The world’s first Italian hypercar, the 1905 FIAT 60-hp, to appear at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

August 7, 2012

The 1905 FIAT 60 HP was the first high performance car specifically built for the ultra-rich to drive fast on public roads. This extremely important and coveted sole surviving example of the original twenty built will be seen and driven in public for the first time in over a half-century at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

It’s not often that I get totally psyched-up to see a single specific car at a top flight collector vehicle show like the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.  At the upcoming smorgasbord of automotive excellence on the 18th fairway there will be one four-wheeled masterpiece upon which I just can’t wait to lay my eyes.

Fiat is a featured marque for the 2012 event, so Olympia, Washington’s Bob “Sully” Sullivan will be bringing his 1905 FIAT 60-hp tourer.  Before the sighs of disappointment emit from the collective readership like the teacher just announced a pop quiz during the last hour of the final day of school, this car is not your average Fix-It-Again-Tony.  It’s the very best surviving road car from a time when FIAT was spelled with all capitals (it went to lower case in 1906) and the manufacturer advertised its products as “The Aristocrat of Auto Cars”.  If that isn’t enough for you, there’s this: upon hearing Sully had unearthed the car, and even though the field had already been selected for this year’s event, Pebble Beach Concours President Sandra Button personally called to ask that this Holy Grail of early motoring be exhibited.

Button has a great reason for extending her invitation.  She knows that many of the most respected collectors have laid accolades on this car, including a member of the LeMay family, who called it “the single best collector car on the planet”… including the McCaw’s recently acquired $35-million drool-worthy Ferrari GTO.  Sullivan’s 60-hp tourer is the lone survivor of the model considered to be the first Italian road-going hypercar for the ultra-rich, making it the granddaddy to the likes of the pre-war road-spec Alfa 8C, Lamborghini Miura, and Ferrari F40/F50/Enzo. This nearly entirely original example has just been woken from more than a half-century of sleep and has already cruised at modern legal highway speeds, which should also be a tip to its credentials.

Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino was founded in 1899 in Turin, four years before ITALA, and more than a decade before ALFA.  By 1904 the company’s race cars were competing and frequently winning all over world against rival Mercedes.  This translated into strong sales of its $9000 28-hp bread-and-butter customer road cars. Still, FIAT wanted to capitalize on its performance reputation, especially in America, where insanely wealthy robber barons were notorious for throwing money at expensive homes and toys.

FIAT commenced a program to match its newly-designed chassis with a 60-hp version of its race engine for customer road use. The company elected to keep high-strung 90 and 100-hp engines available only for pure racing cars.  The steel chassis, which replaced the 1904’s wood chassis, used a 5/8-inch thick aluminum scuttle and an aluminum bellypan to support a 10.6-liter T-head four-cylinder engine featuring a make-and-break ignition with revolutionary automatic advance.  Transmission, gears and nickel-steel axles were of the same specifications as used on factory racing cars until 1912. Every single part on the car was numbered, and all cast parts were hand-filed to remove every trace of imperfection.  Even the crankcase came perfectly scraped.  By 1905 only twenty chassis and engine combinations were completed.

According to the oral history of the vehicle, Manhattan-based Hollander and Tangeman, the sole FIAT agents in the United States, ordered this $13,500 special short chassis 60-hp package with upgraded 100-hp Grand Prix racing sprockets on behalf of brewing tycoon August Anheuser Busch, Sr..  It shipped from Italy to luxury coachbuilder Quinby in Newark, New Jersey.   Quinby had patented a new type of body construction, which it applied to this FIAT chassis.  The all-aluminum skin was affixed to a wood frame, then the craftsmen used brass moldings to eliminate evidence of seams. No fasteners were visible, as all were affixed from inside the cabin, then covered by hand with silver solder.   It was an amazingly labor-intensive process, which justified the $4,000 price of the five passenger touring body.

