Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Visit to RM Auto Restorations and Legendary Motorcar, August 2, 2017

RM Auto Restorations, Blenheim, Ontario
In 1978 Rob Myers, born in Chatham, Ontario, opened a small classic car restoration business in his hometown and over the years it has expanded and grown to become one of the preeminent workshops in this world.  No fewer than six cars restored at RM have won the Pebble Beach Concours since 2001, a feat unmatched by any other firm.  Mr. Myers expanded his business to include classic car auctions and was very successful at this as well with RM Auctions becoming the largest auction house of collector grade cars in the world.  In 2015 the RM group posted auction sales of $593 million, the same year that famed auctioneer Sotheby's took a financial interest in the firm, whose auction wing is since known as RM Sotheby's.

At one time RM's shop in Blenheim was open to visitors and featured a small classic car museum but that was discontinued.  We wrote to the company about our interest in classic cars and that we would be driving home from the Concours of America and would be interested in seeing the shop.  We received a very kind response from the General Manager, Mr. Mario Van Raay, and arranged to meet on August 2.

The night before we stayed at the Retro Suites Hotel on King Street in Chatham.  This very quirky hotel, made up of a number of old buildings fronting the street but with modern luxury rooms, is another one of Mr. Myer's projects.  Chatham, from what we saw of the downtown business area, is rather economically depressed, and the hotel serves to bring people there.  It was built as Mr. Myers wanted a place for his clients, who were paying vast amounts of money for car restorations, and did not feel that the budget motels, all that was on offer nearby, would suffice.  Every room in the hotel is different and we enjoyed our night in the Palm Room.

After enjoying breakfast at the hotel, we left Chatham for the shop in Blenheim.  Unfortunately, our GPS was extremely confused and what was supposed to be a 15 minute drive turned into some kind of cross-country wander through the rural countryside.  In addition, Highway 401 was undergoing very major construction and exits had been closed but eventually we made our way to the shop, which is actually visible from the highway.

Mr. Van Raay was very welcoming and gave us a thorough tour of the workshop.  We saw a number of beautiful cars in the process of restoration for customers--although it hurt to honour Mr. Van Raay's request not to photograph them!  We recognized cars that had been at the Concours of America a few days before and a number of cars, including a Ferrari 250 SWB California and a superb Isotta-Fraschini once owned by Rudolph Valentino, were being prepared for the Pebble Beach Concours.  We learned a great deal about the craftsmanship that goes into the restorations and how important it is to plan the schedule so that the employees (around 30 in the workshop) are always occupied.  The effort we put into cleaning and polishing our Corvette seems very modest when we told that the lady who does the detailing in the shop spends two weeks on each car!

In addition to the major restorations underway, there were clients who had cars in for servicing, including the owner of a Bugatti Type 35 Grand Prix car actually raced in historic racing events, and the owner of a Ford Model A.  Model As are not typical of the cars handled but Mr. Van Raay pointed out that the owner had other cars on which the shop worked.  It was clear from our conversation that Mr. Van Raay was particularly focused on classic cars--the Duesenbergs, Cords, Rolls-Royces, and Packards--on which the shop had built its exemplary reputation and he had less interest in more modern (albeit valuable) cars such as Ferraris.

After viewing the cars being worked on, we entered an area that RM calls its "showroom," where completed cars owned by clients and the firm itself as well as auction cars are on display.

1963 Shelby Cobra 289
McLaughlin-Buick Phaeton
2005 Ford GT next to a 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350

1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow Show Car
This car, fresh from an appearance at the Concours of America when we saw it, was auctioned subsequent to our visit to RM at Hershey in October 2017 by RM Sotheby's for $2.3 million.  Here is the description of this marvelous car from the auctioneer's catalogue:

On 27 May 1933, 427 sparkling acres of the best technology that man could create opened to the world in Burnham Park on the Lake Michigan shoreline of Chicago. Dubbed “A Century of Progress,” the 1933 World’s Fair brought the world’s achievements to the Windy City. The Graf Zeppelin drifted in from Germany, the first Major League Baseball All-Star Game played at Comiskey Park, and the streamlined Zephyr train made a record-breaking dash into town for display.

Most dazzling for car enthusiasts was undoubtedly the Travel and Transport Building, which showcased the best and, frequently, most expensive automobiles that America had to offer. There was the one-off Duesenberg Model SJ Torpedo Sedan, nicknamed “Twenty Grand” for its cost in 1933 dollars, and Packard’s advanced V-12-powered Sport Sedan, known as the “Car of the Dome” for its central position in the building. Cadillac presented a sleek fastback Aero-Dynamic Coupe with no fewer than 16 cylinders.

