You know the saying: It’s Only Original Once. Sometimes, though, once can last a very long time. I submit the following vehicles as evidence. You’ll find a smorgasbord of cars and a few trucks, all singularly well preserved either accidently, or much more likely intentionally, by their exceptional caretakers. There’s 16 vehicles profiled (7 today, 9 tomorrow), but don’t let the length scare you. If you aren’t looking to burn a lot of time, feel free to scroll through and find a few you like (click on pic for a larger image), or skip my commentary and just soak in the pretty pictures. We’ll look at GM’s today, then Fords and Japanese makes tomorrow.
This is the first of several articles I’ll do over the coming weeks showing highlights of my trip to Arizona in January. Since I don’t live there anymore, it’s been five years since I was able to attend the Arizona Auction Week. Last time, I leveraged the experience to launch my CC writing career with a series of 18 articles classed by manufacturer profiling most of the cars I liked. I won’t be that ambitious this time and am thus painfully challenged to try to pick only some of the many, many great vehicles I saw and photographed. I may not succeed in keeping it brief enough, but I promise to [probably] respect your time with a wide selection of cars CC readers are likely enjoy.
If you love classic cars (you’re at Curbside Classic, so yeah) and haven’t been to Scottsdale in January, you need to update your bucket list immediately. Not for the faint of heart, the quantity and quality of cars can easily be overwhelming for the autophile. I attended three of the four main events held this year. RM/Sotheby’s (apx. 100 cars) is a boutique type auction, small and very selective in its stock. Though their $/car average was certainly highest, the fact they don’t charge admission was a welcome surprise for us hoi polloi.
Bonham’s is similar, but I skipped that one. MAG (formerly Silver) is the opposite, the democratizer of Arizona auctions with apx. 350 cars covering mostly the lower end of the auction spectrum. Intended more for us prols, they never-the-less charged $10 to get in. Barrett-Jackson is the big show, the Super Bowl of car shows. Apx. 1800 cars covering everywhere from a little bit of low end, a whole bunch of middle and a nose-bleedingly lot of cars at the tippy, tippy top.
It would probably take at least two days to properly absorb all the cars at B-J (to say nothing of all the vendors, new car promotions, drives, demonstrations, etc, which I didn’t mess with, of course). I attempted to do it in one day, twelve hours of constant car gazing and photographing with one 15 minute sitdown to eat the lunch I brought in my pocket. Their charge for the privilege varies from $25 early in the week to north of $100 on the weekend, and it gets packed with spectators. I was suffering a bit of AAO (acute awesomeness overload) by the end, my personal car buttons being pushed over and over but I think I avoided getting completely numbed to beauty.
So early on my B-J Day (Thursday), during the hour when it’s joyfully almost empty of spectators, I came upon this 1971 Corvette. They say all Corvettes are red, but this lusciously blue Stingray would beg to differ. It looked rather unassuming with its proper whitewalls and not claiming any big engine or desirable options.
But something about it just radiated special. I found that beyond the perfect color, condition and stance, the seller states that it was “original, unrestored and untouched” with 7,400 miles and purported to be “the best unrestored 71 coupe on the planet”. Nothing on the car made me doubt that, right down to the original tires, as I spent probably too much time staring at this Stingray. $68,200 (I’m not profiling it, but I’ll note that RMSotheby’s sold a 1969 Corvette ZL-1 for $3.1 million. I’d rather have this 71!)
The Motorsports Auction Group (MAG, formerly Silver Auctions) may have less expensive cars than the other events, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have its share of cool stuff such as a 1961 Chevy Impala sedan with a Stovebolt 6 cylinder engine and three-on-the-tree.
The seller states that the car has 41k miles and all original interior, which had just enough wear and fading to be quite believable.
The seller didn’t say anything about the paint, so maybe it’s not original but it looked like it could be, showing wear, a lacquer look, and no overspray. 1961 tends to be the least loved of that era’s big Chevys, however, I’ve always liked them. The rear treatment especially is unique and attractive, IMO. $19,710.
Eight years older but similar in spirit, perfectly imperfect survivor cars can be found at Barrett-Jackson as well. I really dug this 1953 Bel-Air that was reported to be a Wyoming barn find. It was very similar to a 53 Bel-Air 4-door I wrote up here in 2021 which was also a barn find car made roadworthy and in the hands of a loving new owner. Hopefully this one will have the same fate.
On that 4-door I was only 99% sure it had its original upholstery, mainly because its cloth was in such improbably good condition. Now I’m 100% sure because this car has exactly the same style and fabric and is also remarkably well preserved for being 70 years old. The good folks at Chevrolet really outdid themselves with their fabric selection!
The delightfully patina’d engine is the same 235.5c.i. L6 as the 1961 Impala had, but with 20 less horsepower (115 in Powerglide cars).
