The facts about overheard car show facts

Vespa

If you’re going to bring your car to a show,
don’t make claims about your classic that are untrue.
(Plus it’s also nice to let your wife out of the car.)

fourwheeldriftOne of the toughest things I have to do in my life as an automotive journalist is to bite my tongue when I’m at car shows.  Collector car owners have a crazy habit of making statements about their cars that are factually inaccurate.

 

As the son of an attorney, I learned at a young age to stand my ground, chomp-down like a pit bull and debate points of contention using every statistic and factoid available to back-up my position.  After my first few debates, I decided that it was better to smile, nod and walk away with my image as a nice, easy-going chap.

 

In reality it’s just a small percentage of collectors and enthusiasts who are frequently wrong, yet never in doubt.  Most in the hobby are a wealth of accurate information. But to those who have the audacity to stand at shows and spew incorrect information about your own cars, I dedicate this top five list of the most egregious statements I’ve heard from owners about their cars on display.

5 and 4: “It’s the smallest production car ever sold in the US.”

This statement ranks in both fifth and fourth place, because I’ve heard this twice in the last two years – and neither time was the car on display the smallest.  The first offender brought a Vespa 400 to a local show – I don’t recall what year, but they were made starting in 1957.  Classifying as a “bubblecar” or “microcar,” there’s no doubt that the Vespa is shorter than an average teenager’s attention span.  But at 2835 mm (111.61 inches) nose-to-tail, it isn’t even the smallest import.  The 1957 BMW Isetta 300 was 2286 mm (90 inches,) giving it the honors of smallest import and smallest car ever sold in America.

 

Just this weekend, a gentleman at the Lacey Summer’s End car show told a friend of mine that Crosley, maker of his early 1940s two-door wagon (now powered by a Chevy smallblock,) produced America’s smallest car.  The smallest Crosley was the Series CD – which included the HotShot and SuperSports.  At 3683 mm (145 inches) long, it wasn’t even close to being as small as the Isetta.

 

For the record, the smallest American-made series production car ever was the King Midget.  Starting in 1946, the Athens, OH –based company began production of the peculiar little golf-cart-looking car.  Wheelbase was only 76.5 inches and overall length measured just 96 inches.

3. “Vespa was a French car not affiliated with Vespa scooters.”

Yes, that owner is back at number three for another crazy statement.  It is indeed true that Vespa 400 automobiles were manufactured in France by a separate legal entity, but only because the French government prohibited the Italian Vespa to operate without a French-controlled entity.  The engine was a Vespa air-cooled scooter unit (although this owner had ripped-out the original plant and shoe-horned in a Geo three-cylinder water-cooled engine.)  So his Vespa was as much a French car as a last-generation Camaro was a Canadian car.  It was only manufactured there, but otherwise it was Italian and very much related to the famous scooters.

2. “Don’t call it a ‘mini Corvette’ —  it’s an Opel GT.  It came before the Corvette.”

I was at a local car show recently when I walked up to an Opel GT with a friend and said jokingly to him “Hey, it’s a mini Corvette.”  The bionic-eared wife of the owner lashed back at me “it’s not a mini Corvette, it’s an OPEL GT.  It came before the Corvette.”

 

 

Ummm….no, my dear.  No it didn’t. 

 

I understand that Opel GT owners are probably sick of being compared to the Stingray, but quite honestly, the only reason most people bought Opel GTs was because it had some similar looks, but since it was based on the Opel Kadet had low enough performance to be cheap.  They weren’t bad cars, but certainly were more show than go.

 

These were some pretty die-hard Opel fans.  Husband and wife were wearing matching Opel GT t-shirts.

 

I simply explained that I knew what the car was by whispering to her that her local paper runs my classic car column each week.  (Her husband actually knew who I was.)  It took all my restraint to not pick apart her comment – which was so incorrect on all levels.

 

The first 1969 Opel GTs debuted in September of 1968, a full year after the 1968 model year Corvettes hit the dealers.  I bet she knew that, and was going for that whole thing about that the original Opel GT concept debuted at the Paris Auto Show in 1965.  Guess when the Stingray’s concept was unveiled?  Yup, at the 1965 Paris Auto Show!

 

As most Corvette fans know, Larry Shinoda’s Mako Shark II concept was the basis for most of the wild third-generation styling.  Even though the initial meetings for the Opel GT started in 1962, Bill Mitchell’s original Mako Shark, the progenitor of styling cues for Shinoda’s later Shark, appeared in 1961.   And obviously, the initial Blue Flame Six-powered Corvette first appeared in 1953.

 

 

Most importantly, neither car really can claim that any of the lines are really their own.  Much of the influence (as well as specific gimmicks like the Kamm tail) for both the GT and the Stingray came directly from Ferrari’s GTO. 

1.  “My car is an original _____”

If I had a dollar for ever single time someone billed their car as “original” or “the real deal,” I’d still be poor – but I’d have something to show for all the times I’ve been stuck wondering if the owner was trying to pull a fast one, or if they simply were unaware that the person from whom they had bought the car had pulled a fast one.

 

What does get me angry is when people pass off their cars as something they are not.  In the world of muscle cars it’s easy to make a low-option car into a clone of a prized low-production / high-performance model, so taking someone’s word isn’t good enough.  I think I’ve now seen more “original” SS396 Chevelles at shows than were ever produced by GM in the first place.

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind clones.  My father-in-law decided to take the 1965 Impala SS convertible he’d owned since new and turn the original 327ci car into a big block car.  Only a seasoned Bow-Tie addict would recognize the two signs that it wasn’t a factory 396 car: an internal balancer on the engine showing it’s actually a 454 block and a VIN plate identifying its build date predates the mid-year switch from 409 to 396 engines.  Even though he never intends to sell it, he always tells people that it started life as a small block car, which is the right thing to do.

 

I’ve also helped people validate authenticity of their cars.  I once met an enthusiast at a show, and he asked me for help in establishing the history of his car.  He believed the vehicle to be the unique Saab Sonnet IV show car from 1973.   Problem was that nobody at Saab had ever heard of the car, and there were no records anywhere of a Sonnet IV ever being shown.   I could find only one mention of a Sonnet IV anywhere – an online advertisement from the previous owner in California from whom this fellow bought the car.  But even with that information, the owner liked what he had and was happy to tell people that the car’s true identity couldn’t be validated.

 

Then there’s the basis of our number one ranking on the list – the people who know there car is fake, but won’t admit or accept it.  An owner of a Hugger Orange 1969 Z-28 represented his car at many shows as a numbers-matching original Z-28. 

 

I had the opportunity to inspect the car while it was up on the lift at my friend’s shop, where it was in for mechanical work. My friend noticed it had a jagged hand-torched cut-out in the floor for the 4-speed shifter.  On the frame was a bracket for a column-shift automatic. Although it accelerated like a Z, turned and stopped like a Z, looked like a Z, had a correct Z VIN, and basically for all intensive purposes was a real Z, in the eyes of the collector community it was a clone.  Most likely the car had at one time been wrecked, and all the parts and ID plates swapped to another body.

 

Even after the findings were made clear to the owner, he belligerently maintained his position that the car was all original parts and real.  Either he had been duped into paying $20,000 too much for the car, or wanted to ensure he could sell it for a premium somewhere down the road. 

 

No doubt that Carma (that’s Karma for car enthusiasts) will eventually give him a good solid slap in the face somewhere down the line.

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