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AUTO ENTERPRISES “NEW CAR” DEPARTMENT

Fiat was going to have our spanking new cars to us by the first of May. In the allocation would be two of the popular 124 spiders, three of the 124 coupes, and several 850 spiders and coupes. And we had a more than decent offering of used cars. We were faintly beginning to resemble a retail automobile operation.

Then, one afternoon toward the end of April, I returned to the agency, and there was a beautiful dark blue Ferrari 275 GTB/4 parked in front of the showroom with the hood up. Someone was working on it. As I walked up to the car there was Tom Conte with his ever present Winston, long screwdriver in hand, air cleaner top off, fine tuning the 6 Webers.

           “Wow, where did this come from?” I asked.

           “Luigi Chinetti. I went up there yesterday, and bought this one and a red one for “T.”

           “It looks brand new . . .”

         “It is. Chinetti cut me a good deal, buying two of them. These cars are dynamite to drive! I just need to fine tune it a bit, and push a little more lead into the distributors.”
Chapter 11
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Both the company principals had treated themselves to brand new Ferrari 275 GTB/4’s! I had to firmly remember that the two of them were the “money” in the deal, and I was, after all, an employee.

Still, Tom was my drag racing pal from the fifties, and I felt a little left behind. He’d almost been a Dad to me back in those days, and my easy flair for the dramatic allowed me to believe that Tom had adopted “T” as a new “son”.

Of course, at that time I was driving the LWB Ferrari California, 0935, so I wasn’t exactly schlepping around in a VW Beetle.


THEN, I REALLY STEPPED OFF THE EDGE . . .


The very next morning I received a telephone call from Edgar Jurist at the Vintage Car Store. Ed was aware of our new agency coming together, and the drama at Algar. I was visiting with him at least weekly, and continuing to assimilate a lot of his marketing methods. I could immediately tell from the tone of his voice coming down the line that a serious sales pitch was coming my way.

         “Listen, White . . .  Jesus, I’ve got this amazing Ferrari that just came in. It’s breathtaking! It’s definitely something you’ll need to have down there for your new deal.


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This son of a bitch was a Ferrari factory team race car. It ran at Le Mans a few years ago. Get up here White, this one’s for you, I swear! It’s called a 250 LMB. It looks like a racing Lusso, but with nose and grille opening like a 250 GTO; V-12, 6 Webers. You can’t imagine the sound this thing makes; it’ll rip your heart out; get up here . . .”

He was asking $5,800.

(Well, the” LMB” nomenclature was totally lost on me . . . Jurist may as well have been speaking to me in idioglossia. I had no idea what the hell kind of Ferrari he was talking about, but Jurist was a heck of a salesman, and there was no easier mark for a salesman than another salesman . . .)

And so the next day, I got to the Vintage Car Store in the late morning, and there was this “Ferrari LMB” sitting out front. Boy, was it ever a race car! It looked like it had finished Le Mans a few hours ago.

(. . . Okay, let’s clear this up right now. The car was serial #4713 and it had finished sixth overall at Le Mans in 1963 with Masten Gregory and David Piper. In May of 1964, Bob Grossman had brought the car first overall at Bridgehampton. Actually, Grossman raced #4713 several times.

My friend and neighbor, David Penske’s brother, Roger, had brought the car eighth at the Tourist Trophy race at Goodwood in August of 1963. Further, the car was, in fact, a legitimate 250 GTO! But in 1968, that fact would have been of little consequence . . .)

The paint on the LMB was definitely the Ferrari factory finish; that wonderful warm red that only the factory could put down quickly, often on the very night before any comp car had to leave for the track. The car sat very low to the ground, with a very aggressive, yet beautiful stance. There were nicks, chips, a few soft dents around the body.

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Jurist came out and began to pitch the car to me. I wasn’t really listening to him as I was completely fascinated with the Ferrari. The trailing panels of the front and rear wheel houses had substantial GTO style louvers, and there were odd, raised, shallow, horizontal vents above the rear wheel openings. The “greenhouse”, (that is to say the glass area), bore a strong resemblance to a Lusso Berlinetta, but from the windshield forward the car was a GTO. Except for the windshield itself, the balance of the windows were lightweight Plexiglas in very light frames. And, though a competition GT Ferrari, it was left hand drive.

         “There’s a dealer tag on it,” said Jurist, “Take it out, drive it. Go on get in.”

I opened the driver’s door which was as flimsy as anything. It was very thin alloy, with just a trace of trim on the inside. The entire interior layout was best described as stark. I eased myself into the thin wraparound driver’s seat. The steering wheel, though a bit of a reach, was right where it should be. The drive tunnel was high, and the shift lever caught your attention, as it was quite “up there” tall, topped by a magnificent, almost oversized, polished aluminum ball. The exposed fuse and wiring junction board was easily accessed right there in the passenger compartment foot well.

When I closed the door the resulting clamor sounded like I may have damaged something. Every sound made in the confines of the car seemed exaggerated.



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I spun the key around, found what might be the fuel pump switch and watched the wipers engage jerkily. The next switch over brought a noisy but steady clicking from the fuel pump. As the ticking slowed, I drove home the key, and the starter unleashed that powerful steady whine that all Ferrari starters of that period emit. Almost immediately, the V-12 lit off in what could only be described as a glorious symphony.

