind Dave stocks his inventory with clean vehicles in good running condition. One of Dave’s gifts resides in his ability to find those clean and mechanically sound examples. The Model Ts he buys do not need major restoration. Shortcomings Dave considers acceptable may call for minor mechanical or cosmetic work.

As we arrive at one of Dave’s storage facilities. Doors rumble open. And there it is. If I had a spare garage, this one would go in it. Standing front and center, a 1926 Model T Roadster Pickup simply screams, FUN! Understandably, limited by a comfortable top speed of 35 mph and an uncomfortable one of 38 mph this little gem has few places to call home on modern roadways, but still for $7,900? I move on.

So what other gems does Dave have in stock and where did he find them? Dave says, “For most of these Model Ts and some Model As, owners come to us. People with these cars know about us. For instance, let’s say you inherited a very clean Model T with your father’s estate and want to sell it. Many people don’t want to place an ad because they don’t know who’s going to come to their house. So they’d sooner come to us.”

Model T Tour in Utah

Dave’s inventory presently has 20 cars including ten Model T’s, four Model As, six mixed makes and one 1925 Model T snow mobile with skis and tank treads. A very cool feature for the ski chalet crowd. Dave also possesses a very large German fan base which includes a robust 350 member Model T club. Over the past decade Dave has shipped many Model Ts to enthusiastic club members. Membership enthusiasm reached a point where, four years ago, the club planned for what some might consider an insane transcontinental adventure. A group of Germans would come to America, buy five Model Ts on the east coast and drive them, without a chase car carrying spares, to California. They would begin their cross country Model T tour in, where else, Milford, PA. There they would buy the five model Ts from Dave Helms. Dave did all he could to get the seven men and three women (wives of three drivers) as prepared as possible to deal with the unexpected.

Map of tour path

For two years in advance, Dave had his regular good spot at the Fall Hershey show and, on his truck, he mounted a sign announcing the German Model T Club plan to cross America. Dave says, “We had a map of the route they intended to take. We asked if you or your car club would offer volunteer help for breakdowns in your area. After Hershey I started getting phone calls. So based on generous offers of help, the Germans re-routed as much as 100 miles off their first planned rout just to connect with the volunteers.” In one case the Tour re-routed to an airplane hangar in Michigan. There they met 30 members of a Model T Club. Some volunteers had taken days off from work. The volunteers changed oil and tires. Dave says, “We hooked up with Snyder’s Auto Parts in Ohio. The volunteers would call Snyder as they used a part and Snyder would over-night the part to the Tour’s next location. Everything worked fine. It was a beautiful thing”. It all ended well with the Germans reaching California and shipping their Model Ts back to Germany.

Now, what next for Dave as he enters the fourth quarter on life’s gridiron? Having come to know Dave, a safe bet would be more of the same with a caveat. Our interview reached a conclusion decided by Dave’s appointment with his mower and the large grounds that needed to be tended with him responsible for the tending. Dave acknowledges the inevitability of change looms. He noted that the market for his primarily century-old specialty is aging out of the culture.

Dave Helms

Dave says, “We used to sell almost 100 cars a year, you know back 20 years ago. Now it’s less every year. Last year we sold eight cars. People who like these cars are selling. They’re not buying. They’re going to nursing homes or moving to Florida.” He also attributes the decline of his market to the large television presence of live auctions. He sees them as a major force in promoting muscle cars and restomods. With a wry smile Dave says, “I think a lot of people pay too much for cars at those Mega-events. I’m sure they get home and get thinking about it.”

Clearly Dave recognizes the diminishing presence of his peer group. As a result he will reduce his inventory. Equally clear Dave has no intention of voluntarily succumbing to a diminished embrace of life’s labors and associated joy. With his two paint and body shops humming, he has a few projects on the burner.

If you have the itch for a worthy road trip, a good choice will have you hugging the Delaware River on Highway 209. It will take you through Milford on the way to Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Small town Milford possesses a great vibe, live music and excellent dining. August 3rd they are having the Apple Valley Rock and Road Car and Music Festival. Spend a night at the Tom Quick Inn and stop by Helms Service Station and Antique Cars. Drive over the bell hose and meet Dave at the pump.

By |2024-06-20T19:28:23+00:00June 20th, 2024|Comments Off on Conversations With People We Value #55

Conversations With People We Value #54

A passionate car guy with a generous heart, my friend Bob never can seem capable of saying “no” when a friend needs a hand. Though he may not admit to it, I feel comfortable saying that Bob brings a wealth of knowledge and savvy to the table thanks to decades in automotive public relations, marketing and wrenching as well as years as a respected concours judge. Recently a friend reached out to Bob for help in creating an online listing for a vintage Jaguar. Being comfortable with the process as Bob had listed other cars before, he dove right in. Within 4 weeks of posting the ad on Hemmings Auctions the Jaguar had sold…but on eBay. Unfortunately Bob had never listed the car on eBay.

Bob’s distressing experience provides a painful cautionary tale for online sellers and buyers alike.


When Car Rustlers Stalk eBay, What Does eBay Do?

Bogus Jaguar Mark V listing on eBay

Striking in its subtle two-tone grey livery, this 1950 Jaguar Mark V Drophead Coupe did not project the conventional vintage Jaguar image of the lithe 2-seat English sports car proudly boasting seductive feminine curves that cloaked the power and speed of a jungle cat. Not so this Jaguar. Stately and elegant with seating for five, this finely finished Mark V screamed (Assuming one can scream with quiet dignity) high end motoring luxury ideally suited for cruising along country lanes in transit from the townhouse to the country manor. Powered by a 6-cylinder engine of pre-WWII design delivering 126 horsepower, its performance, though not spirited, could be described as adequate.

The Mark V’s handsome upright stature draped with voluptuous fender lines and rear fender spats would fit easily among spirits of ecstasy and flying Bs of the period. Its handsome presence would attract more than a few admiring glances.

Its three-position drophead convertible design allowed the car  to be driven with the top fully erect, fully stowed or partially retracted to expose the front seats like a sedanca. A lavishly trimmed interior featured a full gauge array set in a highly polished burled walnut dash. As well, burled walnut trim adorned a warm and inviting interior bedecked in rich Connolly leather and deep wool Wilton carpet.

