THE REST OF THAT BUSY DAY IN SCOTTSDALE, 1984
It was mid-Friday morning in Scottsdale, Arizona at the Barrett Jackson classic car auction.
I had just finished, on the telephone, my “hopeful” repurchase of the “Cannonball” Ferrari Daytona in LA. But we really hadn’t looked over the field of cars that would be crossing the block over the course of the next three days.
As we trundled around in our golf cart, lots and lots of cars were going to be crossing the block. But, there were times when your mind tended to wander away as entire rows of cars of no interest were going by. Oh, the automobiles were fine for those that dealt in the broad market of American muscle cars and Corvettes.
But I was chasing a very thin sliver of the market.
You had to be patient in your searches, as you could go through a dozen rows of cars, or an entire tent-full of offerings before you came upon a car of interest.
A more than troublesome element could easily find its way into my thinking as more and more vehicles that I came upon were just not quite “there.” It was those instances where you’d slip off the rails and buy something for the sake of buying “something.”
I’d find myself thinking something like:
“Well Kirk, what’s wrong with that beautiful 1957 Ford Thunderbird sitting right there? Didn’t you race a two seater ‘bird in ‘56? And the car you’re looking at has been restored to a fare thee well. The Thunderbird was finished brilliant black with a scarlet red interior. And it was equipped with the factory optional two four barrel carburetors. And, it was stick shift with an overdrive.”
In stopping to visit with the owner, there was little doubt that that ‘bird was an especially well presented automobile.
The owner was an affable gentleman from Texas. It was abundantly clear that he was a straight shooter.
The discussion came to a point where I asked how much was the car?
Oh, he was absolutely going to run it through the auction that afternoon.
“You can bid on the car when it is on the block . . .”
Well, I may do just that, I thought and went on about my business. Up another row and then down yet another. But hold up, wasn’t that a Jaguar XK 140 roadster back there?
I got out of the golf cart and walked back up to what turned out to be a late 1956 Jaguar XK140 MC roadster, finished in black lacquer with a brilliantly done scarlet red leather interior and chrome plated, double laced wire wheels!
The reason I’d almost driven past and missed the car entirely was that there were so damn many people gawking at the Jaguar.
I stood back and looked over the goings on. From where I stood there wasn’t a soul there that was a player for the car.
“What’s it gonna’ do on the block, do ya’ think?”
“What kinda’ engine’s a car like this got?”
“Jerry, that Jaguar is gorgeous! You oughta’ get that one, Jerry!” said a dazzling young blonde old.
(. . . and she was also gorgeous! You’d come across more than a few overweight “older” gentlemen with a drink in their hand and every badge for access to every event and his $10,000 dollar lady on his arm for the weekend . . .)
“Store bought’n . . .??” One of us might say . . .
And, the other would say . . .“For sure . . . “
All this was being unloaded on an obviously cranky owner sitting behind the car in one those low fold-up beach chairs. The owner was essentially telling each of them to screw off.
I patiently waited until the swarm had moved off. I told the owner his Jag was spectacular and asked him who had done such superb restoration.
That got him sitting up straighter in his beach chair . . .“I did every bit of it. Took me eleven years! I don’t know why the hell I brought it here, ‘cept I live here in Scottsdale. There ain’t nobody here that’ll pay what it‘ll take to buy this Jag!”
“Well, it’s the finest car I’ve seen on the field, I can tell you that!” I said. “How much are you hoping it’ll bring on the auction block?”
“$56,000!” He emphatically stated!
“I ain’t seen anybody here’ll pay that kinda’ money. I might just take it back home tonight.”
Will and I took off in the golf cart. The rest of the searching yielded nothing of interest.
There may have been something out there, but I couldn’t get my mind off that 140 Jag, and for that matter the ’57 Thunderbird.
The ‘bird was going to cross the auction block shortly, and unless it didn’t meet the reserve that old Texas boy would simply drive it out the gate and take it home.
Speaking of “take it home” I needed to get back to my gleeful Jaguar owner!
