Unbelievably – and happily – I’m back in Europe for the second time in less than a month. It seems like I’d just unpacked my bags from my trip to the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, where I saw many friends and wonderful cars, before packing up again and boarding a plane for France.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks, full of the old car stuff that we dream of.
I landed in Munich on a Wednesday evening, and Thursday morning I set off on a caravan of BMW 7-series old-timers, across the Alps to Lake Como in Italy.
I drove a variety of BMWs, the earliest being a 1939 335 four-door cabriolet. My favorite was a 3.3 iL, which, even though it was an automatic, had a crisp-feeling suspension and a terrific “sit-high” driving position. The most powerful was the late-model 750 iL. Although it was a wonderful performer, it didn’t have the personal connection offered by the earlier cars.
Every once in awhile, a gearhead’s fantasy trip comes along. And mine is about to begin.
Thanks to BMW, I’m heading to Munich tomorrow. There, I will join three other journalists from the U.S. and we’ll set out for two days of driving vintage BMWs from the BMW Classic Center. Visions of 328s and 507s are dancing through my head.
Porsche guru Jim Schrager has been my advance scout in the search for a 1984-89 911 Carrera. A lifelong Porsche man, he has a substantial collection himself, and has bought and sold literally hundreds of cars. This, of course, is in addition to his day job as Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business – and as the Founding Editor of the Institutional Investor’s “Journal of Private Equity.”
Schrager and I have been sharing horror stories (and good ones – but the scary ones are more fun) about 356s and 911s for more than two decades. In fact, when I was writing a weekly column for a wide-circulation car magazine, Jim helped me buy and sell a couple of 911s that became fodder for my column.
When I found a 1968 911 L, he took charge of my education, so that when the engine started making noises like a washing machine with a bucket of bolts loose in side of it, I knew the chain tensioners had collapsed. (Luck was with us – we had just completed the 1,000-mile NW Classic Rally and pulled into our driveway when the tensionsers let go.)
I’m writing this on the plane, en route home to Portland after a weekend filled with people, the cars they drive and the boats they pilot.
Keels and Wheels is unique among shows, as the setting at the Lakewood Yacht Club in Seabrook, Texas (near Houston) allows for equally compelling displays of vintage cars and vintage wooden boats. The atmosphere is casual, without the stuffiness of some concours, and there is an air of mutual admiration between boat and car aficionados.
This was my fourth year as emcee of the boat awards (Saturday) and the car awards (Sunday). Chair Bob Fuller and co-chair Paul Merryman have been instrumental in helping me learn a bit about boats – and my involvement with K&W has surely contributed to our family now having two boats in the garage.
This is the moment we wait for each year – the weather turns, we dig out the sunscreen, do a little work in the garden and drive our collector cars.
You’re probably thinking that we, the scions of collector car forethought, have all of our cars on the button, everything prepped and ready to road into the sun. Well, think again.
Here’s where we stand, on the foreign car side of things (Jim Pickering, editor of American Car Collector, has his hands full with his share of the garage occupants).
The last step in refurbishing our 1973 Volvo 1800ES was to be a simple one: a minor tune at Harold’s Auto Service, in order to remedy a slight misfire. The news that came back wasn’t so simple—two cam lobes were nearly gone.
Hoping for the best, I had Wayne Atkinson pull the head for an inspection. I burned some incense at the old car temple we have set up in the office and prayed that the car would be back on the road with a simple valve job and cam and lifter replacement.
It wasn’t going to happen that way.
I was straightening up my office and came across a copy of the book by SCM’s Jim Schrager, Buying, Driving and Enjoying the Porsche 911 and 912, 1965-1973. In it he talks about the early 911s as still being affordable, compared to 356s. The book was published in 2007.
That was five years ago. Since then, prices of first-gen 911s have gone up at least 100% – where $20,000 might have gotten you a decent early 911 in 2007, you’ll be lucky to find one you want to own for $40,000 today, and great “S” models have asking prices of over $100,000.
So let’s just call those cars gone when it comes to affordable classic status. They’ve been discovered, for all the right reasons, by a strata of collector that doesn’t think twice about spending six figures for a car.
Where does that leave us if we want to own something from Stuttgart with six cylinders?
The Volvo 1800ES has pulled a fast one on me.
I got it back from Guy’s Interior Restorations last week, with the front seats redone and a very nice match on the blue vinyl. Other items attended to during the general freshening include new interior door hardware, carpet pad in the rear and struts for the rear glass. (I just learned that, the German nickname for the ES was “Schneewittchensarg” – Snow White’s Coffin – due to the car’s large glass tailgate which reminded some wag of the fairytale glass casket.)
I’m sitting in the Jacksonville terminal as I compose this, decompressing from my 15th annual trip to Fernandina Beach, FL, and the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. 17 years have now passed since founder Bill Warner went out on a very long limb and put on the first of what has grown into a world-class event.
The activities this year were not out of the ordinary—for me, the week started on Tuesday with filming for episodes of What’s My Car Worth, along with co-host Donald Osborne. I could say that it is hard work, often with 12-hour days, but then we’d get to the part where I’m riding in the $3.7m Porsche 550, and surely you wouldn’t feel very sorry for me.