Treasured for many years, the time had come for the Mark V to change hands.

Charged with the responsibility of its disposition, Bryan who had serviced the car had been called upon by the Mark V’s octogenarian owner to arrange its sale. Bryan, with decades of Jaguar experience operated of one of the most respected Jaguar restoration and repair shops in the country  While gifted with exceptional restoration and technical skills, Bryan did not claim the same mastery with the writing and photography skills necessary to properly market the vintage Jaguar. He wisely reached out to his long time friend and fellow car enthusiast Bob. With Bob’s extensive experience in photography, copy writing and sales, he gave Bryan a high level of comfort and rightfully so. October 2023 witnessed Bob enthusiastically embark on the requisite preparation to list the Jaguar.

Having enjoyed prior success with Hemmings Auctions, both felt comfortable in trusting the sale of the Jaguar to the online arm of America’s car bible, Hemmings Motor News. While a later entry in the online marketplace Hemmings with its legions of trusting followers built over decades quickly gained momentum and market share. With the car being shipped to Florida for its owner’s use over the winter, Bob and Bryan acted quickly to prep the Jaguar for creating a full battery of images to provide a comprehensive photo profile detailing all features of the Jaguar.

Bob says, “We selected carefully from the wealth of images taken.” He continues on saying, “Buying decisions are often made based on the high quality and comprehensive nature of the photography. A buyer may never see in person the car on which he is bidding.” As well as capturing the beauty and craftsmanship evident in the car, Bob made a great effort to highlight the sound nature of certain features under the car that serious prospects would want to see, would need to see, if they harbored intentions to buy this vehicle. Bob also points out that showing everything ranks high on the must do list. He says, “As well, showing deficiencies goes a long way towards ensuring a seamless sale.” Little did Bob suspect what lay ahead. How could he? Confidently he moved forward.

Bob says, “We wrote up all of the car’s critical specifications.” He actually wrote all the necessary copy right up to the ad itself.” By November everything needed to launch sat ready. Being pre-holiday November Bob decided to go live on Hemmings Auctions after the coming seasons collector car winter kick-off with the big auctions in Kissimmee, Florida and Scottsdale, Arizona. Bob’s ad would go live on March 1, 2024. With a time frame set they reached out to the good folks at Hemmings.

Impressed with Hemmings professionalism Bob moved deliberately through the listing process. With an established reserve agreeable to both parties and a document confirming the agreed upon reserve signed, Hemmings accepted the photography and copy. With materials in hand the Hemmings staff selected images, edited Bob’s copy and created the ad that would appear on the auction site. Bob felt comfortable thanks to their thoroughness. He said, “Hemmings even asked to see a copy of the title, both the front and the back to confirm it was clean

Mark V listing on Hemmings $63k

and to corroborate the name of the owner.” What could possibly go wrong? Indeed. March 1 the ad went live on Hemmings Auctions.

One of the benefits when listing with Hemmings Auctions comes with the provision that if your vehicle does not meet the reserve in the two weeks of bidding the seller can, at no cost, switch to the Hemmings “Make Offer” site. Over the two week auction listing the bidding got close but did not meet the reserve. Bob, then chose to list it on the “Make offer” site. After about a week or so with offers closing in on the reserve Bob heard from a Hemmings’ Auctions bidder.

In a private email a party interested in the Jaguar stated the following,

“I see your Hemmings ad and I think you have a lovely car. I could be interested in it. But I have a question for you. And the question is I saw a car that looked exactly like yours and had exactly the same photography on eBay. It was on eBay for like three days in March after your ad (in Hemmings)turned from an auction to a “make offer” around March 23rd. Now, I see that that car was sold on eBay. Is that your car? Was that your car? Is your car still for sale? And what’s the story on that eBay ad?”

Gobsmacked by the message, Bob knew nothing of an ad placed on eBay. He never placed it. But when he checked eBay he found his car, his photos and his copy and the car listed as “sold” for $35,677, a fraction of its legitimate Hemmings reserve. Something had gone wrong. Very wrong and potentially very damaging to the market value of the Mark V.

Very damaging because though no one had taken possession of the Jaguar Mark V, this bogus transaction with its false lowball sales price had been archived by eBay. This false data point presently stood as part of the Mark V sales history and would corrupt value estimates forever if it could not be removed.

Bob says, “At this point the next time anybody looks up the value of a 1950 Mark V Jaguar in the way people do when considering purchasing a similar car, this false data point will put downward pressure on the Mark V’s perceived value.” Equally disruptive for professional collectible car publications and sites that track pricing trends, this false data point corrupts the accuracy of their reporting.

Bob found it infuriatingly distressing that, unlike Hemmings, eBay posted the ad without any ownership paper work or authorization to sell the car. He now set about to contact eBay. A daunting task as Bob would soon find out.

Initial eBay response

In discussing his effort to contact eBay Bob says, “First of all, it’s not that easy. In trying to communicate to eBay that you have a problem realize that eBay avoids human contact at all costs. eBay has a system that basically connects you to a computer.” Completing the online form requires the transaction number, the ad number and so on. Bob says, “On the form you describe your problem. When you have finished, you hit submit.” Shortly thereafter a cheery computer message thanks you for submitting your claim. I found it less than comforting when receiving a quick response stating, “’We will review this and we will get back to you.”’ Not exactly a confidence building interaction. But Bob had faith and gave them time to respond. Two months to be exact.

When asked as to what Bob has heard after two months, Bob responds, “Crickets.” He has heard absolutely nothing. To say Bob calls eBay’s response, or lack thereof, disturbing does not scratch the surface. Bob says, “Due to their lack of due diligence there is now a documented history for a fraudulent transaction that can have a negative effect on the value not just of the car that I am trying to sell but of essentially all 1950 Mark V Jaguars because it shows that one sold for $35,677. Which it did not. But that uncorrected error will compromise the average value of everyone’s Jaguar Mark V. I find it personally shocking that eBay has such little regard for the people who trust it as a worthy means for offering large ticket items for sale.” That eBay clearly does not care became evident to Bob while subsequently teaching a class on collectible automobiles.