Around four in the afternoon I went back to the Jag and there sat the owner. At that point he was seriously crank faced and scrunched down in his beach chair.
He had successfully driven the adoring throngs away. I knew the guy was a firecracker so I quietly and earnestly convinced him I was actually interested in buying his XK 140 MC and I proceeded to go through the car stem to stern.
It was dead correct. A tad “overdressed” in a couple of cosmetic areas, but nothing you couldn’t unwind easily.
Jaguar XK 140’s at that time were worth $30-40,000, so why was I stretching myself into outer space for this car with his figure of $56,000?
Can’t really give you a solid answer, I just knew. . .
So, I said to “Mr. Happiness”:
“If I were to give you the $56,000 for your car, right now, would you come up to the auction office and see if they’ll let us do the deal?”
“Well, hell yes . . .!” he said.
He was eyeing me like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. He got into the cart and we went to the auction office. The office set-up was vast and it took quite a bit of back and forth to actually get to see Craig Jackson.
I was keeping an eye on the Jag owner as I could sense he was unwinding a bit as we wended our way through all these office people.
Finally, there we were in Craig Jackson’s office and as long as all fees and commissions were paid, yes, they would process the sale of the Jaguar to me right then.
At the end of the conversation, Craig said to me:
“Kirk, when that Jag comes on the block Sunday afternoon, you make sure you are there and that you are absolutely the high bidder. We’ve had considerable interest in that car . . .”
Well, we sure needed to get wide of that kind of talk right quick!
And then out of nowhere the owner quietly asked:
“Mr. Jackson, would it be okay if I drove the car across the auction block tomorrow? I always wanted to be on that stage and on TV?”
“Sure, I’ll arrange for you do just that,” said Craig.
Hmm . . . hadn’t counted on that little scenario. . . .
A lot had transpired that Friday in Scottsdale.
I had, hopefully, returned the Cannonball Ferrari 365 GTB/4 to our garage, and had apparently secured a very nice Jaguar roadster.
I say “apparently” because the Jag wasn’t going to have its “day in the sun” on the auction block till very late Sunday afternoon. But my new seller friend could blow sideways at the drop a pin.
SATURDAY, AND WE CAN SPEND SOME MORE MONEY!
Saturday morning was another glorious Arizona day and as Will and I were whizzing around the grounds, I saw that gorgeous 1957 Thunderbird still out on the field.
“What happened with your Thunderbird on the block?” I asked the owner.
“They just wouldn’t get up and pay . . .” he said, “so we’re goin’ on home with her.”
“I’d like to buy your Thunderbird right now if I can . . .” and then I wheeled out the story of how we’d run for the NHRA national class championship with my ’55 ‘bird in Kansas City in 1956.
The Texas boy loved the story of the ruffian kids “kickin’ the can” all the way out to Kansas City and almost pullin’ it off.
My new friend, through teary eyes, sold me his beautiful black with scarlet interior Thunderbird for $30,000.
“BOZO” ALMOST BLOWS IT . . .
I say “apparently” because the Jag wasn’t going to have its “day in the sun” on the auction block till very late Sunday afternoon. But my new seller friend could blow sideways at the drop a pin.Finally it got to be late Sunday afternoon, and sure enough, there is “our” Jaguar joining the long line into the four lane staging tent and then on inside to the auction block.
Barrett-Jackson are masters at building crescendos along with “take your breath away” excitement.
From the moment that Jaguar came up off the field, and was obviously going to the block to be sold, the excitement started to build. The closer the Jag came to the tent, the bigger the crowd around it grew. The “owner” was at the wheel and his head was just about spinning all the way around.
“We have a lot of pals looking at your car, to . . . you know hype it . . .” I said to our driver/ ex-owner.
Finally, the Jaguar rolled up on to the block and the car was engulfed in an admiring crowd.
