Barrett-Jackson Bets on a New England Casino

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Jun 22, 2017

I imagine there was a time when high rollers arrived at the casinos in Monte Carlo piloting cars like the one in front of me. It’s a bright blue 1947 T26 Talbot Lago Record Cabriolet that was a prize winner at the first annual Barrett-Jackson-sponsored New England Concours d’Elegance. The setting was the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, which also hosted the second annual Barrett-Jackson auction.

Not a grocery getter, it's an ultra-exclusive Talbot Lago Record Cabriolet. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Talbot Lagos were frequently coachbuilt, but this one carries factory bodywork that is more 1930s than late 1940s. It’s amazing that the old-style coachbuilders cars actually survived into the postwar period, but there was a brief flowering before, one by one, all the great names disappeared. This car, which was sold at Sotheby’s 2008 sale in Monterey for $214,500, is powered by a 170-horsepower, 4.4-liter twin-cam six. I bet it goes like stink, if you don’t mind risking your investment in modern traffic, and trusting a set of hydraulic drum brakes.

Chief Judge Ken Gross, the white-haired guy, awarded this 1939 Graham for its "art deco excellence." (Jim Motavalli photo)

All these cars won their respective categories. A 1934 Ford roadster was described by Chief Judge Ken Gross as “about the most perfect 1934 Ford cabriolet I’ve ever seen.” Gross’ judge’s award went to a really cool 1939 Graham Shark Nose, which he praised for its “art deco excellence.”

When was the last time you saw one of these 12-cylinder Jaguar coupes, complete with vinyl roof? Most succumbed to the rust bug. (Jim Motavalli photo)

First in class for Jaguars was a 1977 XJ 12C 5.3, with the latter number indicating the displacement of the 12-cylinder engine and the “C” indicating a pillarless coupe. These cars were made only between 1975 and ’77, and rot has claimed the vast majority of them. I’ve seen a number that were comprehensively crumbling. Just for having flawless bodywork, this one (which sported a black vinyl roof) deserved an award.

This is a holy grail Corvette--a 1963 split-window coupe with fuel injection. It's been in the same family since new. Dad's picture with it was in the back. It's never going to cross the auction block. (Jim Motavalli photo)

A customized ’68 E-Type took second prize. The license plate said “ENZO-SEZ,” because supposedly Enzo Ferrari declared the E-Type the most beautiful car he’d ever seen. I don’t think the customizing, designed to mimic the lightweight E-Types of the period, did this one any favors.

In the same family from new was a Holy Grail Corvette, a 1963 split-window coupe with fuel injection. The ‘Vette, first in its class, was brought by the first owner’s son, who said it “would never cross the auction block.” In the back was a blown-up photo of the car when new, posing with Dad. How could you sell a thing like that?

Doris Duke's mother used to cruise in this Duesenberg Town Cabriolet from New York to the "cottage" in Newport. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I haven’t been to the new Audrain Automobile Museum in Newport, Rhode Island, but on the strength of the cars brought to the Concours it’s quite a comer. There’s an emphasis on cars with a connection to Newport’s gilded past, so that explains the presence of Doris Duke’s mother’s Murphy-bodied 1930 Duesenberg Town Cabriolet.  Apparently, the grand dame used it for travels from the town house in Manhattan to the “cottage” in Newport.

This Mercedes 300SL roadster sported an ultra-rare hardtop. If I'd bought one of these for $30,000 when it was offered, I'd be putting my kids through college on the proceeds. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Several Auburns were on display, with my favorite being a 1933 green sedan that was not only completely original, but had been driven down to Connecticut from Buffalo. That’s a lot of miles for an 84-year-old car! It won the “From Indiana” class, which was also open presumably to Duesies and Cords. A gorgeous bright-red Auburn boattail speedster with spooky Woodlite headlamps was the best in show.

This V-8 Nova SS was just one of several on offer. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I also attended the preview of the Barrett-Jackson auction, and I’ll leave it to Craig Fitzgerald to report on that from the floor. But I saw some interesting oddities that seemed worth commenting on. Barrett-Jackson’s shows are really oriented to muscle cars, and there were acres of Chevelle SS 396s, Cobra replicas and Road Runners on display. Here’s what I saw between the cracks, and isn’t that what Car Talk is all about?