Bob says, “After this all came down my first assumption was how could I possibly be the only person in the world to be so unlucky and have a problem like this on eBay. I figured there could be no arguing considering eBay’s success. Then during a class that I teach on collectible automobiles I shared my eBay experience. Most people in attendance sat there slack-jawed, completely stunned by what had happened. Then one guy raised his hand and said the same thing happened to him.” The possibility that the only two guys in the world victimized by this eBay-based scam would be sitting in the same classroom stretches credulity beyond the breaking point. It seems clear eBay has a big problem that it refuses to address.

How does the scam work when the scammer has no car to sell? It seems hard to believe that a buyer would fork over $35,677 without proof of ownership, but you never know. For some trusting people being instructed to ship twenty pounds of CVS gift cards to Bucharest may not raise concerns. More likely a buyer may have responded to a request for a deposit or maybe the scam facilitates money laundering.  No matter, there clearly exists some scam-worthy payoff to be had.

Sadly eBay refused to respond to complaints much less do basic due diligence, such as confirming ownership by a seller. Apparently as eBay suffers no loss, it could not care less. eBay did not even respond when Hemmings reached out.

For now, the octogenarian Jaguar owner still wishes to sell the car. To this day Bob and Bryan have never heard from eBay. Interestingly though, while no follow-up response has ever come forth, the latest check of eBay “Sold Items” reveals that the record of the fictitious sale has disappeared. So in a quasi happy ending, Bob and Bryan have gotten what they wanted with removal of the scam eBay ad. However, eBay has done nothing to demonstrate that they have tightened up their listing requirements. Happily Bob will be relisting the Mark V on Hemmings Auctions this month. The striking British beauty will return to the marketplace unsullied by a false history.

In reflecting on his experience with eBay Bob says, “Will I ever do business with eBay? Probably, but you can be sure that I will limit it to low dollar items. I am changed forever as a result of this incident.” For Bob, when it comes to high ticket items eBay has poisoned its own well.

By |2024-06-06T13:23:00+00:00June 6th, 2024|8 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #53

I am part of a trio of experienced car enthusiasts that host an adult school class called “Collectible Automobiles as a Passion.” Now, in its twenty-first 9-week semester, it has created an ongoing and expanding community of car enthusiasts for more than a decade. Much like a pebble tossed in a pond, I have found its impact ripples far beyond its own existence.

It has attracted an extraordinary and thoughtful group of men and women of all stripes united in their shared fervor as automobile enthusiasts. Over the life of the class and for the broad spectrum of its many and varied participants one concern has risen above all others. This year the expression of that concern by the class has reached a crescendo that has given birth to a call for action. The concern? As the current population of automobile enthusiasts approach a time when they will begin to age out, to whom will they hand the reins? Who will continue the preservation and promotion of the art, culture, history and joy of the classic automobile? The obvious answer lies with the coming generations. At the heart of the expressed concern resides the fear that today’s youth have not been exposed to the experiences and attributes of classic automobile enthusiasm that fired our generation’s passion. Our class in some small way wanted to do something to address this disconnect. I have an idea for my class to consider. The idea is the:

“Collectible Car Fair for Kids and Teens.”

Collectible Car Fair for Kids & Teens


December 12th of 2009 saw the museum celebrating the once fabulously famous cowboy, Roy Rogers, close its doors for the last time. The museum shuttered for lack of enough fans to support it. So it was the end of the trail for “Happy Trails to you.” At a Christie’s auction Nellybelle, Roy’s 1946 Willys Jeep sold for $116,500. Trigger, Roy’s stuffed Golden Palomino stallion, went for $266,500. What could all this possibly have to do with today’s comfortable world of car enthusiasts’ multi-billion dollar passionate pursuit? The answer, plenty.

It serves as a cautionary tale deeply unsettling for those thoughtful enthusiasts peering across a radicalized cultural landscape populated with a seething hatred for fossil fuels, a governmental love affair with electric cars, futurists cheerleading neutered, self-driving transportation, school systems devoid of any education in technical skills in general and auto shop in particular and the cost of “collectible cars” far exceeding the means of today’s younger generation. Case in point I bought my six year old 1961 Corvette in 1967 for $1,300. Today a six-year old Corvette tips the money scales at around $60,000.

Once unthinkable but, today, many teenagers exhibit little interest in getting a driver’s license. Presently cultural tides offer a powerful array of currents diverting youthful interest away from classic cars. They cannot afford them. They do not drive them. The digital age has no place for printed car brochures. Few local dealerships exist where a kid can walk unchallenged across a showroom floor to admire a car he or she could not afford. A “stick” is something your dog chases.

Keep in mind that the original Concours d’Elegance (French: competition of elegance) came to life in 17th century France. There wealthy members of the French aristocracy paraded their finely crafted and exquisitely turned-out horse-drawn carriages through the Parisian parks on sunny summer weekends for the purpose of display and competitive judging. Today, outside of tourist centers in large cities, how frequently does one encounter a horse-drawn carriage?  Indeed, times do change. And change includes the avocations supported by the existing culture.

In today’s world, horse-drawn carriages still compete but rarely if ever in public. Save for the Budweiser Clydesdales, the general public has precious little interest and even less understanding of four-in-hand carriage dressage events. These  occur in the cloistered settings of equestrian centers for the well-to-do. Could this be the future that awaits today’s now vibrant collectible car culture? The answer could well be, yes, if viewed in some future society lacking green shoots of interest springing up among those destined to inherit tomorrow. What to do, then, today?

While organizations such as Hagarty have committed significant energy and resources for programs dedicated to cultivating collectible vehicle interest in today’s youth, I believe it is through local grass roots efforts to nurture youthful interest that green shoots will sprout.

I had an idea that brought me to the best source when searching for answers, the local library. There I sought out Dave the Library Director. Dave enjoys a well earned reputation for promoting energetic and creative engagement with the community, especially children. Dave, attentively listened as I pitched my idea for the “Collectible Car Fair for Kids and Teens.

The basis of my proposal called for activities where “Collectible Automobiles as a Passion” (henceforth referred to as the class) members and library staff would interact with the event’s youthful attendees and explore common interests that would be associated with the collectible car hobby.

