Having me co-host a television show about cars sold at collector-car auctions is like turning a chocoholic loose in the Hershey factory.
When evaluating cars for “What’s My Car Worth?” a TV show I co-host on the Velocity channel, I find myself slipping from the objective to the subjective. “This ’67 Healey BJ8 drives nicely and will probably sell for $80k” moves all too quickly to: “I’d really like to own this car. It’s been months since I’ve had a Big Healey.”
So it should have come as no surprise that on a recent Sunday I found myself waiting for my phone to ring. The caller would be Donnie Gould, President of Auctions America. He would be asking for my bid.
The perfect quintet
My peripatetic accumulating of cars has slowed down of late. At the urging of Miles Collier, I actually developed a focus to my little assemblage. I’m sticking to 4-cylinder Alfas from the 1956–67 era.
I’ve found good examples of the five cars that fit within my budget: a 1958 Sprint Veloce, a 1965 Giulia Spider Veloce, a 1967 Duetto, a 1967 Super and a 1967 GTV.
The next step up the financial ladder is a Sprint Speciale, the space-age-looking coupe designed by Bertone. I had one as a daily driver 25 years ago, and I found it quiet and comfortable. Nice ones are now bringing $150k, so they’re out of my price range.
Just call me blue
However, my collecting thoughts went topsy-turvy when I entered Auctions America’s site in Fort Lauderdale, FL, early on a Thursday morning this past March.
I came across a 1961 Giulietta Sprint Speciale. It was handsome in dark blue, and its voluptuous chrome bumpers sparkled.
I was drawn to it. It seemed to be extremely complete, very straight and never rusted. The doors shut nicely. The seats were correct, but with the wrong coverings. The engine was the right type 121, with velocity stacks instead of the proper cold-air intake.
Gord Duff, an Auctions America car specialist, saw me eyeing the SS.
“I consigned this car from the Cayman Motor Museum,” Duff said. “It’s nice, but has a frozen engine. You could probably steal it.”
During the next two days, we drove and evaluated 16 cars for “What’s My Car Worth?” They ranged from a Lamborghini Countach to a Powerglide ’56 Corvette. But after each shoot, I found myself standing next to the Giulietta Sprint Speciale.
I managed to convince myself that the engine wasn’t really frozen, it was just a little “stuck.” I was sure that pouring penetrating oil into the cylinders, soaking the pistons for a couple of days, and then gently rocking the car would free the engine. It would fire up and run like new. Yes, it always happens that way.
Sold! Sold! Sold!
I arrived home on a Friday afternoon, and on Saturday morning my good friend Doug Hartman and I took the SCM 911 Turbo out to Hood River, OR, for some wine tasting. The owner of Marchesi Vineyards, Franco Marchesi, owns a Ferrari Mondial cabriolet, and he always saves us parking spots for our sports cars.
Franco sat with us, and I explained that I was trying to buy an Alfa Sprint Speciale. I told him they were worth well north of $100,000. Surely I would be the only one interested in a goofy old Alfa with a frozen engine. And since there was no way I was going to bid more than $50,000 for it, I was safe no matter how you looked at it.
Donnie said to expect his call around 1 p.m. The auction was running behind, and Franco could see that I was nervous. His pours of Barbera became more generous.
“Stick to $50k and you can’t go wrong,” Franco said.
The phone rang, and Donnie said, “The bidding went past $50k so fast I didn’t even have time to raise your paddle. It’s stalled now at $70k. Are you in?”
“$75k” I heard a voice say, and I suddenly realized it was MY voice. Somehow, the Alfa Devil had taken over my tongue and was speaking on my behalf.
“The car is yours,” Donnie said.
“Cursed or blessed?” I wondered to myself.
“Why didn’t you stop at $50k? What were you thinking?” Franco asked as he filled my glass yet again.
Once you figure in buyer’s commission and transport, I will be in the car around $85k when it is delivered to Portland. Add in $20k for mechanical refurbishment and a new interior, and the Alfa I was going to steal at $50k will run and drive at $105k. Assuming there weren’t more surprises — and there never are, are there? — I’d still be safe.
This completes my Alfa collection. After all, the alloy-bodied GTA and GTA Juniors are the next step up the Alfa value scale. They’re north of $200,000 for a good one, and there’s no way one of those would fit my budget. Unless, of course, I found one with a stuck engine at an auction and could steal it…
For the first time in more than two decades, we have added a new category to our Profiles. “Next-Gen” collectibles (p. 74) focuses on cars from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s that have recently moved onto the radar screen of collectors.
A maxim of collecting is that we are attracted to the cars we grew up around. Enthusiasts who had posters of Lamborghini Countachs as kids are now reaching middle age and beginning to acquire wealth. They are also starting to buy those very same cars they admired on their bedroom walls.
We’ve seen an unprecedented explosion in the prices of some cars from this era, and we will feature one each month.
We begin with a profile of the 1970 Nissan Fairlady Z 432 that RM Sotheby’s sold at Amelia Island for $253k. That’s enough money to get anyone’s attention. ♦