Now, I have to tell you, though I had run a number of classic car auctions, I, myself, was not a clever bidder. I was never one to have an auctioneer hone in on me with a ring of people keeping their distance, breathlessly waiting for my indication of another advancing bid by invisibly triggering an obscure, but known to the auctioneer, signal.
In fact by the time the beautiful Jag arrived on the block, I seemed to be about three and a half feet tall and everyone else on the block was six foot four, including the women!
The auctioneer ran through a laundry list of accolades that no one could resist.
Generally an auctioneer will ask for a “sky shot” bid and then slowly lower his request to a point where someone will step in and join the fray . . .
This auctioneer really knew how to pull the rubber band . . .
“Who’ll give $50,000 for this spectacular Jaguar? He implored.
A floor bid spotter came right back indicating his bidder was in at $50,000!!
Suddenly the auctioneer’s life got very easy . . . .
$55,000? He cried out and got it right away
$60,000, 65, 70, 72 thousand then 75,000!
I was earnestly trying to get the auctioneer’s attention, but he sure didn’t need me!
Will was trying his best to contain the seller who was at the wheel, his head spinning nearly completely around. Will, earnestly assured him that we did this type of thing at each and every sale we attended. Not to worry it was just theater . . .
Finally the auctioneer puts me into the fray at $80,000,and goes looking for 85, gets a bid at $82,000 and I’m out, which, of course I’m not supposed to be! I bid at $90,000 trying to keep in mind that for me it’s just theater, but it is essential that I stay in the battle and “win” the bidding.
I’m all set to sign the ticket and call it a day, when a “ring man” in the audience frantically signals he has $95,000!!
I can barely keep my wits about me. I bid $97, 000. The auctioneer thinks he has a runaway freight train on his hands and exhorts everyone to get on board.
Here he’s got a “real life” $50,000 Jag strung out into outer space to the point where it appears the car will cross into six figures!
And it does!!
Holy cow, the audience guy bid $1o2,000.
At this point we seem to be so far removed from planet earth, that I quickly bid $104,000. I hit the 104 bid so quickly, it finally folded the other bidder up, and I was awarded the winning bid.
Two quick things transpired. Poor Will was now in the Jaguar with the former owner who was so distraught that they had to push the Jag off the stage!
I, on the other hand was being viewed by all and sundry as the village idiot!
“Ain’t he a dealer from back east?”
“Man, he lost his marbles today. He ain’t ever gonna’ sell that sucker. . .”
“I’ll say. That boy paid over twice what that wagon was worth!!”
Well, to wind up a long story, I took the car back to Philadelphia and parked it for a while. But, it turned out it was going to have to be parked for a long time. The car had acquired a moniker . . .
It became known as the “Scottsdale Jag”
A long time later after having driven the Jaguar for quite some time, I ran a quiet ad in Hemmings, not mentioning any price, which went against my grain…and there was very little activity.
So, maybe you weren’t so clever, Kirk. That auction blew away any solid prospects.
But, wait, late the following fall, I got a telephone call from a soft spoken gentleman in Boston.
Would I be interested in trading my Jaguar XK 140 MC straight up for his 1959 AC-Bristol?
“Well, maybe . . .” (Spell that “Damn right!!)
AC-Bristol’s were worth just into six figures, so that would shift the Jag off to a new home quietly assuming the AC was worth a hill of beans.
The gentleman was very soft spoken, a typical New Englander in that he kept everything close to the chest.
Can you tell me a bit about the car?
“Not much to tell, I bought it new and never had much chance to drive it. It’s gray and right here in the shop where I work. You really need to come and see it for yourself . . .
It was easy to spot that that was exactly what I was going to have to do.
“Where are you located in Boston?
“Right down here by the harbor. My shop is on one of the wharfs.”
Groan . . . I was well familiar with “bi-metallic corrosion” which could easily establish a foothold where the AC aluminum body wrapped around the steel frame.
Boston wasn’t the falling off point, so I told him I’d come and see him. He didn’t need to see the Jaguar. It had been in every publication hailed by its new moniker: “The Scottsdale Jag . . .”
