Songs may exhaust that first thrill, films may lose their glamour, but the value of a historical car persists through time as no other cultural iconography can, as evident in the decade defining cars that collectors, dealers and enthusiasts everywhere remember with a smile of pride and wonder.
From the very first mass-produced automobiles of the early 1900s to the opulent carriages of the Roaring 20s, from the sexy sportscars of the ‘50s to the revolutionary designs at the end of the millennium, vintage cars have influenced more than just car history — they helped define each decade with every revolution of their tires.
They say necessity is the mother of invention, as Henry Ford proved in 1913 when he installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of perhaps the most legendary classic car, the Model T. Selling for less that $300 once the manufacturing process was perfected, the Model T was purchased by more than 15 million Americans, simultaneously employing thousands in Detroit and revolutionizing the industrial business forever.
Known as the Tin Lizzie and named the most influential car of the 20th century by the Global Automotive Elections Foundation in their 1999 “Car of the Century” competition, the Model T made car history possible by virtually democratizing car ownership for the everyday consumer.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” Henry Ford famously said as he surpassed customers’ wildest dreams with a historic car built for the masses to enjoy.
A railroad mechanic turned president of the Buick Motor Company, Walter Chrysler commissioned three engineers to design a new vehicle that would become the bedrock of his own automobile company — the 1924 Chrysler Six or the Model B-70. Sold head to head against many rival automobiles in the Roaring ‘20s, including Chrysler’s former employer Buick, the first vintage car from Chrysler broke many precedents with its revolutionary designs.
Featuring a new six-cylinder, high-compression engine, the Chrysler Six boasted a top speed of 70 mph, from which it earned its model name “B-70,” and included many other unique innovations, including hydraulic brakes, aluminum pistons, a replaceable oil filter, and more.
“No matter how proud I feel because it bears the name of Chrysler, I never fool myself that I did all this,” said Chrysler on the collaborative effort that went into bringing the historic car and his namesake company to life.
Despite the Great Depression, one luxury car excelled in the ‘30s: the quintessential 1930 Packard Eight. Boasting the sleek front fenders that epitomized the classic car of the era, the Packard Eight appeared in three models — the Standard Eight, Custom Eight and De Luxe Eight.
Though expensive and bearing many of the trademark features of the previous Packard Six, the Packard Eight was powered by an eight-cylinder internal combustion engine, found also beneath the hood of vintage racecars of its time, which helped propel the big, yet elegant automobile into car history.
Conceptualized by renowned automotive designer Harley Earl, the Cadillac Series 62 defined car history in the ‘40s with its unmistakable torpedo shape and roomy interior, easily seating six comfortably. Beneath its elegant bulk, a powerful L-head V8 engine gave the Series 62 up to 150 horsepower as well as a 4-speed Hydramatic automatic transmission, the first fully automatic transmission mass-produced for passenger automobiles.
As proof of its place in car history as a truly classic car, the Cadillac Series 62 was featured in several films and television shows depicting the era, including the TV show Wonder Woman and the 2011 movie Captain America.
Historic cars do more than appear in history — they shape it, as the 1955 Ford Thunderbird did as it launched a new segment of the auto industry as the first personal luxury car. Appearing on a U.S. postage stamp, as well as countless films and television shows, the two-seat T-Bird was the country’s second mass-produced sportscar after the Chevrolet Corvette, though it was not marketed as such.
With a 150 mph speedometer and a sleek design that few automobiles of its time could match, the ’55 Thunderbird quickly gained popularity across the country and even outsold the competing Corvette 23-to-one. Stylish and sporty, the personal luxury car arrived just in time for the consumer culture of the 1950s, securing the Thunderbird forever in classic car history.
As America strode boldly into the second half of the century, nothing lured drivers’ attention like the quintessential muscle cars of the 1960s, of which the 1964 Pontiac GTO was considered if not the first, then the foremost of the class.
According to auto editor Dan Jedlicka of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Pontiac division of General Motors developed the GTO in secret behind the backs of their conservative executives, who feared their consumer base would view the muscle car in bad taste. To their chagrin, the GTO proved wildly successful and was selected Motor Trend Car of the ear in 1968.