The cacophony of mechanical engagement coming from that Ferrari engine is nearly impossible to put into words. And then there was the faint hissing of the six Webers, and finally the exhaust coming to your ears as it only can in a closed race car, all of that at a staggering decibel level.

Jurist was at the curb, mouthing on about something which I couldn’t begin to hear. I eased the car into first gear, and in a surprisingly smooth maneuver pulled away from the curb, and started down Broadway in Nyack. The car was fantastically nimble with an impeccably ratioed gearbox, easily managed clutch, and very sharp steering in spite of the elderly Good Year Blue Streak tires. The engine was a bit balky and spitty going block to block in Nyack.

At the end of Broadway I looped myself on to Route 9 south, and that opened on to a stretch of the little used two lane highway south.  I gave the throttle a poke in second gear. The surge of power was impressive, if slightly ragged until the revs hit just above 3,500, and then the car took off like a shot. The noise all through the car was incredible up to the point where the engine came up on its power curve. Then it leveled out into the most wonderful high pitched, brain numbing mechanical shriek.

The cams had gathered up their skirts, and the air volume through the Webers came to terms with the fuel being dumped into the venturis. The entire automobile became not only wickedly fast; it did so in the most cohesive fashion. The whole experience was, in fact, so explosively swift and seamless, you could easily run the tachometer telltale needle right off the numbers.
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“Exquisite” is a word that should be used sparingly, but it certainly applied to that experience. In all the years I’ve test driven cars, I don’t believe I have ever had another ride like it. I couldn’t give the car up. I drove that Ferrari all the way to the Palisades Parkway before I came out of the ether and realized I’d better take the damn thing back to the Vintage Car Store.

On the return trip, I attempted to throw some logic toward what was transpiring. What was Jurist’s urgency in selling this competition Ferrari to me? He had had all types of racing cars in there. Why did he want to hustle this particular Ferrari off to me in such a rush? When I returned, we sat down and I reined in my feelings for the car a bit.


         “Boy, that thing is noisy. Who the heck could put up with that kind of racket? It goes down the road OK, but the car is so damn “used up”.


           “I’m curious though, why you’re not keeping it to sell right here?” I asked.
Jurist said:  “I’m buying another World War II B-24 overseas and I’ve got a broad enough selection of inventory at the moment.”


So, there I was, at a very difficult moment. The purchase of that car would take me into very deep water. It was inconceivable that I should purchase a clapped out race car a few days before our brand new agency opened!

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         Who the hell ever heard of buying an old Ferrari race car?
         Why would anyone want one? What would you do with it?

But, something tugged at me in a very insistent fashion. The excitement of that old Ferrari race car was too much to walk away from. Somebody else in this damn world had to have the heart and soul to have the same reaction to that old warhorse that I had.

#4713 GT Credit:arthomeobiles:FR
I knew I wasn’t going home without taking a shot at it.

         “I’m going to take leave of my senses long enough to offer you $5,000 . . .” I said.

         “I told you $5,800, I’ll take $5,500.” Jurist shot back.

       “No, I’m actually coming out of my coma at this point. I’m sorry I even said $5,000, but I said it, and that’s what I’ll pay . . .”

         “$5,300.” Jurist said.

         “And you’ll deliver it on a rollback tomorrow, yes?”

        Jurist nodded his head;

      “You were a nice boy White . . . right up to the time you came into this business!   Pay me, and get off my property!”

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We both smiled, shook hands.

The following morning, I began to lose my nerve with my purchase of the car, and my head became a firestorm of conflicting thoughts. There was so much that said that the Ferrari purchase was just plain frivolous. I’d spent too much time with Hans Tanner’s book and hanging around the Ferrari pits and garages at Sebring, Bridgehampton, etc. and now I was dragging home one of the actual old racers from all of those past adventures! That thinking and a bunch of tangential mind bending thoughts were making a mess of my decision.

When I got to the showroom, “T” was in a dark mood, and Tom was nowhere to found. Maybe the truck would never show up and the check would magically turn to dust before Jurist deposited it!

I went in to my office and Larry McManus came strolling in about 10:30 enjoying one of his often present cigarettes.

You don’t know Larry yet, but he was a good friend of “T’s” and a really good guy with a wonderful sense of humor, and he could sell you a car pretty quickly.

His pal, Bill Harmer another grand character and an excellent car salesman would soon join us. Larry was a world class Irish partier, and he claimed to have suffered from narcolepsy, which he was prone to lapse into at the most appropriate, boring times. I told Larry what I’d done with Jurist. The two of us were the working stiffs in the joint, so we shared camaraderie not available to higher management. 


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Larry thought the LMB purchase was a splendid piece of business; he was already bored to tears with the prospect of having to sell Fiats every day.

I set to writing a strong ad for the coming Sunday New York Times, and the day wore on. Around three in the afternoon, the truck rolled up and the Ferrari was off- loaded.

It looked even more bedraggled than it had in Nyack. It was drawing lookers though, and suddenly T came through from the rear of the showroom, got to the front door, stopped, and put his hands on his hips and turned his head straight back to me standing in the doorway of my office, and said:

         “What the fuck is that?”

    “It’s a Ferrari 250 LMB; it raced at Le Mans, and finished well. I bought it from Jurist yesterday . . .”

         “You’re joking . . .”

