At 6 years old, J.R. Amantea got hooked on cars — his first solo restoration was on his Power Wheels Jeep. At age 8, he helped his dad restore a Corvette. NCRS judging documents were his reading of choice during middle school. He was an NCRS judge at age 12. After college, he embarked on a career in finance, but cars kept calling. He started his business, GT Motor Cars, in 2014, and he’s now a fixture in the collector-car world. He’s also this month’s SCM Interview. It seems like everyone in the collector-car world knows you, but you are pretty young. When did you get started with cars? I started working on cars when I was 6 years old. My dad was always into cars since high school. When I was a kid, he was restoring my mom’s first car, which was an Oldsmobile Cutlass, and I would go out to help wet-sand, disassemble and reassemble. I decided I would do a “body off” on my Power Wheels Jeep to get some practice. I removed all of the plastic panels, removed the plastic body and I sanded the chassis down, repainted it, removed the stickers and attempted to repaint the fenders. It made its way back together, but the body was a mess! What’s your educational background? Have you worked in other fields? As most of my close friends know, I restored Corvettes with my dad as a hobby for fun. I worked in my dad’s civil-engineering and land-surveying business through high school and college. I had always wanted to be an automotive engineer. I started college with the intent of studying engineering and settling on either mechanical engineering or civil engineering. Three years in, I decided that this wasn’t the path that I wanted to pursue, and I decided I wanted to go the finance route. I graduated college and went the banking route and worked in investment banking and corporate finance. As a natural progression, I decided to take the CFA path to become an analyst. Your firm, GT Motor Cars, has an excellent reputation. When did you start it, and what services do you offer? I started my company in 2014. My dad had a health issue come up, and it was one of those life-altering events that made you look at life differently. I said to myself, “What do I want to do for the rest of my life?” I was working 80- to 90-hour work weeks in New York, and life was passing me by. Maris, my fiancée, said to me, “Your passion is cars; you need to map out a way to be able to make a career with collector cars.” Two months later, I had an entire business plan. I started out of my parents’ house, moved into a three-bay unit — and three years ago we moved into a 15,000-square-foot facility. At GT Motor Cars, we are a full-service, licensed dealership. We have inventory that we buy and sell, and we provide advisory and brokerage services. We also service cars and have a Collection Management arm where we provide portfolio management services for clients. You were a Bloomington Gold Judge at age 15. What was it like to walk out on the show field with much older judges? It’s funny, I started judging at age 7 as an “Observer” Judge at NCRS and by 12 I was judging on my own in NCRS. I would get strange looks from owners, as they would wonder what I knew about mid-year Corvettes. A lot of times my dad and I would judge together. After seeing me at many shows throughout the year with cars getting judged, partaking in judging schools and judging with my dad at different events, the older veterans began to take me seriously, especially when well-respected judges in the hobby knew me well and would recommend me to different team leaders. What is it about cars that rings your bell so hard? For me, it’s a couple of things. I like working on cars and making them as original as possible. I like doing the actual work on cars — especially the older cars. I’ve been in our building where people come in looking for me, and I’m up to my arms removing a motor. I like helping clients hunt for the “right car.” It’s about the hunt and the chase. I like cars in my collection to have a tie to the racetrack, especially race cars with good race history. I’ll go into my office sometimes on a Sunday and just uncover some of the cars and sit in them and look at them like they are art on a wall. I’ll sit in our race cars and go through different racetracks in my head. It seems like many collectors start with one kind of car — but often end up with completely different cars. What has been your collecting arc? Very true statement. I started out in the classic-Corvette world, and I ended up neck deep in them. When I first started my business, I focused solely on Corvettes, as that is what I knew best. As I went on, I focused on cars I had a passion for and cars that I followed through the years from seeing them in other collections. This is partly how I chose “GT Motor Cars” for my company name, as the cars I have a passion for are Grand Touring cars. I have always liked vintage Ferraris and grew up with F40 models and posters as a kid. I have been fortunate enough to be around some fairly significant Ferraris through some of our clients and friends of mine who have collected them for years. Over the past few years, I have developed passion for certain pre-war cars — I prefer French cars such as Talbots and Delahayes. I am living proof that the collecting arc takes time, as many years later I am discovering different tastes in cars. It’s like wine. How many cars are in your garage right now, and which is your favorite? I have seven cars in my own collection right now. My favorite car in my collection is a 1963 Corvette fuel-injected Split-Window. It’s the first car I did a complete restoration on with my dad, and my parents and I campaigned it all across the country for different judging awards. We earned the Bloomington Gold and NCRS Duntov Mark of Excellence Award and then displayed the car in the National Corvette Museum. To me, this car has a lot of memories with my family and “it’s where it all started” for me. You’ve got a week to 10 days. What roads do you want to drive, and what is your ride? Who is your co-pilot? Maris and I drove across the country last year to Pebble Beach — we trailered two of our cars out there. We really enjoyed the trip, discovering different parts of the U.S. I would like to drive through Colorado and through Northern California and carve through the Rocky Mountains in one of our 1967 427 Corvettes with my dad. Where do you think the collector-car world will be in two years? For the past 12 months, we have seen the market in a transition period. We have seen new, first-time collectors coming into the space with the average age of 45 to 50. They are starting out with cars they grew up with — and slowly moving up the spectrum. Prices have told us the story. Just look at Ferrari Daytona prices over the last four years; they went from $900k down to $450k. If you look at F40 prices over the same period, they have done the inverse — from $800k to $1.5m. As we do this interview, we are in one of the greatest crisis the world has ever seen. We are all wondering what anything will look like two months from now. We were already at a turning point in the collector-car market before COVID-19 began. In two years, I see the newer collectors that have started collections over the past two to three years going into Phase Two or Three of their collection (Phase Two and Three being where they are showing the cars they previously acquired and are moving into a different car class up the arc). I see many first-timers continuing to come to the market and buying what they grew up with. ♦

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