HAWAII CALLS: My sterling report of my trip to Cuba in search of classic cars in December prompted many of my dedicated readers to urge me to check out the cars of Hawaii. Even though my real estate business is quite busy right now I dropped everything and flew off to “the Big Island” for 10 days to do some research on their classic cars. I figured that since the weather was nice all the time I would be able to see and report on lots of classic cars. The first classic car I saw was parked in Hawaii, a little town on the far north side of the island. It was a classic 1958 rambler wagon in the stunning pink and black two tone with whitewalls and even hubcaps. A real beaut that no one had ever seen the need to do anything to but drive.
It looked like it was still in regular use and today would be called a “survivor.”
At the golf course a real nice mid-30’s Ford pickup with a flatbed drove by and I also saw a stunning, enormous, red 59 Cadillac hardtop with all the windows down driving by one day. That was just about it for classic cars on the Big Island. I’m sure there are some but don’t really know where they were.
I did strike out on cars but I did see and hear a lot of really nice motorcycles. It appears that wearing a helmet must be ILLEGAL in Hawaii since no one wears them. If you’re wearing flimsy shoes, shorts and a T-shirt I guess there’s no need to protect your head either.
In my car quest I also felt it necessary to play quite a bit of golf so I would be in the vicinity of people who have a lot of money. I learned that they rarely even show up to their multi-million-dollar vacation homes so if they have any cool cars they are apparently hidden away in their garages. I have more classic cars at my house than I saw the whole time I was in Hawaii. Car show and car swap meet season is rapidly approaching so I will be looking forward to reporting about the local car scene until June when I’m off to Scotland to see what I can find there.
A Tale of Two Vettes: I own a 1962 Corvette and my friend Mack owns a 1963 Corvette and both are convertibles. They are just 1 year apart but actually are a generation or two apart.
My 62 is known as a C-1 generation Corvette which covers the 1953 through 1962 models which were designed and manufactured with World War II technology and only came as convertibles.
Mack’s 63 is known as a C-2 generation Corvette (Stingray), was produced between 1963 and 1967 and has all the modern conveniences as of 1963, including hidden headlights, and was also available in a split window, fastback coupe.
He actually has power windows and a modern suspension and options such as power steering, power disc brakes and even air conditioning which were then available.
Whereas my 62 had none of those options even available. In the day, they would road race the 62s but with the suspension of a 1953 Chevy truck I’m not sure how they kept them on the track. My car has a trunk which is good for golf clubs or real estate open house signs and Mack’s has no trunk at all in the 63. There’s just a little room to stuff small items behind the seat.
My 62 Corvette is what’s known as a matching numbers car meaning it has all the same exact parts that it was made with in August of 1961 which includes the first year 327 engine with 250 horsepower (which really seems like plenty to me), 4-speed manual transmission, non posi-traction rear end and a stock body, red interior and Ermine White paint.
Mack’s 1962 is what’s known as a Resto-mod. It would look stock to most non-Corvette people but has a modified body including flared wheel wells to cover the wide tires, 1966 hood, 1969 side scoops, 1965 seats and a 1980’s 454 engine with about 500 horsepower. That’s pretty powerful for a car that probably only weighs about 200 pounds more than mine!! Mack picked up this Vette from a friend and the body modifications and engine swap were already done so he had the car prepped and painted in a beautiful Cadillac “Diamond Pearl” which was a great choice and redid the interior.
My Vette looks refrigerator white next to his. With the big tires and heavier engine, Mack’s next step is to have power steering installed by our buddy Marty Phillips, the Corvette guru at Phillips Auto in Totem Lake so he can actually steer the car in a parking lot. I just have a big steering wheel and steering by “armstrong.”
Considering that these two cars are the same make and just one year apart, it’s amazing just how different they are.
But each car is a great car in its own way and Mack and I are very happy to be their caretakers for a while.
Provenance: The dictionary (yes, I still actually have a printed dictionary) defines provenance as “place or source of origin.”
In the car hobby (and others) provenance is considered the history of a vehicle during its entire existence.
Provenance can tell you whether it may have rust problems based upon the climate it spent much of its life in, but with a collector vehicle it’s just fun to know as much of your vehicle’s history as possible and it can even add A LOT to the price of a vehicle.
Most often we know very little about our car’s past. I know a little bit about most of my cars, but I’ve learned a lot about my recently acquired 1947 Studebaker M-5 half-ton pickup.
In 1947 this truck cost $1082, and they produced 23,377 of them.
Total production of this M-5 model pickup between 1941 and 1948 was 52,541, but of course there were none made during the war.
Studebaker was always ahead of the competition design-wise but being a smaller company had to be thrifty where they could.
The front and rear fenders on each side are interchangeable as were the running boards so they only had to produce two fenders instead of four and just one running board. The doors are identical to one of their car models, so this became the first truck with wing windows.
After a lengthy search, I found a Studebaker M-5 pickup in Harrington, Wash., in the middle of the desert almost to Spokane.