         “No, it’s an unbelievable car . . . Blah, blah, blah”

         Without even walking out to look at it, he turned to me and said;
 
     “You’ve got two weeks to sell that, that…whatever it is, and after that it’s your car, not the company’s car . . .”

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Awkward silence all around . . .

Larry said not to worry . . . “T” popped off like that all the time.

But, in fact, “T” was completely right to have gone off the hook.

Was this the first old competition car on the planet that had been bought for resale? Of course not, but it had been bought by a completely unseasoned “dealer,” who possessed no more than a sketchy, academic knowledge of the car. Further, I had just purchased said vehicle as an employee of a brand new, scratch operation that was just getting its footing.

Auto Enterprises was a totally unknown entity at the time, and I had will-nilly gone out and spent a substantial amount of money on an old, Italian racer, that my gut said I could resell!

It was to T’s credit that he gave me the two weeks to sell it!

Late that afternoon, Tom came in, looked over the LMB, and listened to what had transpired, smiled, and made an interesting comment. He looked me right in the eye, as he always did, and said:

         “It’ll sell kid; I’m glad you went with your gut . . .Oh, and your Ferrari’ is over in the service department” Tom said.

          “My Ferrari?”

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FERRARI 275 GTB/4 #9501


(I know . . . the whole saga of these opening days of Auto Enterprises is almost beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Common sense seemed to have left the building and was spending it’s time in Cisco’s bar next door.)

. . . So here we have Kirk, who has just put his latest Ferrari LMB bauble in the showroom, and, yes folks, he’s being handed another shiny new toy car for no earthly reason whatsoever! . . .

The GTB/4 #9501 had about 500 miles on it and was a sand beige metallic color, with a black leather interior. The car was remarkably striking in that color, and the lines of the GTB were well highlighted with the soft gold paint. Standing there talking with Tom, I noticed that there was a seam right at the top of the A pillar; in fact there was an identical one on the other A pillar. The seams ran the short distance from the top of the windshield post diagonally to the leading edge of the rain gutter.

Further scrutiny revealed seams on the trailing edge of either extended drip rail back to each of the top corners of the rear window frame. Difficult to explain in print, so have a look at the accompanying photographs.
Ferrari #9501 Roof Seams
It appeared the roof itself had possibly been cut out and a replacement panel set in place with open seams.
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But, why were they there on a “new” Ferrari?? The roofs on both Tom and T’s cars were not seamed, and the drip rails were considerably shorter on their cars. Tom didn’t know why the roof was that way either, but the cars were irrevocably new.

(. . .You can’t imagine how long it was before I learned that all alloy bodied GTB’s had free floating roofs, and that only 16 of the 275 GTB/4’s were ever built in aluminum!  And, the reason was that the factory felt, (or, possibly knew,) that torsional twist to the chassis might well result in a kink with a rigid aluminum roof panel. . .)

Ferrari #9501 as it is today.

“THOSE GUYS OVER IN FLOURTOWN . . .”

As a fledgling company that hadn’t even opened its doors yet, we were rapidly becoming known throughout the Philadelphia area as a repository for esoteric and “unusual” European automobiles. So, if a “normal” automobile dealer in the Philadelphia area in the spring of 1968 was presented with a trade in the form of most any Italian, French, or obscure British or German cars, they were discovering that there were a couple of young guys in Flourtown that were willing to take a crack at it.

Hell, they were advertising in the damn newspapers that they’d buy these whacko cars! It wasn’t long until the calls started to come in from a great many sources.

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If a car was too “wooly” or we were really in the dark with an automobile we’d take it “on the arm.”

(People often ask: what does “on the arm” or “on the cuff” mean? Many years ago, city bars and taverns, in addition to offering free lunches, offered informal credit to customers. In that era the bartenders wore stiffly starched white, dress shirts, neckties, etc. So when a customer finished his drink or meal, and was leaving he’d say to the barkeep: “Put it on the arm, Harry” or “put it on the cuff.”  And, with the stub of a pencil the bartender would jot it on his starched sleeve or cuff.)

A week or two after I got the GTB/4 Ferrari, T had gone to Newport, Rhode Island for a family do and gone in to visit Jake Kaplan’s foreign car emporium. Jake was the United States distributor for Lamborghini, and he had a brand new European P400 Miura on the floor in that sensational “electric” chartreuse color that was all the talk in 1968. The Miuras were not yet available in the United States. Lamborghini had a made a big fuss about the paint in the press. It was said that the chartreuse paint was “electrostatically” charged and it had an unbelievable depth to it. Visually it was stunning.

        “You should paint that gold 4 cam that color. It would be outstanding . . .” “T” said.

After listening to “T” describe the color, in such glowing terms, I took the gold Ferrari to the legendary Molin Body Works in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Molin was known for their unbelievably high quality of work, and for their stunning prices. Their shop had to have been the originator of the great shop slogan: “If You Wanna’ Roll Well, You’re Gonna’ Pay Well.”


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Jim Soley ran the shop, Harry Tidmarsh was the metal man, and Billy Mc Glade was the lead painter. The shop did all of Roger Penske’s racing cars, and the superb pin striper, and graphics maestro, Larry Schoppett also worked out of the Molin Body Works, often in the company of his buddy John Surotchak.