In the days when $600 bought the top-selling “Curved Dash” Oldsmobile Model R with 5-hp and a 20-mph top speed,  $17,500 for a 60-hp FIAT was simply uncharted territory in terms of price and performance.  Among the other nineteen 60-hp  clients were Kaiser Wilhelm II and one of the famed car-crazy Vanderbilts.  Needless to say, there were many ruffled feathers when those in Germany learned all three had replaced their Mercedes with Italian FIATs.

The FIAT spent thirty years with its first owner.  In 1935, Connecticut collector James Melton bought the FIAT from the estate of Busch, who had committed suicide a year earlier to end agonizing pain from ongoing medical ailments. Just six years later, Melton sold the car to a local friend, Don Miller. Mr. Miller was known to exhibit the vehicle and occasionally start the engine for amazed spectators, but he rarely drove it, if at all.  The same went for the car’s third owner, a very private Connecticut collector whose tenure with the FIAT started in 1973 and ended in 2012 when Sully and co-hort Dave Geisler acquired it and moved it out of the same seven mile radius in which it had stayed for the last 77 years.

Sully and Geisler found the car in a state not unlike an Egyptian tomb discovery.  Although it hadn’t run in decades, the car was original down to its assigned New York license plate.   Initial assessment identified only three non-factory parts: a small repainted panel section, an incorrect carburetor and non-factory magneto.  Sullivan smartly spotted the factory carburetor and magneto on the shelf near the car, making it entirely numbers-matching.

The car was sent to the rural Wisconsin shop of collector car wizard George Ktsanes.  Ktsanes set out to accomplish many tasks all with the goals of keeping the FIAT and its 107-year-old patina purely original and make it run like it did in 1905.  He carefully inspected all aspects trying to establish history, and then attended to every part of the car, carefully cleaning and addressing issues stemming from its long hibernation.  He refurbished the original carburetor and magneto to perfect operation and refit them to the car.  Ktsanes established that the fitted replacement magneto probably was the source of poor running causing the car to be removed from road use prior to WWII.  Being a traditional low-tension two-flux variety magneto running at crank speed, rather than the original’s special required four-flux cam speed, the 60-hp engine had long misfired on every other stroke.  With the proper parts rebuilt and installed, it now starts easier with the hand crank and idles nicely at a comically lazy 70 rpms.

Ktsanes told me he has already driven the car on his property, reaching speeds in the mid 50s.  If it weren’t for the value of the car and the lack of available road for the braking from higher speeds, the car would have tested its legs quite a bit more.  Speaking of brakes, Ktsanes says the pedal, which operates the two driveshaft brakes, actually works pretty well for the era.  The handbrake controls mechanical units on the rear wheels.   Luckily, even if the brakes aren’t to modern standards, at least people will hear the FIAT coming — the downward-pointing cutouts before the factory-fit mufflers blast a roaring mechanical cacophony strong enough to clear four square feet of pea-gravel with a single blip of the throttle.

There has been a lot of hubbub about other rare Fiats hitting the 18th Fairway at Pebble Beach this year, most notably Larz Anderson’s 1907 Tipo 50/60.  Not to take anything away from Mr. Anderson’s fabulous vehicle, but not only is his car a more widely produced (one of 116) non-competition-based 11-liter six-cylinder, it also doesn’t run.  So when the cars pull into Carmel on August 16th for lunch during the Tour d’Elegance, the Anderson car definitely won’t be there.  From what I hear from Bob Sullivan, the 1905 FIAT will be on the Tour.

Now if I can just get him to save a 107-year old leather seat for me!  It would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride in the car fit for a king …and a brewer, which fathered the market segment that spurred the creation of the most spectacular works of automotive art.


Vehicle Buying and Selling Lesson #223: What Is A One-Owner Car?

February 1, 2011

People have a tendency to oversell their vehicles in online listings. Seeing words like “beautiful” or “rare” for something ugly and mass-produced is roughly as common as a Charlie Sheen rehab stint.

What gets me, though, is when sellers exhibit a total disregard for accepted terminology. Even worse, most tend to advertise the improper use of said terms by immediately following with conflicting explanations or caveats, leading prospective buyers to wonder why it’s worth dealing with the seller at all.