OFF TO SEE THE AC ACE BRISTOL ROADSTER . . .
The early morning that I struck out for Boston it was very foggy and dreary, and remained that way all to the Boston Harbor. Once there, it took several inquiries to turn up anyone who knew the fellow I was going to see, and even more help to find his “place!”
“Yes, yes, old Tom, his place is . . .”
And, finally I came to “Tom’s” shop. I got out of the car. It was bone chillingly cold and damp with the salt air whipping all around me. I thought there was no way that aluminum AC roadster had stood up to a lifetime in this harbor.
I knocked on Tom’s door. He promptly invited me into his shop which was a nineteenth century woodworker shop that was marvelously toasty. Tom was a charming, cheery Scotsman who was altogether different in person. He had had his woodworking shop on the harbor for many years.
After we visited for a bit, I asked: “is the car nearby, Tom?”
“Right behind ya’” he said.
I turned, and not twenty feet away, I caught sight of the AC peeking out from a partition right next to a large pile of wood shavings and scraps of lumber . . .
Also in that area was an ancient wood burning stove which was providing the toasty atmosphere.
The grey was the original anthracite, a very subtle metallic finish that looked to be in beautiful condition. I got out of my chair and was almost afraid to see if the rest of the car was as good as the bit I’d seen.
It was. . .
It was one of those scenarios that you always hope will unfold with an automobile, and almost never does.
So, again, virtually flawless dark grey finish, an aged, but wonderfully patinated scarlet red leather cockpit, and, to cap it off, 17,000 miles! Living next to a pot bellied stove, we could forget about any corrosion. What a star. We concluded our deal and I called Inter-City Lines trucking company to pick up my Jaguar, bring her up to Boston, and collect the AC.
I kept that car for over a year, and Marilyn and I enjoyed it immensely. The Bristol engined AC’s became a favorite of mine. I was smitten with the British roadsters!
The photos below were taken in the mid-nineties shortly after we moved to New Smyrna Beach, Florida. And yeah, I was “dumb” enough to sell them all!
THE BURNS & WRIGHT VINCENT “BLACK LIGHTNING” MOTORCYCLE.
Almost at the very beginning of my European motorcycle buying, collecting and dealing, I was called by a real enthusiast, and an owner of British bikes. His name was Steve Schultz. He would bring me various tidbits of motorcycle news, and often, the availability of various collector motorcycles in his neck of the woods.
It was amazing how much Steve knew, and how many motorcycles he was aware of, since he lived in rural Waterloo, Iowa!
He was very engaging and he taught me more than a little bit.
One evening he asked me if I knew the story of what had happened to the “Burns & Wright” Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle that was a Bonneville and world record setter. . .
No. But I knew of the famous “Rollie Free” Black Lightning. Hell, everyone on earth knew that Vincent. It was almost like a Farah Fawcett poster.
ROLLIE FREE VINCENT RECORD SETTER, BONNEVILLE, 1948
Rollie Free, after his racing leathers had ripped away, stripped to nothing but tight bathing trunks, a shower cap and borrowed sneakers, then laid out flat as a board on the tank and seat on his Vincent Black Lightning and proceeded to break the land speed record for motorcycles, cracking 150 miles per hour at Bonneville, Utah.
The date was September 13, 1948 that Rollie snared the world’s top motorcycle speed record at 150.313.
Yet, even today, nearly seventy years later an astonishing number of people easily recognize that image.
But, I had never heard of the “Burns & Wright Vincent Black Lightning.”
“Well, I’ll send you some information on the bike. It raised the record in 1955 to 185.15!” said Steve!
“And,” Steve said, “it’s been locked in a “sealed-up” warehouse for many years. The guy won’t even admit he has the bike, and it’s never seen the light of day!”
Hell, I thought I’d met some “out there where the buses don’t run . . .” people in the car business, but this bike scene is running roughshod over the car lore!
“Steve, you’d let me know if that Vincent ever got loose, I hope . . . “
“Sure, Kirk, but I wouldn’t count on it being any time soon” said Steve.”