Behind the rock ‘n roll and flower power of the 1970s festered a desire for expression and adventure, a consumer trait that gave way to the success of the versatile Chevrolet El Camino. Blending power with personality, the fourth generation of the El Camino, produced from ’73 to ’77, boasted Chevy’s then largest and most powerful engine.
From Almost Famous to Anchorman and more, innumerable depictions of the ‘70s feature the El Camino as a classic car and decade-defining icon that everyone, from car collectors to nostalgic consumers, hold in their minds forever.
From the rise in science fiction and futuristic designs like the illustrious DeLorean, it was clear that Americans desired highs speeds and sleek aesthetics in this decade of many technological advances, and Chevrolet answered the call with its 1984 Corvette C4.
With engine power ranging from 205 hp in ’84 models to 230 in ’85, the C4 provided Corvette with its second-largest production run in history, as well as the return of the convertible Corvette in 1986, making it one of the country’s most desirable sports car by collectors and consumers alike.
“The new Corvette is a truly stout automobile. It is all that the fevered acolytes so desperately wanted their fiberglass fossil to be — a true-born, world-class sports car loaded with technical sophistication,” wrote journalist Brock Yates in the March ’83 issue of Car and Driver, echoing the sentiments of classic car enthusiasts for decades to come.
Though few could afford one of their own, everyone coveted the beautiful body and record-breaking speed of the McLaren F1, which pushed the boundaries of automotive science at the end of the millennium, earning its eternal place in car history.
Influencing nearly every subsequent sports car since its 1992 debut, the McLaren F1 set the record for the world’s fastest production car, reaching 240.1 mph, and remains one of the world’s fastest natural aspirated cars, according to Top Gear Magazine’s April 2017 issue.
“The F1 will be remembered as one of the great events in the history of the car, and it may possibly be the fastest production road car the world will ever see,” wrote journalist Andrew Frankel in Autocar in 1994 of the historic car.
As the new millennium began, the events of the world seemed to race faster than ever, consumer expectations rose to their highest in the technological revolution, and the 2005 Ford Mustang GT provided all that American drivers could demand or desire in a car.
Blending ‘60s muscle with ‘80s elegance, the design team created a cultural icon “up there with the Marlboro man and the Beach Boys,” Ford Group Vice President of Design, J Mays, reportedly said of the historic car. Its 4.6L V8 engine provided up to 300 hp, and sales revved to over 160,000 in 2005 after a decade-plus delay in launching any new models of the classic car.
2012 Tesla Model S
If anyone expected the technological bubble of the early 2000s to burst, they were wrong, as it has only expanded to every corner of the globe, including the auto industry, as Elon Musk’s Tesla Model S proves.
Earning recognition and awards with each charge of its battery, the Model S was the 2013 World Green Car of the Year, the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year, among Time Magazine’s Best 25 Inventions of the Year, and Car and Driver’s Car of the Century, among other distinctions.
Though facing controversies on many issues, from range limitation to power consumption and more, this historic car has altered the course of automotive history indefinitely — as has each of these decade-defining icons in their own unique way.
From timeless Formula 1 racecars to vintage American muscle cars and classic drag racing vehicles, motorsports boasts a host of four-wheeled legends that all classic car enthusiasts can appreciate, but it’s the prolific drivers behind the wheel that elevated the cars into true icons. Among the revered history of the sport, many names leap to mind, but five prolific vintage racecar drivers demand recognition most of all for their impact on the pastime and their dedication to the craft.
Born February 15, 1929 in North London, British racing driver and team owner Graham Hill’s rise to the racetrack reflects the same need for speed drivers across the world have felt their first time behind the wheel. According to Formula 1, Hill first tried racing in 1953, taking a F3 car for a few laps around Brands Hatch motor circuit. As the story goes, he then bought a 1934 Morris, taught himself how to drive and finally got his license. He quit his job, collected unemployment and talked his way into a job as a mechanic at a racing school.