His interest piqued, Dave listened intently as I described how the plan called for a special opening of his library during the warm weather on a Sunday when the library would normally be closed. Members of the class would populate the library parking lot with a curated array of their personally owned collectible vehicles. Each owner would be prepared to talk about his or her vehicle. Each owner would have a comprehensive knowledge of their car and, as well, would be conversant about the time period when their car was new to provide an historical perspective. Cars would be arrayed in a manner that offered easy access for children wishing to sit inside and have a parent or friend take a picture.

The class membership reflects a wide variety of professional pursuits including law enforcement, medicine, advertising, automotive technology, finance, education, automotive marketing and promotion, and many more. As well, they possess significant experience in the collectible vehicle hobby with interests including car collecting, racing, concours judging, hands-on restoration experience, art, journalism and collectible car sales. Many members have first-hand experience dealing with giants of the 20th century automotive world such as Carroll Shelby, Donald Healey, Nuccio Bertone, Bob Lutz, Brian Redman, Derek Bell, Nicola Bulgari and Dr. Fred Simeone to name a few.

The following suggestion stirred Dave’s creative juices as I suggested that the event would integrate library activities available to all children. This would include promoting a summer reading program that among other titles would feature books with automotive themes including art, history, driving, racing and travel. Dave commented that his library featured a highly developed “Makerspace” program, it could offer “maker” activities consistent with the event’s automotive theme. I had a good feeling that I might be sensing “buy in” from Dave.

Children interested in learning how to judge a car show could pre-register for a “how to judge” class (Possibly 2 groups broken down by age, 8 to 12 and 13 to 17). They would receive instruction before the event from class members who have judged at national events such as Amelia Concours d’Elegance and the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance. Children completing the training would then judge the cars at the event. All children participating as judges would receive a certificate of recognition.

Children attending the event who exhibit an interest in art and design could sketch any car they wished or create a design of their own. An effort could be made to publish the winner’s(s’) artwork in the local newspaper. Professional automotive artists have been class members over the years and we would seek to have them speak with students sharing their professional insights. Children with a flair for photography could have the opportunity to attend a library event featuring instruction from an experienced automotive photographer. The session could provide guidance on how to take a better photograph of a friend when seated in one of the cars on display whether using a camera or a phone. Dave smiled.

As class membership includes female car enthusiasts, a special effort would be made to address opportunities in the collectible automobile arena for women as well as men.

One of the younger class members recently earned a 4-year degree in automotive restoration technology from McPherson College, the only college in America offering a degree in Automotive Restoration. He possesses a wealth of information and experience to share with any child interested in pursuing a degreed  program.

A final feature, if allowable, would provide for a lottery with five winning tickets drawn. The winning youngsters would then get a ride in the collectible car of their choice.

As an extension of the event, if the local high school expressed interest, our class could use our relationships with institutions such as the NB Center for American Automotive Heritage in Allentown, PA or the Simeone Foundation Museum in Philadelphia, PA on a “Demo Day” when selected display cars come outside for driving demonstrations.

In describing the automobile, world renowned neurosurgeon, car collector and founder of the internationally revered Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum called the automobile, “the greatest gift of the Industrial age.” The automobile’s dynamic, ever changing story fills volumes with accounts of people and events replete with a relentless, no holds barred battle for performance supremacy and market advantage, breathtaking adventure, stunning design, breakthroughs that stand out in the telling of human history, personal tragedy and triumph, and a central role in war, wealth and global financial over the past 150 years. Stories rich with personal drama and historic significance await the children who will attend the Collectible Car Fair.

With the pitch completed, the focus turned to Library Director Dave. “What say you,” I asked.

Dave responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

Now, I will return to class bearing an idea that hopefully will be accepted as worthy of the labor necessary to plow a field that will yield green shoots.

By |2024-03-28T12:07:03+00:00March 28th, 2024|6 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #52

I view him as the poster child representing engineers who do not accept good enough as, well, good enough. I first met Dominick Carluccio a few years back in his capacity as a young engineer assigned to me as my technical liaison for a client. His role called for assisting my creative services agency in developing promotional and educational materials for a company specializing in cutting edge inhalation and particle exposure systems.

His clearly insatiable appetite to achieve mastery of what he already understood well impressed me. To his credit, he did so with a genial, unflappable confidence.

I recently learned that Dom had started his own company, Wurst Käse Engineering. You have got to love the name. I do. For his first product he directed his laser focus on what he considered to be the significant shortcomings of methanol injection systems available in the market.

Meet Dom and his kick-ass methanol injection system.

A sharp engineer’s insights inspires a quantum leap in methanol injection

Kelly and Dominick

Dom’s 2011 2-liter, 4-cylinder Volkswagen GTI came stock with 200 horsepower. Under his stewardship it presently pumps out a shade under 400 horsepower. It will easily plant your eyeballs against the back of your skull. Dom, however, has yet to be satisfied. Nonchalantly, he projects quiet confidence in his ability to extract even more power from his willing German 2-liter 4-banger. Methanol injection placed high on his list of intended upgrades.

An especially attractive upgrade for turbocharged And supercharged engines, methanol injection delivers a finely atomized mist of a water/methanol mixture to an engine’s cylinder fuel charge. The cooling effects of the mixture, lowers the temperature inside the combustion chamber. This reduces the likeliness of detonation (knocking) that can reduce performance, fuel economy and, worse, severely damage a high performance engine. As well, methanol provides the added bonus of increasing a fuel’s octane rating. This pays off with increased horsepower with proper tuning.

Wurst Käse  Water/Methanol Tank

Unfortunately, Dom experienced great dismay upon surveying the quality of the methanol injection systems available in the marketplace. Upon expressing his disappointment to his, then, girlfriend Kelly Moran, her response makes clear why they are about to, now, become man and wife. Kelly says, “’He’s the kind of person that’s always looking to change the world with his inventions and always looking for that kind of outlet. And he loves cars and he’s always trying to make his car the best it possibly can be. When this opportunity came about, he saw the need for a better system in the marketplace. We discussed the opportunity and I said ‘you could do it better.’ Like, there was no doubt in my mind that he could do it.”’

