Leasing to Play

Auto leasing hit historic highs in the past couple of years and now finances about 27% of new-car sales.

Leasing is particularly popular with the luxury brands — 75% to 80% of new Mercedes-Benzes and about 50% of new BMWs are leased.

And specialty collector-car leasing companies such as Putnam Leasing and Premier Financial Services have become major players in financing collector-car transactions. J.J. Best Banc & Co., prominent in the field as well, offers traditional financing.

But leases in the collector-car market are quite different from those in the new-car market.

Different ends

Traditional, new-car leases are called “closed end” leases. You lease the car for a fixed period of time, say three or five years. There may be some up-front consideration, such as a down payment. At the end of the lease term, your lease obligation ends. You can just give the car back and walk away. Or, you can buy it for the pre-determined residual value, which was set at the beginning of the lease term.

1953 Austin-Healey 100 Special Test Car

This remarkably well-documented ex-Mille Miglia, ex-Le Mans 24-Hour race Austin-Healey Works car began life as one of the Donald Healey Motor Company’s pre-production competition vehicles — properly referred to as the Special Test Cars — destined for use in International motor races and world-class distance and speed-record attempts. Of the four Special Test Cars built in 1953, NOJ 392 is the sole remaining car in original 100-specification guise.

By February 1953, Donald Healey had three of his first Read More

1962 Ferrari 400 Superamerica SWB

As the echoes of World War II austerity faded in Europe, it occurred to Enzo Ferrari that his wealthiest clients were ready for a super-fast, road-going gran turismo. The result was a series of exclusive Ferraris built with especially powerful engines wrapped in elegant bodies from the finest Italian coachbuilders. Each car was individually tailored to its owner’s requests, blisteringly fast, and sophisticated enough to transport a royal. One model in the series was the 400 Superamerica.

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A Boy Racer for the Ages

At first glance, the first-generation BMW M3 looks like a boy racer’s dream. You see a big air dam, a big spoiler and big wheels rolling under big flares.

You have to get into this car, start it and roll it down the road before you know exactly what the E30 (BMW’s internal designation for the car) is all about. In its first four years of production, it won more races and titles than any other BMW ever — and it is still the most successful racing saloon of all time.

The 1988–91 M3 represents a purity of purpose that BMW had not shown before — or since. The car was developed in reverse order of most — if not all — of the production cars of today. BMW first developed the race version of the M3 and then made it into a saleable homologation. Some will argue the M1 also fits this, but the E30 M3 was designed to go racing first, then became a road car. The M1 was developed as a sports car and then as a racer.

Passing Into History

We just put 1,611 delightful miles on our 1965 Giulia Spider Veloce. It was our first real road trip in years, and it brought home the reasons we fool around with these old cars.

The occasion was the Alfa Romeo National Convention, held in Rohnert Park, CA, south of Santa Rosa. Good friend Doug Hartman was my co-pilot on the way down, and Wendie flew down to ride with me on the way back.

We’ve owned the Spider nearly 30 years, selling it once and buying it back during that period. Conrad Stevenson in Berkeley did the engine and transmission several years ago, Bill Gillham oversaw the redo of the interior using original materials sourced by Matt Jones, and Tom Black put the finishing touches on preserving the aged paint. In short, it has never run nor looked better.

The trip down was uneventful. Our convoy of Northwest Alfas drove Interstate 5 to Eugene, Highway 126 across to Florence, then 101 to Santa Rosa with an overnight in Eureka. All the Alfas performed well except for a 750 Giulietta Spider that lost its water pump in Eureka; it was towed to the convention, repaired and driven home.

I’ve known most of these club guys for decades, and we remarked on how much better prepared our cars were than in the 1980s. As they have evolved into collectible artifacts, we have started lavishing unprecedented amounts of care and money on their maintenance.

1962 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster

Delivered new to Mannheim, Germany, this 300SL Roadster was first sold to a Swiss customer. It has had no more than two registered owners since; it also features a factory hard top. Many aficionados consider the configuration of this example as the most desirable variant, with disc brakes in combination with the more reliable cast-iron block.

This Mercedes has been the subject of a painstaking, five-year, body-off rebuild. Acquired as a rust- and accident-free original Read More

1945 GMC DUKW 2.5-Ton Amphibian

Initially, the DUKW was rejected by the U.S. Army, but the unexpected rescue of a ship that had run aground convinced them of its efficiency and seaworthiness, subsequently confirmed by a channel crossing. Developed by Sparkman & Stephens in collaboration with General Motors Corporation, each letter of its name has a meaning: “D” for a vehicle designed in 1942; “U” for utility; “K” for front-wheel drive: “W” for two rear axles. Understandably, it was known colloquially as the “Duck.” Derived Read More

1955 Lotus Eleven Competition

The Lotus Mk IX was derived from the Mk VIII, Colin Chapman’s first full-bodywork two-seater barchetta. As with the Mk VIII, the Mk IX was designed around a lightweight steel tubular chassis, fitted with aluminum panels. The body was designed by Frank Costin (the “Cos” in “Cosworth”), and built by Williams & Pritchard. It had independent front suspension and a rear De Dion axle, with “in-board” drum brakes. The Lotus IX could be fitted with a 1,500-cc MG engine, but Read More

Tax Liens and “Good” Deals

A Ferrari owner was in deep financial trouble. Business difficulties had left him pretty well broke. Worst of all, he owed the IRS more than $3 million, and an IRS agent was hot on his heels to collect.

In need of cash, the owner approached his bank for a loan. Since the IRS had filed liens for the unpaid taxes, the bank required collateral to secure a line of credit. All that was available was the 2005 Ferrari, so Read More