There, he eventually met Colin Chapman, an English design engineer, inventor, and builder in the automotive industry, and founder of Lotus Cars. Chapman hired Hill to work for Lotus and, in 1958, when Chapman decided his company was ready to truly test their mettle, Graham Hill became a Formula One driver.
In 1962, Hill collected a World Championship with wins in Holland, Germany, Italy and South Africa racing for British Racing Motors. He is also the only driver to win the “Triple Crown of Motorsport” : the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix
In 1973, Hill created his own Formula One team, Embassy Hill Racing, and raced with the vintage racecar Lola T370 designed custom for the team; but after failing to qualify for the 1975 Monaco Grand Prix, Hill finally retired after many years of renown.
“I am an artist. The track is my canvas, and the car is my brush,” he had said about his career.
Inspired by his uncle, a great driver in his own right, Pierre Bouillin adopted the racing name Levegh in memory of his uncle, who had allegedly rearranged the letters of his surname Velghe into a more French-sounding name.
The dedication of Levegh endured far beyond the legendary driver’s career. He had attended every running of Les Vingt-Quatre Heures, as he knew The 24 ours of Le Mans as a young man in Paris, since it began in 1923. He represented Lago-Talbot in four consecutive races (1951 to 1954), including the epic 1952 event. There, at the 24 Hours Of Le Mans, Levegh drove for the duration of the race on his own, and was well in the lead when a gear-shifting error blew his engine minutes from the finish line. Not only did the malfunction cost him the race, but also a place in the record books as the only driver ever to win Le Mans single-handed, though “close enough” has earned him eternal renown in the purveyors of racecar lore. Today, no contestant may drive for more than four hours in six, and 14 hours total out of the event, so no other driver may ever achieve that which Levegh was minutes shy of winning all on his own.
After driving Talbot for most of his career, Levegh drove the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, an iconic 2-seat sports race that Hall Of Fame Formula One driver Stirling Moss called, “the greatest sports racing car ever built — really an unbelievable machine.”
It was in that legendary racecar that Levegh passed away, on June 11 ,1955, during the infamous 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans automobile race, which took his life as well as 83 spectators when an accident during the race launched Levegh’s car into the air and its wreckage into the crowd.
Raised on a family farm in Goldsboro, North Carolina in the ‘40s and ‘50s, Malcolm Durham gained his mechanical experience working on tractors and later employed his skills to accelerate into a classic American rags-to-riches tale of motorsports renown.
Durham began racing in 1957 at Easy Street Dragstrip in Newton Grove with a 225-horsepower ’56 Chevy, a brand he would forever champion throughout his racing career. He even began working as a mechanic for Chevrolet, then in sales, which afforded him more time to race. He campaigned Chevy racecars under his own series of Super Stocks with the moniker Strip Blazer, beginning with a 427-cid Z-11 ’63 Chevy, one of only 57 ever built according to Robert Genat’s book, Vintage and Historic Drag Racers. Durham continued representing Chevy even after Chevrolet and the rest of General Motors pulled out of factory-supported in 1963.
Nicknamed “The D.C. Lip,” a title given to him by his public relations director, Durham was awarded before his death a Lifetime Achievement Award at NHRA’s Hot Rod Reunion, both for his prolific accomplishments behind the wheel as well as for challenging racial discrimination as drag racing’s first African-American superstar.
“Drag racing was and still is very exciting,” Durham said in a 2006 interview with NHRA months before he passed. “I am amazed at the current popularity of yesterday’s muscle cars and the level of participation in the nostalgia racing. Amazing. It says a lot about the growth of the sport.”
Even those who do not immediately recognize the name of the prolific racecar driver, anyone remotely aware of the motorsports culture has seen the lasting impact of Dan Gurney on racing everywhere with the iconic spray of champagne post-victory.
Born on April 13, 1931, Gurney first began racing when, after moving to California as a teenager, he quickly got caught up in the West Coast hot rod scene. At age 19, he built and raced a car that exceeded 130 miles per hour at the Bonneville Salt Flats, a timeless destination to set land speed records. He was discovered by Ferrari North American importer Luigi Chinetti who, after watching him finish second in the inaugural Riverside Grand Pix in 1957, invited Gurney to race at Le Mans in 1958.