Even among this rarefied company, Pierce-Arrow’s Silver Arrow stood out. Its creation was a meeting of the minds of youthful stylist Phillip O. Wright and new Pierce-Arrow President Roy Faulkner. Based upon a 139-inch-wheelbase, 12-cylinder chassis, it had an automatic clutch and power-assisted brakes, among other advances. But these advancements all paled in comparison to the gleaming silver coachwork, a streamlined design with a roof that covered, in one smooth plane, all of the way to the rear of the car; flush-fitting doors with door handles inset out of the airstream; and a “step-down” interior that predicted Cord by three years and Hudson by 15.

According to Paul J. Auman, the superintendent of Studebaker’s experimental body department, as quoted in the December 1999 issue of Collectible Automobile, the first Silver Arrow was sent to New York in time for the Automobile Show held there earlier in the year. The second, fourth, and fifth cars were sent to the Pierce-Arrow factory in Buffalo, New York, for various promotional uses.

This Silver Arrow is recognized as being body no. 1, the first Silver Arrow produced, and was used to debut the wild new idea at East Coast auto shows during 1933, including both New York and Boston. Interestingly enough, both the recollections of Pierce employees from the period and examination of the few surviving black-and-white images seem to indicate that this first Silver Arrow was not silver at all, but two-tone tan – something that future owners, fortunately, did not resurrect.

Pierce’s clientele were notoriously conservative and not really the type of people who bought super-streamlined dream machines, something that they would come to realize in the months ahead. When the time came to disperse the Silver Arrows, one was sold to a flamboyant doctor, and yet another to an artist in suburban Chicago – men who enjoyed the attention that the car brought them. The same was true for the buyer of this car, M.C. Hudson, the San Francisco distributor for Crazy Water, the famous health-giving mineral water bottled in Texas since 1881. Liveried with Crazy Water logos on the doors, the Pierce served to promote the famous miracle cure throughout California.

F. Robert Greene, a New York attorney and one of the founders of the Pierce-Arrow Society, found the car in Texas around 1954, owned by a Mr. D’Oyley, another Crazy Water distributor.

Records of Pierce-Arrow historian Bernard Weis indicate that following Mr. Greene’s ownership, the Silver Arrow enjoyed various short-term owners, before being purchased by James Brucker Sr., of Buena Park, California.

Another early collector, Mr. Brucker was famous as a supplier of antique and unusual autos to the Hollywood film studios, as well as an early supporter of California’s “Kustom Kulture,” employing such noted counterculture artists as Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and Von Dutch. His family eventually opened their collection to the public during the 1970s as Movieworld Cars of the Stars and Planes of Fame, featuring automobiles in period tableaus with signs hand-painted and striped by Von Dutch in his usual irreverent style. The Silver Arrow, by now finished in silver with blue moldings, was one of the most famous exhibits. During its time in the Brucker stable, it reportedly appeared in the 1976 film, Gable and Lombard.

After many years being enjoyed by curious tourists at Movieworld, not far from a functioning guillotine and Robby the Robot, the Silver Arrow found a new owner in the late 1970s with Dr. Don Vesley of Louisiana and Florida. Dr. Vesley maintained the car for several years before selling it in the 1980s to the Blackhawk Collection of Danville, California, for their immense collection, where for some time it was actually united with the other pair of extant Silver Arrows! During this time the car received its current restoration by Mike Fennel of Saugas, California, in two-tone silver and pewter, with a correct striped cloth interior.

Thomas Derro purchased the restored Silver Arrow from the Blackhawk Collection in 1996, and it immediately took its place as the centerpiece of his collection. He wasted no time in beginning to show it, and over the last two decades it has gathered awards all over the country, including Best of Show at Lehigh in 1997 and Radnor Hunt in 2004; Best American Classic Car at Greenwich in 2005; AACA National First Prize honors in 1999; and a Classic Car Club of America Senior Premier badge, number 2086, among many other honors. It has always been well preserved and, aside from a few blemishes, remains in remarkable condition, with shining chrome, a well-detailed engine and undercarriage, and an interior that appears fresh, crisp, and show-worthy. Having been in enthusiast hands since the 1940s, it remains in the best-preserved, most authentic, and complete condition of the surviving Silver Arrow.  Not merely an automobile, the Derro Silver Arrow could be considered an Art Moderne monument and a symbol of the streamlined age at its finest and most audacious. 

