While we fancy ourselves automotive gurus, or at least within the space of classic and collectibles, every once in a while we’ll be contacted by someone looking to sell a vehicle that, as much as we hate to admit it, we’ll need to reference a quick Google search in order to fully grasp what’s at hand. These oddball, little-known vehicles, while definitely not the poster cars of our youth, almost invariably account for our most entertaining, fun-to-deal-in inventory. There are a number of reasons as to why these vehicles so often yield a positive experience, but the overarching driver is the fact that getting up close and personal with a vehicle outside of our typical wheelhouse presents an excellent learning opportunity. It’s a way to keep things fresh, broaden our horizons, and delve deeper into previously uncharted reaches of the automotive hobby. There are other positives too; for example, it’s a heck of a lot easier to sell a particular vehicle when it’s the only one on the market, let alone the potential value-add of being the sole example available. At this very moment, the oddball of our fleet hails from Packard’s line of Professional Cars, a ‘54 Packard Henney Junior Ambulance.
So, the big question. What is it, exactly? In 1953 and 1954, Packard, in collaboration with coachbuilder Henney, offered what they called the “Junior”, a smaller, more budget-friendly counterpart to their line of full-sized Professional Cars. Standard Professionals had a 156” wheelbase; the Junior was quite a bit smaller, with a 127” wheelbase. So while still useful in professional services, it was slightly easier to navigate and, more importantly, easier to fit in a standard sized garage. Interestingly enough, Henney didn’t actually realize the Junior’s tremendous production costs until it was too late. It’s been reported that, on average, Henney lost just over $300 on each Junior they sold. In today’s dollars, that’s about a $3,000 loss on every single car! In order to combat the loss, Henney/Packard hiked Junior prices way up midway through production, from $3,333 to $4,333, which effectively killed the model. Junior production over the two-year run totaled just 500 units, roughly half of which were under government contract, the other half sold to the general public. This particular car is one of just 120 units produced for 1954, and in addition to having an interesting, known history from new, retains much of its original equipment. This example has an impressive range of equipment for a Junior, having come factory-equipped with a siren, dome rotator, front tunnel lights, a cot, and jump seats in the rear. But while well-equipped, what really sets this particular example apart from the rest is its fantastic backstory…
Originally delivered to The Eureka Williams Company of Bloomington, Illinois, a manufacturer of vacuums, this Junior spent the first decade of its life serving as an ambulance for the company’s on-site medical center. One of the staff members at Eureka was close friends with a fireman at the LeRoy Community Fire Protection Department, so when Eureka had gotten their use out of the car, they sold it to the LeRoy firehouse for $1. We were actually able to get the full backstory on the car from the 80-year-old LeRoy Fire Chief himself, and he provided a tremendous amount of information about the car’s history. When the firehouse bought the car in 1965, it wore a supposedly hideous florescent green Eureka-themed paint job, which the firemen of course promptly sprayed over with red. The fire chief chuckled as he recalled a time in 1968 that they piled nine guys, in full fire-fighting gear, into the back of the Junior and responded to a call. Nine fireman piling out of the back; it sounds like something out of a cartoon now, but this actually happened in the 60s! The LeRoy Fire Department kept the car from 1965 until 1985, when they listed it for sale in the local newspaper for $2500. The car stayed local, and was purchased by a gentleman who made a habit of taking it out to local car shows. The sale was under one condition, the firehouse would leave their lettering on the car in order to preserve its history. The firemen obliged and, fueled by the buyer’s enthusiasm, even threw in a bunch of used equipment – helmets, a fire suit, oxygen tanks, etc. The new owner was so appreciative that he kept in touch and actually put together a photo album from his first few years of ownership and mailed it back to the firehouse; the fire chief still holds onto the photo album today, decades later! This post-firehouse owner held onto the car all the way from ’85 until this year, when we purchased it from him along with two other ’54 Henney Juniors. So yes, of the 120 total built for 1954, three are currently here at our facility. A fascinating vehicle for sure, and one that we’re particularly excited to have in inventory.
The car is now listed for sale on our site, link HERE.
Written by: Jake DePierro
There’s no other way to put it, we’re total suckers for cars with interesting backstories. We hear a lot of them; “How’d you manage to own the car for 40 years and only put 1,000 miles on it?”, “Well, I drove it home from the dealer, used it for a few weeks, decided it was a piece of crap, and parked it.” Or, “This is a really valuable car. Is there any particular reason you left it stored for all these years with the top down?”, “I don’t know, must’ve been sunny out the last time I drove it.” These are just a couple of the backstory comments that made us laugh over the course of the past year, but the deal we just closed on a couple of ultra-low-mile Cadillacs may take the cake for our favorite vehicle backstory of 2018.