For instance, here’s an eBay listing I recently read:

You are bidding on what is essentially a one owner Triumph TR 2 short door. Original engine with O/D transmission upgraded back in the 50’s. I purchased it from the owner who had the car from 56 to 2003, he bought it next to new, so there was brief ownership by either dealer or private owner for less then a year. I have all the mechanical maintenance notes from the owner from 56 to the late 90’s, at which time due to age, he slowed down on maintaining the vehicle himself.

This description is laughable. The seller claims this is “essentially a one owner Triumph”, then immediately details that it’s had three owners. The seller doesn’t count himself as an owner, despite having the car for nearly eight years, which eclipses the national averages for both new and used car retention.

Defining “One Owner Vehicle”: A car, truck, motorcycle, or similar vehicle that has been in the same family user group since it was purchased brand new. A car does not need its original title, because moving from state-to-state requires a new title.

When a car is purchased — by a private party, broker or dealer, the car is no longer a one-owner vehicle. Even if it is a curbstoner (an unlicensed dealer or broker) who buys the car then chooses not to change the title before finding a person to whom they can resell, they still count as an owner. Additionally, most states consider this tax evasion.

Where the definition gets into a gray area is when it comes to cars passed between family members. While some might claim that a car has to be in the same name as originally titled, others allow a one-owner car to extend to inclusion of one that has been passed from original buyer to children or grandchildren, especially if they were among the original users of the car when new. For instance, my father bought a new ’86 Dodge 600ES Turbo Convertible as 50th birthday present to himself. I drove it from new on weekends, as did my brother, who got the car when he graduated college in 1991. When he replaced the Dodge with a new car in 1999, I took the car. It has been titled in two states under three names, but all by people who drove it when it still had the new car smell. Furthermore, the car has never sold — rather transferred under state family-gift allowances for the purposes of identifying primary insurance responsibilities. Is it a one-owner car? Probably not by the strictest definition, but it certainly falls under one-family-owned car.

The description of one-owner is intended to increase value. At the end of the day, though, it shouldn’t… and usually doesn’t. After all, why pay a premium for something that is immediately lost once it is paid for? (Creepy sex addicts need not write in with their arguments on this question.)

It is far more important that previous owners, no matter how many there were, took care of the vehicle.


The Defendants Left The Sack-O-Suds In A Surf Green, Not Metallic Mint Green ’64 Buick Skylark Convertible!

December 20, 2010

Paint color names were still top-of-mind as I was watching “My Cousin Vinny” over the weekend. Even though it was the umpteenth time I had watched it, something new struck me: with so much emphasis placed on automotive details in the film’s climax, why didn’t the screenwriter go the extra distance with the actual paint color names?  Neither the 1964 Buick Skylark Convertible driven by the defendants or the stolen 1963 Pontiac Tempest driven by the actual perpetrators were ever offered in a paint color called Metallic Mint Green.

The 1964 Buick in the movie was painted Surf Green Poly.  In 1963, one could order a Pontiac Tempest in a shade called Silverleaf Green Poly.

I admit that the movie wouldn’t have changed at all utilizing the correct color names.  Actually, I might even say that it would be more far-fetched than Marisa Tomei asking me out on a date (and my wife saying it’s okay to accept) for any general mechanic to know offhand the names of low-production paint options from cars sold a quarter-century earlier.


Classic Engine Symphony: Nine Classic GT40s Fire Up At Kirkland Concours d’Elegance 2010

September 14, 2010

Throw out the notion that Concours d’Elegance events are just sedate wine and cheese affairs where the only sounds are crystal glasses clanging and the rubbing of hundred-dollar-bills on each other within thick wallets. At this weekend’s 2010 Kirkland Concours attendees were given unique visual and aural thrills when the class of nine vintage Ford GT-40s all fired-up their engines and revved.

The class included five MK I models, a ’66 MK II and a ’66 MK III, as well as a ’67 427-ci MK IV. And if these weren’t impressive enough, the unique ’65 Prototype Spyder was also there singing.

Watch the video and enjoy.