Gurney was the first of three drivers to have won races in Sports Cars (1958), Formula One (1962), NASCAR (1963), and Indy cars (1967). According to All American Racers, Gurney drove in 312 races in 20 countries in 51 makes of cars (and also winning 51 of those competitions). Perhaps most enduring of all his deeds, Gurney started the motorsports trend of spraying champagne following a win in 1967, after winning the 24 Hours Of Le Mans together with racing partner A. J. Foyt. In that same year, Gurney won the Grand Prix of Belgium in a 416-horsepower American Eagle, which he had designed and built himself, becoming the first American in 46 years to win a world championship in an American car.
“Race driving is a form of brinkmanship, I suppose,” he told The New York Times in 1967. “First you use your judgment to determine where the brink is. Then you use your skill to approach the brink and stay at that point.
A self-described trouble-child from upstate New York, Shirley Muldowney has aptly earned the title the motorsports world has given her as the First Lady Of Drag Racing. Born June 19, 1940, Muldowney earned many firsts in her career, including the first woman to receive a license from the National Hot Rod Association to drive a Top Fuel dragster; the first person to win two and three Top Fuel titles, with a total of 18 NHRA national events, and Championship titles in 1977, 1980 and 1982; and more.
Muldowney began street racing in the 1950s in Schenectady, New York. When she was 16, she married 19-year-old Jack Muldowney, who eventually built her first dragster for her. She debuted her racing stripes in 1958 on the dragstrip of the Fonda Speedway, forever changing the world of racing with her fiery determination and defiance of gender expectations. She was bestowed such awards as an induction in the Automotive Hall Of Fame in 2005, as well as many more.
Though she pressed in an interview with Hot Rod Magazine in 2009 that her favorite car was the twin-engine dragster she competed in the U.S. Nationals at Indy with in 1970, fans and followers have said that her career truly launched with the purchase of her first nitro car from fellow racecar legend Connie Kalitta. Nicknamed the Bounty Hunter and the Bounty Huntress, the two competed together in the Funny Car racing class with her vintage 1972 Buttera Chassis Ford Mustang.
“A lot of competitors were ugly to me. What they didn’t realize was they were making it worse for themselves. The angrier they made me, the more pissed I was, the better I was in the car. Driving came naturally for me. I was not afraid or unready to deal with the unexpected. That’s where I think I had an edge on some other drivers, the new guys who came along every few years and many of the veterans, too. I could make a decision. Nobody held my hand,” she said to Hot Rod Magazine.
We’re constantly browsing online listings here at CCC, and we see many cars presented as “100% original” and “true survivor”, Read more
It’s no secret that nostalgia is a primary driver of the market for classic cars; folks purchase certain classic cars because of a special tie they feel to that car. There’s far more to that attraction than just the aesthetics striking a chord; everybody wants to re-live the “golden era”, the limited-responsibility days of their youth, and what better way to do so than with a time-capsule-like vehicle of that period. Maybe the purchasing decision is driven by a pursuit of the feeling of when you took your first girlfriend out in that sporty little coupe, or maybe it’s a more primal gravitation towards a particular vehicle, like say, the same car that you were carted to elementary school in. Whatever the reasoning behind enthusiasm for a particular car may be, one thing is for certain, nostalgia plays a pivotal role in the purchasing habits of classic car enthusiasts.