The car has 60k miles on the odometer and is wearing what look to be 1960’s vintage tires. $18,700
Forty years ago, a 72 Chevy just like this would have been a faded old truck at the bottom of its depreciation curve, available for peanuts and driven by the likes of landscapers, struggling rodeo riders, and high school students. Today, it’s a highly valued rarity. Kind of like 49-51 Mercury coupes and 94-98 Supras, the 67-72 Fleetside Shortbed Chevy is a primary vehicle of choice for customizers and hot rodders. These days, ones that haven’t been heavily modded are an endangered species. Several custom versions of this truck were at the auction, but only one stock.
Top trim level (Cheyenne Super), top engine (400c.i. 210hp), air conditioning, automatic. The only thing more desirable would be available bucket seats. No rust, original paint, original interior, mileage not listed. The drool started dripping early on this one.
I’m not sure about the wheel covers, I thought the Cheyenne Super came with full wheel covers.
This is exactly the type of truck coveted by customizers, so let’s hope it was bought by someone who will value its originality and it won’t show up at a future auction lowered with a new chassis and LS engine. $38,500
Not so desired by customizers is the longbed version of the next generation of GM truck. In significantly better condition, this 1977 GMC Sierra Classic none-the-less had much fewer drool puddles around it.
The Sierra appeared to be in pristine condition with near perfect original paint and interior. It has 75k miles and was said to have always been garaged and never winter driven.
I remember as a kid in the 70’s and 80’s GM pickups seemingly being everywhere, their popularity understandable with clean lines, durability, and drivability. Upper trim models were especially attractive. I, for one, really miss two tone trucks. $22,000
In 1966, Oldsmobile’s Cutlass was just starting its ascent to the top of the midsize car market (and thus the market overall). In less than ten years, the Cutlass coupe would be a juggernaut. For 1966, a Cutlass Holiday coupe was just an attractive alternative (for only a few dollars a month more!) to cars like the Chevelle, Tempest, Fairlane or Coronet.
Olds buyers choosing to “Step Out Front in ’66” in a Cutlass got a deluxe steering wheel and notchback armrest seat, in addition to the F-85’s somewhat upscale dash. The buyer of this particular car got [not quite] perfectly preserved 56 year old cloth and vinyl upholstery.
The biggest selling point for Cutlass was its standard 320hp 330c.i. 4-barrel “Cutlass V8” (optional on F-85, in which case it’s still called a Cutlass V8), here mated to the optional Jetaway automatic (two speed a.k.a. Super Turbine 300) and looking Oldstastic in gold. The 400c.i. 4-4-2 was still an option package in 1966, available on either F-85 or Cutlass 2-doors, which is more common at places like B-J than plain Cutlasses (though any Olds is fairly uncommon at shows. B-J had 23 Olds’, 11 of them 442’s but no 66’s and no other non-442 Cutlasses).
The seller didn’t make a specific claim that the paint is original and I couldn’t swear it is, but it looks like it. I love the tunneled rear window and bare roof, when vinyl roofs where already becoming common on upscale midsize coupes. $19,800
Broughamaholics rejoice! MAG had a 1981 Olds 98 Regency with 27k miles in near perfect condition, double black with a snappy red pinstripe (factory) matching the interior color.
The interior had no fading, cracking, or discoloration, not on the steering wheel, the expansive fake wood or even the pillow-style leather seats. A great place to be while one experiences the awesome motive force of a 140hp 307c.i. Oldsmobile V8. This was newly the top engine, as the 350 was discontinued for 1981 and a 120hp 4.1L V6 was made standard. High bid $16,750
Come back for part 2 tomorrow, where we’ll look at some fine original condition Fords, Toyotas and Nissans.
I’m sorry, but I can’t understand why someone would pay $100 just to look at an auction.
Obviously, you aren’t a car nutt
Hey, I resemble that remark. I have been working on hot rods for more then 60 years. I have trophy’s from shows, circle track (dirt and asphalt), road course, and drags. At one point in time I was racing 3-4 tracks per week, and had 4 race cars at the same time. At the present time I have two Drag cars
You prefer seeing cars in motion. I can respect that!
Weekend pass, not just one day. $25 ain’t much more than seeing a comic book movie.
Been there twice and yes, it is not for “faint of heart”, as I was wore out after a few hours, but worth it.
Sad that you don’t understand.
I would say it would be worth $100 for the cars, but that would be on a Saturday or Sunday when the volume of people would make it less enjoyable. I would only go then if there was no way I could go on a cheaper, less busy day.
There are a lot worse ways to spend $100 than watching the auction, however even for the less money I spent, I wouldn’t waste my time looking at the actual auction process. Watching from a distance as the cars slowly move across the block is not efficient or near as enjoyable as seeking out cars to look at up close, the auctioneers’ great verbal skills not withstanding.
