GIVING THE NEIGHBOHOOD BACK TO THE CITIZENS OF RADNOR
In August of 1969, having accumulated over fifteen quite good cars, and having them stashed hither and yon, it was time to move to 63rd Street.
Regardless of how cool the cars may have been, the sheer number of them lying about on Hollow Road was getting out of hand.
Auto Enterprises had continued their newsletter, and I needed to get back “on the air” so to speak.
In the latter part of July, I had fired off a letter to those on the mailing list. Not very far into the letter I mounted my high horse and announced that henceforth all customers would become “clients”!! And what a very special thing that could be, I seemed to be saying.
Then I cautioned any souls who were wont to rush to our new place of business, to please hold up a bit as this address was for mailing purposes only!!
(. . . yeah, my operation was still just a “card table” . . . so I tumbled off my high horse pretty quickly . . .)
In early August I published a second “Kirk F. White, Motorcars, Inc.” Epistle! The leadoff dealt with the horrors of opening any new place, and the fact that we still couldn’t quite yet tell anyone where we actually would be!
Under the heading of “Consignment Sales” I give every indication of becoming completely unhinged stating:
(“. . . We utilize the most sophisticated methods of merchandising. . .)
(“. . . We have maintained extensive files and cross reference indexes for virtually any type of buyer, seller or automobile. . .”)
In the following paragraph my bloviating continues unabated as I announce that:
(“. . . We can handle a trade, finance the car, and issue a warranty for the new owner.”)
(. . . Really, Kirk??
That damn card table may be too close to the liquor cabinet!! . . .)
The cars listed for sale though, were pretty over the top.
Among them was a 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB. In the ad itself I jokingly apologized for the “staggering” 13,600 miles that the car had rolled up in a span of four years. The car, in fact, had scarcely been driven. In 1969 that really was no mileage at all.
Reading such a Ferrari ad today, I’m sad to say, my apology would have been sincere. 13,000 miles would be an intolerable level of use on a four year old Ferrari in today’s market, and said Ferrari’s dollar value would take a good slap backwards!
One of the kingpins in the August Newsletter was a ’64 GTO (#4675) and a competition SWB California. Let’s take a moment with that GTO.
FERRARI GTO # 4675 . . .
Ferrari #4675 is the very car pictured in the Fitzgerald Merritt book on Page 110.
The Ferrari had come down to us from its owner in New Hampshire, a gentleman named Jim Hall. He had done nothing more than telephone me in June of 1969. I didn’t know him at all, but he seemed to know about us.
His main interest was in having the car refinished properly, and did I have anyone who was qualified to do it? He wasn’t interested in a Pebble Beach bauble. He wanted it to look as it did when it rolled out of the factory racing shop.
I assured him we could, in fact, do that, as Molin Body right there in Wayne was prepping and painting race cars for Roger Penske, often on a weekly basis. I could recommend Molin to do the very best work, and I’d be able to keep an eye on the job personally.
Was Mr. Hall, by chance, interested in selling the car?
Possibly, but he would have to net $8,500 for the car. Hells, bells that was just off the hook, too much money. But heck, we’d give it a shot.
The car arrived and it was pretty tired. But, a “good” tired. It had seen plenty of use, but it seemed to be the right kind of use. No accident damage, just a scratch here, a ding or small dent there. Setting the car back to what it was the last time it cleared the Ferrari factory doors was what Mr. Hall wanted. Painting the car properly was his greatest concern. He did not want a Ferrari that came off as an over decorated Easter egg, done and then dipped in twenty coats of clearcoat!
Molin did a terrific job, bringing the paint finish to that fresh “racing car” level. Harry Tidmarsh had spent the better part of two months setting the aluminum panels right.
I picked the car up from Molin’s. In getting good photographs to the owner, I called upon our new very gifted young photographer, Winfred Walton. The GTO was so splendid we decided to scout out a really good location for the photography.
I chose the majestic setting of St. Charles Seminary, just around the corner from what would become our building on 63rd Street in Overbrook.
St. Charles was a magnificent Roman Catholic Seminary, set on 235 sylvan acres. The seminary dated to the mid eighteen hundreds. The main structure was 400 feet in length. It is one of those utterly grand Roman Catholic teaching facilities that you’d admire each time you drove by, but rarely, if ever, saw anyone coming or going.