Duesenberg Model J
Mercedes-Benz 540K

Duesenberg Model J
Duesenberg Straight Eight Engine
Ahrens-Fox Fire Engine
Cord 812 Sportsman
The Blenheim facility houses offices for the RM Sotheby's auction operation, which also maintains offices in the UK, the USA and Germany.  In selling multi-million dollar vehicles, it is important the most comprehensive research be conducted and RM Sotheby's catalogues (which are in web format as well) are models.  As we departed, Mr. Van Raay gave us three catalogues from past auctions and with their great photos and informative text they make excellent souvenirs of our morning at RM Auto Restorations.  We subsequently sent Mr. Van Raay a photo of himself driving a 1903 Ford Model A we had taken at the Concours of America as thanks.

Backtracking due to the massive construction, we were able to get onto Highway 401 and continue our journey eastwards through Southern Ontario through the usual heavy traffic.  After two and a half hours we exited the highway in Halton Hills (or, as I once knew it, Georgetown) and were shortly at the Legendary Motorcar Company.

Legendary was founded in 1985 to specialize in the restoration and sale of classic and high-performance cars and soon added muscle cars to its portfolio as the business grew rapidly.  In 1990 European cars, including Ferrari and Porsche, were added to the mix in a new 12,000 square foot building and by 2002 the company moved into its current 55,000 square foot facility.  It has a showroom suitable for 100 cars, bays for mechanical and assembly work, a paint shop and a body shop.  We paid a small entry fee to look around and saw some wonderful cars here too.  The company has an inventory list but also one showing interesting cars that have been sold here.

1931 Ford Model A Roadster

Legendary Motorcar is very big on Shelby Cobras and Mustangs

2007 Ron Fellows Edition Corvette Z06
Shelby Cobras

1933 Chrysler Imperial
Although the showroom does not have any signage devoted to the cars, we did find this description of this very interesting Imperial:

To collectors and enthusiasts of the beautiful cars of the Classic Era, the timeless and enduring body designs of LeBaron require no introduction. The firm’s designs for the advanced and regal Chrysler CL Custom Imperial of 1933 represent some of its finest creations. Only 151 LeBaron-bodied examples were produced, with just 36 being dual windshield phaetons, and today, it is estimated that just 17 remain, including a handful of restored examples. In fact, LeBaron’s own Ralph Roberts was so enamored with the design of the 1933 dual-windshield phaeton variant that he ordered one for use as his personal car.

This stunning 1933 Chrysler was delivered new to the legendary Powerboat Racer, Lou Fageol. Fageol won many Powerboat races in his career, piloting some of the fastest boats on the planet at that time. He also built race cars that contended in famous land races like the Indianapolis 500. His racing career ended when he was seriously injured in a Powerboat accident in 1955. During Fageol’s ownership of this Chrysler, he had his shop fit a V16 Cadillac engine, creating an early high performance automobile.

The next owner of this now high performance Chrysler would be well known Hollywood film actor Turhan Bey. It would eventually make its way into famous car collector Jack Passey before coming into ownership of a Laurence “Baron” Dorcy. Baron was the grandson of James J. Hill of the Great Northern Railroad and therefore, could live in a millionaire lifestyle sailing yachts, piloting aircraft, and collecting fine automobiles while living on the beautiful island of Maui. The Chrysler would be treated to a restoration by Harold Orchard between 1985 and 1987. Orchard is well known individuals for his award-winning restorations. Recently, a period correct Imperial engine was installed, replacing the V16 power unit. Over its career, this Chrysler had two different V16s powering it, and both numbers are still known. The restoration has turned this Imperial into a beautiful example of one of the rare and coveted Dual Windshield Phaetons. Its Scarlet red finish shines like brand new and adds an element of sportiness to the elegance that glows from this car. When you get behind the wheel, and fire it up with the push button starter, it is easy to forget that this beauty is 84 years old.

With less than 20 known surviving of these American classics, the rarity and collectibility is likely unmatched. The history of this particular Dual Windshield ensures that this beauty on a level above the rest of its surviving class. 