I normally prefer stock vehicles, but this one had a 350 cubic inch Chevy motor with gear driven Isky cam, roller rockers, automatic transmission with a 2500 stall converter and a serious shift kit, and a Ford 9-inch posi-traction rear end.
But since these trucks are so rare and it at least looked stock, I thought I should check it out.
I called and it sounded OK, so I drove over to Harrington to see for myself (only a 500- mile round trip).
It sounded cool with dual exhaust and the gear drive cam that sounds like a turbo-charger and it looked OK, so I went for a drive I won’t forget.
The owner tore down some small country road, and when he told me we were going 70, I said that was fast enough!!!
I drove back (slower) and it handled OK so I actually agreed to his asking price if he would deliver it.
I’ve driven new purchases some distance and it’s usually a real adventure, so I insisted on delivery to Woodinville.
The owner had at least 50 cars sitting around his shop and yard — most of which were Studebakers and he was a full time Studebaker restorer.
This truck went fast but with old, stock drum brakes didn’t slow down very fast, so I hired him to install disc brakes in front so it now stops much better.
It took him about three months to do the work and deliver my new truck. All along I was wondering why I had paid him IN FULL!
One day I parked my new M-5 in my #1 parking spot here at Windermere Woodinville and the agent in the office next to mine came in and said: “Where did you get that truck?”
Well, the truck says COLE’S SERVICE, CUSICK WASHINGTON on each door.
Cusick is a tiny little village in far northeastern Washington and the agent’s cousin Les Cole is the owner of Cole’s Repair in Cusick. It’s a small world and we were both amazed.
Back to provenance: I took advantage of this serendipitous occasion to get Les Cole’s contact information from his cousin and get more history on my M-5.
Les bought my truck from a young man in Mead, Wash., in 1988.
It had been parked in a barn out back and in the family since the early 50s.
Les asked the young man why he was selling the truck and was told that the young man’s new wife had given the ultimatum “either the truck goes or I do.”
Les suggested he keep the truck and dump the wife because she would be leaving anyway.
Les and his wife took the truck to their own wedding in 1989 and used it in their business and parades until 2011 when Les decided he had more projects on hand than he was ever going to finish.
Several years after Les bought my truck, the seller’s older brother came into Les’s shop and asked to buy the truck back.
It seems the seller’s wife had indeed left not long after the young man had sold it — just as Les had predicted.
Of course Les declined to sell him the truck back.
When Les finally sold the truck in 2011, the new owner put in all the new drive train. We don’t really own vintage vehicles but rather care for and enjoy them until it’s someone else’s turn.
My new truck had some primer on it, so I stopped by McLendon’s Hardware to see if I could find a spray can in a similar green color to cover up the primer.
It was odd I thought, but the closest color seemed to be John Deere green.
I tried it out and it was a very close match.
Later, Les informed me that he restored John Deere tractors, so that’s why it actually is John Deere green and the hand lettering on the door is John Deere yellow, so I painted the wheels in — you guessed it — John Deere yellow.
So far, I still think this is a great truck so watch for me roaring around Woodinville or parked in my #1 spot next to the street here at Windermere Woodinville.
In consideration of my many faithful readers I recently ventured forth to Cuba to check out their cars for this, my 12th column of the year. On my way through Miami, I had a free afternoon and went to Ted Vernon Specialty Autos Inc. which is featured on the Discovery channel show “South Beach Classics.”
I met Ted who is a wild and crazy wheeler-dealer who likes cars but could probably sell anything. He has about 300 old cars crammed into dark buildings or sitting out in the sun. Apparently you don’t wash cars on a car lot in Florida? His operation looks a lot better on TV. His prices were quite high and the condition of the cars not so much and he’s not actually in South Beach which is a very trendy, hip, cool part of Miami Beach but in an industrial area quite a ways away from it.
Cuba is famous for their mid-century American cars. They had a little revolution and after 1960 imported nothing from the U.S. (our decision, not necessarily theirs). They were apparently very fond of our cars up to that point and still are. It looks as though every car imported from America before 1960 is still there and running. I saw no hulks sitting around and no junk yards. Almost all of the cars are 4-doors, are not excessively dented or rusted and many have newer paint jobs. There was very little customizing but many had chrome or mag-type wheels. Since there is a real scarcity of parts for these cars you almost have to be a mechanic to own one. It wasn’t uncommon to see one pulled over and someone working on it. I saw no tow trucks; I assume they either fixed their cars on site or towed them away with a horse. All the roads outside of Havana (including the one freeway) were full of hitchhikers and carts being pulled by horses. In the smaller towns there were very few cars, mostly horses, trucks and pedestrians.
The cars of Cuba are mostly 1946-1959 of all makes (I even saw some Studebakers, an Edsel and some Willys Wagons but alas, no Corvettes or sports cars of any kind with very few pre-war cars.) There weren’t many pickups, but I saw some American 1- or 2-ton type trucks hauling produce or even people much like a bus. They stand ’em up, pack ’em in like sardines and haul ’em around. I did see several model As that looked real good. Most of the vintage cars in Havana were being used as taxis and were either government owned or independent. This is how the enterprising (capitalistic) Cubans earn real income. Some of the really sharp convertibles were just parked in tourist areas and people were charged to have their pictures taken in them. A doctor earns about $40 per month and a cabbie with his own car could earn that in a day.