So, of course we felt free to trespass, to drive straight onto the beautiful grounds, with a Ferrari racing car with wide open exhausts!
I slowly drove up the tree lined driveway eyeing the buildings for any sign of movement. There were four of us in two cars. I got out of the Ferrari and keeping a wary eye on the buildings, we cast about for a good location for the pictures.
Leading away to the east end of the main edifice, was a double wide sidewalk lined with magnificent trees. Hell, (. . .oops,) it was as wide as a street; “let’s use this, it’s like a promenade,” I said. To get on to the cement walkway, we had to go over just a bit of the magnificent lawn, which I did ever so carefully, and we took the car down the paved area a distance, and began to run off some shots.
As it is with all great automobile photographers, and Winnie was great, the engine had to be fired, and the Ferrari had to be moved constantly. We had been moving it around for the better part of an hour, when right after firing it up yet again for another placement, I got out of the car and spotted two very stern priests headed down the walk toward us.
“Good Morning” I said, and rambled on about what a grand facility this was and that we were just taking a few snapshots.
I was scared silly! What the hell was I thinking pulling a stunt like that?
The older Priest nodded politely to my greeting.
“How did you get here?” he said.
(“Really, really, good question” . . . I thought . . .)
Where to start. He knew we couldn’t be where we were without trespassing, and driving over their lawn.
“Blah, blah, blah” . . . came tumbling out of me. I was just waiting for the Lower Merion police to come wheeling in the drive and haul us off.
The younger Priest motioned toward the car and said to the older one, who was listening intently to my blithering:
“Ferrari”…… he said.
“Yes, I saw…” . . . said the senior Father dismissively, continuing to deal with me. Finally, he grew weary of my babble, and motioned me to put it away, it was OK.
“We came to see you, only because the car is noisy in the classrooms,” he said.
I glanced back toward the buildings, somewhat miffed, as the closest building was quite a distance away.
The Priest touched my arm and pointed to the walkway itself.
“You are on the ‘roof’ of a large storage area with a connecting hallway to the building with classrooms! The sound comes through the underground hallway! The sound is almost like the car is just outside the rooms at this end of the building . . .” he said with a smile.
I was dumbstruck!
“Down there?” I said, pointing straight down to the concrete sidewalk. He nodded and quickly motioned for me to skip any renewed apologies.
“You are most welcome here at any time. We just have to be gentle with the noise”, he said.
The two of them stayed a while longer, looking over the GTO, fascinated with the V-12 engine, and the stark interior. The younger one sat in the car, transfixed, for some time.
And, we did go back many times to St. Charles to take special photographs, and a number of Priests came to visit with us as time went by.
The owner saw the wonderful photographs of the car and sent for the Ferrari straightaway.
Just as well that the owner was taking it back; who the hell was going to pay over $10,000 for a used up old Ferrari race car?
( . . . Hoo boy, in the spring of 2010, a colorful collector in Great Britain paid something over $12,000,000 for #4675. Actually, a sensational value at that figure, as today the price would land somewhere around $30,000,000!)
FINALLY, 63rd STREET OPENS, LATE AUGUST 1969
I finally got the joint open in late August, 1969 and things were finally coming together.
In the early fall of 1969 our neighboring RPM’s service department installed a functional Clayton chassis dynamometer! Gene Mason had advanced his operation. Gene had lured Jim Ferguson, and Mike Tillson away from Algar in Rosemont! Phil Tegtmeier would join us shortly thereafter, thus assuring that we’d pretty much be persona non grata at Algar in Rosemont forever.
The cars for sale in that “October” 1969 Newsletter were pretty awesome.
The Ferrari 275 LM was purchased from Dick Merritt. He had owned the unique LM for some number of years, and I paid a very dear price for it. It was either $12 or $13,000 dollars. The Ferrari came to me in silver with a black leather interior. The car carried all manner of comfort features, among them a full leather interior and power windows.
1953 340 MILLE MIGLIA, #0324 AM came from Gerry Sutterfield and was absolutely one of the fastest, most responsive competition Ferraris I have ever owned.
The big 4.1 litre Lampredi engine in that Ferrari would explode into life at the touch of the starter. Its throttle response was instantaneous and the exhaust note was shattering!