In naming his burgeoning automobile high performance tuner friendly company, Wurst Käse Engineering, Dom displays an elevated sense of humor, a welcome but uncommon attribute among engineers, not unlike finding pearls in oysters.

Wurst Käse Methanol Pump

As a gifted aerosol engineer, Dom possesses years of experience conducting research with applications including filtration, e-cigarettes, cigarette smoke, emissions, and environmental pollutants with particle sizes down to 2.5 nanometers in size. One nanometer equals one billionth of a meter (0.000000001 meter or .00000004 inches). You will not find either on your average ruler.

To be clear, an aerosol exists when tiny particles of a liquid or solid are suspended within a gas. When under pressure aerosols can be released in a fine mist as with a spray room deodorizer or exhaust emissions. Clearly Dom’s comfort in the micro particle aerosol

world uniquely qualified him to explore advanced solutions to aerosol applications like methanol injection.

When Dom’s aerosol engineer experience and tuner-skilled car guy interests collided with his disappointment in available methanol injection systems it produced a perfect storm. An inspired and revolutionary product ensued.

Ever the engineer, Dom says, “When I first started getting into methanol injection and thinking of actually implementing it, I inspected the nozzles of existing systems in regard to their performance and efficiency. I was not impressed.” Dom knew of the extensive research that had been performed on fuel injection nozzles. He says, The key to superior nozzle design is to facilitate creating the most surface area of the fuel being injected.” The logic being that the greater the surface area the more thorough and efficient the resulting combustion. Dom, knew that the best way to achieve that efficiency demanded a really good aerosol generator. In inspecting methanol injection kits on the market, the frequently crude designs surprised him. Dom says, “Not only did we see a lot of big droplets resulting in low use of available surface area but plenty of nozzle designs with all sorts of shortcomings.” Dom found nozzle designs relying on moving parts that could degrade resulting in wasted fluid and corrosion. Upon closer scrutiny Dom found systems relied on old nozzle designs used in home

Wurst Käse Throttle Pipe Injection

heating oil burners with modifications to support methanol injection. Aghast at his findings and confident in his abilities, Dom set about to create and market a superior system.

In a wise first step he enlisted his market savvy chemist girlfriend and soon to be wife Kelly. In addition to being a social media digital native, Kelly possessed significant experience in test bench analysis for product assessment.

Together Dom and Kelly embarked on a close to 2-year research journey exploring the fine details of systems presently being sold. Dom says, “We identified the best products currently available and bought their kits. We built a test bench that simulated intake air and how quickly that intake air could decrease in temperature when injecting various amounts of water with different methanol injection kits.” Over the 2-year research period they succeeded in developing a standard for assessing performance and quality and the target specifications for what would become their system. At last the time had arrived to design their own.

Dom says, “All testing was conducted using my Volkswagen GTI as a test mule. Under heavy load, I observed the presence of some knock and pre-ignition. It demonstrated to me that a lot of opportunity existed for a better system.” It became evident that technology he had previously employed in biomedical research offered significant promise for an automotive application. This early work gave birth to the Wurst Käse Engineering tagline, “Science Meets Performance.”

Wurst Käse Direct Port Injection Manifold

Dom says, “One such breakthrough courtesy of our bio-engineering  test bench experience came with regards to determining the right particle size and the right concentration to achieve the best cooling capability with the least amount of liquid injected.” In other words Dom had a tool to research how to maximize the cooling effect while using the least amount of methanol mix. It resulted in a uniquely precise and efficient nozzle design.


Kelly and Dom dedicated two years to developing, refining and perfecting a nozzle that significantly elevates the bar for system efficiency, durability and simplicity. Dom says, “Based on the science we had to create the nozzle that would support our findings.” To start, Dom modeled his concept on SolidWorks 3D CAD design software. Then he and Kelly spent countless hours machining brass prototypes, testing different hole sizes, depths and combinations until they found themselves going in the right direction. With a working prototype completed they sent it to a gifted machinist and placed an order for their prototype in stainless steel. If seeing the first prototype in stainless did not make all the years of work worth it, putting it on the test bench surely did.

Wurst Käse Variable Injection Controller

Dom says, “Our testing confirmed we had designed the best nozzle for optimizing methanol injection based on delivering small particles that cooled most efficiently.” However, with testing it became evident that different solutions and benefits had different types of performance gains.” Achieving the best performance demanded optimizing to deliver the right benefits, for example providing for more fuel, more air or both. Systems on the market with varying droplet size including some very big droplets lack the ability to provide the optimum cooling associated with homogeneous mixture ratio. Far surpassing the competition, Dom’s new methanol injection system possesses the ability to inject on and off very quickly combined with the capability to deliver consistent performance over a wide range of injection pressures. It does so by delivering a charge of consistent water/methanol solution to each of the runners feeding the cylinders. Dom, in thinking outside of the box, harnessed his scientific acumen in bio-technical aerosol engineering to advance automobile performance.

For the serious tuner or the serious car guy, the Wurst Käse methanol injection system delivers:

  • Quicker evaporation and efficient cooling
  • Better homogeneity of sprayed fuel resulting in equal delivery to different cylinders
  • Greater efficiency by delivering the same cooling characteristics while using half the methanol/water mix.
  • Greater cost effectiveness by spending less money on methanol
  • Greater range on the same tank or use of a smaller tank
  • Better atomization at low pressures to make the most of a variable flow system

Now, after almost three years Dom and Kelly stand ready to bring Wurst Käse Engineering’s methanol injection system to market. In reflecting on all that future newlyweds Kelly and Dom put into making the Wurst Käse methanol injection system a reality, Kelly laughs and says, “We have far more planning time in Dom’s system than our wedding, and that’s fine with me.”

Click to view very cool video of Wurst Käse bench testing

By |2024-03-14T17:20:33+00:00March 14th, 2024|Comments Off on Conversations With People We Value #52

Conversations With People We Value #51

Returning from a too long deferred journey to visit the hallowed grounds of the Gettysburg Battlefield, I found myself on the old Lincoln Highway and in the heart of Amish Country. In possessing no meaningful contact with the Anabaptist community, reliance on contemporarily derived depictions like Harrison Ford’s movie “Witness” shaped my life view. That void left me unsatisfied. I had increasingly desired a better understanding of their chosen path. Now, writing Drivin News afforded a context for me to explore the seemingly simpler path chosen by these gentle people.

