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Cover Story March 29th, 2007

  Untitled Document



by lyle e davis

There was a certain elegance back in “the good old days.” Folks who built cars came up with some styling that is still admired today . . .and these classic photos of classic cars are sure to get the adrenaline started in car buffs of every generation.

We’re not sure what today’s designers are thinking but they don’t have the panache that the old boys did . . . oh, aerodynamics have improved I suppose. But style? It’s gone downhill. Today’s cars look . . . well . . . goofy. Like crackerboxes. The paint is nowhere near as beautiful as the old classics, the rather haughty elements of design of the old days are not carried forward in today’s monstrosities.

Yes, today’s cars have much stronger powerplants . . . and the tires and brakes have improved . . . and, oh yes, there’s that little thing called an automatic transmission. But that’s all froo-froo.

You see, when it comes right down to it . . . a car isn’t really a classic unless it’s got some history behind it . . . not just some car that engineers turned out in Detroit . . . or, more likely, Japan.

Investing in fine classic cars takes a few dollars . . . and a sharp eye for detail . . . as well as a knowledge of the market and the available inventory.

Now and then you’ll find a steal, such as was found back in The A. K. Miller’s Collection of of Motor Cars and Automobiles Auction held by Christie’s in September of 1996. We did a cover story on that. You could look it up. (Check out our archives at: Once there, go to Archives. Look for the May 4, 2006. issue. It will likely knock your socks off).

Looking at the classic cars is an experience . . . a delight for the eyes . . . the ears . . . the touch . . . and even the nose. Fine leather upholstery, in many cases, had a certain elegant smell to it. The touch of the multiple layers of paint . . . the feel of the wheel . . . it felt like a car is supposed to feel like!

1904 C Touring
1904 National Model C Touring

You take our 1904 National Model C Touring car for example. National built cars from 1900 to 1924 in Indianapolis, originally powered by electric motors. Electricity was phased out as a power source in 1906 when Arthur C. Newby became the company president. Newby was one of the four founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where National won the 500 mile race in 1912 at an average speed of 78.72 mph. National still holds the record as the largest engine to ever win the Indy 500 with a four-cylinder engine that displaced 490 cubic-inches!

The factory effort ended in 1912 after Joe Dawson's win at Indy, but private owners continued with limited success (and limited factory help) until 1919. In 1922 National merged with Dixie Flyer Company and went broke in 1924.

The 1904 National Model C Touring car we have on the cover is, to our knowledge, the only surviving car and is owned by a private party, a cardiologist, in La Jolla. He acquired it in 1991 and restored it to today’s absolutely elegant appearance. If you could persuade him to sell it you’d be looking at a minimum of $500,000 but he doesn’t sound too anxious to sell. It was, in fact, the featured car at the 2005 Pebble Beach Concourse Exhibition of classic cars.

Rolls Royce Ghost Picadilly Roadster
The Rolls Royce Silver Ghost Picadilly Roadster

A few years later Rolls-Royce brought forward the Silver Ghost Picadilly Roadster. Models were introduced for 1923 through 1925.

The Silver Ghost, introduced in 1907, was the rock on which the foundations of the greatest automobile brand name was built. World demand in the immediate aftermath of the Great War of 1914-1918, stimulated by the sterling performance of these cars in all theaters of the war in their use as high speed, reliable courier cars, transportation for high ranking officers, ambulances and armored cars, was such that the company was unable to increase production while maintaining the high standards demanded by Henry Royce.

There’s one on the market right now that I just might be able to get you a deal on. Try $400,000. That’s the asking price. Maybe you can negotiate. It’s a 1925 Springfield Picadilly Roadster, Blue exterior, tan interior.

There’s another one, however. It has cream-maroon, dark red leather, new or almost-new, competition condition; the vehicle seems in a usable state as presented at the sale. See it at Christie’s, in Pebble Beach, California. Try $112.500.