Unique features included staggered seating with the passenger slightly lower in the cockpit and back three inches, outside Monza style fuel filler, triangular cut outs behind the rear wheels, Grand Prix brakes, and an appealing, but very large grille opening.
We actually used that car as a sales tool in selling other, more mundane products from Maranello.
I could be outside the building, attempting to sell someone a 250 GTE 2+2, possibly facing a bit of apathy on the part of the potential buyer. He might be interested in buying a sexy V-12 engined Ferrari. But a 250 GT 2+2 may have appeared to be a bit more matronly than he’d hoped.
At a point where a prospect’s enthusiasm might be flagging a bit, just inside the building, I’d have someone fire off the 340, and the building would tremble. The sound and the fury of that engine were truly inspirational!
Everyone who heard that explosive engine light up would step back. While we were all enveloped in the roar of that Lampredi V-12 hurricane, I’d shout with a smile:
“That’s a Ferrari v-12 racing engine” as the customer would freeze in place, totally thunderstruck, and I’d gesture toward the big 2+2. This great 250GT you’re considering also carries a very similar V-12 engine . . .”
( . . . Well, both cars did have V-12 engines . . .)
AN INTERESTING DRAG RACE
Early one morning we were moving cars around at 63rd Street. We had both the 340 and a 427 Cobra out front. It was an irresistible temptation. We simply had to run off a quick drag race. There was always any number of willing wheelmen around 63rd Street. I’ve forgotten the drivers of the two cars.
Remember, we were on 63rd Street, inside the Philadelphia city limits, in a densely populated residential and business area, and we were about to launch a fucking drag race with two of the most potent vehicles on the planet.
“Slow rolling start, I don’t want to trash the drive trains in either one of these cars,” said Mr. Prudence.
They could only race a few blocks before they’d be in traffic.
I had a hunch . . .
They turned around in the Overbrook train station and rolled slowly toward our place. I stepped out in the street and waved them off.
The Ferrari shot out front by 3 to 4 lengths and stayed there. I knew that sucker was the single quickest thing I’d ever driven.
I was still a damn hot rodder through and through . . .
1956 FERRARI 860 SUPER MONZA SPYDER
Talk about a different era . . . this superb Ferrari Monza appeared in a Road and Track classified advertisement.
Just a few words and a tiny photo. Memory tells me, the car was in Wisconsin. The price was $6,000.
I called the gentleman who owned the car, and he turned out to be damn near another John Delamater. He really knew how to sell that 860.
The car sounded like an incredibly great Ferrari, but I was working with a photo half the size of a postage stamp, and a few non-descriptive words. However, the man’s verbal description was such that at the end of our conversation I said I’d buy the car.
I got off the phone, telephoned Bob Pass at Passport Transport, and asked that he schedule to pick up the car the next time they were in that area of Wisconsin.
I then put a check in the mail for the car.
The next morning the seller called me to say that Passport had come by at 9:30 that morning!
I was so embarrassed. We didn’t know each other at all; I’d said I’d buy his Ferrari, and I’d sent along the damn check, literally hours ago, and there was Passport at his front door for the car, at the crack of dawn!
I apologized all over the place.
“I can’t believe they got there so quickly. I am so sorry; I’ll call and reschedule.”
“No, no,” he said. I just wanted to let you know the car is on its way to you. I’m not worried about the payment . . .”
That’s the way it was in 1969.
FERRARI 375 MILLE MIGLIA BERLINETTA, Serial # 0416
I took this Ferrari in trade from Carl Bross and it was meaner than a snake. Unlike the quicker 340 that was there at the same time, this car did not invite driving. For a bunch of reasons it ranked right near the top of cars that came through 63rd Street, that were just plain mean.
I’d get in that son of a bitch, and you could almost hear that Ferrari mutter:
“Get the fuck outta’ here bud, or I’ll hurt you bad.”
It was a hell of a runner, and it was possible to rein it in, but what a bundle of work that 375 was.
FERRARI 375 MILLE MIGLIA BERLINETTA, Serial # 0416
(. . . A few years back John Mozart telephoned and asked about what I remembered about the 375. I told him it was probably the meanest Ferrari I’d ever encountered. That was pretty much the clincher for John. More than any enthusiast I know, John Mozart thrives on powerful nearly unmanageable sports racing cars. He can reach down and extract their full potential. Yes, John owns and enjoys that big Ferrari today . . .)