I went to see Jim Soley and broached the idea of painting the GTB/4 in the Lamborghini chartreuse. The crew at Molin liked the idea. They were anxious to see if the paint was all that it was cracked up to be. So, I had the car finished in that brilliant shade. And, boy was it spectacular!

(“Quel dommage!”…” I know, I know, ‘Glenside punk hot rodder destroys Ferrari 275 GTB/4 with less than a thousand miles’.  . . . No Classiche papers for that bastard!! . . . And, we’re not kidding!! . . .”)

The car was a knockout, and there may be a few of you who remember it today.
                
What a magnificent Ferrari that GTB/4 was. I drove it nearly every day for a long, long, time. . .

         (March 13, 2010: Amelia Island Florida . . . at the RM auction Saturday midday, Ferrari, serial #9501 sold for the modest sum of, $1,265,000!!)


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The car had been in the hands of Wayne Sparling and his wife for many years, and they had driven the Ferrari everywhere. They never trailered the car anywhere! RM Auctions, in the summer of 2009 held a large party celebrating an important anniversary. Wayne and his wife drove the Ferrari over the road from their home in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to Toronto, Canada. When questioned about the wisdom of a drive like that in such an elderly Ferrari, Wayne told the questioner, that there was nothing that could go wrong with that Ferrari that he could not repair with the tools that he had in the factory tool roll!!  #9501, in and of itself, has to be among the most truly enjoyed road Ferraris of all time!

PS: (Casual as anything, at dinner, the evening following the auction, Charlie Knopf, my old high school, hot rod buddy, mentioned he had actively bid 9501 to $1,000,000! I told you, I had really taught Charlie well! . . .)


SATURDAY, APRIL 27, 1968


We were now just one week away from our “Grand Opening.” I was amazed at the number of people we were getting through the agency, some only to admire the European cars, others having been told about the place, some just curious about a new business opening in the tiny village of Flourtown. .

More than a few visitors were responding to the substantial ads I’d been running in the New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Evening Bulletin. For the Philadelphia papers, our consistent, elaborate, classified advertising we were putting out there was proving to be considerably more appealing than the general run of Philadelphia automobile agency advertisements.

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Almost immediately we sold our first Fiat 124 Spider; we asked the customer to please bring it to the opening party since 124 spiders were so hard to get. Later that same day we sold an 850 Fiat Spider.

Ever since the Algar “divorce,” I’d been watching the newspapers for Algar’s ads, and they had reverted back to merely announcing where they were located and that they were authorized dealers for “blah, blah” . . . Oh, and, of course, they were: “United States Distributors for Lancia” .

I was anxious to see the following Sunday New York Times as Auto Enterprises would be running a substantial ad for our newly acquired inventory and the Ferrari 250 LMB would be the highlight . . . (well, for some of us . . .).  I had priced the car at $7,800.

Very late in the day Saturday, Bill Reardon walked in. Reardon was a wonderfully engaging man who really knew his sports cars, and had owned a good many Ferrari automobiles. He was also one of Al Garthwaite’s closest friends, and very much part of the tight knit group of Main Line sports car elitists. Having said that let me add that Bill was truly a great guy, and fun to be with.

(As a quick aside, on an earlier Saturday afternoon just a week after I had started with the dealership, Bill Reardon was at Algar visiting with Garthwaite, and his 275GTB was parked in a spot where I needed it moved to get another car out. I asked Mr. Reardon to move it, and he tossed me the keys, asking me if I’d mind doing it. I could barely believe he’d done that; I mean, it was a nearly new GTB, and here he was throwing his keys to the new kid? I crawled nervously in the car, got somewhat settled, started the engine, depressed the clutch, glanced out the windows and reached for the gearshift. Instead of the shift lever I smartly moved the neck of Mr. Reardon’s ever present Rolling Rock Beer bottle into “first gear,” thus spilling his beer around the cockpit and myself!! I moved the car quickly and mopped up the spilled beer, and no one was the wiser.)

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So here in Flourtown after some small talk back and forth, Reardon said;

         “I’m told you’ve got a Ferrari Le Mans car here.”

          “We do. It’s a 250 LMB.”

On the way over to the service department to see the LMB  we ran into “T” who chided Bill for being sent over to see what we were up to here in Flourtown.

Reardon looked over the LMB quite carefully, asked me to start it, listened, and we wandered back to the showroom. Bill came back inside with me and motioned me toward my office, asking what we were asking for the car.

I told him $7,800.

And he bought it! I was thunderstruck! It had to be the greatest single sale moment of my life. It was the stuff that dreams are made of!

The best aspect of Bill Reardon, buying the car was, he would drive the wheels off it and really enjoy it. I asked Bill if he would leave the Ferrari with us for the opening party the following week and he said:

“Oh sure, it’ll take, who knows how long, to figure out a peaceful way to let my wife know what I’ve done.” 


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The next day, I collected my Sunday New York Times, and went straight to the Auto Enterprises advertisement in the back of the Sports Section. It was a tall ad in the Classifieds and Gloria had really laid it out well. A small spark inside me said maybe we were at least in sight of the right track, with all this craziness.

Early Monday morning, the moment I came through the door our office manager Emily, said she had just gotten off the phone with a gentleman who was most anxious to speak with someone in sales.