Sammy’s Vehicle For Sale on Craigslist _ad Lib

July 27, 2010

In an attempt to make it easier for people to sell their vehicles, two years ago I wrote an article called “Sammy’s Unofficial Template For Listing A Car Or Truck For Sale On Craigslist”. Judging by the sheer number of ads I still see that appear to be written by an ADDHD-riddled fourth-grader after ten shots of high-fructose corn syrup, evidently the topic needs to be covered yet again.

So today I’m trying something a little different. I’ll call it “Sammy’s Vehicle For Sale On Craigslist (or eBay, For That Matter) _ad Lib”. Now all one needs to do is find the correct information regarding the vehicle for sale and plug it into the appropriate fields in this ready-to-go ad copy.

Offered for sale is a (YEAR) (MAKE) (MODEL) (OFFICIAL BODY STYLE– that means SEDAN/COUPE/CONVERTIBLE/HARDTOP COUPE/WAGON/TOWN SEDAN, etc…) (OFFICIAL TRIM LEVEL DESIGNATION) with (NUMBER) miles. The vehicle is optioned with (OPTIONS AND OPTION PACKAGES).

(TYPE OF ENGINE — and NUMBER OF CYLINDERS/HORSEPOWER/OPTION CODE if multiple engines or multiple states of tune were offered) is (CHOOSE “ORIGINAL” OR “NOT ORIGINAL”) and runs (ADVERB). The (TYPE OF TRANSMISSION) shifts (ADVERB). Vehicle was last serviced (DATE), at which time the (LIST MAJOR SERVICES PERFORMED). Vehicle will need (TYPE OF MAINTENANCE) within the next (TIME PERIOD).

The (COLOR) paint is (ADJECTIVE). There are (ADJECTIVE RELATED TO QUANTITY) areas of (RUST/DAMAGE/DENTS/SCRATCHES) the size of (OBJECT) around the following areas: (LIST AREAS). The (FABRIC TYPE) interior is (COLOR) and is in (ADJECTIVE) condition, as exemplified by the (THING) on the (OBJECT).

Vehicle is offered at (PRICE) and is located at (LOCATION — CITY, STATE). Please feel free to ask questions by emailing (EMAIL ADDRESS) or calling (NAME) at (TELEPHONE NUMBER) between (HOURS).

The following pictures were taken (MONTH/YEAR): (INSERT FOUR PICTURES: FRONT 1/4, REAR 1/4, ENGINE, INTERIOR)

And just one last thing: once you’re done using Sammy’s Vehicle For Sale on Craigslist _ad Lib…at the very least, please spell check. If I see another “Camero Convertable”, “Crysler”, “Alpha Romero”, or “Caddillac” for sale today, I’m going to blow a gasket.


Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours Drifts Away For 2010

July 2, 2010

Doug and Genie Freedman, organizers of the Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours, just announced the event has been cancelled for 2010. The couple cited a lack of sponsorship dollars, making it financially impossible to continue.

And this is a shame, because the Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours was actually one of my favorite events during the Pebble Beach week. It was elegant, yet as snooty as southern potluck BBQ. The free-to-the-public two-day event at the beginning of the week showcased cars that were just as interesting and rare as those of the high ticket price events held later in the week. Plus the setting in downtown Carmel offered great eating and interesting shopping opportunities. Quite honestly, it was everything good and right about the car hobby…

Which, of course, didn’t make it immune from everything that has been wrong about this same hobby: the cold business side. From day one, Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours was in the crosshairs of the Pebble Beach Concours organizing company. One of the world’s most respected judges, who has decades of experience scoring cars on the fairway at Pebble Beach, told me that he had been issued an ultimatum by Pebble Beach Concours Chair Sandra Kasky Button: judge at Carmel and never judge at Pebble again.

Many in the classic car community scratched their heads over Pebble Beach’s perceived paranoia. After all, Carmel was a newcomer. It also was a free show that invited cars that would never be potential invitees to Pebble. It wasn’t competition in the collector car show sense. Why such a crazy reaction that simply brought additional people and money to the area?

