So, on that Sunday I wound up another mental journey into the fascinating world of European sports automobiles. I laid aside the Times, and went outdoors and raked leaves with my infant son Geoffrey supervising from one of his wheeled conveyances.
After dinner Sunday evening, the Jag was still everywhere in my head. By Tuesday and through the week I hadn’t shaken it at all. The ad did not reappear in the New York Times the following Sunday.
(“Yes, I’m aware that at that point, I’d been a “responsible family man” for something like several days!”)
I whimsically began to think of ways I might be able to scare up the money without turning the household on its ear. That was if the car hadn’t been sold. Surely it had been. The ad hadn’t run again that past Sunday. Hell, it wouldn’t hurt to call and see if it had, in fact, been sold. If it had, I’d be able to dismiss the whole idea, and go back to being that responsible provider, father, good citizen, et al.
Well, the Jaguar had not been sold. The owner was a well known television producer, and he’d been so busy, he hadn’t rerun the ad. “Yes,” he’d be available midday this Thursday.
I must have thought of something to weakly justify considering such a purchase, as that Thursday I found myself on Park Avenue in New York, staring up at this imposing Apartment building, manned by a uniformed doorman who graciously rang up to the apartment, and I was told Mr. Harmon would be down shortly and would meet me out in front of the building. Well, as an automobile marketer, Mr. Harmon knew exactly what he was doing, as the following bit of choreography will amply demonstrate.
After a bit of a wait, I began to hear the approaching howl of the Jaguar’s dual exhausts in a lower gear as Mr. Harmon had taken advantage of the canyons of the buildings on 59th Street, turning smartly on to Park Avenue and stopping just in front of me. The Jaguar was glorious!
There I was, on a glorious autumn afternoon gazing down on this beautiful XK120M Drophead Cabriolet, finished in a deep black lacquer with a rich scarlet red leather interior. The balance of the cockpit was comprised of wool carpeting and exquisitely veneered woods, just as the ad had promised! Multiple dials, switches, small handles, and compartments, were spread throughout the interior. All of that, and finally the brilliant chrome wire wheels!
We introduced ourselves, and he offered me a spin around the block. It may sound silly in today’s fast paced world, to say that a single ride, on that afternoon in downtown Manhattan, was one that I have never forgotten. The ride was everything that was so utterly grand about the top British sports cars of that era. It was simply the most incredible automotive experience.
In that brief slice of time, I was totally swept away by the magic of that magnificent Jaguar. Imagine, for the first time in your life, trying to take in the long, sweeping, sculpted, Jaguar XK 120 hood and fenders, the rich resonating dual exhaust, the busy shifting of the gearbox, and absorbing all of that while you’re nestled in this snug jewel box of an interior, breathing in the rich aroma of the leather and the wool carpeting on a perfect, early fall day, in New York City!!
I have no idea what I said when we pulled back up in front of his building. I do remember, with no resistance, handing over the requisite number of cashier’s checks, shaking his hand enthusiastically and haltingly beginning my first drive in a truly elegant European sports car straight down Park Avenue. The ride home was flawless, and merely served to stitch me more tightly into this new world of thoroughbred automobiles. I drove that Jaguar everywhere. If I was asked to run out and pick up a half dozen apples; I’d consider buying and delivering them one at a time . . .
Very, very, early one Sunday morning, I plotted out a 70 mile run through the rich countryside of Chester County. It covered all types of deep country roads, and was a terrific route through the beautiful scenery of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
I would run that route for many years to come, in some pretty damn special automobiles. I’d find myself throughout a business week looking forward to the weekend and those early Sunday morning drives.
The Jaguar would languish through the week, adored and attended to, solely by me. The rest of the household saw the Jaguar as a possessive creature that stole away precious “task” and family time, to say nothing of the fact that it was taking up the only available garage space!
In the spring of 1963 Christopher Bradley White was born, bringing his bright smile and laughter and instant wit into the home. Suddenly, we had two star quality young men in the house!
Shortly thereafter, through a sum of $15,000 from my father in law, I ventured a bit further into the “foreign car business” as it was known then. The rudimentary idea behind my “new” automobile business was that I would purchase a few of these fascinating European cars, sell them along, and profit well on each car as we went. Quite straightforward.
My Life insurance business was still keeping me very busy. But, at the same time, it was leveling out, becoming more, and more, self sustaining. It was a rewarding career, but it was also a great deal of work dealing with the negative energy. No matter how you packaged the product, you had to fight your way past the fact that you were with a “Life Insurance Company.”
But Hell, everyone loved to talk about cars, especially these “exotic” foreign cars that were gaining a following, throughout the country.
(I remember the first few times I heard the word “exotic” used to describe an automobile. The word instantly went against my grain, and still does somewhat to this day . . . It is a marvelous word for beautiful rare flowers, extraordinary fragrances, certain dishes served in Calcutta . . . not superb automobiles.
Certain Lamborghinis may be exotic, no Ferrari would ever be. A Delage or Delahaye may be exotic, no racing Bugatti would dream of it…
A “Lady Docker” Daimler may well be exotic, a Jaguar or Aston Martin, would never be…)
My new automotive enterprise had no customer base, nor a solid source for these brilliant automobiles that I was going to buy and sell. My precious Sunday New York Times automobile classifieds and The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Bulletin automotive ads appeared to be my only real source for European sports cars, both for buying and selling! The New York Times being my leading source, I would settle into studying the Times automotive classifieds each Sunday. The Times yielded the richest and most comprehensive selection of European automobiles for sale anywhere in America. In the early 1960’s you would regularly trip over such exotic offerings as Allard’s, pre-war supercharged Alfa Romeo’s, Bentleys, Ferraris, Hispano Suiza, Isotta Fraschini, Maserati, and Rolls Royce. All of these esoteric makes were surrounded by all manner of Austin Healey, MG’s, Mercedes Benz and Jaguars.
The bigger eastern dealers, mostly located in the metropolitan New York area, often crafted quite elaborate advertisements, often five, even up to ten column inches in height. Many of the ads were well thought out and carried a good deal of surrounding “air” to draw your attention to their offerings.
Among all of those exotic car merchants, there was one dealer that stood alone in his presentation, his inventory, and his command of the English language. He was head and shoulders, above the other dealers. That dealer was Edgar Jurist, of the aptly named, Vintage Car Store in Nyack, New York. His ads and his offerings were intoxicatingly wonderful, filled with rare, esoteric automobiles. Those ads made for great Sunday reading and lusting.
In today’s world, relying largely on the Sunday classified section of one national newspaper as your source for high performance automobiles appears utterly ridiculous. Road & Track magazine had a small classified section at the end of each issue which might yield a nugget or two from time to time. Hemmings was underway by then, but largely offering American cars and parts. And, yes, the Los Angeles Times had a decent offering of cars, but I wasn’t in Los Angeles.
Today, of course, the marketplace is awash with every conceivable type of wheeled conveyance being offered. Many, many dealers, the big auction houses, the internet, eBay, and no end of publications are just stuffed with interesting automobiles for sale.
Not the case in 1963.
Being a newly funded player in the automobile buying and selling game, as it was played in 1963, meant my ramping up my learning curve in order to find my way into the still somewhat obscure business of European sports cars. I was really a stone rookie wandering on to the playing field of a game I knew very little about.
COMING NEXT: . . . “And Then It Really Began . . .”
Chapter 8 – May 10, 2016