The Truth About Cars » collector cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:28:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » collector cars Oddball Car Collector Extraordinaire Myron Vernis’ 1972 Mazda Cosmo and 1968 Toyota Sports 800 Sat, 21 Jun 2014 23:02:43 +0000 IMG_0066

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A while back while researching the topic of automotive scams and scoundrels, I came across the story of the Amectran Exar-1, a proposed electric car, of which only a prototype was made from a Frua built concept car. It turns out that the Exar-1 still exists and it’s in the collection of Myron Vernis, who lives near Akron, Ohio. The car writing gig has given me access to some fine collections and contact with a number of prominent car collectors like Ken Lingenfelter and Jay Leno (both of them very much regular car guys who have the means to indulge a passion for cars that must of us share with them). Ken and Jay are great car guys, without a doubt, but I have a taste for the offbeat so my favorite car collector has got to be Myron because he might very well have the best collection in the world of unusual and oddball cars.

When I found out that the Amectran prototype still existed, I called up Myron and he clued me in about the Exar-1 and its creator, Edmond X. Ramirez, Sr. For what it’s worth, Vernis thinks Ramirez is a guy who ended up believing his own PR more than a scam artist. As I mentioned, I like unusual cars and it seemed that every time I brought up something weird, Myron would say, “I have/had one of those”. Since then I’ve run into Vernis a couple of times at the annual Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti, first when he was displaying his Japanese domestic market Isuzu 117 XC, and then last year he brought a Citroen CX 25 TRI station wagon (now that’s a car you don’t usually see in America).

A few weeks ago he emailed me saying that in addition to bringing something to the Orphan Car Show in the fall, he was going to be in Detroit for both of the top shelf car shows held here, the Concours of America at St. John next month and he also said he was bringing a couple of cars to the Eyes On Design show, held every Father’s Day on the grounds of the Eleanor and Edsel Ford estate in Grosse Pointe Shores.

I’m not exactly sure how his cars ended up in the “Tuner” category at Eyes On Design, because they are pretty much bone stock, but regardless of how they got in the show, I’m glad that Myron brought his 1972 Mazda Cosmo, the first rotary engine powered car made by Mazda (and the first production two-rotor Wankel in the world), and a 1968 Toyota Sports 800, the direct predecessor to the great 2000GT sports car.

You may go, “Hmmmm, the first Wankel powered Mazda, yeah that’s unusual, but what’s so weird about a Toyota?” How about an 800cc horizontally opposed air-cooled twin, normally used to run the air-conditioner compressors in Toyota buses? Yes, long before they hooked up with Subaru to make the GT 86 / FR-S / BRZ, Toyota was selling a rear wheel drive sports coupe with a flat engine up front.

The Sports 800 original design is cute as a button while the Cosmo’s styling is razor sharp and perhaps a bit inspired by the Alfa Romeo roadsters of the day. Looking over the photos, I think that I can also see influences from the E Type Jaguar, and the Chrysler Turbine car.

The Cosmo’s origins date to early 1961 when Toyo Kogyo, the corporate parent of Mazda, obtained a license from NSU for the production of a rotary Wankel engine. NSU held the patent on Felix Wankel’s motor. Work began immediately on prototypes and by mid-1963, two 798cc Type 8A twin rotor engines began testing. The following year, a Cosmo concept car featuring the latest version of Mazda’s rotary, the 982cc 10A, was introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show. Company engineers had trouble getting the rotors’ cast iron apex seals to last before settling on a design that used both carbon and aluminum. Eighty prototypes of what was by then known as the 0810 engine were assembled, with the majority installed in cars that were shipped to dealers for real world testing. The design of the engine was finalized in late 1966, producing 110 hp.

Production of the Cosmo coupes, intended as a halo car for the Mazda brand and for their revolutionary new engine, began in May, 1967. Front suspension was independent with A-arms, coilover spring/damper units, and a sway bar. There was a live axle on leaf springs in the back, but it was fairly sophisticated with a de Dion tube and trailing arms to control it. Brakes were disks up front with drums in the back, with no vacuum assist. The lightweight Cosmo was capable a 16.4 second quarter mile time with a top speed of 115 mph. It cost 1.48 million yen, ($4,100 in U.S. dollars). About 350 Series I Mazda Cosmos were made before a revised version was introduced in 1968. The Series II car, which stayed in production until 1972, the year of Vernis’ car, had a more powerful 0813 engine with 128 hp and 103 lb-ft, power brakes, bigger 15 inch wheels and a 5 speed gearbox. Wheelbase was bumped up 15 inches for a better ride and more interior room. The Series II car was capable of 120 mph and was more than a half second faster in the 1/4 mile than the original Cosmo, 15.8 seconds.