Some of us hit the nail on the head when we proposed that it was all about advertising dollars. Sandra Kasky Button isn’t a monster or greedy — she’s an extremely smart and savvy businessperson, and a nice one, at that. Sandra knew that a recession would seriously shrink advertising dollars, and with the constant growth of shows and auctions during the weekend, Pebble couldn’t afford to sit on its hands. All the same, we hoped the Pebble people wouldn’t have been so proactive at trying to damage the event’s future. There were symbiotic benefits to be nurtured, had there been some attempt to cultivate such relationships.

Those of us who have attended Carmel-by-the-Sea to witness the great cars and people all hope the Freedmans can rustle-up more sponsorships for 2011 and organize the event’s triumphant return. While other’s advertising revenues might suffer just a bit, the world is no doubt a better place with the Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours in it.


Sammy’s Tips For Creating Perfect Car Show Judging Classes

June 21, 2010

One of the more frustrating things for collector car owners is when an all-comers type of car show has judging classes created by someone who thinks there are only two types of people in the world: those who drive a Chevy and those who drive a Ford. Most organizers think classes only make a statement about what cars they expect to show up, but in reality these classes also broadcast to attendees and participants which vehicles are most welcomed and appreciated.

Just a couple weeks ago I decided to take my 1976 Ferrari 308 GT4 to an area all-comers show. Upon giving my entry fee (unlike other journalists, I pay to enter my car, because most entry fees go to charities), I was given a list of 24 classes from which to pick two deemed most appropriate for my car. These were the classes: Best Hot Rod, Custom Car, Custom Truck, Stock Car, Stock Truck, Radical Car, Radical Truck, Stock Antique (pre ’42), Pre-’81 Ford, Post-’81 Ford, Pre-’81 GM, Post-’81 GM, Mopar, Orphan, Pre-20s, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, Post-60s, Engine Compartment, Paint, and Pin Stripe.

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or even a 1980s GM brand manager) to figure out that the club promoting the show was made up of a bunch of American V8 rod and muscle car-owning folks. Sadly, their lack of understanding about how to put together balanced and fair classes had a bunch of show-goers shoving their cars into unfit boxes. For instance, while there are plenty of non-stock things about the GT4 (like red wrinkle-painted cam and timing covers with polished lettering and ridges), I had to choose Best Stock Car category along with Best Post-60s. A Lancia Beta Coupe owner entered his car in the Best Orphan category hoping that the judges didn’t know the 104-year-old Italian auto maker is still alive, well (albeit owned by FIAT) and mass producing cars for the European market.

So for the benefit of car show organizers, participants and judges…not to mention all of humanity, I present Sammy’s Tips For Creating Perfect Car Show Judging Classes. Remember, this is for all-comers type, rather than marque-specific or specialty events, but the base principles apply everywhere.

1) Create Classes For Attendees, Not For The Sponsoring Car Club’s Membership: Just because the majority of your car club members drive custom Fords and Chevy muscle cars doesn’t mean everyone else does. If you invite everyone, then make sure they feel welcomed…which means if the entry form requires every participant competes in two classes, then ensure any conceivable car has two classes in which to compete. Open a collector car book or simply peruse cars for sale on Craigslist to test the completeness of the classes.

2) Make Even And Fair Period/Era/Decade Classes: The funny thing about car show organizers is that you can tell their average age by the inclusive years of the youngest catch-all era car class. Pretty much anyone over the age of 65 thinks the collector car world ends at 1969, so despite huge representation by vehicles from the 70s, 80s and 90s, these cars often are glommed together competing for a lone trophy. The fairer way is to have a class for each decade (combining all cars pre-1920, as well as on the other end, the cars from the 1990s and 2000s). If you have limited money for class awards, then think about arranging by technological/design era: Brass and Antique (through 1925), Classic Era (1925-1948), Chrome and Fins (1949-1963), Muscle (1964-1971), OPEC Era (1972-1983), LED/TBI/FWD (1984-1994), Performance Resurgence (1995 and newer.)