Join me for a buggy ride in Amish country.

Amish Buggies, Where Worlds Collide but No One Crashes


The approaching rhythmic clop-clop sound of horse hooves created a calming sound track while triggering learned memories of a simpler time before our birth. Fittingly, a hunched, weathered, gray bearded man in dark trousers, white shirt and black, flat brimmed hat gently eased the wooden-spoke buggy to a halt in an open barn yard. Pulled by a handsome sweat glistened black Morgan cross breed, the Amish buggy presented a timeless image that, save for safety lights and a windshield wiper blade, would seem appropriate to any day over the last two-hundred years. As  tourists departed the buggy, a man of similar age and dress as the driver appeared at the opening of a nearby barn. Reserved but open, he introduced himself as the owner of this tourist buggy ride business. Hearing of my intention to write about driving an Amish buggy in the modern world, he willing agreed to the interview.

Before proceeding with the story, attention must be directed to what will prove to be the complete absence of names and/or photos of the Amish men and women who agreed to be interviewed. Their religious views and cultural imperatives precluded,, such perceived expressions of ego.

The unwavering Amish reliance on the horse drawn buggy serves as a perfect metaphor for the their culture’s steadfast commitment to a simpler life. As well, their favored mode of personal transportation stands emblematic of their passive and powerful resolve to defy the pressures of a modern world. One cannot help but be curious as to the nature of life lived by the Amish at the intersection of their chosen path and that of a frenetic modern world that compels the vast majority of its members headlong into an uncertain future.

Amish Buggies serve as the hood ornament for our modern society’s clichéd objectification of an Amish culture rich in tradition. Originally called Anabaptists (meaning to baptize again) the Amish embrace the practice of baptizing members as adults rather than children. Primarily an agrarian society, the Amish adhere to the teachings of Jesus Christ, particularly the Sermon on the Mount which calls for a rejection of violence and a commitment to mercy, forgiveness, and nonresistance.

These beliefs did not necessarily endear them to those of other Christian denominations who in 18th century Europe believed differently. To escape religious persecution, the Amish embraced William Penn’s holy experiment of religious freedom centered in Pennsylvania (Penn’s woods). The early 1700s saw them establish their roots in American soil. In understanding what some may view as their peculiar ways one Amish gentleman explained it this way saying, “Jesus’ words remind us that our good deeds should be done in an effort to glorify God, and that, through our conduct, people will see Him.” In that vein, the Amish believe that worldliness keeps one from being close to God. Thus, they choose to live without many modern conveniences and technologies such as automobiles, television, etc. Rather than using electricity, bottled gas stoves and refrigerators serve their needs.

Humility, a core attribute central to the Amish culture, gives substance to the Amish aversion to being photographed and certainly to having ones image used for promotion. One Amish gentleman explained saying, “The danger here is the exaltation of the person. The fear is that the photograph is an attempt to preserve and make permanent that which God has decreed shall pass away.” As Amish author, Elmo Stoll warns saying, “Let us beware lest we permit self to be exalted becoming unto us a graven image.”

So here we have a hard working, God loving society built around mercy and forgiveness conducting an alternate merge with a modern world that has spawned phrases like “Road Rage.” They name towns like “Bird-in-Hand.” Modern society coins phrases like “Flip the bird.” So Mr. Amish person, “How’s that merge working for you?” Apparently according to the Amish with whom I spoke, pretty well. But that said, confirmation demanded a road test.

Eli with Paul holding buggy “accelerator”

Luckily, I engaged a buggy driver named Paul, a Mennonite and good story teller who did not mind being photographed. Mennonites are also Anabaptists but more liberal, kind of Amish light.

Paul with a charming Pennsylvania Dutch flavor spicing his stories explained the different types of buggies with models that include the closed “family wagon”, open “spring wagon” , runabouts and pickups.

All Amish carriages derive their motive power from a one horsepower, well, horse. Handsome, powerful, sturdy and even tempered, crossbreeds of the versatile and athletic Morgan and the hard working Percheron draft horse seemed favored when observing the local Amish buggies. Paul explains the cross breeding saying, “We don’t need speed. We just need the power.” On the road, horse drawn buggies cruise at about 5 to 8 mph. A short sprint can produce a top speed of 20 mph.

Buggy specs include a braking system utilizing a 7-inch drum brake on a front or rear axle. The driver’s position has a single pedal, to apply the drum brake. Though infused with a certain church pew quality, buggies offer somewhat comfortable upholstered seating, though a Recaro upgrade would be welcomed. Concessions to modern technology have been made in the name of safety. Battery powered electric lights mounted front and rear, thanks to more efficient LED lighting, no longer demand a deep-cycle marine battery for power. Now, a single DeWalt 20-volt/6-amp battery, the type that powers a cordless electric drill can run the whole electrical system for two to three hours on a charge. Those traveling for longer periods carry spare batteries. Diesel generators at home take care of recharging. The Amish do not hook up to the grid.

Before hightailing it out on the highway (I could not resist. For the first time in my life my ride actually possessed the ability to hightail.) I had taken the opportunity to visit a nearby manufacturer of Amish buggies. My only disappointment came with my acceding to the gentle owner’s wishes. He requested that I not promote his company by name in my story. His world and mine, different, neither wrong, most important, both respected.

Used buggy lot

Outside the factory’s orderly paved courtyard fronting the clean brick two-story edifice stood an angled line of refurbished buggies. OMG, This new buggy factory offered CPO (Certified Pre-Owned) buggies as well. The austere product presentation spoke of an understanding that those in the market would know where to go. Apparently a reputation built on history and performance served as the only marketing effort necessary. Did this profoundly understated business model need an upgrade, considering the Amish value system, probably not. Tall flapping Gumby-like attention grabbing roadside promotional balloons with arms whipping in the air would have been terribly out of character.

Upon entering a side entrance, I encountered an Amish gentleman with an easy, engaging demeanor. I hoped to get a brief overview of the operation. Upon explaining my intention to write a story he, without skipping a beat, offered a complete tour. Exhibiting an encyclopedic knowledge of the manufacturing process, he wove a path from floor to floor that touched each work station. Once there, he explained the function in detail and introduced the gifted craftsman plying trades including metal working, paint, upholstery and wood working.

