In the U.S., the lion’s share of classic car ownership is of American cars. This figures, since at the time the most popular old cars were made, the lion’s share of sales in the U.S. were of American makes. That’s not to say, though, that there aren’t a large number of imported vehicles to be found at the big auctions in Scottsdale during January auction week. There are even a couple of auctions that sell primarily European classics, but I didn’t attend those. These are nine of my favorites that I saw.
I have to make a disclaimer: I am not qualified to be your trusty correspondent for import vehicles at classic car auctions. My old car knowledge is primarily with American makes. I am not the man to pick out the most significant, or even interesting, foreign cars at an auction. I’m sure I pass right by lots of cars many of you would find fascinating and may be totally oblivious to the most amazing foreign gems in the show. Like asking my 4 year old to find the most important cars with her kiddy camera, she’d photograph the shiniest cars (and the ground, the sky and a squirrel, etc.). I’m not much better when it comes to imports. It’s not that I can’t appreciate many of the vehicles, they are just not my first love. I look at and photograph a relatively small number of import vehicles that I find appealing for my own strange reasons. I’m also learning as I write about these cars. Hope you enjoy!
(bonus points if you can identify the vehicle in the above photo. Hint: it’s an import)
This actually probably was the shiniest import car at Barrett-Jackson! It’s a 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Binder. It has the same Full Classic presence as many American luxury cars of the period and is very difficult to take your eyes off of in person. (in the background is the ’71 Challenger stripe delete R/T discussed in the comments of my last post)
I took a few photos from the B-J website. The front is probably its better angle. Still interesting, but in my opinion, this isn’t as flattering a shot. Naturally, this era of luxury car had outside companies doing custom bodies on the factory chassis. Rolls continued this tradition much longer than American makers, having bare chassis available until the Silver Shadow in 1965. Barrett-Jackson had five Rolls from the ’20’s and ’30’s, this one bringing the most money by far at $385,000.
The interior is quite spare and functional, but of course featuring nice leather, carpet and wood. It is very interesting to me that all the Rolls’ during this period had the gearshift and brake lever to the right of the driver even though they are right-hand-drive cars.
The Phantom II engine was a straight six displacing 7.7 litres. The Phantom II was what was called the 40-50h.p. series. They also had a smaller 20-25h.p. series with a 3.7 litre six. From what I have been able to gather, the U.K. taxed cars based on horsepower, so it’s likely the engines tended to be underrated.
Rolls-Royce used mostly straight sixes until 1959 when they switched to V-8’s. If they did in fact tax on horsepower, at some point that law changed and Rolls became very coy about power ratings, which led to my favorite fact about the company: for many years the publicly stated power rating for their cars was “adequate”. So British, I love it!
Perhaps a reader can clarify that tax history a bit.
This 1966 Mercedes 250SE was a stunner. It looked great in white, with a big chrome grille, painted hubcaps and wraparound windshield. Bidders apparently agreed when they took the price up to $97,500 (I don’t know if that is actually a high price for this, but it seems like a lot of money to me).
I’m no expert on M-B numerical nomenclature, but from what I researched, this would be a W111 series started in 1960, with 1966 being the first year for the 250SE. The 250SE had a new 2.5L fuel injected straight six making 170hp.
The interior may be the most striking part of the car. Kind of like the Rolls-Royce above, it has an understated elegance with warmth added by liberal use of highly polished wood on the dash and A pillars and rich looking perforated leather seats. It’s a totally different approach than American luxury cars of the day and you can see how well-heeled buyers were beginning to discover the alternative charms of these cars. I’ve always liked the big steering wheel hub on M-B cars in this era.
Having a similar appeal is the 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SL, which sold at Russo and Steele for $63,000. This is an example of the last year for this W113 generation of SL, which started in MY1963 with a few different engines offered through its run. I love the clean styling of these cars. Every line of this car is graceful, the proportions are perfect and it manages to be both crisply beautiful and restrained. It lacks the flamboyance of the American, or even the Italian, cars of its era but there is no denying it embodies at least an equal degree of greatness. Mercedes has had a long string of elegant, obsessively well engineered and built cars from their beginning, representing some of the best qualities of their country.
One of the regrets I have about globalization is that you used to be able to tell a lot about a country by the cars it made. Each country’s cars had a different flavor to them that was unique and reflective of much of their national character. Not as much nowadays as corporations get bigger and more efficient and each country’s cars get more and more similar to every other’s.
The dark red interior looks perfect on the white car and had that great quality and comfortable look of Mercedes’ interiors of this time. Take your pick of A/C, or remove the pagoda roof for fun in the sun. I believe the SL’s also had soft tops, but I’m not sure if that is universal.
The final engine in the W113 SL was the 2.8L inline six. It was cast iron with aluminum heads and an overhead cam putting out 180hp and 193lb-ft of torque in the SL. The four speed manual this one has was standard, with automatic available.
You have to love this 1972 Toyota FJ40 Landcruiser which sold for $32,000. There were actually 7 FJ’s offered at Russo and Steele, but I found this one to be the most attractive. It’s bone stock and super clean looking with a full non-convertible body and obligatory, but totally complimenting, white roof.
Unfortunately I have no detail photos as this is the only one on the R-S website. The FJ was one of the more long-lived of any models in all Autodom, being sold with the same basic body from 1960 to 1984. There was even a Brazilian version that was made until 2001. Technically the model is J (for jeep-style 4×4), F denotes gas powered engine (B for 4 cylinder diesel, H for 6 cylinder diesel), and 40 denotes short wheelbase version (bigger numbers for longer wheelbases)
My second favorite FJ at Russo and Steele was this 1982 Toyota FJ40, which was a no sale. The color is perfect.
