What. A. Year. If you are reading this, congratulations on surviving 2020! As the year is winding down and we collectively look forward to an eventual return to visible smiling faces in 2021, I took a moment to reflect on some of my most memorable inspections of 2020. I could have written about some of the basket cases I looked at this year, but it’s been a long year for everyone so instead I’d rather focus on the positives, and a few of the great cars I looked at in 2020. So, without further delay, here’s a look at my top 5 favorite inspected cars of 2020:
· 1991 Ford Bronco. OK, you could be forgiven for not getting real worked up over an early ‘90’s square nose Bronco. They don’t generally get my heart thumping either. Useful and utilitarian, they comfortably fall in the same category as trucks, and if you like trucks, you probably like Broncos and Blazers too. An old Bronco with the top off is perfectly suited for picking up a few buddies with an oversize cooler and heading to the beach or the dunes. I understand why people like them. I also know that if you are like me, you love a good car story. This particular Bronco had a remarkable, if almost unbelievable story to tell. The details of the story are too long to fully unpack here, but basically this truck was left to collect dust for over 25 years
inside a storage facility in southern Wisconsin, having accumulated only 29 (yes, twenty nine) miles after driving off the test rollers at the factory in Wayne, Michigan. Not only notable because of its unbelievably low miles and originality, this particular example was equipped with the nearly indestructible but modest 4.9 liter inline six with five-speed manual transmission, one of only 472 Broncos that year so equipped, according to Kevin Marti. In other words, a once in a lifetime find. The owner of the storage facility went through the protracted legal process to acquire this rolling time capsule after the original owner passed and was found to have no heirs. A dealer in Michigan took it in on trade when the owner decided to part with it for a mid-year Corvette. I was hired to authenticate it, and spent hours dissecting and documenting the truck, looking for any indication the truck was not exactly what it was claimed to be. This truck was the real deal. It was later offered by the dealer on Bring-A-Trailer, where the market evidently agreed with my assessment, as it sold for $90,000, smashing expectations and all previous sales records. Fox News and several automotive media outlets ran stories on the truck, because again, everyone loves a good car story…
· 1965 Corvette. Oh man, I do love mid-year Corvettes. This one was setup just about the way I’d like one, a roadster in Nassau Blue, with hardtop, knock-offs, power windows, teak wheel, and a 327 with a four speed. This one had non-original side pipes that I could have lived without, but overall, this was just a nice Corvette you could get in and drive and not worry too much about. It had a nice straight no-hit body, with all bonding strips intact, nice paint, good frame and birdcage, and everything worked. It had a CE block, with plenty of clues the car may have originally been ordered as a 365-horse car. How much horsepower was the engine making when I inspected it? 300? 350? Who cares... Enough to break the tires loose and have a blast listening to it rip through the gears. What this Corvette really had going for it was the way it drove. Not all mid-years drive nicely. This one did. The engine was smooth and strong, making all the right noises. The Muncie found each gear effortlessly. The car tracked straight as an arrow both while driving and while under braking, with no bad vibrations felt at all. With a 3.36 Posi rear, the engine felt nice and relaxed at higher speeds. No matter what speed or road condition, the interior was squeak and rattle free, even with the hardtop. This one might not turn many heads at an NCRS meet, but it will turn most heads when you’re cruising through your town. Was it perfect? No. As mentioned, the original engine was long gone, although the gearbox was the original. The tires were over 20 years old and gave their best miles up over a decade ago. A few of the suspension bushings are getting tired, and the differential had a lot of play in the yokes that it was going to need to be addressed soon. Will Rogers once said, “We can’t all be heroes, because somebody has to sit on the curb and applaud when they go by”. This Corvette reminds me of that quote in a way. This car will never be a competitive show car by NCRS or Bloomington standards, and that’s OK. As an NCRS member myself, I respect and applaud people who make vintage Corvettes better than they ever were when they were new. That said, when I’m leaving the car show after admiring a row of Top Flight contenders, this is the midyear I want to drive home in.
· 1970 Shelby GT350. Like a lot of people, I have a little more appreciation for the earlier Shelby Mustangs. The cars got progressively heavier and fancier after 1967, which was about the time Carroll started scanning the room for an exit. This trend continued through the last 1970 Shelbys, all of which were actually re-VINed 69’s that hadn’t sold. Still, if you wanted a ‘70 GT350, the one I looked at was a great candidate. Like a couple other good cars I inspected this year, this one had a great story to tell. As a highly documented two owner example, the current owner bought it from the first owner, who kept meticulous service and maintenance records on the car, including police reports for a stolen radio in 1973,
and an accident involving a motorcycle that hit the driver’s side rear quarter panel in 1976. The second owner, who I spent the better part of a day with, spent nearly a decade restoring the GT350 back to its former glory, with the help of a couple of mutual acquaintances in the SAAC club. With their help, he was able to restore the car to a concours winning level, which it did, at several SAAC sanctioned events in the 90’s. The owner had a wonderful catalogue of photos of the car before, during and after restoration, and history on the first owner as well. Astoundingly correct in nearly every way, after 25 years, the car was no longer quite competitive as a concours level car, but it had a brilliant mellowness to it, a retired top shelf show car with just enough age and patina to feel comfortable behind the wheel, rather than guilty. Finished in my preferred color of Grabber Green, and with a rare 4 speed to boot, if you had a need for a nice example of the last Mustang to wear Shelby’s name until 2006, you could do a lot worse than this example.