Clean, orderly and busy, the facility showed a fascinating amalgam of hand craftsmanship, functional technology and ingenuity. With no access to the grid, the operation displayed a fascinating application of compressed air and hydraulics. The factory seemed to be doing quite well. Confirmation came with learning that all new buggies built had confirmed buyers. Other than new buggy construction, the shop of Amish workers kept busy refurbishing used buggies for existing owners or for sale.

I understand that some city types exposed to this experience might view it through the lens of a tourist at a quaint Disney staged experience. If so, how unfortunate to deprive one’s self of an appreciation for the existence of true craftsmanship actively engaged in supporting daily lives in a productive society manifestly different from their own. Bidding my tour guide goodbye, my carriage and Paul awaited.

In a somewhat awkward fashion, I squeezed my long limbs into the confined buggy cab to be shared with Paul. Uttering a gentle chk-chk he alerted Eli our Chestnut Morgan crossbreed. We headed out onto Route 340 with its speeding tourists and rumbling truck traffic. Paul scanned the presently open road and guided Eli to carve a large arc defined by the big harnessed horse and the buggy he pulled. Main arteries in Amish country offer a buggy-width shoulder that serves Buggy drivers well. Off the main thoroughfares, however, unforgiving narrow roads abound.

To employ a very forgiving description, our buggy had now entered the traffic pattern. More to the point, sharing the road with Class 8 trucking felt like the tortoise racing an 80,000 pound GVW hare. This seemed like a good time to pop the question to Paul. His response when asked “How do other drivers react to sharing the road with an Amish buggy” came as a surprise. Paul said, “When it comes to the truckers, they respect who we are and they give us room. We have very few complaints if any.” When asked what advice he would give to someone unaccustomed to sharing the road with Amish buggies, Paul smiling reflectively, said, “It’s important to be mindful that compared to them we are going slow, really slow.” As long as room to pass exists, the law allows a driver to cross a double line.” The biggest problem for automobile drivers and thus for us comes when they do not watch their speed. Paul with a slight wince said, “When accidents do occur they often result from drivers not appreciating how fast they are going versus a buggy’s slow speed. Especially when climbing a hill when a driver does not pay attention then suddenly, POW, they are on top of a buggy. Luckily that does not happen often.”

In reflecting on driving manners especially of tourists, again a surprise. Paul says, “Basically we find people very respectful.” Amen to that.



Follow -up on Ford F100 sale on Facebook Marketplace


Earlier this month the Drivin’ News story “An old car guy goes face-to-face with Facebook Marketplace” described my decision on where to sell my 1953 Ford F100 Pickup truck. I am here to briefly describe the outcome. Rather than choosing one of the popular auction sites, I chose Facebook Marketplace, and because I am not a Facebook guy, I engaged Navarro Automotive Consulting (NAC) to assist me.

In a nutshell NAC:

  • Provided guidance in creating a four-paragraph vehicle description and appropriate photograph.
  • Provided masterly navigation with a site where I had no experience.
  • Shielded me from online tire kickers and hassles. NAC only sent me vetted prospects.
  • I had full control of the listing from creation to sale.
  • The listing offered the potential to be viewed by more eyes than other classic consignment sites. Granted Facebook delivers a much broader audience than a car-centric BaT or Hemming’s, etc.

The result:

  • Viewed 27,128 times
  • Saved by 631 people
  • Shared 135 times
  • Direct messages 70+
  • With an asking price of $23,500. It sold within the week.

If you are considering selling a vehicle and want a hands-off quality experience, I would highly recommend NAC. It translated a normally painful process into a smooth sale.

By |2023-11-30T16:26:26+00:00November 30th, 2023|2 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #50

Though not exactly Sophie’s choice, the decision to sell my 1953 Ford F100 Golden Anniversary Edition pickup left me torn and uneasy. Grudgingly working through the process of winnowing down my small collection of vehicles left standing alone my able and eager Meadow Green F100 work horse of the 1950s. Consideration of my other vehicles found them either worth too little or meaning too much. Now, the question facing me required deciding on how to sell it. Park it on a busy street sporting a for sale sign? Maybe an online purchase site. Certainly myriad online auctions beckoned. Finally based on a friend’s suggestion, I turned to Facebook Marketplace. Let me say upfront, I consider Facebook to be the Devil’s work. That said, I figured why not let the Devil work for me.

Going face-to-face with Facebook Marketplace

An old school car guy goes face-to-face with Facebook Marketplace

Unlike billions of other Earthlings I did not spend time on Facebook…until last week. Enlisting the aid of friend and online sales maven Nick Navarro of Navarro Automotive Consulting (NAC), I elected to go where millions of people have gone before, just not me. I entered Mark Zuckerberg’s digital bazaar.

My friend Nick represents the “Hope” side of what I call “The History and the Hope” spectrum of automotive enthusiasts. The “History” side of the classic vehicle obsession makes itself painfully evident with the departure of the many skilled craftsman and passionate collectors we witness melting out of the culture. Nick conversely represents one of the many young men and women who share the passion and willingly accept the baton we of the  “History” side happily hand off, grateful for their youthful interest.

With a Bachelor’s degree in Automotive Restoration from McPherson College and, after post graduation work in high-end classic car restoration including work for the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the Audrain, Nick began his own company, (NAC) focusing on restoration consulting and brokering.

Nick, being both a dyed in the wool car guy and an accomplished digital native, represents the future of classic car enthusiasm. To better understand those comprising the “Hope,” one should recognize an attribute, that of “Digital Native,” common to those like Nick. Think of digital communications as a language. Rare is the older person who learns a language without retaining an accent as compared to a person who learned a language as a child. So it is with digital communications. Those who have learned to navigate social media outlets from childhood, like Nick, employ it’s refinements with a natural ease and artistry. An ease, artistry and interest which I, as part of the history, frankly lack.