She said he had been polite, but quite insistent. His name was Carl Bross.  I rang Mr. Bross, and with a decided edge of seriousness Bross inquired about the LMB. He was genuinely let down by the fact that it had been sold.

He said he would almost certainly have bought the car. He told me that he had an extensive collection of vintage European racing cars, including Ferraris, Maseratis, early Alfa Romeos, an ERA, a Talbot Lago Gran Prix car, etc. He lived in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a quite upscale neighborhood just outside Detroit.

He was good friends with Richard Merritt, Fred Leydorff and others who were the founding members of the Ferrari Club of America.

He said he had been following our Sunday New York Times ads, through the switch out from Algar to Auto Enterprises. He had very nearly guessed precisely what had transpired in the changeover. Mr. Bross, in no uncertain terms, stated that he was, and would continue to be a very strong buyer for vintage competition cars. In fact, he went on to say, that for any really significant European competition car, or coachbuilt thoroughbred automobile, he’d like to be called first, when a top car became available, and he would try to buy it at my price.


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The thin, high line end of the European car business had already produced its share of, shall we say, unusual characters, along with some true whackos, but Mr. Carl Bross sounded like the real thing. His thinking positioned him right at the head of my list!



THE FIRST WEEK OF MAY, 1968


We were now rolling quickly right up to the opening, Saturday, May 4. Tom Conte had really pitched in with getting the place open and it seemed any little thing that needed doing, Tom got it done. T had really pulled it all together and the place really was terrific.

The showroom was set back and raised up from the street to a height of 4 feet with smooth macadam sloping twenty-five or so feet down to the street level. There was enough width to the building that we could back six or seven cars right up against the showroom, giving the cars terrific exposure with a healthy tilt.

We sold a few more Fiats that week, and again I was astonished at the floor traffic that came through the place, people having either read the ads or having heard about it from others. We had uncrated a number of the SCAF electric children’s Ferrari 330 P’s and the Ford GT 40’s and had them in strategic spots in the showroom.


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Toward the end of the week, we set the showroom automobiles for the Opening, and Ronnie Tzirlin and Ray Cardonick came by to say hello and wish us good luck. Both of the wholesalers took in the whole place. I was careful to observe their reactions. Those two were becoming my go to wholesale “car” guys. I would continue to learn from pros like them. If you could be nearby when they were buying or selling you could pick up useful tidbits of knowledge. They lived by their wits, knew their cars, kept it simple, and didn’t make many mistakes.


SATURDAY, MAY 4, 1968


Very early that morning coming in the showroom, the place had the aroma of automobiles, and in the early light it just all looked “right.” Throughout the day a good many people came by, and by late afternoon the place was buzzing with people. Just before the party was to begin; I came out of my office and just stopped for a moment, to take it all in. It was an amazing sight, this brand new little operation, gathered up by a couple of rookies, and our savvy pal Tom Conte. The Ferrari LMB, still in its old war paint, had a real warmth to it as it sat in the showroom centered among the glittering new and newer cars. We had also been successful in bringing in a magnificent Ferrari 340 Mexico on consignment.
Ferrari 340 Mexico


Certainly some of that “warm feeling” emanating from that Ferrari 250LMB was the fact that it had been sold!

The following day, Sunday May, 5 I was launching my first “Wanted” ad in the New York Times, hoping to raise up a few more “Cinderella” race cars.
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The entire episode with that Ferrari LMB, and the perfect movie script way it had unfolded was unquestionably the beginning of my endless quest for these early, rare, and very special competition cars of all kinds.


EVENING OF MAY 4, 1968, THE OPENING PARTY!


The evening of the opening was a gem. It was a perfect, clear, warm spring evening. So many people were coming through the door, that I could hardly believe it.

At about 6:30 I was standing inside the showroom visiting with a nice young couple. They had driven all the way from West Chester after hearing about Auto Enterprises from someone who had received an invitation to the party.

They were afraid they might be asked to leave, not having an invitation themselves, yet they had risked an hour’s drive to see the cars they’d heard about. That made a mighty impression on me, and to this day that very small incident has always stayed with me.

No matter how big we got for our britches, it was always going to be about reaching the people with an interest in the automobiles.

Among other preparations, we had clearly posted that the street area directly in front of the showroom would not be used for parking. In the midst of my pleasant chat with the couple, I watched the “outlaws” from Algar Enterprises drive up, pretty as you please, ignore our signs, and park directly in front of the showroom hoping to swing all the attention away from our little celebration to their very slick “Main Line” rides.

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Their little scheme may have had a chance of working, except that Al Garthwaite was leading their exotic parade of three cars in a Ferrari 330 GTC, and he stopped a bit abruptly. “Henny” Hamilton following closely behind Garthwaite in a white Maserati Ghibli banged straight into the rear of Garthwaite’s GTC. Jose’ de Pedroso, bringing up the rear, remained the elegant gentleman he always was, safely parking his automobile well behind the obviously “over refreshed” Garthwaite, and Hamilton.

Everyone at the party enjoyed the two teetering gents examining the damage done to their Ferrari and Maserati!

That was a wonderfully awkward moment that Auto enterprises couldn’t have bought for love, nor money! The Algar people were warmly welcomed. After such a remarkable show, we were just thrilled to have them there!


AND, SO TO WORK . . .


