Tuesday, January 26, 2010

She (Was) So Fine, My 409

Every year in late January, the Speed Channel tortures untold thousands of American men, by televising about 16 hours of the annual Barrett-Jackson auction of classic cars, live from Scottsdale Arizona. And every year, I torture myself by watching as much of it as I can and DVR-ing what I can’t.

I still have about five hours to view.

Most of the high-dollar vehicles auctioned off are what’s commonly called “muscle cars” from the mid-60’s to early ‘70’s, when Detroit crammed huge and powerful engines into small and medium sized cars with names like GTO, Mustang, Chevelle, and Barracuda. But, a lot of just plain “nice” restored older cars, and cars that are simply “rare” are bought and sold as well.

One of my neighbors, who lives a couple blocks down the road, has a blue 1955 Chevy 2-door coupe. He takes excellent care of it, and it looks like it just rolled off the assembly line. He stores it over the winter, but in the warm-weather months, he drives it. I made a point of stopping by his house last week to ask him if he was going to watch the Barrett-Jackson auction, although I knew what his answer would be.

We’ve often reminisced about the cars we owned as younger men (he’s retired) and how we wish we would have kept them. But, like he says, back then they were just cool cars, and every new model year brought a new batch of them.

The first “collectable” car I owned was a 1962 Chevy Impala SS with the legendary 409 engine. 409 cubic inches; 409 horsepower. I bought it back around 1970, drove it, and traded it in for a brand new ‘71 Mustang Boss 351. Through the years, I’ve owned a passel of collectable muscle-cars, but I sold the last of my “fleet” in 1996. At one point, I owned nine cars, including some rare Chevelles and Corvettes.

The one I hung onto the longest - a perfectly-restored 1968 Chevelle SS 396 - I sold to a man in Waunakee for an even thirty grand. That was 14 years ago. Several similar Chevelles sold for nearly six figures in this year’s Barrett-Jackson auction. But the sale that stunned me the most was a 1964 Corvette convertible - in the same color and with the same engine as the ‘64 ‘vette I owned - that went for $550,000.

I got considerably less….quite a bit more than half a million less…when I sold my ‘64 ‘vette to a man in Racine in 1995. I remember my last words to him just before he drove off in it: “Enjoy it, but don’t kill yourself”.

Over the next several days, when I have spare moments, I’ll watch the rest of the Barrett-Jackson auction that I have DVR’d. And like I do every January, I’ll feel a pang every time I see a car like one that I used to own, sold for a price I never imagined the car would fetch.

As my neighbor says, if only we could figure out which car to buy today and put into storage, and, when the time is right, sell it, and put all our grandchildren through college.

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