FERRARI 212 EXPORT SPYDER, EX-ROSSELINI-BERGMAN
There we were, our little business open just a few weeks, and we had a Ferrari that belonged to an internationally known director and one of the world’s top movie stars!
That little Ferrari barchetta was the sweetest peanut of a car. It is pictured in the Fitzgerald / Merritt book on page 39, second from the bottom, on the right edge of the page. Just a peach of a Ferrari in every way.
Ex- Roberto Rossellini - Ingrid Bergman
THE MAGIC OF THELAMBORGHINI P400 MIURA
The fabulous Lamborghini Miura, superbly designed by Marcello Gandini, had first seen the light of day in Europe in 1966 and had immediately electrified the sports car world. The 4 cam V-12 was set transversely amidships. The engine and the gearbox shared a single, common aluminum casting. That massive unit was hailed as the largest one piece aluminum casting, ever done at that time!
A “compromise” 50 W oil in the common sump served as the lubricant for both the engine and gearbox.
In early 1969, Miura’s were nearly impossible to obtain in the United States, as there were very few being built, and, of course, in America we were in the early stages of the US Government’s ever expanding mandates re: air and safety measures.
There were only a handful of Miura’s that had come through the “back door” into the US.
Everyone on earth seemed to want one.
We had several prospective customers for a Miura and I’d tried for quite a while to turn up someone who would even talk with me about actually obtaining a Miura.
Finally, one afternoon I was in the Bronx in New York, in the thick of the wholesale marketplace on Jerome Avenue. I mentioned my difficulty in obtaining a Miura to the wholesaler, Bill Bliwise, who had a small warehouse with his own “shingle” on the avenue.
Certainly by appearance alone, Bliwise was totally out of place on Jerome Avenue. Pale yellow button down shirt, rep necktie, rumpled Harris Tweed Jacket, gray flannels and well shined loafers. Bliwise was best termed pudgy, and though probably just 40, had closely cropped solidly gray hair, very pale skin, and he spoke in a near whisper. To top off this entertaining, if incongruous, south Bronx visage, he was perpetually puffing on a pipe.
I had learned that dealing with Bliwise could be tenuous, complicated, mysterious, and often frustrating. He was a master of the “smoke and mirrors” school of selling. Bliwise was the character that had “laid Garthwaite away” in the Lancia deal.
And yet . . . just often enough, Bliwise accomplished the impossible. So, if you were chasing the really rare automobiles, you may elect to put up with his often cryptic, complex scenarios. Every transaction had a story, it seemed.
Without hesitation, Bliwise said he could get a Miura for me. “I can get you a Miura by the end of next week; in fact the car is already on the water . . .”, Bliwise said.
“You can’t possibly do that! There are scarcely any Miuras in this country.” I said.
“I can do it!” he said, very softly, lighting his pipe, yet again.
I said to him: “Fine, let’s do it.” And, then I essentially dismissed the conversation as idle braggadocio.
The following Thursday he telephoned. In his barely audible voice, which always had the tone of a weary professor, he said, very slowly:
“This Saturday, you’re to meet the driver who will have your car, in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 2 PM. The car is blue with an off white leather interior. It has 760 km, and is on a Certificate of Origin. The driver’s name is “Bunkie.” Give him the check; he’ll get himself home.”
“The Miura, you said you wanted”, Bliwise said somewhat testily.
(Again, any Lamborghini Miura entering the U.S. at that point in time was a bit of a “clandestine commodity.” Obtaining a Miura from Bliwise was at best, a “hold your breath” proposition. . . .)
But, far be it from me to fail to indulge myself in yet another “Alice in Wonderland” adventure with Mr. Bliwise.
That appointed Saturday Morning, with a real degree of trepidation, but still filled with excited anticipation, I took the train to Manhattan and a cab to the Metropolitan Art Museum, on Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street.
It was a beautiful afternoon. I sat on the steps, and waited. As the time ever so slowly approached 2 PM in the afternoon, my anticipation level rose till it hit the peg.