Another 1,176 Series II Cosmos were made for a total of 1,519 cars, which makes them pretty rare. All of them were hand made. Since only six were known to have been imported to the U.S. at the time, they are exceedingly rare here. Wikipedia says that Jay Leno owns a 1970 Cosmo and that Mazda USA found one in a garage a few years back. There’s also apparently one in Alberta, Canada. Then there’s Vernis’ Cosmo, which is actually rarer than Leno’s since Leno’s Cosmo has a more modern 12a motor from an RX-7 and Myron’s Cosmo has the numbers matching 10A with which it left Mazda’s fabrication shop in Hiroshima.

Vernis told me how he came to own his Cosmo:

I purchased the Cosmo from one of my very best friends in Greece three years ago. He is a great enthusiast and collector of Etceterini. He brought the car from Japan with a fresh rebuild on its original engine. He is a much more focused collector than I am and sold it because it really didn’t fit the nature of his collection. 

While the Cosmo competed with the now treasured 2000GT, that iconic sports car was not Toyota’s first sporting automobile. That honor goes to the miniscule Sports 800, whose history dates to 1955 and an effort by Japans famed MITI, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. MITI wanted to encourage the development of an inexpensive “people’s car”, homegrown for the Japanese market yet and suitable for export, unlike much of the postwar Japanese car industry that was making designs licensed from outside of Japan.

MITI’s design brief was a 400 kg vehicle that had a top speed of 100 kph and fuel consumption of 1 liter per 30 kilometers when traveling 60 kph on a level road. Major repairs wouldn’t be needed for 100,000 km.

The government agency wanted the Japanese auto industry to work together on a single new design but the automakers wanted their independence and made their own versions. Toyota’s was called the Publica, a two door sedan introduced in 1961 with rear wheel drive after a developmental detour with front wheel drive caused a delay. The first Publica was a four seater powered by an air-cooled flat twin 697cc engine that put out 28 hp. There was no cargo space for luggage, nor a radio or heater, but it was fairly modern for its day with double wishbones and torsion bars up front and a live axle on leaf springs in the rear. Brakes were drums all around. It cost 389,000 yen, around $1,000 in the U.S. dollar of the day. Toyota had high hopes and even set up a separate dealer network for the Publica but like Tata would find out years later with the Nano, sometimes consumers are more aspirational than automakers give them credit for and sales were not great.

To generate interest in the Publica line, in 1962, Toyota showed a concept for a Publica based sports car with a removable roof panel, and when the Sports 800 went into production three years later, it would be the first car with such a roof, before Porsche gave it the Targa name. It was called the Sports 800 for the 790cc 2U engine, as mentioned a horizontally opposed two cylinder job directly cooled by air. By then the stock Publica had 36 horsepower. With two carburetors the power was boosted to about 45 hp in the Sports 800.

Years before the Hachi-Roku AE86, the Sports 800 got its own nickname, Yoda-Hachi (Yoda, as in Toyota, Hachi, as in Japanese  for the number eight). It was designed by Toyota engineer Tatsuo Hasegawa who had designed military aircraft during WWII, and Shozo Sato, who spent most of his career at another Japanese automaker, Nissan. The Sports 800 has a steel monocoque with aluminum trunklid, hood, roof panel and even seat frames to reduce the mass that the little 790cc twin had to carry around. The final curb weight was 1,279 lbs.

The front end foreshadows the 2000GT, and, like cars from the classic era, manually activated shutters in the grille to allow for faster heating in the winter. The body is low and aerodynamic while the tall greenhouse allows even tall drivers to fit. Good aero allowed the Sports 800 to see 100 mph if the straightaway was long enough and fuel economy exceeded MITI’s original 1 liter per 30 km standard by one km, the equivalent of 73 mpg.  A race prepped Sports 800 won the inaugural 500 km enduro at Suzuka in 1966, against much more powerful cars like the Nissan Skyline and Lotus Elan. A fuel mileage strategy kept the Sports 800 out of the pits, allowing Shihomi Hosoya to take the checkered flag.

