Crippen Mergers & Acquisitions Dept

Photo 1One of the interesting things about cable TV is its capability of creating a cottage industry. What’s happening now is an explosion of sites restoring “classic” objects that seem to be more desirable than those contemporary, certainly more valuable. “Ricks Restorations” (History Channel), will restore just about anything to pristine condition including old tricycles and kids wagons.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in the restoration of “classic” automobiles. An increasing number of cable sites send guys out like zombies seeking brains. No garage or barn anywhere is safe from prying eyes and you’d be surprised at some of the cars found in such areas.

Amiable zanies from “Fast n’ Loud” (Discovery Channel) spend every day scouring the countryside for barn cars, even in pieces, to flip and sell for huge profits. Wayne Carini from “Chasing Classic Cars” (Velocity Channel) spends each episode finding incredible things. Check out the prices of his restored cars from his website:

Inconceivable though it may sound, there are a LOT of cars sitting in garages and barns simply forgotten until the original owner (always a male) died and their wives want to clean out the garage.

A 1974 Studebaker V8 parked in a garage with a cover on it. The recently deceased owner drove the car 40 miles a year and his wife could only enter the vehicles shoeless. Total 7,600 miles after 41 years. Other than stale gas, the car was pristine with all original paperwork. Wayne pulled out his checkbook and told the lady to name her price.

Wayne found a Ferrari 330 GTS parked in a garage since the 60s. The owner (a doctor) drove it for a while, then it broke something in the engine, so it sat for 40 years. Cost new in 1967 was about US$7,000. Price at auction after restoration, went for just under US$3,000,000.

In the 60s, the average Ford or Chevrolet cost under US$3,000. Most or all of the usually foreign “sports” models were twice that, unaffordable for most in that era. Now it has become incredibly profitable to find, fix, restore barn cars and sell them for incredible prices at the many auctions seen on cable TV. Virtually all are totally unaffordable for anyone that works for a living now.

If anyone ever thought they could have a 60s or 70s twelve cylinder Ferrari, they can forget it now. They’re all over a million dollars. A 250 GTS once owned by Steve McQueen went recently for just under ten million dollars. Pre-1974 Porsche 356 series now routinely go for over US$100,000. 60’s Corvettes fully restored cannot be had for anything under US$80,000.

I can’t afford anything like that, nor would I spend that kind of money for something that might cause me severe financial issues if anything untoward happened to it. Plus, I can forget about obtaining insurance for anything like a US$100,000 car even if I could afford it. I would be terrified to drive it in Pittsburgh traffic even if I could afford the maintenance and upkeep. These are toys for people that don’t pay enough taxes.

So what’s a “car guy” to do?

There are creative options for having fun with “classic” vehicles affordably. One is to collect “classic” motorcycles, all of which can be restored to near perfection affordably and ridden safely. But if you’re just into cars, there are affordable “classic” cars out there if one does the research, and I found one.

Forget about Ferraris and Porsches. I found a “poor man’s Porsche”, 1974 Karmann-Ghia convertible, completely restored from the ground up, a Southern California car (with papers) with no rust anywhere. I had an independent mechanic that does evaluations go over the car and he gave it an “A” rating. (PHOTO 1)

The Karmann Ghia is a true “sports car” built by Volkswagen but styled by Luigi Segre of the Italian designer Ghia and hand-built bodywork by the German coachbuilder Karmann. It has all the right curves and is a comfortable driving car but underpowered, a 50 hp Beetle engine.

The Karmann was not meant to be a hot rod, but more reliable and less expensive maintenance. A 15,000-mile service on a Ferrari requires pulling the engine and costs US$10,000. Service on the Karmann requires changing the oil and filter, under 50 bucks.

The price for the Karmann, especially the classy convertible hasn’t entered the ionosphere yet, but there is an increasing interest in them because the Porsche 356 prices continue to go up with no end in sight. There will be more of the Karmanns entering the market as they are found and restored and those prices will escalate as well. I’m starting to see some beautiful restored models advertised at prices around US$30,000. This for a car that cost $4000 new.

I got an excellent deal for this car, purchase price negotiated by a very knowledgeable professional car restoration friend here in Pittsburgh. The insurance for everything, liability collision and other damage or theft is equally affordable and I can get an “Antique” license plate, obviating the car from yearly State inspections. As you can see from the photos, the car is absolutely pristine. Original Blaupunkt radio and wood steering wheel.

Everyone that fiddles with these cars does something to increase the engine power. But there’s a limit thereof. Edward van Halen regularly blew up Marshall amplifiers by dialing a variac transformer to more voltage to the tubes. Similarly, it’s possible to get into trouble by overpowering a car meant to handle a paltry 50 horsepower.

These engines are frequently replaced with Porsche engines that fit perfectly. However, a serviceable 356 engine is increasingly hard to find and expensive. Porsche 912 engines triple the horsepower but they’re heavy, expensive and the suspension would have to be modified to handle the increased power.

I’m not particularly interested in those options. This car is not meant to be a hot rod. It’s a comfortable, cool, beautiful driving car. The engine just needs a little help.

Some of you may remember the “Judson Supercharger” from the 60s that was especially built for the VW engines. (PHOTO 2) It was a bolt-on device that doubles the horsepower while adding no appreciable weight. They don’t make them anymore and used, restored ones are very hard to find. I have some feelers out but it’s probably unlikely I will find one.

Failing that, the original engine is very little different than the baseline Porsche 356 (PHOTO 3) I can replace the stock single throat carburetor with twin double throat Weber carburetors positioned on either side of the engine combined with a low restriction exhaust system (PHOTO 4). This is basically the 356 setup anyway and would increase the horsepower to about 60, which the original Porsche 356A had as stock. That would probably do the job. If a Judson becomes available, it would actually increase the value of the car considerably.

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