At 2:15 my excitement was beginning to slide back, and at 2:35 I was furious with myself for having gotten sucked into such a ridiculous folly! Bliwise had done it again, and don’t worry, he’d have some unbelievably convoluted tale as to why it hadn’t worked for today! But, he’d have the car on. . . (Pick a day, any day. . .) Blah, blah. I deserved whatever I got, screwing around with the master of obfuscation!
At 2:40, out of the distance, there rose an incredible shrieking swell of twelve cylinder exhaust music, tumbling down through the canyons of the tall buildings, and the slowly approaching Lamborghini, in a low gear, pulled up smoothly right in front of the museum. The driver cleared the pipes, and cut it dead.
Everyone in every direction had literally stopped dead in their tracks.
Remember, it was a Saturday, mid afternoon on a perfect day at the entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Before I could get to my feet, and to the car, the Lamborghini was completely obscured by everyone who had been within sight or earshot of it. I could scarcely approach the car. “Bunkie,” at an easy, six foot three, unfolded himself from the Miura. We exchanged greetings and he handed me the keys.
“Bunkie” was a giant of a black man. I remember thinking I sure wouldn’t want to tell this guy, that I didn’t have “the check”.
In time, Bunkie would become a great friend and driver for many of us for a lot of years. Bunkie always got your car there. He could nurse the worst rag on the road from New York to Denver in the dead of winter in a snow storm. But, those are tales for a bit further on . . .
I gave him the check, and thanked him; we shook hands and he ducked down a subway entrance.
I returned to the crowd around the Miura and “excused” my way up to, and into this car.
“Damn, this thing is low,” I thought.
It had very good visibility to the front. Checking the cockpit rear view mirror yielded virtually no rearward vision whatsoever. I remember physically turning around and trying to look out the back through those stylishly appealing slats with my eyes. No better. I made a mental note to not position the Miura anywhere on the way back to Philadelphia, where it had to be backed up, because that simply wasn’t going to happen!
The engine fired instantly, the V-12 exhaust note moving the crowd back. The single most astonishing aspect of the Miura was the whining, powerful resonance of the transverse V-12, just inches behind my shoulder blades.
Getting out of Manhattan was tricky. But driving the Miura through downtown was amazing. Passing through the streets with close, high rise buildings produced the most awesome exhaust sounds! You couldn’t get enough if it. You just wanted to drive that damn Miura around the block for the rest of your life!
Every corner, every traffic light, everyone, had a wave, a whistle a shout. The Miura was magic.
The exhaust note through the Lincoln Tunnel was magnificent! Once on the New Jersey Turnpike, the driving got a bit less hectic, but as it is with all of these insane cars, I collected “escort” vehicles. They would lie in your “blind” spot. . . and, a very big “spot” it was in the case of the Miura. When they’d finally drive past, they’d usually give you a toot of their horn which in the Miura was right at ear level. I’d very nearly pitch off the highway!
I finally got to a stretch of the Turnpike that was relatively open. I moved back into third gear and gave the throttle a good poke. Shifting up into fourth, the car quickly shot up over an indicated 120 MPH. I distinctly remember having both hands on the steering wheel, at ten and two, and the word “rotate” came across the screen of my mind, and I am not a pilot! It just felt as if I were to carefully pull back on the steering wheel, the front of the Lamborghini would lift off.
I backed off, smiled, and drove it on in.
That evening I took the Lamborghini to a neighborhood dinner party. In short order the party hostess grew furious with me as the Miura became the focus of virtually everyone attending. Her beautifully planned sit down dinner became an alfresco buffet around the car!
OUR PROXIMITY TO INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING
Our business location on 63rd Street in Overbrook, virtually at City Line Avenue (Route 1), placed us not too far from The University of Pennsylvania, Drexel Institute, and the Episcopal Academy on City Line Avenue, which in turn was close to our new friends at St. Charles Seminary. It wasn’t long before students from all of the schools in our area were coming by to spend some time, and have a look at the cars.
One of our earliest visitors was a young man who would stop in from time to time. Maybe, 14-15 years of age. I recognized his school sweater colors, and his blazer. He was a student at the Episcopal Academy, just down the way on City Line Avenue.
The young man was a perfect gentleman, very interested in virtually all of the cars we had at the place, and everyone enjoyed having him around.