The business took right off. Larry and I were turning cars out to customers quickly, and we began to function as a tidy little retail automobile sales business with just enough service to pay the bit of overhead across the street in the “cold, stone barn.”  I had continued with my “Wanted” ads in the Times and the Philadelphia papers.
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The third week we were open, a tall, older, weathered, cowboy lookin’ guy came through the door moments before closing. He looked around, talked like he was from Texas, and allowed as how we had:

“. . . a real fine lookin’ place here. I been seein’ your ads in the New York Sunday Times. I’m an antique dealer in the New Hope area. Anyway, I got me an ol’ Ferrari Testa Rossa up there, out in my barn.”

         “You guys got any interest in somethin’ like that?”

Grant shot me a look that pretty much said: “No, absolutely not, but thanks so much for coming in, and when you need a new Fiat, sensible Porsche or Jaguar, we want you to think of Auto Enterprises!”

         “Tell me a little bit about it.” I said.

       “It ain’t but a little bitty thing. White, with a blue, I guess, racing stripe down the middle of it. Got two, vinyl lookin’ seats, shifter’s on the drive tunnel. No windows, or top or nothin’. . .”

        “Is the engine, twelve cylinders?” I asked.

        “Nah, I told ya’ it’s a little ‘bitty thing, four cylinders.”

        “No, I don’t think we’d be interested, but we’ll keep it mind.” I said. Grant was visibly relieved.


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“I got other old cars up there, another Italian car; it’s called somethin’ like an Ossa, or other. I’m in the Antique furniture business, an’ I don’t need those cars sittin’ around.”

        “How much is the Ferrari?” I asked.

         “It’s $1,200 . . .”
Ferrari 500 TRC
I looked at Grant, and detected a flicker of interest, both of us figuring you couldn’t buy a Fiat 850 coupe for $1,200. Hell, you could barely buy one of T’s SCAF children’s cars for that kind of money!

“We’ll take a ride tomorrow evening after we close. Let me have directions and your phone number.” I said, intentionally trying to drag T into this adventure with me, as I wanted to pump his enthusiasm for these early cars.

That evening I settled into my vast Ferrari research library consisting of my threadbare copy of Hans Tanner’s wonderful tome and crammed what I could on the four cylinder Ferrari racing cars. The next day I talked a reluctant T into going along.

Bill Grimison’s place up in the Bucks County area of Solebury was a treasure trove of many incredibly fine items. Paintings, furniture, half a dozen old cars, motorcycles, engines.
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The Ferrari was a TRC, and it was in “as raced” condition. It was a slick car, super shape to it. Well over 10 years old at that point, it carried a few dings, a cobby interior, and the wire wheels were tatty. Looking the car over, it seemed to be all there. We pushed it outside of the building. Grimison had charged the battery, so I hopped in, and hit the starter.

The engine fired instantly and had a bunch of mechanical clatter to it, but was very responsive to throttle input. Grimison’s place was right off an out of the way road, so I took the TRC for a ride. Running cold, and after its long period of storage it lumped down the road reluctantly. It drove like a low slung stiff old hunk that was masquerading as a sports racing Ferrari. I brought the car back, and we looked at the other items in Grimison’s shop; there were temptations everywhere.

         The “Ossa” turned out to be a small displacement Osca 850 cc racing barchetta.

         “How much is this little thing?”

         “$850, the motor doesn’t run, and I can’t figure out why. Turns over but never will fire.”

I was peering at the Osca engine as he was relating his tale, and I noticed it had a magneto, which may well have had a separate switch to engage it or the magnets may have withered. No real need to mention that at that moment.


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Way off in a corner there was an exquisite little jewel of an engine almost covered under a drop cloth and some old carpeting. It was almost a twin for a 90 inch Offenhauser. Four cylinders, double overhead cams, two Winfield carbs I walked over, lifted the drop cloth and said:

            “What’s this little engine for?”

      “It’s a Miller Marine engine; really rare, made by Harry Miller in California in the late twenties and it’s $500. . .”

So OK, this old fox wasn’t exactly in the dark. He was plenty savvy and possessed the presence of mind to have gathered up all these splendid items.

I added it up. Grimison wanted $2550 for all three items.

     “Give us a moment,” I said as I motioned “T” outside.

It seemed “T’s” “Manager” was turning into a scrap dealer right before his eyes.  I jumped in and said to T:

“I want to offer him $2,000 for the three items. I’ll keep the Miller engine for $400 and if the two cars aren’t gone in two weeks, I’ll buy them myself. I’m certain I can sell the Osca to either Otto Linton or Howard Hanna, and the Ferrari will go right away.” On that basis, “T” agreed straightaway.


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I didn’t even know Howard Hanna, and I’d met Otto Linton once very briefly! But, I knew they both liked small displacement sports racers.

(What the hell was I planning to do with a Miller Marine engine, for heaven’s sake?!)

Grimison said he wouldn’t do it at $2,000 but we settled at $2,200.

I drove the TRC back. It was a great spring evening, the car had lights, and it just seemed the perfect time for a drive in an old racer. We clamped on the Dealer tag, and off I went. It was noisy as hell but when the car and its running gear were warmed up, it became great fun to drive. I was amazed at how effective the brakes were, and the front suspension and steering were really very good. The rear suspension was pretty buggy cart like, but a lot of that may have been the old Goodyear Blue Streaks that seemed to be showing up on every Ferrari I found! The engine was grumpy at low RPM, but once you got it all gathered up, it had a lot of torquey push to it. We got back safely; I bought T dinner in the Inn across the street from the agency.