THE BURNS & WRIGHT VINCENT, VOLUME TWO . . .
In early September of that year Steve Schultz from Iowa called again:
“Kirk, the Guy said he’s going to sell the Burns & Wright “Black Lightning!”
“Really? Are you sure he’s going sell it?”
“Yeah, he’s put a price on it; first come first served . . .”
So, I guess that led me to ask: . . .”How much is it?”
That was a stunning amount of money for any, and I mean any, antique or classic motorcycle!
That was way over the edge. I was trying to remember what Rob Iannucci had paid for the Rollie Free Black Lightning. My memory told me it had been less than half the sum that was being asked for this Lightning.
But this one was the record holder. And by a big margin!
"Steve, give me 24 hours to give you an answer . . .”
It was a long twenty four hours . . .
(. . . Yeah, you knew it, didn’t you? I pulled the fuckin’ trigger . . .)
I made arrangements for Bill Henderson, who was working for me on occasion, to drive the Mazda truck to Iowa, and I would meet him there.
I flew into Waterloo, Iowa late in the day, finally getting to meet Steve Schultz. We went to his home to review again all of the known history of the Burns & Wright Vincent.
We set a time the following morning to actually lay eyes on this monster. It seemed that half of Waterloo knew about the upcoming transaction and a crowd was gathering at a large paved area adjacent to an Iowa Central Railroad switching yard. Very heady stuff . . .
When we arrived, I was introduced to the owner who was a man of few words. He started the bike, which was an explosive event. People talk often of vehicle’s that are big excitement when they fire.
That Vincent was in a world of its own. To this day it was the single most spine tingling engine start-up I’ve ever experienced. The owner drove the bike all around the paved area and the townspeople applauded mightily!
(“You made a smart move, Whitey. The Motorcycle world will love it . . .”) I said to myself . . .
I paid the gentleman, loaded up the Vincent, and rolled back to Philadelphia.
At this point I’ll ask you to read the wonderfully written brief history by the noted motorcycle journalist, Lindsay Brooke.
Boy, what a display we’d have at Carlisle and Hershey!!
A few weeks later, I called my friend, Will to come over and look at the greatest bike ever and we’d go to lunch.
When he arrived, I gave him the quick version of the Burns & Wright Vincent.
“Whadja’ pay for it?? . . .”
I told him . . .
“And, this is all of it, what I’m seein’ here?”
So, I re-ran him the history, emphasizing each and every high point . . .
“I don’t know,” . . . he said slowly . . .” the bike is just bare bones . . .”
I didn’t feel like I wanted to launch into explaining that that’s the way all racing machines are! Will was in the automotive paint business. No wonder he didn’t “get it.”
We went to lunch. Ah well, Will wasn’t a motorcycle guy. Just eat your lunch, Kirk.
AND, VERY NEARLY THE NEXT DAY . . .
I got a telephone call. A very quiet spoken man said he had an early 1964 Triumph TT for sale.
“It’s pretty old and has been off the road for a long time,” he said.
“Where have you been storing it and how long has it been since it did run?” I asked.
“I just keep it in my garage here at home and yeah, I start it now and then. “Don’t ride it though.
No license plate, no insurance . . .”
On a scale of ten where would you rank it overall?” I asked.
“Oh hell, I can’t answer that . . .prolly’ best you come look at it. I ain’t givin’ it away. I want $3,000 for it . . .”
He was right. I needed to get off my fanny and see the bike with my eyes. He lived in Hammonton, New Jersey which was about halfway to Atlantic City, New Jersey.
“I’m always around, jes’ call me when you’re comin’. . .
And, a week later, I did call. He was just as lethargic, but I told him I’d be there that Thursday in the early afternoon’
That Thursday was one of those “burn in Hell” hot days.
I had talked with Manfred Hecht and he brought me up to date on that series Triumph.
“Man, not many of those around. Triumph didn’t make many of them Manfred said. I’ve never seen one in person. Slick bike, truly bare bones . . .”