At the start Nick suggested posting my F100 using his site. He offered that this would relieve me of significant phone drudgery. Nick Says, “For most sellers, it is best to channel initial inquiries through my site. It allows me to vet the contacts and weed out the tire kickers, scammers and kooks.” Nick’s functioning as a buffer benefits sellers like me by limiting their involvement to dealing with serious prospects. I agreed. Now, on to creating the posting.

Interestingly, especially for those preferring computers (desktops, laptops) versus mobile devices (phones and tablets) Nicks notes that Facebook Marketplace, counter intuitively at least for non-digital natives, actually offers more features when accessed through a mobile device.

Anyone can access Facebook Marketplace to browse, though one needs an account to engage. Nick cautions saying, “Anybody can do this on their own personal page. It can be done on select commercial pages too, but it requires registering and it involves more of a process.” So, to begin.

Select marketplace

Start by logging on to your Facebook page and click on the Marketplace icon to begin creating a new listing. It offers three choices, Item, Vehicle or Home. Select Vehicle.

A prompt comes up requesting photographs as well as specific information including type of vehicle, location, model year, make, model, price and description. Additional prompts may request type of fuel, transmission, interior and exterior color.

In referring to writing the description Nick says, “I prefer to keep it broad because the Facebook audience is a broad audience.” He believes a broader description may offer a greater appeal to a first time buyer or someone new to the hobby. He continues saying, “However, I do like to include a few specifics that will resonate with a more knowledgeable reader.” In the case of my truck he calls attention to the hard-to-find under-bed spare tire hanger and wing nut. Nick says, “Marketplace does not offer as sophisticated a platform as, say, Bring-a-Trailer with BaT’s space for hundreds of photos, expansive copy and comments.” He does emphasize that photography remains an important feature essential to creating an effective Marketplace posting.

As to photography Nick says, “You want high quality, sharp, well composed images clearly showing all the specific areas such as underneath, engine compartment, interior and exterior from all sides of the vehicle and all angles. Three-quarter shots are a must. Videos of your vehicle can also be posted. Nick says, “Videos, if available, showing the vehicle running, etc. can add to the power of your post.”

Accompanying the crisp, and clear photography must be a written description equally clear. Copy should provide the basic vehicle history and important attributes in clear succinct paragraphs. Not too long, not to brief, it should simply provide enough detail to make an interested party more interested. A written description should provide what you as a buyer would want to know. It should not so much sell, rather it should accurately describe. Good writing does not tell. It shows. Copy like “WOW, a super powerful tire smoker” would better be written as “Dyno tuned 426 Hemi.” Trust that the buyer has a brain. While some callers may make you question that assumption, a real prospective buyer will not. Have faith.

Accompanying the “DOs” for a quality Facebook Marketplace experience are a number of DON’Ts.”

Be mindful that certain precautions should be taken as you are attaching this post to your social media platform. Nick says, “You shouldn’t have any personal data on either the listing or your personal profile page. Strangers can link both of them.”

With all bases touched Nick launched the competed post. An important reminder, a post will last for seven days. At the end of the week it must be renewed, not recreated, just renewed.

Always know that anything posted goes public and lasts forever even if deleted. Do not include your phone number or your address. Social media company Meta owns Facebook and Instagram. They make money off your data. With every click you make, Meta creates a file. Presently this reality rules the social media world. If this makes you uncomfortable do not use it. Or, as I have done, have Nick and NAC do it to keep the seller anonymous.

That said, Facebook does offer the ability to access over three-billion users world-wide. Does that mean you post will be seen by potential buyers from the town next door to across the globe? No. However, anybody on Facebook can access your post whether your neighbor Tony on the next block or Sven in Gӧteborg, Sweden. Marketplace offers multiple paths to your posting.

When listed your posting will be made available to your Local area much like Craig’s List. Areas such as Northern New Jersey or Southern New Jersey. So if someone in Carlisle, PA is looking for an F100 pickup but they are only searching their local area my F100 would not come up. However, again like Craig’s List, that buyer can expand the search area around his location by 500 miles, then my F100 would show up. Or Maybe someone in Vermont thinks he or she can get a cleaner example of the vehicle they want in California. That person can set their geographical position to California to conduct their search there. This represents an enormous advantage over Craig’s List.

As a seller I can boost my exposure a number of ways. I can join a national or international group focused on a certain vehicle. In my case Ford F100 pickups. Nick says, “Hypothetically, you can share your listing with groups around the world focused on what you are selling. As a sales tool, if used properly, it can be very effective.”

NAC offers a clean vetting process. Nick says, “Prospects contact us via Facebook Messenger, with a message basically stating an interest in the vehicle. First thing we do is request a contact phone number. When we get a number, it tells us two things. It proves that they are real and that they are interested. With that, a call can be used to vet them. Through that process of separating chaff and wheat we can provide prospects worth the sellers time.”

Planning for success can create success. However, without a good plan problems can arise. Some quite bad. In this day and age setting up the right location to show a vehicle to a prospective buyer is important.

Nick’s key points:,

  • Unless you know the person, Nick suggests picking a busy populated place to meet a stranger. Outside Starbucks works. Next to a police station is better. Many police departments have a dedicated “Meet” space with cameras for citizen transactions.”
  • Cash is king. If the buyer needs to come back with the cash. He must leave a non-refundable deposit, $1,000 works. As seller, write up a simple contract with amount of sale, amount of deposit and date due final payment. Dealing with payments from out of state best involves establishing a third-party escrow account. Check with your bank or attorney for details
  • Accompanying a buyer to his bank for a withdrawal can work.
  • Always trust your gut!

Decades ago when breathlessly scanning the latest local WantAd Press, gut instincts, learned from experience, served buyers and sellers alike. However, the WantAd Press and its beloved ilk are gone. Supplanted by a digital landscape that has wildly reconfigured the structure of the selling function, the process remains reliant on the same timeless gut instincts to achieve success.

Today, my F100 entered public consciousness by way of the  Zuckerberg digital bazaar. A few hours later a meeting with a prospective buyer had been arranged. Time will tell. So will my gut.

By |2023-11-09T21:04:01+00:00November 9th, 2023|2 Comments

Conversations With people We Value #49

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

Meet Simon Knott and the Burton.

What’s a Burton?

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

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

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

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

Simon Knott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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