He’d come into my office and we’d talk at length about any number of things automotive.
We had hired a terrific gal, named Twila, to try to put some order to the haphazard way things were being done in the office. Twila was a gorgeous blonde from Oklahoma, who was bright as anything, and a real asset to the company. She was also concerned about this young man’s increasingly frequent visits during the school week.
One morning around ten, our young friend from Episcopal came through the door, and Twila said to him with her sharp Oklahoma twang:
“Shouldn’t you be in school, young man?”
“I’m on a free period Ma’am” he said, as he quickly ducked around the corner into my office.
It made me realize that, for sure, he was ducking some academic activity to be hanging out at our place as much as he was. He was so damn engaging, I merely told him to watch himself.
WELL, I’LL BE . . .
The young man’s name was Reeves Callaway, who virtually all of you will know as the man behind the fabled Callaway Corvettes.
I can’t leave the story of Reeves, without sharing with you what I have felt since 1988 was one of the most remarkable top speed record runs ever made.
Boiling it down quickly, Reeves Callaway had participated in a number of “Top Gun” type speed events with his Corvettes’. In 1988 the guys at Car & Driver magazine talked the Transportation Research Center into allowing a top speed shootout on their 7.25 mile track.
Reeves Callaway accepted this new challenge, along with Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, and most of the European “tuner” builders. But Reeves insisted that the Corvette he would enter would be a fully roadworthy automobile. On October 19, 1988, their perfectly tractable weapon was driven over the road from the Callaway factory in Old Lyme, Connecticut to the TRC facility in Ohio.
When they arrived all the other players were running right at, or a bit shy of 200 MPH. The Callaway team experienced a slight engine misfire at 135, and a tiny oil leak at 199 MPH! Nasty weather was all around them and some of their testing was done in the rain!
The TRC people were attempting to urge “these kids” to move it along, go for their run, and let the big players back out on the track to get serious. The TRC people asked the Callaway chief engineer Tim Good, if he felt the Corvette had any more in it above the 210-215 it was running at that point.
Good said the car had the capability to go 250 miles per hour. The TRC guy found that amusing, sniggered, and walked off. This infuriated the Callaway crew.
Virtually at the end of the meet on October 26, 1988, at 3:45 in the afternoon, the Callaway “Sledgehammer,” with John Lingenfelter at the wheel ripped off a blistering 254.76 MPH winning the event going away.
And, going away they were: “Thanks, for opportunity and the trophy, but we really can’t stay. . .”, and they jumped in their Corvette and drove it back to Connecticut!”
Reading that story in Car & Driver was pretty damn neat. Maybe more than neat; it was just such an incredible all American accomplishment!
(Bugatti Veyrons indeed! )
THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA STUDENTS
Our location on 63rd Street was not that far from the University of Pennsylvania campus. Just twenty some blocks west of the University campus would land you on North on 63rd, and there you were right at our front door. We had many student visitors from Penn, its fabled Wharton Business School, Penn Medical School, and Drexel University, etc.
Almost the moment we moved into the neighborhood, we began to hear tales about a certain student at Penn who drove a type 35B Bugatti, and parked it in front of Houston Hall on the Square every day rain or shine. People coming, people going, all day long, the Bugatti simply sat there. Cosmetically the car was no showpiece (and, the better for it . . .). The Bugatti had the earned patina of “use” that everyone is chasing up so desperately these days.
That student was the late Bill Serri. Pretty quickly Bill found our place and made his way out to 63rd Street often. A trifle intense and a bit wearing, Bill was, however, a true automotive enthusiast. Always firing questions, often not waiting for an answer, then firing two more queries on top of the first! Still he not only had great automobiles, but truly walked the walk, and talked the talk.
Bill Kontes, another student, was the polar opposite of Bill Serri. Quiet, serious, circumspect, if you will. Yet, Bill possessed a very sharp dry, droll sense of humor.
One Friday afternoon, Bill came by just as we were taking delivery of a 330 GTC, which I had bought in New York over the phone. I was disappointed in the fact that the Ferrari had come in just dirty as Hell.
Bill Kontes was there to witness my mild tirade. After I cooled off, and with impeccable timing Bill said to me:
“I could take that Ferrari home this weekend and really get cleaned up for you.”
