Shifting Gears (197)

Collector Agonistes

Written by March 2011
Saved searches and RSS feeds are now the Pandora’s Box of my collecting life. Years ago, I would get giddy and feel the onset of the red mist once a month when Hemmings arrived (by first-class mail, of course). And when I went to an auction or swap meet, I would be temporarily overcome by my need to buy something, anything, that day.But there were days—and sometimes weeks—when I wasn’t thinking about buying another car. That’s changed. Not only does the Internet provide a constant stream of fresh classifieds, as a collecting gourmand you can select exactly what your weakness…

The Rattling Road to Reno

Written by February 2011
My first car was a 1959 Bug Eye Sprite that I bought in 1966, on the day I turned 16 and got my license. The Bug Eye was just seven years old at the time. Today, we think nothing of buying a seven-year-old car—doesn’t 2004 sound like new?But back then, a seven-year-old sports car was very likely to be on the last of its original legs. My little Sprite had dents on every quarter, a piece of the lower front left fender was just missing—as if a Rottweiler had chomped on it—and it made horrible sounds in first and reverse…
I felt like I had entered a tinkerer’s medieval blacksmith shop. Vintage Gran Prix Bugattis from the 1920s and ’30s were strewn haphazardly about the courtyard of the tony Chaminade Resort and Spa in Santa Cruz, CA, and seemingly half of them were being taken apart and put back together. The tap, tap, tap of a hammer came from one car as a front suspension was taken apart. Another Bug had its engine out and dismantled, and a new crankshaft that had been flown in from England was installed, the mechanic carefully turning it to seat it properly in its…
When I was growing up in San Francisco, my grandparents and I watched the ’49ers play in Kezar Stadium. Or, more correctly, we drove to our weekend farm in nearby Novato, which was just outside the 30-mile blackout range of the broadcasts, to watch the games on television.I remember the sometimes-heated discussions that occurred when the picture would dissolve into a snowy mess at a critical time in the game, and the frantic fiddling with the rabbit ears, accompanied by strategically placing bits of folded aluminum foil.Players like Y. A. Tittle (that’s Yelberton Abraham to those who know this kind…
In our August, 2010 issue, I went out on an automotive limb and predicted that the aggregate total of the sales from the 2010 Monterey weekend would rebound from last year’s paltry $120m and reach the lofty, record-breaking plateau of $140m. The reaction on the web was immediate, with various chat rooms and blogs using that number as a way of pointing out just how out of touch I was with the market. Further, there was a certain delight evident in comments that decried SCM as just “being a cheerleader for the auction companies.”In our weekly newsletter survey of June…

Art Cars and Gladiators

Written by October 2010
  Mix American artist Jeff Koons, the 35th anniversary of the BMW Art Car Collection, a 3-series prepped for the GT2 Class at Le Mans and a gala reception at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and the result is a striking race car that reaffirms BMW’s commitment to high performance, and to high art. In May of this year, I had the opportunity for a complete immersion in BMW’s Classic Center program (you’ll find more information on page 30), and an opportunity to attend the unveiling of the 35th BMW Art Car at the Pompidou.Companies that manufacture new cars tend…
There are two new members of the SCM menagerie, aka collection, representing opposite ends of the car world. The first is a 2006 Lotus Elise, the best new vintage car you can buy. The second is a 1958 Mercedes 220S, the beginning of the fabled S-class model that continues today.Each of these cars has taught us something unexpected, and each has changed our perspective of collecting.The Lotus is the newest car we own; we have been looking for one since we had a chance to drive Legal Files author John Draneas’ 2005 model a couple of years ago. Good friend…
Here are two extremes of collector car acquisition. The first is the barn find, where, wearing your "Tom Cotter Taught Me How to Buy Cars" T-shirt, you slog through the backwoods of the (usually southern) countryside, until you see the back of a Ferrari 250 Monza or Split-Window Fuelie inside a falling-down garage. You find the owner, offer him pennies on the dollar, and scurry home with your kill. You've just saved tens of thousands of dollars, and have a great story to tell as well.The second way to buy a collector car is somewhat easier, and vastly more costly.You…
On September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11. A direct consequence of that was the collapse of the collector car market. For instance, Daytonas, the poster children of the Ferrari market, fell almost overnight from their August 2008 heights in Monterey of $350k, to a more earthly $225k. Alfa TZ-1s stopped changing hands at $750k and became $600k cars. Even Austin-Healey 3000s, once the king of second-tier collectibles, dropped from $125k to $75k.Buyers and sellers wondered, how far could things go? Would brokers once again be wearing "Will Sell Cars for Food" signs, as made famous by SCMer…

Buckets of Fun

Written by June 2010
"Not all who wander are lost." That's a fitting description of the day I spent trolling for treasure at the Portland Swap Meet. The largest event of this type on the West Coast, it has over 4,200 vendor booths and attracts more than 50,000 gearheads. But that's not the end of it.Right next door, Portland International Raceway simultaneously hosts another swap meet, with an additional 1,000 booths arrayed around the entire race track. So you're faced with over 5,000 vendors, all hoping to make their junk your jewels. Each year, I vow not to return to this Neanderthal way of…