ONE MAN'S TRASH IS ANOTHER MAN'S TREASURE by bill orth
How many of you have been watching the results of collector car auctions the past few years? We all know that just because some interesting vehicles drew astounding bids at Barrett-Jackson or some similar venue that true maket values were not necessarily being established. Take away the hype, loud competition, bright lights, TV cameras, free booze and admiring arm candy and a different result would be guaranteed. That's why Mr. Barrett and Mr. Jackson arrange for the hype, TV cameras, et al...but you have to bring (or rent) your own date. Anyway, what started a few years ago as an increased awareness of '60s-era muscle cars that led to steadily-increasing purchase amounts on these cars, has snowballed into a runaway mob scene chasing everything powerful the Big Three ever built. At first, it was only models that had always had an appreciative following, like (but not limited to) '67 Corvettes, real Pontiac GTOs and other big-motor-in-a-small-car limited editions. In their own way, most of these autos had some semblance of style and exclusivity going for them and they have always been worth much more than their more plebian cousins--maybe by a factor of two, or three for truly rare examples. Over the past ten to twenty years these cars have steadily appreciated, but the heavy-hitters of the collector car world were always the true aristocrats--Ferrari, Bugatti, Duesenburg and others of that ilk--almost exclusively European, built by boutique manufacturers, truly rare and often carrying the pedigree of Grand Prix racing competition. A fellow needed a steady job to bid on these baubles, as the price tags always had six figures and sometimes two commas! When these cars were new they cost crazy multiples of what Mr.& Mrs. Average spent for a new car, but when those 1960s domestic hot rods were new, nearly anyone could afford one. A Dodge Hemi in 1964 cost less than the Polara 4-doors our parents bought, but the cheapest Ferrari, the 330GT 2+2, cost six times as much!
Today, however, the disparity is equally great, but in the opposite direction! You can buy a pretty nice 330 2+2 for under $70K; a show-stopper for $90K. A real good Hemi, with the right options and in spectacular shape will draw....six times as much! And a truly special MoPar, with the right body, one-of-only-a-few-built option packages and a killer restoration will command two commas!! And this is for cars that were made in the 70s, a pinnacle era for goofy styling and terrible build quality, that were just option packages on pedestrian models that were built in the tens of thousands each year. Good heavens, for that kind of money, you can buy a Ferrari that won Le Mans!!
So, who would pay two million dollars for a Hemi Cuda? Aging Boomers in their peak earning years, who are reliving the days when such cars brought them status and dates, horsepower and peer envy. Well, it’s never too late to enjoy any of that, and if you've been successful enough, they can be yours again--or for the first time. Today, few of your friends, dates or peers would have much appreciation for a Ferrari that was driven by Ascari in the Targa Florio, but tell 'em you just bought a HEMI, and they're begging for a ride. They used to have one, or they enjoyed a seminal moment (pun? what pun?) in one and they , for some reason, identify with two mouth-breathing losers in current Dodge truck commercials. That's sad. Ascari? Who's he? Did he ever race Richard Petty?
Let's talk pedigree. These muscle cars were nearly all scary fast--in a straight line. They couldn't stop, they didn't like corners and the build quality was absolutely miserable--especially in the MoPars. There was no elegance in their designs, either styling or mechanical. The body designs were derivitives from family sedans, the engineering was rooted in practices from the 1950s and the engines were simple pushrod V8s. If you wanted to go faster, just bore it to a larger displacement. There was no stipulation that the engine could only be three liters, for example, and more speed could only be found through innovative technologies like overhead cams, multiple valves, weight reduction and improved distribution and aerodynamics. Plus, European performance cars had to slow down effectively and go around corners--left and right! The only racing of any consequence our domestic muscle cars ever saw were drag races...that are measured in seconds, not days! And based on current auction results, those domestic drag-race specials that were factory-built with aluminum frames, alloy body panels, superchargers, plexi windows (and in fewer numbers than you have toes) sell today for $250,000; whereas a production purple Hemi Cuda that rarely left the Sonic Drive-In commands millions. It ain't right.
I know of what I speak. Back in The Day, I owned a couple of GTOs, and drove many big-motor Fords and MoPars. They were terrible everywhere but when gunning down a dry straight road. You needed lots of room to stop one and corners were downright frightening, defining understeer with body roll and tire squeal. I remember a high school peer, Morton Seligman, whose insightful father had a new silver-blue Jaguar XKE coupe in 1963. Morton was occasionally allowed to drive it, but it was never respected at the Steak N' Shake because it didn't bellow loudly and fill the rear wheel wells with blue smoke upon departure. Instead, it was sophisticated; it had a pedigree. Its immediate forbears had won Le Mans--several times--and it had cutting-edge technology (Independent rear suspension with disc brakes and four coil-over shocks!) and it was beautiful. But only a relative handful of our generation in the States appreciated it, while most drooled over the smoky-burn-out primitive muscle cars. I was saved from worshipping these false gods by my mother. She encouraged me to pursue sports car rallies rather than drag racing, a distinction she achieved through some inexplicable maternal genius; certainly not any personal experience. My appreciation for pedigreed European automobiles and some persistent allergies are the legacies that most often make me think of her.
The real subject of my essay is that--relative to the above examples and the trend they illustrate-- is that Ferraris are cheap! Pick up a recent copy of Keith Martin's Sports Car Market magazine and read the auction reports. See what domestic muscle cars are actually selling for and then notice what the Ferraris listed have brought. A near-perfect 2002 575M with only a few thousand miles can be bought for what so-so Cudas and GTOs are selling for!! The $150,000 that will easily buy a nice 360 Modena wouldn't be enough for a big-block Ford you could have bought for $1500 twenty years ago. (I paid $800 for a really nice '67 GTO in 1972). Now think about which you would you rather take out for a weekend ride—a clumsy, fast-but-poor-handling cheaply-built thirty-year-old domestic car or a modern 360 Ferrari?
Let’s talk real big money. Over four million dollars was bid for a rare 1950s GM parade bus and a couple of GM “dream cars” sold over the past two years for two and three million each. What kind of Ferraris could be bought for those sums? Simple: name ANY of the absolute top-drawer Ferrari competition cars from the 1960s, like TDF & SWB 250s, original Testa Rossas, even some GTOs!! The same 1.2 million that bought a rare 1952 Chrysler will buy an ENZO! 4-cam 275 GTBs are on a par with some of the desirable MoPars from the 70s. These examples can go on and on, no matter what price range you are thinking about. $40K will buy some pretty decent ‘80s-era Ferraris but will only get you a mediocre ’71 Mustang Boss 351—or a Harley motorcycle! Like everything else we have available to us, everyone should choose what he or she prefers, but the next time someone tells you that “Ferraris are too expensive,” you can set them straight!
- - Bill Orth - -