A few left hand drive models were built to test market conditions in the U.S. but it was never officially sold here so like the Mazda Cosmo it’s not likely that you’ll see one. It’s estimated that perhaps a dozen out of the 300 or so that still exist are in the States. About 3,000 total were made from 1965 to 1969.

Vernis described his purchase of the historic Toyota:

The Sports 800 came from Seattle. It was in collection of four such vehicles imported several years ago by an exotic Koi (yes, the fish) purveyor. He retired to Hawaii and offered the package to another close friend of mine in Texas who, in turn, gave me the option on this one. The gold color is not original but was done for a special magazine feature in Japan about fifteen years ago.

Myron Vernis is a special car guy with a very special car collection but he has a humble affect and I get the impression that he sees himself as everyman. As an enthusiast he’s knows that he has an impressive collection, he just doesn’t seem to be that impressed with him Online he goes by the screen-name of “Junkman”. Even though many of his cars are rather rare and quite historic, they’re not trailer queens. Myron and his lovely daughter Zoe drove the Cosmo and Sports 800 to the show from their hotel in Troy, some miles away from the Ford estate.

I asked Myron if there was anything interesting in the provenance of either of the cars and his response demonstrates well why he’s my favorite car collector.

Even though they are pretty special cars by their nature, neither one of my examples are exceptional. The one thing that I’m most proud of is that they are probably the most driven examples of their respective models in the US and possibly globally.

He’s undoubtedly correct. Both of the cars have a very high cool factor, and they’re both very rare in this country so it was a treat to see them, but to be frank, at a car show with a large number of very special cars I enjoyed hanging out with Myron and his daughter more than I enjoyed any of the cars at the show. He’s a font of knowledge about automobiles and he’s got an almost perpetual grin on his face. Of course if you had as many unusual, special, and fun to drive cars at your disposal as Vernis does, you’d probably be grinning to.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Definitely Invest In These Investment Cars Tue, 02 Apr 2013 16:58:23 +0000

Last week, I wrote an article entitled “Don’t Invest In These Investment Cars.” I expected the usual: at least one commenter would ask why I didn’t include a Panther derivative (which happened), my parents would ask when I was going to get a real job (which also happened), and life would otherwise continue along normally.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, I received a phone call from everyone I’ve ever met asking how I dared to include the Buick Grand National on such a list. (“They’re like $30k! And they used to be like nine! Are you an idiot?!”) So this week, I’m going to play it a little safer and instead write a piece on good investment cars. Feel free to provide your feedback, as long as it doesn’t include the words “Crown Victoria.”

DISCLAIMER: Do not actually attempt to use cars as an investment. You have a better chance of getting into the NBA as a white guy from French Lick, Indiana.

Without further ado, here are my nominations.

Acura Integra Type-R

Acura sold about 3,800 Integra Type-R units here in 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2001. (Presumably, they skipped 1999 to annoy people who wrote about them later.) Of those, 2,700 were stolen, stripped of any important parts, and stashed in a warehouse in North Jersey. And about 1,000 more were lowered by people who think modifications add value.

That means just 100 clean examples are left for people who a) appreciate the Type-R brand, and b) park in a locked garage.

Audi Quattro

The original Audi Quattro is a rally legend that probably won lots of races when driven by people from Sweden. Today, you can be just like them by purchasing a used street version, which seems reasonably priced until you bring it to a mechanic. Best just to buy one and treat it as garage art, watching the values soar around you.

E30 BMW M3

It’s actually impossible to create a list like this and not include the E30 M3, so here it is: I’ve done it. This is what we know: the E30 M3 is a seminal car for BMW enthusiasts everywhere. Like later M cars, it included a lighter curb weight, more power, subtle modifications and, apparently, no turn signals.

As I’ve said before, the only downside to buying one is that you have to deal with the kind of people who are selling them. Really, it’s stunning just how many of these are “the best example in the world.”

Ferrari F355 Berlinetta

I called out the 308 and 328 in my last article. This time, I wanted to include a Ferrari whose value will increase. As a result, I did not pick the 348.

Instead, I’ve chosen the F355 Berlinetta, which is annoyingly uncommon. Seriously, check AutoTrader: of the four zillion listings sure to pop up, three point nine zillion are for Spiders, aka convertibles, which no one wants. A few are open-roof GTS models, and about six are Berlinettas (good!) which have F1 transmissions (very, very bad). Finding a well-sorted F355 Berlinetta with three pedals is as almost difficult as finding a desirable Chevrolet SSR.