So, I skipped taking my air conditioned vehicle, and drove down in my “no air” Mazda pick-up in case I bought the bike.
Terrible traffic and nearly impossible to find his house, but when I did, was I ever surprised. Immaculate house, beautiful yard.
He had the TT up on a motorcycle trailer covered with a clean sheet. We visited for a few moments and he pulled off the cover.
That 1964 Triumph was immaculate. The factory finish of ivory with gold highlights was brilliant.
There was scarcely any “bluing” of the exhaust pipes, and I couldn’t find a ding, scratch or essentially any flaw!
The owner stepped forward to assist in my quest for faults. He showed me two or three wire wheel spoke heads that had the slightest bit of corrosion. One of the cylinder barrels had two fasteners that were just beginning to rust, and finally, the carburetor float “tickler” button was slightly discolored.
I was over the moon pleased. I paid him and he off loaded the triumph from his immaculate trailer into my “plenty used up” Mazda truck. I was embarrassed to let him see the bed of my truck!
1964 TRIUMPH 650 TT (Terrible photo, Kirk. . .)
ANOTHER LESSON RE-LEARNED . . .
I was absolutely euphoric on the drive home, but I took the time to think back to Bob Brooks, my mentor in the insurance business always slamming it into my head:
“It’s the “extra effort. Fink. That’s what makes the difference. . .!!”
I had come close to waving off on the trip to Hammonton, and look at what I was bringing home!
Well, at Carlisle a few weeks later, did we ever have the most over the top group of motorcycles!
The late Dean Hensley had brought along his fabulous Bert Munro “World’s Fastest Indian” that was being restored over a period of many years by the incomparable Steve Huntzinger.
We had a tremendous offering of vintage motorcycles that included the Burns & Wright Vincent Black Lightning, a new untitled ’67 Triumph TT, a BSA Rocket Gold Star Twin, an extremely low mileage Series C Vincent Black Shadow, a factory racing Yamaha TD 2, and, to top it off, our very fresh and rare ’64 Triumph TT!
Dick had brought along his now legendary rickety briquette burning ice stove with a sauce pan and a quart of Castrol R racing oil perking just enough for the place to smell like it was trackside in England or in a British racing shop.
Any racing man at Carlisle, would probably want to seek out the rich aroma of that racing oil.
The Ladies, maybe not so much . . .
As a final treat, Dick Miles had brought along the famous Ed La Belle nitro burning Vincent that Labelle had built to a point well past Lightning specs.
Eddie had drag raced that bike all up and down the east coast. The crowds loved LaBelle’s Vincent and when it fired up everybody stepped back! Way back!
We brought the Ed LaBelle bike more than a few times in subsequent years.
Firing that sucker up virtually stopped everyone within earshot. Half of them would come to our building to see where that noise from Hell came from . . .
OVERCOOKED . . .
Yeah, you’re right; I had hopelessly “overcooked” our display.
Oh, we sold quite a few very good motorcycles, a number of tether cars and more antique toys than I’d expected.
But as to the Vincent motorcycles, there were simply too many of them in that space!
The place was like a kaleidoscope. Too much tempting merchandise . . .
Enough . . .!
In spite of our success that week, no one was interested in our “Naked Lady” Burns & Wright record setter.
A little over a year later, after utilizing every marketing tool I had, I sold the bike to Rob Iannucci for a small loss. Robert already had the Rollie Free Vincent sitting in his office.
Was I the village idiot for buying the Burns & Wright Lightning?
Probably not, but I took my eye off the ball, in that I failed to realize that, at that time, there were very few people on earth who knew the history of that motorcycle, and it seemed there was just one, and he bought the bike.
SO WHERE ARE WE . . .
So, where are we with the Burns & Wright Vincent in today’s hyper-supercharged market?
The motorcycle was last sold for $1.1 million dollars to an astute collector who is quite precise in his purchases!
Hell, I was just runnin’ a little bit ahead of the curve . . .