1971 Lamborghini Miura SVJ, auctioned by Bonhams SA (Geneva) in 1997
1964 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III Mulliner Drophead Coupe, as currently listed at The Auto Collections of Las Vegas
By Wallace Wyss
Gooding Auction Co., in their 2012 Pebble Beach auction, will have a 427 Cobra for sale that, if you look it up by serial number, you come across pictures of it at an earlier offering four years ago that shows it with a different color and different equipment.
Obviously some later owner returned the car to its original white, and took off the sidepipes that gave it that S/C look. I think this is one more sign that many classic car connoisseurs are realizing that indulging in temporarily customizing their car to look like a more famous one is a fool’s errand and ultimately hurts the value of their car. True, a 427 S/C is a more exciting car than a smooth hood 427 Cobra that may have even come with a 428 (a practice Shelby indulged in “if he thought you were a weenie,” according to Al Dowd, his right hand man). But who are you fooling with various registries listing the cars by serial number and showing how they came originally.
Many Cobras, now that they are proving to fetch prices upwards of $400,000 - are going back to the original look as well. Gone is the practice of painting them candy apple colors, flaring the wheelwells for a competition look when they were street cars, and generally trying to make them more macho than they already are.
Some are a bit of a puzzler. Bruce Meyer’s Cobra, only the second Cobra built, has some updates but those are justifiable because during its 50-year life, that Cobra has been a street car, a race car, and back again. So all he had to do was look at the pictures of it in its various incarnations, pick one look and hand that picture to the restorer (Mike McCluskey of Torrance,CA ). If the car can be documented to have looked like that “back in the day” I say, go for it!
I do grant two exceptions - that is if the owner of the car sent it back to the factory and had it modified by the factory in close proximity to when the car was originally made. An example of this would be the SVJ Miura that the Shah of ordered. Now when you are a ruler, or potentate of some type, the last thing you want is the same car like the doctor or lawyer down the street. You want something special. So it was that, to park alongside his regular SV, the Shah had another car modified with brake bents behind the front and rear wheel arches, fixed headlights behind Perspex, chin spoiler, single pantograph windscreen wiper, bonnet and door slats removed, one off white interior and, oh yes, snow tires for those ski trips in St. Moritz. This car can be documented, so it’s a factory built custom, thus there should be no points off at the toniest of concours. Since it is so documented as “factory,” it would be a crime to take it back to stock SV specs. It has passed through some interesting hands since, including Nick Cage and is now in the near half million dollar range.
Now when the time lapse between when it was sold and when it was modified is not just a few years but decades, I got a more of a beef but I suppose I’ll have to accept the Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III drophead coupe made for Prince Jeffri of Brunei. The story on that car was that The Prince got it into his head he wanted a SCIII dhc and never mind the Corniche was now in production. He wanted the old model. So Rolls bought a low mileage four door saloon, re-hired some craftsmen out of retirement and built the darn thing, albeit with a newer suspension with that Citroen-style plumbing. And such additions as an alternator, full air conditioning, a boot mounted CD player and a studding red paint job with Magnolia hide and red piping. It currently is listed at The Auto Collection of Las Vegas without a published price; a chance to owning the “last” Silver Cloud III drophead coupe - I don’t think Rolls Royce would build another one at any price. So the Prince takes possession, decides it wasn’t like the ones he remembered and it is sold off down the road, an out-of-sequence SCIII but still a real one, factory built. So once again it should not be rebodied as per the way it originally was “born” as a four door steel bodied saloon.
Now at Pebble Beach, which I have attended for many years, it is interesting that “the cars with a story” are more likely to win an award than a car that is bone stock the way most of its brethren came off the assembly line. I love those stories of individualized cars. I don’t know if the Delage of Millicent Rogers, an oil heiress, was shown there but her story is one of the best - she ordered a Delage ’37 D8-120 Aerosport Coupe, one of twelve built but still didn’t like the way it turned out so she went to the coachbuilders in Paris, took out her lipstick and made marks on the tailfin and fenders where she wanted the offending parts cut down for a more rakish look. If the deviation from stock can be documented as done by the factory or coachbuilder (and you can bet Pebble Beach competitors come equipped with scrapbooks to show their car’s history and provenance) it makes the car more interesting.
There are some marques though, that may never see a wholesale march back to originality and I cite as a case in point the DeTomaso Pantera. The Giugiaro-designed Mangustas, their svelte predecessor, have already marched back to original for the most part, even though the original engine in the Mangusta was a low-born Ford 302 “industrial engine,” a low-revving pushrod iron block iron head V8 that was totally unsuited for an exotic-looking sports car. But there are only 400 or so Mangustas so it is already too rare a car to bastardize with customizing.
Now the Pantera is a horse of another color. Same brand, newer "mass market" model. They made between 7000 and 10,000 of them, so they are rather common compared to other rare cars (like a total of 1485 for Gullwing Mercedes). They came with an iron heads iron block engine right off the Mustang parts shelves, not tuned for a sports car, and many owners, perhaps 75% of the American owners, switched to an aluminum intake manifold and a Holley four barrel. Many suppliers started up to make hot rod parts, including Hall Pantera, and more recently P.I. Motorsports in Orange, CA. If you go to the website of P.I. Motorsports, you see lots of Panteras for sale but quite few all-original ones. Why? Because it was an oddball sports car, Ford was trying to make a high performance exotic sports car for the common man at a common man price (roughly $10,000 in 1971). So Ford cut a few corners on the materials - iron block, iron heads, iron intake manifold, yadda yadda. It was up to the customers to get together and get parts that could extract the performance out of the car you expect in a sports car. The result? You don’t see Panteras at Pebble Beach, or at many other concours as they are too "hot rodded."
Ironically though another Italian-American hybrid, the Iso Grifo, has raced right past the Panteras in value because their owners are bringing their cars back to stock, though they too, spent some time in purgatory as "customs." Current value of a long nose Giugiaro-designed Iso Grifo is above $350,000 if it's been restored. But then too you have to figure in the rarity, 413 in total.
Will those Pantera owners follow the Iso owner and return to originality as the CSX2000 and CSX3000 owners are doing? Not likely because then they would lose so much performance in their cars. The only Panteras I can see rising to above the $150,000 level are factory GT4 racing cars that can be documented, and the factory targas that DeTomaso farmed out to Pavesi.
And so it is - certain pockets of enthusiasts are dedicating themselves to the task of making their collector cars “original looking” again while others will have to be dragged there kicking and screaming because they are still in the I-like-it-my-way “Kustom” phase.
What say you?
Wallace Wyss is writing the second in his Ferrari Hunter mystery series while still in search of a literary agent.