1930 Cord
The 1930 Cord L29 Rumble Seat Cabriolet

Along around 1930 another fancy car hit the streets. The Cord L-29 was revolutionary, using a front-wheel drive system rather than the popular rear-wheel drive configuration. Many believed that having the front wheels be responsible for turning, carrying the bulk of the weight, providing stopping power and for driving were too much. With the rear wheel drive systems, the weight could be dispersed throughout the body to take advantage of weight distributed. Cord wanted to be different and explore the possibilities of a front-wheel configuration.

The L-29 was available in four body-styles, a Sedan, Brougham, Phaeton, and Cabriolet. The $3000 factory price was very reasonable but the declining global market and the stock market crash was very detrimental to the sale of the vehicle. Fewer than 5,000 examples were produced from 1929 through 1931.

Errett Lobban Cord was a visionary, promoter, young and aggressive businessman. He soon acquired the assets of the Duesenberg and Auburn Automobile companies. With control of Duesenberg and Auburn automobiles, the Cord Corporation was positioned for success. What the company lacked was an automobile that could fill the price gap that existed between these two nameplates. The result was a luxury car named after himself, the Cord L-29. Under the hood lurked an 299 cubic-inch eight-cylinder Lycoming engine. The 125 horsepower engine could carry the 4600 pound vehicle to a top speed of just 77 mph, a respectable speed but not the fastest vehicle available.

Two months after the introduction of the Cord L-29 the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. Just like many other manufacturers during this time, sales plummeted and production was low. To compete, Cord dropped prices in 1930 in an attempt to stimulate sales. For 1931 a large engine producing just over 130 horsepower was installed under the hood. Unfortunately, this was not enough and production ceased at the close of 1931.

During its production run lasting from 1929 through 1931, fewer than 5,000 total examples were created. In 1930 only 1,873 united were produced. Although production was halted in 1931, there were 157 L-29's dubbed as 1932 models.

You can still acquire a 1930 Cord L29 Rumble Seat Cabriolet. At a recent auction it was expected to fetch between $150,000-$175,000. But, at the end of the auction it went unsold, the highest bid having been $125,200. So, open your piggy bank and get in line. You still have a chance to get one of these rare classic cars.

1932 Rolls Royce Phantom
The 1932 Rolls Royce Phantom / Springfield Brewster Roadster

Then, a few years later our British friends, Charles Rolls and Henry Royce came out with the 1932 Rolls Royce Phantom.

With the Silver Ghost, introduced back in 1907, Rolls-Royce had set new standards in quality and reliability. The British manufacturer has never been known for their innovations, but excelled in perfecting well proven principles.

For over 15 years, the '40/50' Silver Ghost was the only model on offer, at a time where many of the competitors offered multiple models and types. In 1922 it was joined by the Twenty, which was aimed at a slightly wider market. From 1921 onwards, the North American customers were served more directly by a new factory in Springfield, Massachusetts. The 'Springfield' Silver Ghosts were intended to be identical to the British built cars, but after a few cars were built, changes were carried through to comply with the North American's needs.

By 1925 work was started on a larger, more powerful version of the Silver Ghost's engine. In good Rolls-Royce tradition, the chassis design changed little. First known as the '40/50 New Phantom', this model is now commonly referred to as Phantom I.

Production started in May 1925, but lasted for only four years. Although it was a worthy successor to the Silver Ghost, the new engine proved too powerful for the old chassis. The 'Springfield' Phantom made its debut a year later, as it took a little while to modify the British car to left hand drive. With the end of the Springfield production of the Phantom I in 1931, the North American factory shut down.

When production ceased in Springfield in 1931, over 1240 Phantoms had rolled off the American production line.

Expect to pay somewhere between $145,000 and $160,000. for the Phantom or the Springfield/Brewster model.

1939 Aston Martin Lagonda Rapide
1939 Astin Martin Lagonda Rapide

The Lagonda was founded in England by an American, Wilbur Gunn, in the 1920's. The Lagonda V-12 had considerable racing success at Lemans including 1st and 2nd in class. It is believed that nine boat tail racing Rapides were built with a lightweight all aluminum racing body. Out of the nine Rapides, one is understood to have been fitted with a wooden body.

The car on display on our cover art is about as handsome as they get. And the price reflects it. Try $650,000.00!

Perhaps your wife will lend you the money.





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