Well, the next morning Otto Linton almost said yes without even seeing the Osca, and then he firmly said yes, he’d buy the little jewel at $1,800 after he saw it, later that afternoon. So, by midday following the purchase, we had a genuine TRC available for sale with absolutely no money in it whatsoever!

I dutifully called Carl Bross, as indeed we had a competition Ferrari on the premises. Bross already had a four cylinder competition Ferrari. But in ascertaining what the TRC was through the serial number, Carl gave me the first of many lessons in Ferrari nomenclature, in this instance informing me that Ferrari factory racing vehicles of the period would carry serial numbers that ended with an even number. The odd numbers applied to (never say the word “all” with Ferraris, Kirk . . .) GT racers, and customer race cars, and the production Ferraris.
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Two days later Bross sent me, in letter form, an elaborate review of our telephone schooling lesson on Ferrari nomenclature. This would mark the beginning of an extraordinary relationship with Carl Bross.

The weekend after I bought it, I sold the TRC to a man who purchased the Ferrari TR for pretty much the same reasons I had. It was just an awful lot of great Italian sports car for $2,200. Interestingly, Tom Conte had looked at the TRC as a bit of “What are we doing with that here?” air, so I was glad to have that one click in and click out, just as the LMB had.

BUT THEN I STUTTERED . . .

Here’s what happened a few weeks later. Buzz Marcus, my classmate at Germantown Academy, and by then a successful automobile dealer over in Glenside, phoned me one day. He had heard about our Ferrari TRC.

        “You know, my top service guy Hap has a Ferrari TRC that he has restored beautifully. He wants to sell it. You should take a drive over here and have a look at it” Buzz said.

A few evenings later I drove over, met Hap, and the car was superb. Hap had restored the Ferrari beautifully. Not over restored, just brought back to the point that a competition car would be as it left the factory. It was really outstanding. The price was $2,500.


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This was not the sort of situation where you wanted to start pushing at the price. He was a young man who had put his heart and soul into this amazing Ferrari, being light years ahead of the pack in recognizing that the old racers warranted preservation.

I had just gotten away with two old Ferraris coming and going quickly at Auto Enterprises, but still had the feeling I might be dancing with the devil with these old racers. I had sold our lumpy, but solid TRC at $2,200. I would have to pay Hap $2,500 for his car and go on to sell it for way up into the three or four thousand dollar range.

        My gut said: “Pay the man, the car’s a movie star!”

The cold light of day was saying, you’ll never be able to sail this past T and Tom, and so, I passed the car. And, to this day, I regret it . . . (almost painful reading some of this isn’t it? It’s even worse writing it! . . .)

Business in the agency with our “real” cars was very good, and I was looking at a number of good European cars for our operation. I had visited a number of the larger domestic dealers on our side of town and asked them to call us with any strong European cars they might have for sale. Surprisingly, most of the dealers did not have a steady outlet for the better foreign automobiles.

I stopped at Pletcher Ford just inside the Philadelphia city limits. They were dealers for the Shelby Cobras and Mustangs. There I met young Jim Pletcher who was a real enthusiast. With him was Shelby’s northeast representative, Ed Casey. Ed thought we should have one of the 428 Cobras (yeah, they were really known as 428’s back then . . .) for sale out at Auto Enterprises. Jim was not keen at all with that idea.

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Less than two months later Ed Casey came to visit me at Auto Enterprises and told me that Shelby was closing down the Northeast operation and if we wanted them we could have the last six new 428 Cobras for $6,000 each!

(. . . My comment to Ed was that if Shelby had been unable to sell those last brand new Cobras at $6,000, it was unlikely that we could!! . . .)

But, I’m getting just a bit ahead of myself here . . .



“THE NEWSLETTER” . . .


We certainly had our share of very quiet times at Auto Enterprises. We finished more than a few days wondering what the hell we’d done, implementing this “European Car Agency” idea. Service issues would crop up, a car would get a bad scratch in the paint out front. Fiat would again tell us that we would not be getting any more 850 or 124 Spiders for 30-45 days, but they would be shipping six additional unwanted 850 coupes.

We had also taken on the Siata Spring roadster line. I, for the life of me, could never get behind the idea of encouraging someone to actually purchase an automobile called a “Spring.”


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Late one afternoon, in late July or early August  I was sitting in my office, long in the face as I don’t believe a soul had come through the door that entire day, and it wasn’t the first day that was devoid of floor traffic.

We had a really appealing cross section of cars on offer. But, on days like that where there was scarcely an ounce of activity; the dark reaches of your mind could easily come forward to say: “maybe it’s only appealing to you Kirk; it certainly wasn’t appealing enough to have drawn a single soul through these doors today was it?”

Finally, late that summer afternoon, I thought the lack of nonstop floor traffic was probably because my imagined audience obviously didn’t know exactly what we really did have in stock.
Further I was certain that no one really knew where in Hell, Flourtown, Pennsylvania was! Yes, we had our ads running in the New York Times and the Philadelphia newspapers, but they were touting just our most esoteric offerings. Basically, the ads were headed toward overly verbose fusillades against the New York establishments; OK, against The Vintage car Store.