It’s not uncommon for a professional such as a doctor to drive a cab whenever he could. The government of Cuba provides housing, medical care, some basic food by rationing and as much education as one wants. Many of their graduate professionals have never worked in their field of training and Cuba even exports doctors to Venezuela in return for oil.
One day we caught an independent cab from our hotel to old Havana. It was a 1957 English Ford (we called them Anglias). It was small and rattled a lot but made the trip OK. The driver had a computer degree but had never worked a day in that field since there were no jobs.
The car had belonged to his grandfather then his father and now him. It has a gas engine and transmission from a Lada which is a Russian car that was often imported when the Russians were helping out the Cubans from 1960 to 1991 when they pulled out of Cuba.
Our return trip was in a 53 Chevy that looked A LOT better than it ran. The best American cars have been converted to diesel engines and can sell for the equivalent of $15,000 which is a lot in a country where the annual income might be $500. It’s only been in the last year that Cubans could even legally sell a car (or a home).
In Old Havana I happened upon a car museum so I just had to go in and check it out for my esteemed readers. It was the equivalent of $1.50 to get in or $5 if I wanted to use my camera, so of course I paid the $5. It was dark and dusty inside, and had about 20 very mediocre cars in un-repaired condition. I quickly realized why I was the only one in there — took two bad pictures and was out in about three minutes. My best picture turned out to be the one I took from outside looking in for free! Perhaps not my worst expenditure but close to it.
In conclusion, I would recommend this trip to anyone who likes to travel, even if cars are not your thing. The history of our neighbor 90 miles to the south, the beauty of the country and the friendliness of its people were all unforgettable.
If you would like to chat about Cuba, cars or even real estate, please call me or just stop by my office at Windermere Real Estate. Buenos dias.
DRAGSTERS: Because I write this article monthly I am fortunate to receive calls from my dedicated readers — usually about cars, sometimes about real estate. Mike, a local here in Woodinville, called me about his passion — DRAGSTERS — and asked me if I would be interested in checking his out. Of course I was, so I visited him at his home and shop east of Woodinville and was really impressed. His “main ride” is a classic dragster, so my question was “what defines a classic dragster?” The answer was simple: The driver sits in back of the engine right on top of the differential, instead of in front of the engine as in today’s dragsters. Mike spent 7 years on and off building this beauty and has raced it up and down the west coast most of the last 4 years. He raced about 10 times this year and won 6 in a row. That’s quite an accomplishment considering the reflexes required and the stress put on all the mechanical components.
This monster will do a quarter of a mile in 6 seconds at over 200 miles an hour. It’s actually doing about 160 at the eighth mile which is only 660 feet! For power, Mike has an aluminum block, blown 496-cubic- inch big block chevy that burns methonal, will turn 8000 revolutions per minute, develops 1600-1800 horsepower and shifts with a button on the steering wheel — no radiator, no tachometer, no starter and a parachute to slow it down.
Mike’s wife’s car (it’s pink) is a dragster with a 548-cubic- inch big block Chevy that burns 114 octane gas. It is a modern dragster with the driver sitting in front of the engine and has a radiator and a carburetor and takes all of 8 seconds to go a quarter of a mile. This is his version of a family car since his wife and kids have all raced it. Mike’s been racing cars and working on them all his life and in fact owns a repair shop in Redmond, so when he’s not working on cars at his business, he’s working on cars at home.
I just saw him two weeks ago and he already has his dragster in pieces prepping it for next year’s campaign.
With all his tools, fuel supply and 2 race cars and a family, Mike needs a way to get to races as far as away Bakersfield, Calif., and he does it in style. He’s got a huge Mercedes deisel RV that pulls an equally huge trailer full of everything he needs for racing. I was really impressed by what it takes to travel to races up and down the Pacific Coast.
Since I have a bunch of old cars and trucks I was really envious of Mike’s shop right next to his house. It’s big, well lighted, heated and holds both race cars, the 40-foot RV, the 34-foot trailer — all the tools one would need and still has room to work on his projects. My car storage areas sure seem inadequate now.
These race cars are obviously Mike’s passion and he has devoted all of his time to pursuing that passion, and it’s fun to meet someone who is as focused on enjoying what he does as much as Mike.
Update: Earlier this year I wrote about my friend Lance the Ford collector. He finally brought himself to selling one of his 66 Fords and bought a 58 Edsel in Saskatchewan. He drove it back over 2000 miles without a major incident. He did discover the fuel gage wasn’t quite right when he ran out of gas, but just to make it back with a 54-year-old car was quite an achievement. I once bought a truck in Portland sight unseen and it took me two days to get home! Congratulations, Lance.