3) Avoid Double-Dipping: In the case of the show I recently attended, there was really no reason to have Best Custom and Best Radical with individual classes for cars and trucks. Radicals ARE customs, and the chances of having enough radical vehicles to fill one class for cars and another for trucks are tiny. And again, why a class for Best Paint followed by an award for Best Pin Stripe? They are both types of paint.

4) Body Style And Car Type Matter: Most internationally-recognized shows give awards for Best Open and Best Closed cars, so don’t be afraid of having body style awards like Best Convertible, Coupe/Sedan, Wagon. Additionally, it’s fine to have classes for sports cars, muscle cars or pony cars, but it requires looking at #9 on our list to ensure participants and judges are as consistent as GOP election-year talking points.

5) Spotlight Originality/Survivors: A car is capable of going through multiple restorations, but only original once…and like Joan Rivers, restoration isn’t necessarily better — just different. In all seriousness, having classes to recognize original cars is important, since a 30-plus year old car with chips and nicks can’t win a beauty contest against something with a fresh $10,000 paint job with the newest technology. Make sure that it is clearly defined and communicated to judges and participants about what it takes to be entered as original: must it have factory-applied paint, engine, interior, tires…?

6) America vs. The World: When there’s a show on Main Street in the heartland of the US, chances are that foreign cars will be in the minority, so often just having an Import Class is fine. This is also an easy way to cover many types of collector vehicles into one class at smaller shows. If the show draws from affluent metropolitan areas, then it’s might be smart to separate European cars from Asian to accommodate the greater amount of entrants. Just don’t forget to define where Australian, Mexican, South American and other imports go. Finally, communicate where to draw the line on what makes an import, since many American market Ford and GM products have been made in Canada, while Chryslers have largely been made in Mexico. Conversely, many BMWs, Hondas, Toyotas and others have been designed and built in America with more American-made parts than so-called American cars.

7) Recognize Special Owners: Having class awards to recognize original owner cars and teens/students are nice touches. Especially in the case of younger collectors, they don’t (or at least, without mommy and daddy spoiling them rotten) have the money to sink into paint, body that the adults do. A class that encourages younger owners to show their cars, be it a newer vehicle or an in-progress restoration, is in the best interest of the hobby.

8 ) Use One-Year Feature Classes: Most large shows have featured classes that change each year. Pebble Beach might feature Alfa Romeo one year, Packard the next and Ferrari after that. Depending on the cars known to be attending, a local show might have a special extra set of awards, such as a Tri-Five Chevy Trophy this year, Best Mustang next year, Super Six Cylinder Ribbon the following year…

9) Explain And Limit Classes: If entrants aren’t given any explanation of classes, then they’ll make a mockery of them. If you already have awards for Best GM, Ford and Mopar, why not explain that DeSotos, Pontiacs, Hummers, Edsels, and LaSalles belong in those classes, while the Best Orphan trophy should be reserved for the likes of Packard, Rockne, Cunningham, Facel Vega, and other non-Big Three brands. This seems to be especially important for classes like Best Import, Best Sports Car and Best Muscle Car, where everyone has their own definitions. (As the organizer, do you want a Camaro competing as a Pony Car against Mustangs, Muscle Car against Chevelles and GTOs or Sports Car with Corvettes and Porsches?)

Finally…

10) BE FAIR WITH JUDGING: There’s nothing worse than when people realize the class winners are all friends of the organizers. Pick judges for classes who respect the cars within and have some passing knowledge of the vehicles they are rating. A two-time Concorso Italiano-winning (including Best In Show and two-class wins) Lamborghini Miura was twice sent home from a local show here without as much as a third-place trophy for Best Sports Car. When I mentioned to the ladies at the event tent that they had again snubbed what had been crowned just a year earlier the “best Italian car in the world”, they simply quipped something about liking Corvettes and Camaros, of which there were more than 25 at the show. Of course, the organizer was also a local Corvette and Chevy muscle car restorer.

Remember, a car show is not just about seeing cars we know and love, it’s also about exposing the area to previously unfamiliar greatness. This goes for attendees, participants, sponsors, judges, and organizers alike.