Jurist had thought we were lots of fun, up until recently, when we were showing signs of gaining our own footing. So, I sat at my desk and commenced writing it all out for a vast audience that I knew had to be out there.

We needed a Newsletter!

The opening few words of the first newsletter (there’s no such thing as “a few words” with you, Kirk . . .) spelled out who we were, a bit about ourselves, and what Auto Enterprises could offer you, our prospective customer.

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I then included detailed instructions for reaching us from every conceivable direction. I distinctly remember stating in the directions from The Pennsylvania Turnpike, Fort Washington area; you’d drive south on Route 309. I told the reader that if they drove through Flourtown and reached the point where a pasture with grazing cows opened up on their left, they had gone only a hundred or so yards too far!

I took the project home that night, clapped on a set of Koss earphones, settled back with a J & B on the rocks, and wrote some words about each of our current new cars in stock, plus our smattering of vintage cars, with a big puff piece on the ever remaining, S.C.A.F. children’s cars. I took it all in the next morning and Emily our “gal Friday” typed it out. I took copies to Tom and T. Both thought it was a good idea.

         “Who are we sending these to?” asked T

         “Everyone we know who could have even a remote interest in Auto Enterprises.”

The next morning I asked T for his names; he had 23; Tom said he didn’t really have anyone. So maybe my hot idea wasn’t really going to amount to much. At the end of the day I had grown the list to 84 people. But, it was a cheater list for sure.

More than a few households would receive more than one copy, and I wasn’t above sending one to any of my Life Insurance clients who may ever have shown the slightest interest in the Ferrari California that I had. Car guys from every secondary school I’d attended would receive a copy. We printed 100 of them. Along with each Newsletter went a postpaid referral postcard which merely said that if you knew someone that may be interested in receiving future mailings, jot down their name and address and return the post card.

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Almost immediately the postcards started to come back in. Just enough of them to catch your attention, and then more came in. (I know, how many could there be coming in from a mailing of 84?) I don’t remember the precise number, but it was just enough to fix in my mind that we would do another.

(…At its peak the Newsletter reached just under 23,000 readers, all obtained through the referral cards or subscription. It was never “shotgun” mailed.)
 
THE SORRY STATE OF 300 SL ROADSTERS (CIRCA, 1968)

“T” and I took a routine trip to Jerome Avenue in the South Bronx, early one morning to do the tour up and down the street through the wholesale car dealers. For Auto Enterprises Jerome Avenue had developed into a remarkable source of strong Porsches, Mercedes sedans and more than a few Ferraris, Maseratis, etc.

It was hard work, as many of the cars on offer on the Avenue were dicey, but at that time the flow of cars coming through the wholesalers was enormous. If you watched carefully, you could pluck a few very good cars. 

“T” and I went about our business, working with young Eddie Haskell and by early afternoon we had gathered eleven very good cars. With our deal done, we were just walking out of the business office to leave, when Jerry Haskell’s blustery Bronx voice boomed out:

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AUTO ENTERPRISES “NEW CAR” DEPARTMENT

Fiat was going to have our spanking new cars to us by the first of May. In the allocation would be two of the popular 124 spiders, three of the 124 coupes, and several 850 spiders and coupes. And we had a more than decent offering of used cars. We were faintly beginning to resemble a retail automobile operation.

Then, one afternoon toward the end of April, I returned to the agency, and there was a beautiful dark blue Ferrari 275 GTB/4 parked in front of the showroom with the hood up. Someone was working on it. As I walked up to the car there was Tom Conte with his ever present Winston, long screwdriver in hand, air cleaner top off, fine tuning the 6 Webers.

         “Wow, where did this come from?” I asked.

         “Luigi Chinetti. I went up there yesterday, and bought this one and a red one for “T.”

         “It looks brand new . . .”

      “It is. Chinetti cut me a good deal, buying two of them. These cars are dynamite to drive! I just need to fine tune it a bit, and push a little more lead into the distributors.”

Hmm, it appeared that possibly I’d left the “Good Old Boys Club” for the “Boys Gone Mad Playpen.”
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“Koik! Where do you guys think you’re goin’? You two ain’t goin’ nowhere without one of them 300 SL’s back there. You fuckin’ wiseguys think you can waltz up here and clean da’ joint out of da’ best cars, and not help us out? Pick out one of them fuckin’ Mercedes 300SL’s in da back…” Jerry roared. “Along dat back wall there; there’s five of ‘em. Take your pick; any one of ‘em at $3,000, or you ain’t got any deal here.”
I had no intention of being squeezed into one of those damn Mercedes SL’s. 300 SL roadsters were nearly impossible to sell at that time, as witnessed by those five, perfectly good 300 SL roadsters all in a row across the back wall! (Today, of course, a good Mercedes Benz 300 SL roadster can be worth upwards of 2,000,000 dollars!!) T and I stood there like wooden dummies.
It was utterly unbelievable! I couldn’t believe we were being squeezed into this preposterous deal.

I didn’t know what the hell to do!

In stalling for time I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my current copy of the Galves Foreign Car Price Guide. I turned to the Mercedes Benz section to see if Galves even valued the 300SL roadsters in their notoriously underpriced price guide.


Mercedes Benz 300 SL Roadster
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