Toyota really nailed it with the FJ, taking the best qualities of the American Jeep and the British Land Rover and making their own unique and very well executed design. It was particularly popular worldwide, becoming a staple in third world countries or anywhere with more dirt roads than paved. The FJ’s lifetime coincided with Toyota’s massive increase in sales outside Japan, which is probably not at all unrelated. In the ’60’s, it was an early sales success in the U.S. market and helped establish a quality reputation that paved the way for their automobiles and pickups to gain widespread acceptance and growing sales in the ’70’s.
It doesn’t get much more simple and functional than this. I like the way the instrument panel and the glovebox door compliment each other. This interior is mint, but it looks like it could take infinite amounts of hard use or abuse and still be just as useful. In fact, a patina of wear would probably just make it look better!
The engine lineup is very simple. Gas powered models all had an inline 6 displacing 3.8L until 1975 and 4.2L (designated 2F) through 1984. The Diesel engines were never sold in the U.S. Naturally, they were all manually shifted. The 2F engine had 135hp and 210lb-ft of torque.
As a child of the ’80’s, when I think Ferrari, this is the first car to come to mind (in red). This unusual color 1985 Ferrari 308 GTS did not meet its undisclosed reserve at Russo and Steele.
1985 was the last year for the 308 version. That year it was replaced by the 328, which had the same body but with a larger 3.2L V8. The body style was produced through 1989. The first year model had a fiberglass body, but switched to steel for 1977 and thereafter.
The interior has a ’70’s look, befitting a car introduced in 1976. The S in GTS signifies spyder, or targa top. The steel roof version was the GTB, B for berlinetta. The GTS sold much better in the U.S.
I had to pull this off an internet picture search, as the Russo and Steele website had no engine pics. As a measure of how little I know about these cars, I just learned researching this article that the 308 had a transversely mounted engine. I hadn’t realized that any exotic mid engine cars had that arrangement. The engine was a 2927cc 32-valve alloy V8, fuel injected since 1981. It made 235hp and 188ft/lb torque running through a 5 speed transaxle. At least the oil filter is easy to get to!
Again as a child of the ’80’s, I naturally watched Magnum P.I. and Miami Vice. It’s funny that both of these Ferraris are flipped in their colors made famous on TV. Still, red is the default color for all Ferraris, so this 1986 Ferrari Testarossa looks great. It was also a no sale at Russo and Steele, but a similar 1988 Testarossa sold for $107,500 and another sold for $102,500.
The rear angle is the most dramatic on a Testarossa due to its very wide body accentuated by the full width ribbing across the tail lights and rear end.
Now this is seriously sexy. The 4.9L 12 cylinder 48-valve flat (boxer) engine is mounted longitudinally, the only truly attractive mounting direction! It made 380hp and 354lbs-ft of torque. I’m probably one of the only car enthusiasts to not have known that the Testarossa (redhead) took its name from the color of the engine cam covers. The name was previously used on a ’50’s race car.
The interior is attractive while screaming,”80’s!” You definitely won’t see a full sized floor shifter like this in any recent Ferrari. Introduced in 1984, it was made through 1995 with a 1992 name switch to 512TR (5 liters, 12 cylinders, TestaRosa).
Returning to the old Toyota 4×4 theme, Silver had a 1989 60 series Land Cruiser. Introduced in 1980, it replaced the FJ40 in the U.S. as well as the FJ55, which was a larger, four door 4×4 which is not quite as famous and iconic as the 2 door 40. The 60 series Land Cruiser is more refined and pavement-ready than the older models, even being offered with automatic transmissions and air conditioning. Internationally, the FJ40 was replaced by the 70 series, which is a more rugged vehicle and never sold in the U.S., if my research is accurate. It is actually still being made in a few countries more than 30 years after introduction.
Not to get totally off topic, but to add some context to all the confusing numbers, here’s an FJ55 owned by a guy at my work. I forget what year it is, but it’s kind of irrelevant because it has been extensively refurbed and modified. It has a GM crate LS engine. The FJ55 was made from 1967-1980 and had the same engines as the FJ40.
The 60 series may not have been as off road oriented as the FJ40, but it is still a real truck and very basic by today’s standards. It was replaced in 1990 by a larger and more luxurious Land Cruiser, which is the concept still being sold today (but a few generations later). Kind of like the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, these 80’s Land Cruisers have a cult following among folks who appreciate a capable, truck based SUV from a simpler era. As with all the Silver cars, I don’t know if it sold.
Lastly, we have a 1992 Toyota Supra which sold at Silver. I only know it sold because it has a “sold” placard in the windshield, but unfortunately it didn’t say for how much (B-J hand wrote how much each car sold for on the sold sign, e.g. 42k. I had not seen this in auctions I’ve been to in the past and was a really nice touch).
This car is from the Supra’s third generation (A70), sold from 1986-1993. Along with just about everyone else, I am a fan of the fourth generation, 1994-1998 in the U.S. I’d be curious what a nice unmodified example of that would go for at auction, as cars that are fast but not furious are pretty rare.
Maybe it’s because I’m not looking, but I almost never see the third generation cars anymore, whether stock or otherwise. They just don’t seem to be a real popular choice for “ricer” treatment and unmolested originals are very seldom seen. Perhaps some of you have had different experiences.
If you missed them, here are the previous articles from my Scottsdale trip: