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Feature Story


by Bob Hagin

August 23, 1996

Remember that old joke that you should never buy a used car from a dealer that operates out of a tent that has been erected in a field? The implications needn't be described.

Recently I was at a used car lot that was, indeed, in a tent and on a field but with a difference. The "field" was a fancy golf course, the sales technique was the antithesis of the high-pressure boiler-room system and the combine worth of the cars shown might well match the national budget of some of the poorer Third World Countries. It was the latest version of the Blackhawk Collection's annual sale that is held in conjunction with the very posh Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance on California's Monterey Peninsula. The sales people were helpful although they discreetly stayed in the background and allowed us shoppers to "kick tires" (figuratively speaking, of course) to our hearts content.

The cars on the lot were too numerous to count so I've simply listed the major categories and the most outstanding examples in each group:

OLD - '06 FORD MODEL K. One of the first Fords made, this big red beauty is a bit short on weather protection but there's room for the whole family and then some. The car is tall enough to prevent a lady from having to show much ankle when entering and powerful enough to almost reach 60 MPH with the windshield folded flat. Priced new at $2500 90 years ago, it was being offered at a reasonable $225,000.

LATE MODEL - '69 PORSCHE 908-02 SPYDER - A nice car although a bit cramped for space since it only seats one person. Luggage space is a bit on the small side too but then it's great for short trip where speed is of the essence: its top speed is somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-plus MPH. Although it's engine is somewhat small at only 3.0 liters, it puts out around 375 horsepower. It's former owner was actor Steve McQueen who kept it in fine shaped and never finished worse than third any time he drove the car. Priced to sell at $995,000.

FULL SIZED - '31 BUGATTI TYPE 41 ROYALE BINDER COUPE DE VILLE - Don't let the "coupe" name fool you. This car has room for two passengers up front with the chauffeur and at least three more inside the closed part of the body. Be prepared to enlarge your garage at home since this Bugatti is the largest production car ever made with a wheelbase of 15 feet and weighing in at around 7000 pounds. Originally built for Armand Esders as two seater open roadster, it was later rebodied by the folks at the Binder body shop as a closed car. Rumor has it that it was done at the insistence of Mrs. Esders to avoid having her hair mussed up by the wind. At a special price of $12.5 million, you can be assured of being exclusive since only six or seven were made.

COMPACT - '27 COOPER SPECIAL "INDY" CAR - Even more exclusive than the Bugatti (the only one left of three built), the Cooper Special is a bit small for family use (again, a single seater). But it's light and nimble and it's 91 cubic inch engine has lots of pep, having been copied from the famous Miller cars of the same era. It's modern with front- wheel drive and an advanced multi-quarter ecliptic spring system up front. Earl Cooper himself drove it in Europe with his friend Peter Kreis and made a hit with the car in Italy and other countries. It only needs the addition of fenders, a windshield with wipers and lighting both front and back to make it a fine weekend fun car. As-is at $850,000.

UNUSUAL - '48 CADILLAC SERIES 62 - A far cry from the run-of- the-mill '48 Cadillac convertibles, this car was custom-built by Jacques Saoutchik of Paris. The chassis, powertrain and instrument panel are standard Cadillac but the rest is strictly French curves around a simulated wicker body. The rest of the coachwork is finished in chrome plate with a bit of French blue paint work. Unlike some foreign cars, this car can be service by Cadillac dealers from coast to coast. A bargain at only $475,000.

CHEAP - '56 LINCOLN CONTINENTAL MARK III - For those on a limited budget, there are a few inexpensive "work" cars available, too. This Lincoln was driven by a little old lady (Mrs. Merle Norman, founder of Merle Norman cosmetics) and only on her estate in Arizona so there's no fear of body rust. In addition, this gleaming white beauty has had a complete rebuild. It features a factory-installed AM/FM radio, genuine LIncoln air conditioning and can be driven away for only $75,000.

A special section of the tent had been put aside for taking care of the finance details but again, it was strictly low pressure. Only a few of the cars on the lot had licence plates attached so registration may be complicated and don't forget that in California, there is a sales tax on used cars.

I'll have to use a calculator to find 8.5 percent of the price of that Bugatti Type 41. I can't figure that high in my head.