It Was the Best and Worst of Times

This blog is about the best this past year — the fruits of my long obsession with fabulous cars.

Awards at Concours

We bought this 1966 E-Type roadster from its original owner over thirty years ago. It finally came home last January, better than ever, a perfect blend of originality and careful preservation.

E-Type Raodster
My 1966 E-Type Roadster

Luckily my decade long restoration caused me to also buy a coupe, before they too started to climb in value. It’s a more useful and even more stylish expression of this iconic automobile. But, because the roadster’s seats are now as new, I was quickly introduced to a painful feature, the middle top-bow can really hurt. It is time to sell it to a shorter person.

My volunteer work for the Meadow Brook Concourse d’Elegance during the 1990s finally caused a bonus to drop into our laps. At the Italian Happening in June, Larry Moss recognized me circling Larry Smith’s “low nose” Alfa Sprint Speciale. He is Chairman, and Diane Fils-Schneider, Executive Director, accompanied him to promote its successor, the Concours of America at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth MI.

While chatting about old times and our cars with them, my wife said our first Jaguar is now spectacular, any cancelations? Yup, a red E-type coupe had just cancelled. Larry said time is very short but since he can trust it is good to show and that Brian Joseph, the chairman of the selection committee, would also, to expect an entry form to arrive soon. I decided to show our roadster with its hardtop. The judges loved that presentation and our back-story. They awarded it one of two Lion trophies in our class of a dozen sports and GT cars from the 1960s. Best in class went to a 250 Ferrari Lusso (arguably the next most beautiful ;-). The other Lion in our class was taken home to Toronto by a lovely Lotus Elite.

Maserati Being Loaded on Transporter
Maserati Being Loaded on Transporter

We used this concours to invite likely suspects to see our splendid E-type and start discussions about its sale or inclusion in a catalog auction. As inducement, my wife mentioned as an “oh, by the way” that I am finishing our 3500 Maserati Spyder to sell next year. I couldn’t interest Mark Hyman in my Jaguar but he begged to see the Maserati right after landing at DTW then he called a lot until we had a deal. Again my wife helped, this time by not being home to approve a slightly lower offer than our first “what-if.” Mark bought it right off of my hoist rather than wait!

Then in October Jakob Greisen, V.P. Bonhams, invited our Jaguar to either of their early 2018 auctions in the U.S. I chose Amelia Island, Florida, early in March. Their photographer flew here in November. I have never before spent to much effort and time photographing a car. He even had me drive past him six times to pan along and blur the background. Now we look forward to our first time at auction for real. It will sell because we hold no reserve price. Yes that is a gamble, but a calculated luxury for us now, because our Maserati is a much more rare Italian beauty.

Right now I’m finally assembling my second Alfa engine, a more challenging 750F version. It’s difficult because it is from the beginning of a half century of development. In 1954 it was the first all aluminum DOHC production engine. The DOHC hemi head presses the cast iron wet-sleeve cylinders into the aluminum block onto thin rubber “O” rings. It runs on five main bearings but has a lubrication issue at two bearings that rely on return flow from adjacent rods, and because my “F” or Veloce version make power into the 7 to 8K range (no redline on its 8000 rpm tachometer. It doesn’t even register below 2000!). I chose not to cross-drill this block for direct oil feed to #s 2 & 4 bearings, as for my 1600, because I won’t be racing it. Lucky though that I found the oil pump guru, Gordon Raymond, who has now built both of my oil pumps. He suggested that my “new” pump obtained long ago and now in my 1600 is junk. It looked ok but the shafts and gears were machined using a ruler and they weren’t hardened properly. It would not have lasted even 3000 miles!  Important lesson – the only quality control classic car owners have is the durability testing done by previous buyers. Integrity is in ever shorter supply because there are no warranty costs in this business, just honor and reputations.