I glanced at him, thinking he must be joking. He wasn’t.
“Bill, where do you live?” I asked
“In Vineland, New Jersey” he said.
Then he began to pitch me with such a sincere effort, and such intensity, on what he would do with the car, that I said merely said:
(. . . It must be “Friday afternoons” and Ferrari GTC’s, where I’d just pretty much go along with anything someone suggested. Hadn’t I, not so long ago, again on a Friday afternoon, handed a total stranger a brand new Ferrari 330 GTC, on the promise that his sister would send a check down the following day. . .)
Vineland, New Jersey wasn’t exactly next door, but I gave him the damn car!
Monday afternoon, Bill drove the car into our driveway. The car was incredibly beautiful. No one in the place could believe he had transformed the same GTC that was there on Friday into this jewel of an automobile.
Virtually every Friday thereafter Bill Kontes would take another needy automobile along and bring back a diamond on Monday. Then it changed somewhat, and though he continued to take the “needy” cars with him, one day he simply said he’d like to buy that 427 Cobra that was parked just outside the building.
He wasn’t kidding, and over the next period of time he went on to buy a Ferrari 410 Super America, a Ferrari 206 Competition car, a 275LM, a 275GTB/C (#9041,) which had been a backup car at Le Mans, and to top it all off a Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle!
NOVEMBER, 1969 NEWSLETTER
Our new letterhead was a bit over the top from a taste standpoint, confronting the reader with a screaming chartreuse masthead. It was a real test of everyone’s retinal strength. We had also helped ourselves to the official Ferrari logos, as if we were an important authorized dealer for the factory, whereas, we were, in fact, no such thing at all.
And yet we had added a regional operation in Miami, under the able ownership of the late Howard Sheronas and Paul Gimbel. A second Kirk F. White Motorcars in Indianapolis, Indiana under the guidance of the incomparable John Delamater joined us soon afterward!
What with the announcement of Phil Tegtmeier joining us, we became an even bigger pain in the fanny for the local authorized Ferrari dealer, Algar Enterprises. We had some really wonderful Ferraris on the premises, and even some brand new ones, but we were not a factory store!
AN ASTONISHING PERSPECTIVE
I made a sweeping statement in the Newsletter about the vast dollar value of our consignment inventory, which at that time was $138,000! In today’s terms, it is a laughably small figure, possibly enough money for, one or two decent 328’s!
But, in 1969, we’ll say the average price of a very good European vintage car might be $7,000, which would equate to roughly 20 automobiles. Changes your perspective entirely, yes?
I continued to carry on my romance with #0324 AM in the Newsletter, blathering on at great length about the car. I’d love to visit that Ferrari again one day. It will always be one of my all time favorites. I did, however, skip touting our drag racing success with the car, just a few weeks prior to the printing of the newsletter.
Though our ad whimsically indicates the car may be the Chinetti / Cole, Le Mans car, it was nothing of the sort. Ferrari #0324 AM was ordered by William “Bill” Spear through Luigi Chinetti in April of 1953, and its history, though ordered for LeMans, makes interesting reading on the internet.
At the end of the year, I sold the car on to Jose de Pedroso, one of Al Garthwaite’s very closest friends. Another pin in the Algar doll . . .
And finally, the Newsletter circulation was starting to really turn into something to pay attention to with an astounding number of referrals. Who knew?
BROCK YATES, THE FERRARI LUSSO, FALL 1969
We had advertised a Ferrari 250GT Lusso, which was a really good driving example. It was not a show car, but it had been well cared for. In early December of 1969, one late morning, a congenial, vaguely familiar character came through the door of the office. Said he’d seen an ad in the New York Times for a Ferrari Lusso. I took the “up,” and the two of us chatted about the car and then it was decided we’d take a ride in the car.
( . . . So, what is an “up” anyway? In the big “new car” agencies that had several salesmen on the floor, there was a strict order to the rotation for the salesmen. The next prospect that came through the door would be so and so’s “up.”)
As we went out to the car he put his hand out and said: “I’m Brock Yates. . .”
That pulled me up short, as I’d been following his column in Car & Driver Magazine for some time, to say nothing of my enjoying his deep scathing slices at all things amiss in the automotive world.
