Our car guy goes searching for the world’s greatest missing cars
In the old car world from which I come, there have been two great bubbles over the last few decades. The first, in the Eighties, was for Ferraris, some of which as much as quadrupled in value in less than 10 years and then, from about 1988-1991, crashed back to earth. The second was in Chrysler Hemi muscle cars in the mid Oughts—some went for as much as a $1 million around 2005. Two years later, the same car might be $150,000 and a few years later, half of that.
When there’s a spike like that, there are several follow-on effects. The first is that it brings new people into the market, money men and speculators (hedge fund managers, last time around), who are part of the inflation. It also raises the prices of other cars, as people get priced out—if you can’t afford an old Ferrari, you might be steered towards a Maserati. Lastly, it drags cars out of hiding, that were previously not worth doing anything with, or that owners suddenly get an urge to sell at ludicrous prices.
The last one has proven very durable and for years there has been varying interest in the “barn find” phenomenon, spawning not only articles and books, but several TV shows. And every time I think it’s run its course, it hasn’t. Ask me how I know.
A couple of months ago, I wrote an online piece about some of the greatest missing cars (i.e., James Dean’s Porsche Spyder; the stolen Aston Martin from Goldfinger), and it was surprisingly popular. So popular that last month I got a call out of the blue on a Saturday morning, asking if I wanted to write a book about the greatest lost exotic cars.
The first part of the project is to come up with a list of 45 of them, which is proving extremely difficult. It’s not that they’re not out there—I actually know where a Bugatti is hiding—but that the people who know the stories aren’t telling them. Oh, there are a few that were probably destroyed and no one is trying to hide, but for so many others there are people out there looking (or more likely, already know where they are and don’t want anyone else to find out) and they’re not talking. The acquisitions editor is already breathing down my neck about it.
So just finding out which cars aren’t there is turning out to be about as difficult as actually finding them, but that’s part of the chase. It all would have been far easier to do before so many lost cars were found over the last 35 years, but no one was writing about them when I was eight.
I’ve exhausted the easy (just googling it) sources, and am into heavier research through old newspaper stories and the like. I’m thinking that contacts at collector-car insurance agencies will also have some leads. I could probably write a meta-book about the research for the book, but no one would read it.
Honestly, no one is going to read this, either, outside of a few people who actually read their father’s’ day presents and my relatives.* It turns out, however, that the missing car mystery is not only alive and well, but I’ve been sucked into it. Some of the cars on my list I know should be out there and findable, including a Ferrari that’s probably a $10 million car.
Which means now I’m imagining being the guy who actually finds the real car, if not the one who buys it. That’s been in car guy’s dreams for generations, and apparently it’s as fresh and compelling now as it was in 1910 when someone was looking for that 1905 Oldsmobile they once heard about hidden the next town over. Maybe someone would read that book, after all.
Next month will include our annual Automotive Issue (July 14th), and we’ll be talking about the present and future of alternative powered cars. Drop us a line, or contact Dave directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to contribute your voice.
*who am I kidding?
David Traver Adolphus is a freelance automotive researcher who recently quit his full time job writing about old cars to pursue his lifelong dream of writing about old AND new cars. Follow him on Twitter as @proscriptus.