The vehicular experiences of those early, formative years have a heavy hand in sculpting a persons automotive taste and preferences, and in turn, future purchasing decisions. This subject is especially topical for me, having just treated myself to a “new” car, a ‘79 BMW 528i. Only the 4th 528i ever produced for the US market, at that. I absolutely adore the car, not because it’s the best looking or most exciting car to drive, but because I’ve desperately wanted one ever since I was a kid, having seen my dad’s daily driver, an ‘80 528i, pull into the garage at 6pm every day when he got home from work. I distinctly remember seeing that angular front end and protruding, unmistakably-BMW kidney grille and being so fascinated, just enamored with how different it looked than anything else I had seen on the road. I actually remember being upset with the family dog for taking a bite out of the driver door panel one day. Any other little kid probably would have laughed at seeing their dad get agitated like that, but I shared the frustration. Come on Louie, don’t you know this car is something special?! This personal history I have with the e12 528i makes my recent purchasing of the car seem logical and justified, even to someone who may think it’s the ugliest car on the road. Regardless of anyone’s personal opinion of the car, they’ll absolutely respect that it holds a special place in my heart, as another car likely does to them. Because of my ties to the e12, it’s able to occupy a place in my heart and mind that even a far more “desirable” car could not.
Having been in the business of buying and selling classic cars for some time now, I’ve seen first-hand how heavily not just nostalgia, but also the backstory and ownership history of a car can factor into purchasing decisions. Many buyers find it extremely important, a make-or-break even, to know that the car they’re looking at was once near-and-dear to it’s owner, or at least has a story-worthy past. Even if a particular vehicle isn’t exactly to their fancy, there’s an innate desire to continue that love and enthusiasm of previous owners, almost like the vehicle is owed it. While I see both nostalgia and backstory play a role in just about every sale, there have been a few examples in these last few months, which I’ll dive further into now, that have really made me smile for one reason or another.
1971 Volkswagen Westfalia Campmobile:
A couple months ago we received a call from a local gentleman who was looking to sell his ‘71 Westy on consignment, an unfortunate occurrence, as the bus had just undergone a full restoration and was only being sold as a result of a divorce. The owner told us that he had always wanted one, having been a child of the 70s and having identified somewhat with the counter-culture movement of the time. Now, years later, he decides to treat himself to his dream car. He tracked down a minimal-rust example in his desired original colorway, Pastel White over tan interior, and sent it to a Westy specialist to have it gone-through in its entirety. While the bus was being disassembled and prepped for paint, the restoration shop found a handwritten letter hidden underneath the carpeting. The note provided some excellent insight into the history of the bus; the previous owner, a woman in Colorado, had crossed the country in “Daisy”, as she had named it, several times. She had attended hundreds of music festivals, and even lived in it for a period in the early 1990s. She hid the note underneath the carpet knowing that if it were to be found, it would be during disassembly. “If you tear her down for parts, please know that there is sunshine in every piece. If you restore her, please let me know. She deserves it.” The note was signed off on with a name, date, and an email address. As the note was dated 2004, we figured that the email address was likely out of commission and we’d just get an undelivered notice if we tried to reach out. I gave it a shot anyway. Low and behold, a day after sending a handful of high-res photos and a walk-through video, I get an ecstatic reply. Caps lock, exclamation points, the whole deal. She even attached a fantastic photo of the bus back in the early 1990s, at home in Colorado.
I can only imagine the feeling of hearing that her beloved Daisy got a new lease on life. I know if I were to get a similar email about the 2.0L Porsche 914 rust-bucket I drove in high school, I’d be off-the-walls excited. A Chicago-based woman ended up buying the bus from us, and she said that the backstory was half the reason she followed through with the purchase. She already had two Westys sitting in her garage at home, so obviously had no real need for a third. She just saw the listing, read the story, and knew she had to have it. The story struck a chord with her and sometimes, that’s all the justification needed to pull the trigger.
I would say that the backstory of this car is short and sweet, but really, “sweet” doesn’t feel like quite the right word.
Me: “Marvin [owner], how the hell did you manage to only put 1400 miles on this thing?”
Marvin: “Well, I bought it new in ‘76. Drove it for a few weeks….ehh, not for me. These cars are crap. So I parked it, right here where you see it now.”