1993 Land Rover Defender 110 (NA Spec)

From 1994 to 1997, Land Rover sold a lot of Defender 90s to people who wanted to cruise along the beach after a nice hard day of watching their investment account. But an even rarer version came stateside in 1993: the Defender 110.

Only 500 “NA Spec” Defender 110 units came to the States, each equipped exactly the same: white, four-door, rust. Because of that last one, most were subject to five-figure restorations undertaken solely by people who live in Nantucket. These days, they can go for $60,000 or more, which is lots of money for a truck that leaks water on its occupants even when it isn’t raining.

1993-1995 Mazda RX-7

Anyone with even the slightest automotive knowledge is aware the RX-7 has reliability issues. Seriously, this is like the second day of car guy school, right after you learn the names of all the GM brands and before you cultivate a love of diesel-powered station wagons.

Because of its troubles, many RX-7s have been the victims of sloppy engine swaps. Still others have been “stanced” by the kind of people who find green wheels attractive. That means pristine examples will start increasing in value, if only because they’re among the most beautiful cars of all time.

Mercedes 500E

If you think the Panamera was the first four-door Porsche, you’re solely mistaken. It’s just the ugliest. Behold, the Mercedes 500E, which was built in extremely limited numbers by Porsche at a time when they desperately needed help keeping the gates open.

That help came from Mercedes-Benz, Porsche’s neighbors in Stuttgart, who asked Porsche to build the car. The resulting 500E was subtle, handsome and high-class. Clearly, it had no influence on the Panamera.

Old SUVs

Although I don’t see most SUVs climbing in value (sorry, International Scout owners), two models clearly stand out. The famous “FJ40” Toyota Land Cruiser will go up, simply because the wealthy cannot be seen cruising private beaches in a mediocre vehicle. And the original Ford Bronco will gain in value, marking the first time in the Bronco’s 31-year history it will ever be known for anything besides leading the LAPD on a tedious car chase.

Porsche 911

This should be obvious, especially with the recent (and mostly inexplicable) rise in values for 1960s and 1970s 911 models. But I’m calling out three in particular that I think will steadily go up in the next few years.

The 930 is, to me, the most obvious. For you normal people, that’s the 911 Turbo sold from the late ‘70s to the late ‘80s. There’s absolutely no reason the values for these haven’t taken off yet, except maybe for the fact that not enough have been exported by Europeans looking for a good deal. Give it time.

The 993’s values are also clearly trending upwards. That’s the 911 sold from 1995 to 1998, which makes it the last car for annoying purists who will only buy air-cooled. The 993 will always be revered by enthusiasts for this fact, and for the speed at which it kills bugs.

My “out on a limb” 911 pick is the 996 GT3, which was sold in 2004 and 2005. Not only is it a track monster, but it’s way too cheap – especially as purists start hanging on for dear life now that they’ve killed the 991 GT3 by making it faster.

1993-1998 Toyota Supra Turbo

Values of the “MkIV” Toyota Supra are only going to go up, which is annoying since they’ve already been going up ever since Vin Diesel lived his life a quarter-mile at a time. These days, a clean example with reasonable mileage can pull $50,000 or beyond, which is approximately the same money private sellers ask for Land Cruisers from a similar era.

So there you have it, folks: my picks for cars we’ll see at Barrett-Jackson in 20 years selling for multiples of their current value. Of course, that’s meaningless, since many cars at Barrett-Jackson today sell for multiples of their current value.

How wrong am I? Who’s going to call me out for not including any American cars? How many people will mention the GMC Typhoon? I’m eager to find out. Just stop calling me about the Grand National.

Doug DeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Don’t Invest In These “Investment” Cars Mon, 25 Mar 2013 15:10:11 +0000

Get any group of car enthusiasts together and they’ll eventually start arguing about which recent models will increase in value over the next twenty years. I don’t think it’s actually possible for assembled gearheads not to discuss this topic, usually somewhere in between stories about past speeding tickets and bashing the Toyota Corolla.

As a result, “investment” cars have been covered quite a bit. But here’s an interesting variation: which cars won’t increase in value? Of course, the easy answer is “most of them.” But more specifically, which recent cars are people holding on to, hoping for a value increase that just won’t come?

These are my predictions, and – as always – I soon expect to hear just how wrong I am.

Buick Grand National

We can all agree the Grand National is an unbelievably cool car. Debuting at a time when the size of an average Buick was outdone solely by the thickness of its owners’ glasses, the Grand National went like a Corvette despite possessing the aerodynamics of a file cabinet.