Is it real? You bet, microcars were once all the rage. This is a fully restored 1958 BMW Isetta 300. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The cars spiraled upwards in the casino’s winter garage—a unique car show, then, complete with vendors. A gorgeous white-and-red BMW Isetta 300, fully restored, was the first car in line. I was reminded that these cars were built on a budget. The opens-from-the-front Isetta had a nub for a second windshield wiper, but only one was deemed necessary.

These Minis had little-seen (at least over here) front-end restyling. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Also in the tiny car sweepstakes was a 1975 Austin Mini Clubman, a great and very pink Nash Metropolitan convertible from 1954, and an unassuming “Polski Fiat” 126 that looked like it just got off the boat. I don’t think the latter was an actual auction car, but it was parked there! It was only slightly less odd looking than the 1967 Amphicar, but the latter (a German amphibian with a Triumph Herald engine) is worth about 1,000 times more. ’67 was the last year.

The Polski Fiat 126. Just the basics, though there was a snazzy speaker mounted on the rear deck. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Right up from there was “Demi Lovato’s Honda Civic,” personally customized for her to use on a tour with Nick Jonas. But the fact that it had less than 200 miles on it means Demi didn’t get much seat time.

Demi Lovato's Civic had less than 200 miles on it. (Jim Motavalli photo)

A vast 1959 Oldsmobile Super 88 was said to be “completely restored,” which must mean that the factory installed those cuts in the upholstery.

This gorgeous 2001 Mercedes CLK430 cabriolet, with the AMG package, was a car I thought I might actually afford--but I'm definitely kidding myself! (Jim Motavalli photo)

My heart was captured by a bright-red 1951 Ford convertible (featuring a rebuilt flathead and a continental kit). It lived in the Rodgers Museum in Las Vegas until it closed down. Close to it was another lovely thing, a 1949 Mercury Woody that could easily seat seven or maybe even eight. Since it was much smaller than a Ford Excursion, have we really learned anything about space utilization in 68 years?

These '49 Mercury Woodys could carry eight in a pinch. What's the advantage of a Suburban, then? (Jim Motavalli photo)

Since I just parted with my shared-with-Tom-Magliozzi Dodge Dart, it was interesting to see a bunch of Darts and Valiants turned into fierce race cars with hemis and 340 V-8s. Mine made do with a slant six. I hadn’t heard those names “Swinger” and “Duster” for a while. The Swinger had an “I Love Hooters” sticker on the window, next to all the racing brands.

Most Dart Swingers weren't headed for the race track, but this one had its 340 stroked to 416, and is ready for the drags. (Jim Motavalli photo)

It was also nice to see not one, not two, but at least three Pontiac Fiero GTs, some with the optimal spec of a V-6 coupled with a Getrag five-speed. These quintessential 80s cars—dig the squared-off instrument panels, with the first stirrings of electronics—seem to be having a revival now. Along the same lines, but more upscale of course, was a very original 1991 Cadillac Allante.

Not one Fiero GT, not two, but THREE. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Speaking of oddities, it was hard to miss the black 1965 Chrysler Imperial with a pair of machine guns mounted on the hood. It was used in the 2011 flop Green Hornet. Some 29 Imperials were used, most were crashed, and this is the only one left “fully armed.” If the machine guns didn’t take out the bad guys, there were also rocket launchers behind the front and rear bumpers, and a flame thrower in the grille.

This is the only "fully armed" Green Hornet movie survivor left. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The auction features a brace of used Rolls-Royces, some pristine and some a little forlorn, and it will be interesting to see how they fare. One card noted that the car had cost $120,000 new, but that doesn’t mean much at resale time.

What's the market for old Rolls-Royces? We'll soon know. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I wonder how a very plain-jane 1983 Mercedes-Benz 240D got into the auction? It was in very nice condition, yes, but had 128,899 miles on the odometer. More suitable for Craigslist, surely?

Checking out the Shelby-type Mustang. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Finally, I stopped by a 1965 Mustang convertible that had been all duded up with wish-fulfillment Shelby GT350 badging. Some $35,000 had been spent on it in the last 250 miles, prompting a passerby to comment, “I wonder why we invest in these things! You spend all that money, then you can’t use the car because you’re afraid of wrecking it.”

All these cars were being offered at no reserve, which is refreshing. The auction events continue through June 24. Check out the schedule here.

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