Jesus, I was dealing with “The Assassin!” Brock carefully went around the Ferrari, and asked several pertinent questions. He seemed to like the Ferrari, but he wanted to think about it a bit.
Hey, whatever “The Assassin” wanted would be just fine with me. Brock called back just a few days later, gave me a small push on the price, and came down to get the car with Charlie Krueger. He had bought himself a damn nice Ferrari Lusso.
Shortly after he picked up the Ferrari, he published the following column in Car & Driver. At that point Car & Driver magazine enjoyed a circulation of 600,000! That kicked the door wide open to our little ex-gas station on 63rd Street. What a walloping great bit of publicity that was!
For Brock and I, it was the beginning of a forty year plus friendship; God knows, Brock Yates and I have had an adventure or two.
THE JACKSON BROOKS CARS
Finally, we come to an incredible group of thoroughbred automobiles that I purchased from Mr. Jackson Brooks, an astute collector and true gentleman.
How often can a man purchase three automobiles that include a 1959 Ferrari 410 Super America coupe, a 1953 Ferrari 250MM Vignale roadster, that had been restored to an astonishing level, and, oh yes, a 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring bodied roadster!
The 2.9 Alfa was coming out of Australia to Jackson Brooks who lived in Colorado. In buying the entire group, I had made my purchase decision based on a few sketchy, far from the car, photographs of the 2.9 that had been taken, God knows when, in Australia!
Simple snapshots of the other cars in the group were all I had to go on. We completed the deal on the telephone over the course of a few conversations. At the time I bought the Alfa 2900B it was still inbound on a freighter to a west coast port! Once clear of customs, the Alfa would then make its way to Jackson Brooks place in Colorado.
After I’d purchased Jackson’s astounding automobiles, I had to make arrangements to have them collected by a trucker who would be able to bring the cars across the country to Philadelphia. Not the easy business it is today and there were no fancy enclosed eighteen wheel Peterbilt trailer rigs.
In the meantime, I got a call from two dealer friends in Chicago on a rainy, sleety afternoon. From a car enthusiast’s standpoint the call seemed to be something straight out of “The Wizard of Oz.”
This is where it starts to get crazy.
Jack Douglas and Jack Rauch out of Chicago and Denver were two rockin’ dealers who had happily joined our merry band of buyers and sellers of these “spooky” cars in the late sixties and seventies. Jack Douglas was a pretty grounded guy. Jack Rauch was a bit more out there where the buses don’t run, but a terrific guy.
Rauch said: “Kirk, I’ve just secured a Mercedes Benz 300SLR; would you be a buyer for a car like that?”
“You mean a 300SL roadster right?” I said.
“No Kirk, I know the difference, this is a factory 300 SLR racing car, open exhaust, headrest, the whole works, do you want it?”
“Has it got the desmodromic 8 cylinder engine?”
“What? Are you nuts Kirk, how the hell would I know if it does! Do you want the car?”
“Give me an hour, I’ll call you back.” I said.
(. . . Let’s all try to remember it’s 1959 and we’re all still in the “vintage” automotive stone age; wipe that sneer off your face . . .)
I called Carl Bross.
I went over the car with him. He was highly skeptical of the car having any tie to the Mercedes Benz factory team cars, but he was paying attention.
“Alright, if, if, if, it is a Mercedes Benz factory 300 SLR what would you pay for it?” I asked Bross.
“I expect I’d pay $50,000 for it”, said my man of few words . . .” (In today’s world, if a genuine factory 300 SLR was to get loose, it would probably auction well in excess of $50,000,000 plus!!)
I called Rauch, and went through the whole band of qualifiers and told him if it was the real thing, I’d pay $30,000 for the car. He’d have to send the car in on consignment. Oh, and by the way Jack, would you be interested in having your big six car hauler chase into upper Colorado, pick up the three cars out there, and deliver them to me in Philadelphia, along with your 300 SLR?
“Okay, we can set all that up.” Jack said.
So, now we had another bauble added and a truck to bring them all in. Did I mention this rig was an open car trailer?
And then things became even crazier!
The very next day, John Delamater called me and waltzed me straight into the legendary Ferrari Superfast I. John had just obtained the big Ferrari, so the truck was to be further diverted to Indianapolis, Indiana to pick up what was in that era the single most outrageous GT Ferrari ever made.
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