1967 Corvettes
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1953 Muntz Jet Roadster (1 of 4 short wheelbase two seat roadsters built)
More 1967 Corvettes

1958 Corvette

1963 Shelby Cobra 289 Original Factory Team Racing Car

1959 Corvette Period Race Car
Listed for sale at US$ 295,000 was this interesting Corvette:

This special Corvette Racer was factory ordered with the best options suited to go racing. It was factory painted in 503A Solid Black complemented by 490D Red Trim and 470E White convertible top. It was powered by the most potent engine available on Corvettes factory options list, the 283ci/290 horsepower solid lifter camshaft engine with Rochester fuel injection backed by a 4-speed manual transmission and Posi-traction rear axle. This special Corvette was also equipped with courtesy lights, HD brakes, HD suspension, deluxe heater and windshield washer which were the necessities need to go racing. These options all together would add $1,210 to it base price of $3,875 for a total of $5,227.
The original buyer of this rare Corvette was Gene Cormany, the Vice President of Engineering for the Zollner Corp. in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, a prime supplier of pistons for the American automobile and trucking industry. (Company owner Fred Zollner was one of the founders of the National Basketball Association and longtime owner of the Zollner Pistons team, later moved to Detroit where they became the Detroit Pistons). Cormany had attended an SCCA driving school at Lockbourne Air Force Base in 1958 and raced a Corvette later that season, reportedly without much gratification which led to the acquisition of this unique Corvette race car. He raced this car regularly throughout the Midwest in 1959 and 1960, scoring twelve top-three finishes including four wins out of 22 events.
The relationship between this Corvette race car and the first Scaglietti Corvette developed in the late 1980’s. The previous owner of this racer had purchased the original engine and fuel injection unit from the first Scaglietti Corvette with plans to install it into his race car. That motor was removed from the 1959 Scaglietti Corvette in order to get more power to be competitive at the vintage races. The engine was then saved until the race car was ready to be restored back to its period race glory.
Using period photos, this Corvette has been restored by a marque specialist to its period racing scheme of 503A Solid Black complemented by a 490D Red Leather Interior with white meatballs and race number 9.  It still retains its unique racing equipment including a braced full width bolt in roll bar, side exhaust, and steel wheels with Goodyear Super Cushion tires. The driver and passenger sit behind a full-width cutdown windscreen which utilizes the original windshield mountings. A fully restored stock windshield and windshield wipers come with the car and it easily converts to street driving configuration with the windshield swap taking only five minutes.

1931 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Henley Roadster
1965 Shelby Mustang GT350
1959 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible

1967 Shelby Mustang GT 500 above a 2016 Shelby Mustang GT 350

1937 Packard Twelve Coupe Roadster
1952 Chevrolet Pickup Truck
From Legendary's webpage: 

This special 1952 Chevrolet 3800 Pickup with custom camper was purchased by the legendary Hollywood Actor Steve McQueen from a migrant farmer he passed on the side of the road in the late ‘70’s when he resided in Trancas Beach, north of Malibu, California. An avid collector of vintage cars, trucks and motorcycles throughout his lifetime he owned more than 60 rare vehicles including a 1951 Hudson Hornet, a 1956 GMC Suburban, a 1931 Lincoln Club Sedan, a 1946 Willys Jeep and a 1935 Chrysler Airflow Imperial Sedan. This 1952 Forest Green Chevrolet 3800 series is a one-ton step-side long-bed. Powered by the original 235 cu in Loadmaster 6-cylinder engine with a 4-Speed Manual Transmission. 

McQueen understandably used the truck for cross-country camping trips as this Chevrolet pickup truck features a custom camper known as "Dust Tite ". The custom camper was built by Harold Van Hoosen, a sheet metal fabricator from Yreka, California in October 1952. Made of galvanized metal and aluminum, the camper includes a double-size bed, storage cabinets, drawers, shelves and a heavy-duty diamond-plated rear bumper. Inside the famous Chevy 5-Window cab design, complete with sun-visor, the two-tone Green Bench Seat is in wonderful condition. The interior has a pretty high trim level for a truck of this era and has an AM Radio and Chevy Heater. It also has a platform on top, making it a prime viewing location for auto and motorcycle racing events. Other features of this wonderful truck include 5-gallon gas tanks on the running boards, driver's side Spotlight and two toolboxes.

1966 Corvette Coupe with 427/396 hp engine in Sunfire Yellow
1972 Ferrari Daytona (converted from Coupe to Spyder by Straman in 1977)
1969 Corvette L89 Convertible
One of only 390 Corvettes built with the L89 engine (427 cu. in/435 hp), this Corvette was ordered by an enthusiast who was also a Ford Motor Company executive.  As he had 17 other Corvettes, this one was not driven much, showing a total of 358 miles since new.

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