We love this guy. He’s a small-business owner, has excellent taste in cars and motorcycles, and until now, at over 80 years old, has only accumulated cars and motorcycles, never sold. Sitting a couple spaces over from the 1400 mile MGB, which we’re now selling on his behalf, was the first car he bought new, a ‘56 MGA. That car, 1800 miles. Same story; he drove it until he lost interest, then into the back corner of his warehouse it went. Next to that, an ‘84 911 Carrera Cab with 9k miles. Showroom-perfect condition, original window sticker and dealer paperwork still in the glovebox, but stored with the top down for the last twenty years and absolutely caked in dust. I asked him why he stored it with the top down; his response, “Well it must have been sunny out last time I drove it”. Marvin is rare breed of car enthusiast, and we respect the hell out of his approach to the hobby. Every one of his cars he has ordered brand new, optioned out to his exact desired specification, and held onto all of the original sales paperwork. As he runs his business out of a climate-controlled warehouse, he knew that he could put cars into long-term storage with little more than dust to worry about as far as deterioration. His automotive preferences have clearly aligned with the market’s preferences, as all of his cars have become highly sought-after in recent years. Air-cooled 911s, early Mini Coopers, zero-mile 70s Italian motorcycles….this guy knew exactly what he was doing when he bought all these toys. He was playing the long-term game.
Tying back to the backstory and ownership history of a car adding value and making the car more attractive in the marketplace, I sure know that having met Marvin, I’d absolutely pay a premium to own one of his cars. Having documented, known history from new and a friendly face narrating the story adds tremendous appeal to a car, and in a situation like Marvin’s, truly makes you feel like you’ve done the closest thing to buying a car fresh from the original selling dealer.
1959 International Harvester TravelAll:
In most situations when we’re dealing with classic and collectible vehicles, the value is all in the originality. However, every so often there’s a vehicle that defies that norm. There are certain charms, or cool-factors we’ll call them, that more than compensate for a lack of originality. Our TravelAll is the perfect example; we purchased the truck from the family of the original owner, who had passed away earlier this year. The truck had been way out in rural Montana since new, the owner having lived on an access road splitting two national forests. To our surprise, the family of the owner neglected to clean the truck of their grandfather’s belongings prior to shipping it out; the truck arrived at our facility packed full of goodies. We open the rear hatch, and sitting next to the spare is a lasso, axe, sledgehammer, snake bite kit, a bundle of flares, and an extensive tool kit. Up front, there’s a ceiling-mounted radio, complete with decorative feathers. There’s a secondary heater mounted under the dash, along with a fire extinguisher. There’s also an old-school coffee-maker mounted to the B pillar, a handful of add-on gauges installed, and a sweet, custom sun visor attachment with compartments to hold cigarettes and sunglasses, both of which look to have been there since at least the 1970s. While the truck originally had an automatic shifter on the column, the owner swapped out the motor and transmission for a lower-mileage unit with a 4spd manual transmission. How do we know? He did all of the maintenance himself and kept a handwritten logbook of services, fuel fill-ups, and mileage increments, keeping this log in the same notebook ever since 1960. Towards the end of the notebook, and towards the end of the owner’s life, you can actually see the handwriting becoming more and more illegible.
We feel truly privileged to have had the opportunity to continue the original owner’s enthusiasm for the TravelAll. And, since it has been in the dry, no-salt state of Montana since new, it is tremendously well-preserved and rust-free. This truck just goes to show that sometimes a good story can outweigh originality; since listing the TravelAll for sale just a few days ago, it has been shared all over the internet, garnering tons of praise. No knocks on the lack of originality, just pure admiration and appreciation for the authentic mid-America cowboy-cool factor.
These stories I’ve shared about the Westy, MGB, and TravelAll, while entertaining to hear about, aren’t really all that out-of-the-ordinary. As buyers and sellers of classic and collectible vehicles we see many, many cars come and go; the overwhelming majority of these cars have a story to tell. While maybe not every car’s story will put as big a smile on your face as the TravelAll, painted “Raisin Tan” and loaded with wild-wild-west gear, every classic car has a little something about it that will be significant to somebody. As a seller, it’s a matter of being able to articulate what that significant something is, and presenting it to the right audience. Because, as I mentioned earlier, it’s not always the look and feel that sell classic cars, it’s the intangibles.
Written by: Jake DePierro