And last, but not least because the bills come in every month, I’d like to reintroduce my 1958 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce Spider, now in a beautiful black dress over a perfected body. It has been in Oregon with Bill Gillham ever since I lost my storage in Ypsilanti, September 2016. That calamitous event triggered a series of critical decisions about my hobby.

Alfa Romeo Dashboard
Guiletta Spider Dashboard
Guilietta Spider Finally Gets Its Windshield
Guilietta Spider Finally Gets Its Windshield; Very Difficult

A few years back we feared my car hobby was out of control. This past year was THE turning point, my best year since I retired and the best excuse I have for not adding to this blog for six months. Back then my wife prodded me to get a grip on it like a business. So I made a back-of-the-envelope business plan to sell the two most valuable cars and finish the rest before I’m 70.

1965 Jaguar E-Type Coupe
My 1965 Jaguar E-Type Coupe
1966 Corvair Corsa With B-25 Bomber at the Yankee Air Force Museum
1966 Corvair Corsa With B-25 Bomber at the Yankee Air Force Museum

Also a friend died. I stored most of my cars and parts in one of his buildings, a museum’s annex with workshop. His widow became a “piece of work.” A half dozen of us had to scramble for housing after several false alarms.

My first inspired decision was to sell my first restoration project, my MGTC to a friend, a French Jaguar collector and car designer who opened a studio in Shanghai for the Italian house ICONA and last year one also in LA. His wife, a New Zealander, had recently bought a house with enough garage space in Wellington. He had left two of his Jaguars with me in storage five years ago to advance his career in other countries. I shipped all three. Now we have a good place and car to visit when it is winter here in Ann Arbor.

I also sent our second classic, the Jaguar roadster, to Muncie Imports in Indiana for upholstery, some reassembly and final commissioning. And I shipped the Alfa Spider to Oregon to be finished in a shop that specializes on Alfa Giulietta and Giulia Spiders and only occasionally a Sprint because they are way more rare here and more time consuming to restore.

The Corvair and Jaguar coupes went back across the tracks into Rivertec where they used to hang out. And the Maserati came home to my new hoist with only the glass and chrome to assemble and brakes to refresh. I installed half of its chrome as I was working on my Alfa Sprint next to it. But the hoist prevented safe access to the Maserati doors. Then last summer I unexpectedly sold it while trying to find a buyer for our Jaguar roadster. My plan was to sell the less valuable Jaguar first and learn. Lucky I had a plan when opportuntiy and a flattening of “the market” coincided. Soon I’ll ship my  Alfa Spider’s engine with a rebuilt transmission to Oregon. Next our dark blue Jaguar roadster will be sold by Bonhams in March. We’ll debut our black Spider in August at the Alfa (AROC) Convention in Olympia, WA. I’ll turn 70 in September and finally finish my “SuperSpecial” red 1958 Alfa Romeo Giulietta “eyebrow” Sprint in my spare time this year.

1958 Guilietta Spring Just Like Mine
1958 Guilietta Sprint Just Like Mine

Then the red Alfa Sprint and black 1966 Corvair Corsa coupes will be my polar opposites but equally beautiful “drivers,” each rare and with a signature national style for its decade. Our opalescent blue Jag E-type coupe is our easy to enjoy, improved but not perfect post-war icon, and our black 750 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce Spider will be our show car for a year or two (hoping to be adopted some day by a suitable and younger co-owner who lives near the Alps). My recently acquired little red Honda Super Hawk bike will mostly be a lovely industrial sculpture in my garage representing that mid-century sense of design. I couldn’t have dreamt this nor should I want for more now.

1967 Honda Super Hawk Motorcycle at Cafe Racers in Ypsilanti MI
1967 Honda Super Hawk Motorcycle at Cafe Racers in Ypsilanti MI

Yup this is my best of times. Thankfully we’re here in Ann Arbor, a shelter from our political worst of times. For the first ten years since immigrating from Germany, I was haunted by the question, “how could the Germans be so stupid before the war?” I am very sorry to experience now what my father experienced way back then. He thought this country was better.

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