We were contacted by a guy just outside Detroit who told us he was looking to sell two ‘78 Eldorado Biarritz Custom Classics. Due to poor health in the family, the cars had fallen into his lap and he didn’t want them nor know what to do with the 40ft-worth of vintage American luxo-barge now in his possession. His father-in-law had bought the two Eldorados new in ‘78 and they remained in the family ever since. He’d actually put them away in storage as soon as he bought them, as Cadillac had announced the ‘78 Biarritz Custom Classic as the swansong of the big, beloved Eldorado and he speculated that they would one day become tremendously collectible. These cars were put away with less than 500 total miles from new between the two of them, protective plastic still on the seats, and the window sticker still stuck to the glass. Based on just a couple grainy, dimly-lit, flip-phone photos of the cars sopping wet, we decided the cars were worth the gamble and blindly wired the guy a respectable sum of money.
Would you buy two cars based on just that photo? Yeahhh…it was nerve-racking, no doubt about that. But the flip-phone-wielding, non-tech-savvy seller is a situation we routinely encounter, and [knock on wood] we’ve been pleasantly surprised upon delivery more often than not. Anyway, we knew that the cars were special and the unbelievably low mileage was certainly enticing, but we were told that the two cars had spent the overwhelming majority of their lives locked in a sealed storage container, and that was a little unsettling. While it sounds like a good thing, we’ve seen cars that have been stored long-term in cargo containers, and they haven’t always aged well. These containers can develop leaks, and over the years things can get ugly. While the deal had already been made and the cars were already paid for, we decided we’d drive all the way up to Detroit and pick the cars up ourselves, rather than hire a transporter. We had to see the cars, storage container, and owner in person; we wanted the full backstory from the man himself.
While it doesn’t quite look nice and cozy, the storage container was dry, leak-free, and the cars survived in miraculously excellent condition. So, as I mentioned, the seller’s father-in-law bought the cars new and proceeded to put them in storage straightaway. But here’s where the story gets really good. The owner was Greek and had a big family, including two daughters. Both his daughters happened to get engaged right around the same time, and the family decided to have one big, combined wedding. Over 500 people in attendance, your classic “big, fat, Greek wedding”. But get this – the father gifted each couple a Cadillac. Matching, 200-mile, collector-level Caddys in as-new condition. How about that for a wedding gift?! Neither couple was particularly interested in cars, and both couples opted to let the cars remain in storage after their wedding. There they sat, all the way until late 2018, when the time to sell finally came. The next generation, the original owner’s granddaughter now, was soon to be married and the family opted to sell the Cadillacs and fund that celebration. No 20ft long, 5000lb wedding gifts this time around. When it came time to sell, the son-in-law that we dealt with had just gone on Google, searched “sell my classic car”, and called the first number he saw, which happened to be us. This was one opportunity we weren’t going to let slip through our fingers!
Since bringing the cars home and giving them a thorough looking-over, we’ve elected to leave them just as they are. They’re only original once! So what if the plastic filler panels cracked a bit over the years, that’ll happen to 40 year old plastic. If anything, the filler panels just verify the original, honest, and unmolested charm of the cars. We’ve driven the cars about a mile a piece, the farthest they’ve been driven since 1978! How cool though, to open the door of a 40 year old car, slide in over the plastic seat cover, grip the protective-wrapped steering wheel, and roll down the road with the original window sticker obstructing your periphery.
The real question though, if these cars were yours, drive or preserve? My gut says preserve, but a few thousand more summertime highway miles couldn’t hurt, right? A 55mph, fully reclined, right-lane cruise across the US of A has never sounded more appetizing.
Written by: Jake DePierro
When we think of “classic” cars, cars of the late 1990s surely don’t come to mind. Our minds go straight to carburetors, roll-up windows, and non-synchromesh manual transmissions. However, in the eyes of the law, a car only needs to be 25 years old to be considered a “classic”. How’s this for mind-boggling: next year the Mazda Miata turns 30 years old. 30! You kiddin’ me? Today we’re going to look at two modern, at least in our eyes, roadsters that just recently crested the 20-year-old mark, the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z3. In just a few years we’ll be seeing Boxsters and Z3s with classic plates; I can’t be the only one rattled by this realization.
Seriously? The Boxster is already 20 years old? Little did the public know that when the water-cooled Boxster was introduced in late 1996, it prefaced the impending demise of the beloved air-cooled Porsches. The Boxster was soon followed by the 996, the first 911 to be water-cooled rather than air-cooled, which caused a stir among the Porsche faithful. Interestingly enough, the mid-engined, 2-seater Boxster was Porsche’s first road car originally designed as a roadster since the legendary 550 Spyder. You may have noticed that Porsche just recently changed the Boxster and Cayman names to the “718”, a homage to the 718RSK racers of the late 1950s, the 718RSK being a racing variant derived of the 550 Spyder.
In the early 1990s, Porsche wasn’t quite the economic powerhouse we know today. As a matter of fact, they were on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1993, Porsche sold just 3,000 cars in the United States, total. In an effort to turn things around, Porsche looked to introduce a new, more affordable model. They looked to Japanese automaker Mazda, who was having tremendous success at the time with their Miata, an entry-level 2-seater roadster. Mazda had proven that there was a strong market for small, sporty roadsters, and Porsche recognized an opportunity. The Boxster would, in some senses, become the German Miata. It was similar to the Miata in that it was small, convertible, and relatively inexpensive, but it featured a mid-mounted flat-six producing nearly twice as much power as the Miata, had near-perfect weight distribution, and above all, wore a Porsche badge. The Boxster was a massive success, and quite likely saved the company from financial ruin. By 2003, when the first generation of Boxster was phased out, Porsche had sold more than 120,000 of them. Ironically, the Boxster, the car originally intended bring Porsche ownership to the masses, is now one of Porsche’s lowest volume sellers.