· 1961 MGA coupe. As a long-suffering British car maniac, I have a soft spot in my heart for small British sportscars and have always loved MGAs. In my eyes, they are the affordable baby Jaguar of its time. While my own wallet would only come out to purchase a roadster, I do understand the allure of the coupe. MG could have really screwed up the beautiful lines of the roadster by adding a fixed top, but in my opinion, they got it just right. MGAs are not all that rare, although the coupes are more exclusive than the common roadsters, but this example had a great story to tell. Purchased new in Detroit in 1961 by an accountant who missed his calling as an archivist, this is likely one of the best documented MGAs in existence. Hundreds and hundreds of service records, receipts and notes were organized and catalogued by the meticulous owner who kept and loved the car for the past 58 years. In addition to all this paperwork, the owner also kept and catalogued boxes and boxes of used parts the car had worn out over the years as well as a big box of sensible replacement spare parts to address common failures on the road. From 1961 to 1972, the car was used as daily transport, accumulating 88,000 miles in that time. Among the many highlights in the owners notes; a new clutch at 36k, a valve job, new carpet and replacement dash covering at 61k, a full re-paint and re-chroming of bumpers and grille at 66k, rocker and sill replacement and additional repair and bodywork after a couple minor fender benders at 72k, and a second complete exhaust system replacement at 85k. In 1973, the car was taken off the road and the owner worked to acquire the parts needed for restoration. The amateur restoration work labored on slowly until finally nearly completed in 1980. In 1982, the car was delivered to a storage facility in Cincinnati, where it remained untouched for 21 years. In 2002 the car was retrieved from storage, and a comprehensive professional re-restoration was commissioned, to the tune of about $70,000. Finally finished in 2006, the owner made frequent use of the
car, continuing to document all maintenance and repairs as the miles accumulated once more. When I inspected it, the car had two toolkits in the boot, with just about every part and tool needed to address the most common reasons one may breakdown on the side of the road in an old MGA. In the cockpit, I found a lovely pair of slightly worn driving gloves. Unfortunately, I did not get the pleasure of meeting the owner, but I suspect he really knew how to motor. The inspection itself was fascinating. While not quite restored to concours standards, the car wore subtle battle scars in several places in the chassis and bodywork visible underneath, hints of good repairs from decades past. It’s the only MG I’ve ever inspected where every single light and feature worked exactly as it should, without excuse or caveat, right down to the keyed door and trunk locks and the mechanical windshield washer plunger on the dashboard. The good folks at Hammer and Dolly Restorations in Traverse City had been entrusted with the upkeep of the car since 2013, and their diligence did not disappoint. While purchasing this car was a no-brainer for my client, inspecting this car almost felt a little cold-blooded, like a greedy second cousin rifling through their relatives possessions before they’re gone, staking claim on a part of a man’s life before their time is up.
· 1971 BOSS 351 Mustang. It is only a coincidence that two Mustangs make my list, helped by the fact that I look at a lot of Mustangs every year. This one was a true survivor, the last stand at the tail end of the muscle car era, and arguably the fastest Mustang you could buy off the showroom floor in 1971. That’s right; when tested by Motor Trend in 1971, the BOSS 351 was quicker both to 60 and through the quarter mile than the 1971 429 CJ Mach 1. There’s a legitimate discussion to be had about transmissions and gearing used on the test cars, but the overall point is that with a sprint to 60 coming in just 5.8 seconds and the quarter mile coming up in 13.8 seconds, the BOSS 351 was no slouch. It’s also fairly rare as Mustangs go, with only 1,806 made. I really liked this car, if for no other reason than it was almost completely stock and had never been messed with. It was also very solid and wearing all of its original date correct sheet metal and showing just over 40,000 miles. All the numbers matched, including the gearbox. The process of
confirming that took experimenting with three different types of cameras and the wrists of a contortionist to finally capture a clear image of the VIN stamping on top of the gearbox. The engine area was a study in tatty originality and preservation, except for the carb, which was a correct Holley reproduction. The interior was beautifully original, with all the wear and tear one would expect to see on a 49-year-old muscle car with 40,000 miles. It had undergone one driver quality re-spray decades ago and had enough little chips and dings that leaning against it at a car show while bench racing with buddies would probably not offend anyone. The car had been sitting for a long time when I looked at it, and was in need of a tune-up. When I drove it a slipping clutch took a little fun out of it, but the car felt tight and quiet, again like a car that’s not been taken apart and put back together again in an amateur fashion. It’s a car that epitomized what everyone means these days when they say “It’s only original once”. If I bought this car I’d throw fluids, tires, a tune-up and clutch at it and then drive the wheels off it, which is exactly what I think my client did. It won’t be the shiniest car at the cruise-in, but you’d have no problem making new friends with it.
It’s always exciting to mark the passing of another year, and it’s fun to ponder what cars I might to inspect in the coming year for our clients As we bring 2020 to a close, I would like to take a moment to thank our clients this year. I’ve had the chance to meet many of you virtually and have enjoyed working with all of you. See you in 2021!