But here’s the problem: Buick built 30,000 Grand Nationals and sold each one to a casual collector who expected it to shoot up in value “someday.” Owners would bring guests to the house, show them the Grand National and loudly announce: “This is Junior’s college fund.” As a result, every single Grand National is currently parked in a climate-controlled garage with zero miles and a laminated window sticker. With so many examples built and so many of those in perfect shape, don’t expect to see values jump.

E28 BMW M5

I’ve noticed a growing trend among E28 M5 owners to price their cars as if they were Silicon Valley homes during the waning days of the Clinton administration. Seriously: there is one on near me that has 194,000 miles and a $20,000 asking price. I write this having not actually verified its continued presence on AutoTrader because, let’s be honest, it’s still there.

E28 M5 owners are convinced that their cars will soon appreciate like the E30 M3. Unfortunately, they’ve forgotten that the E30 M3 was the lightweight sports car that began an era, while the E28 M5 was a vaguely sporty sedan with really long shift throws. My suggestion to E28 M5 owners: enjoy your cars, because they’re amazing. But stay out of the $20,000 price range.

Ferrari 308/328

One day, I might have to eat these words. But right now, it’s hard to imagine 308 and 328 values staying anywhere but exactly where they are.

The 308 and 328 are very cool cars that look like they’re doing 200 miles per hour even when they’re sitting still. But they don’t quite have the guts to back up the styling. In fact, with its 240 horsepower, the 308 could barely crest 150 mph, let alone 200. The 328 was a bit meatier, but that doesn’t matter much in today’s world of Camrys that do 0-to-60 in six seconds.

Sure, performance isn’t everything. The Dino, for example, could barely outrun an old MG – but its values are now creeping into Daytona territory. Very true. But while there are 2,500 Dinos in this world, Ferrari built more than 12,000 308s and another 7,000 328s. The huge production numbers virtually ensure they will always remain a used car, and not a collector car.

2002-2005 Ford Thunderbird

I sincerely hope that no one bought the ’02-’05 Thunderbird as an investment. But if you did, you’ll have a rude awakening when it comes time to sell and you discover the T-Bird is worth only a little more than the Lincoln LS on which it’s based.

Like the Prowler below, the eleventh-gen Thunderbird is a case of an automaker trying too hard. Of course, it worked out for Ford: they sold every unit, and early ones were probably very profitable. But the Thunderbird’s biggest market was old people nostalgic for old Thunderbirds. Young people never latched on, which doesn’t bode well for its future as a collectible car.

Any “Indy Pace Car” Edition

I have a confession to make: I love Indy Pace Car Editions. Seriously. Yes, even that purple Corvette with the yellow wheels.

But unfortunately for people who own them, I’m basically one of one. Most people see Indy Pace Car Editions for precisely what they are: a manufacturer eeking out a few extra sales by taking a normal car and adding stickers. And, sometimes, yellow wheels.

As a result, don’t ever buy an Indy Pace Car Edition as an investment. Unless, of course, it actually paced Indy. Which it never did.

Plymouth Prowler

When the Plymouth Superbird came out all those years ago, no one ever expected its values to go anywhere. As the famous story goes, it was actually highly unpopular, which isn’t hard to believe considering its rear wing looked like an industrial-strength staple, possibly created by Paul Bunyan.

The problem with the Prowler is that it’s the exact opposite. It’s trying too hard to be cool, which virtually ensures that it will end up in the history books as gloriously uncool. The fact that its V6 came from the Dodge Intrepid and its center stack from the Chrysler parts bin only seals the deal: the Prowler will never climb in value. Even if you have the little trailer.

Porsche 997 Speedster

Before the 997 model, every single 911 Speedster was priced from the factory like a slightly more expensive 911. People bought them, stored them in inflatable bubbles, and watched values soar.

This time, Porsche wanted that value jump for itself – and they priced the 997 Speedster accordingly. For $204,000, you got unique wheels, a distinctive windshield, a weird top and a slight horsepower bump over the regular 997 Carrera S – which, by the way, was half the price. Values entered free-fall before the cars even sold out.

Of course, 997 Speedster values will, one day, climb again. But it will be many years – and a lot of inflation – before they ever return to the $200,000 mark.

So, tell me: am I wrong? Did I miss anything? What cars do you think are being stored in dirt-free controlled garages by owners who have unrealistic expectations about future values?

Doug DeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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