While it may seem a bit odd, as BMW has been such a prevalent automaker and household name for decades, the Z3 was actually BMW’s first mass-produced, mass-market roadster. It was also the first new BMW model to be manufactured in the United States, having been assembled at BMW’s South Carolina plant. The roadster was introduced in late 1995 and was an instant hit; by the time the car came to market for the 1996 model year, over 15,000 orders had already been placed. Just under 300,000 units were produced over the course of the car’s seven year production run, a huge success. While the Z3 Roadster sold very well, the Roadster is likely not the model that the Z3 platform will be remembered by. The Z3 M Coupe, with it’s hate-it-or-love-it “clown shoe” shape, was the ultimate development of the platform. The M Coupe was essentially a Z3 powered by an M3 powertrain; the combination of the M3’s massive power (320hp in the Z3M’s later iteration) and the Z3’s sub-3000lb weight pushed the Z3M to supercar-like levels of performance. In recent years, the Z3M Coupe has seen a phenomenal appreciation in value, and, as the market currently sits, there’s no sign of values ever dipping back down.
Today, twenty years after the Z3 Roadster’s inception, they’re still a common sighting. And because of the high production numbers, there are bargains to be had; higher-mileage examples can be had for as little as $3k. With the Roadster now at the very bottom of its depreciation curve, if you can find a nice, original, low-mileage example, you can only win. While it probably wont be the next Ferrari Dino or Porsche Speedster in terms of rapid appreciation in value, there’s no better time to buy than now.
Written by: Jake DePierro
Prior to the widely-acclaimed debut of the Lamborghini Miura’s rolling chassis at the 1965 Turin Auto Show, the mid-engined layout was reserved for racing specials; never before had a production sports car had the engine mounted just behind the front seats. The radical design of the Miura created quite a stir in Turin; show-goers were placing orders for the car having only ever seen the chassis. The following year, at the Geneva show, the public got their first glance of the full product, the Miura P400 prototype. With then-25-year old Bertone protege Marcello Gandini’s sleek, flowy styling and the revolutionary mid-engined design, the Miura was an instant hit. It captured the hearts of show-goers and the automotive press alike, and in doing so, effectively created the “supercar” segment as we know it today. Read more
Who wants a free Bimmer? Anyone assembling a LeMons team? We have a 1978 BMW e12 530i Automatic that isn’t doing us any good just sitting here. It’s a rusty non-runner, but it’s largely complete and hey, it’s free. We’d love to see it go to somebody that’s going to have fun with it, rather than let it continue to be a lawn-ornament. There’s a couple holes in the floor pans; it’s not quite Flinstone-mobile level but it’s worth noting. Seats are torn, dash is cracked…ya know how it is. We’re not interested in parting out – somebody just come take the thing!
The late 1950s through early 1970s were a bright time in automotive interior design, both literally and figuratively. Read more
Vintage steering wheels: Take a look at an old Nardi or Momo wheel, they’re just gorgeous. Simple yet elegant, vintage steering wheels have a real charm to them. When looking at the interior of a classic car, the eye is immediately drawn to the centerpiece, the steering wheel. No longer. Airbags rained on their parade. Read more
A few months back we received a call from a man who told us he had an “old Mercedes” tucked away in a storage unit in Mississippi. Of course even with the as-vague-as-could-be description, we started getting excited about the possibilities of what the car could be. The seller gave us a brief run-down of the car’s history; he had driven it while working on oil rigs in the 1980s, stationed in Mississippi. When he was forced to relocate, the seller could not take the car with him and decided to hand it off to one of his engineers. The car remained in Mississippi until we got the call and shipped it up to Chicago. Read more
The Chicago Car Club was proud to co-sponsor The “Drive to Defeat ALS” event, which brought dozens of people together to raise awareness for ALS while having some on-track fun behind the wheel of today’s most advanced sports cars.
This TR3a is one of our favorites here at CCC. We found the car in a garage almost twelve years ago now, the car having sat underneath a cover for twenty years before we got to it. As soon as we peeled back the car cover we knew this was something special. The car’s original windshield had been replaced with low profile windscreens and it was optioned with the desireable wire wheels, just how we would have spec’d it out ourselves. Thanks to the heads-up move by the previous owner of storing the car underneath a cover, it was fairly well-preserved and rust-free.
The owner was thrilled to see our excitement in pulling back the car cover; his children had not expressed any desire to own the car and he was clearly very happy to see the car go to proper enthusiasts who would appreciate the car for what it is. The owner told us that he’d sell us the car under one condition, that we never deny anyone who asks for a ride in the car. We’ve kept true to his wishes, keeping the car in our private collection and taking it out for a spirited drive a handful of times every year, appreciating every second of time behind the wheel. We have just recently listed this car for sale, as it deserves to be enjoyed more than just a few times a year.