Eliminates “tire kickers” for the sellers with top dollar concours machinery.
I paid $20 a day when Bloomington gold was still being held in st Charles, would have easily surpassed $100 over the course of the full event, and that’s just boring mostly late model Corvettes!
I would never pay $100 for a weekend though, one day is enough for me as a spectator, and even that’s a little much. It doesn’t take me that long to take in the sights, and once I see every car I’m usually ready to leave barring dining, random conversations with people and the handful of cars that I’d spend a really long time looking at. I’m a car nut through and through, but I’m also a bad tourist
One more thought I had about the ticket price that goes with the Super Bowl analogy. How much do people pay to go to the Super Bowl? Thousands? Personally, no football game could ever be worth that for me. But I’m sure many of those folks feel like it was money well spent. At least B-J is guaranteed to be a great game, it’s only a question of how great (how many of your personal favorites).
Excellent write up. I’ve been watching the BJ and other auctions on TV for years. I don’t believe BJ allows for sellers to have a minimum reserve on their cars, do they? I think Mecum does allow reserve prices.
Love the blue ’71 Vette that opens this article. Wish I could have purchased it.
I believe B-J only allows reserves on the very top cars, like million+. Mecum definitely has reserves.
I’m not even that big of a Shark fan and I practically fell in love with that car.
That Ninety Eight is fantastic! More Broughams, please.
Have been attending BJ actions here in Scottsdale since the early 90s, Back then the gate was much less expensive. But the cars were and are still stunning. Have known personally (friends vehicles) a number of cars both sold and bought there, same at Mag (when it was Silver) Russo and Steele when they were a force as well. A friends car escaped undamaged one year when a strong storm upended the large tents. Still sold well.
I remember that storm rampaging Russo and Steele (just from hearing about it, I wasn’t there). What a nightmare!
Early 90’s is when I first started going to those auctions, too.
Have absolutely zero interest in ever visiting B-J and I am a car nut. I’d much rather visit Hot August Nights in Reno.
Yeah, Reno has been on my bucket list for a long time. Will make it there some day.
I went to the B-J auction in Vegas maybe 8-10 years ago. For me, the biggest and most pleasant surprise was seeing how many financially accessible cars went through the ring. I’m talking about sub-$10k cars back then, maybe sub-$20k today. The media and the Internet and most of the bloggers only want to tell you about the million-dollar cars.
If you watch these auctions on TV pay attention to the cars coming up after the car currently in auction, I know when they’re going to commercial break of it’s not something that typically fetches big bucks. Which is annoying since those are the cars I’m excited to see!
Yeah, hard to watch on TV! Still better than most things on TV, but there’s nothing like actually being there.
Some very good choices here. I have two 67-72 GM trucks and they are nowhere near as nice as this one, but I still greatly enjoy them. A 1961 Chevy is high on my list of vehicles I would like to own one day but they are getting hard to find in my prol price point.
Was this one at your price point? It would be a whole lot more with less doors and/or more engine, but it still seemed a little expensive to me (of course, my mind is still living in the 90’s in many ways!).
In the grand scheme of things it is not a bad price for the condition it’s in. With a mortgage and a family in the California Bay Area the only thing I can afford is a fixer upper. I usually prefer 2 door hardtops but the roofline on this one is really nice so I would definitely make an exception. I believe this roof style only came on the 4 doors for this year.
As fashionable as it is to rail against the overabundance of Mustangs, Corvettes and Mopar E bodies at higher end auctions like BJ, you have captured the real reason I would go. Every time I have attended a large auction event there are always a few unique cars in amazing original condition.
I am going to go out on a limb and argue that the seat upholstery on the 66 Cutlass is not original. That looks like a reupholstery/seat cover job to me, and it does not look like the few cloth-interior cars I can find online. But if that’s all I can find wrong with it, then it’s still a really nice car.
I appreciate the outside of the 61 Chevy, but learned long ago that I don’t like driving them. The 53, OTOH, is my pick for today. That is a lovely car. My mother’s first “real” car was a green 53 Chevy 210 4 door. She was always a teeny bit jealous of her roommate who bought a baby blue Bel Air with a Powerglide.
You’ve identified my 3 favorites from this group. My parents’ first car was a ’53 Chevy 210 2-door with a six and 3-on-the-tree. It may have even been the same light blue color (without a contrasting roof).
We had a ’61 Bel Air later; I didn’t appreciate the styling at the time (liked the ’60 better), but now the ’61 is my favorite of the X-frame models.
The ’66 Cutlass is one that came out in my middle school years, and I’ve always liked the GM 2-door A-bodies of that generation. My younger brother has a modified ’67 Chevelle SS396.
“Every time I have attended a large auction event there are always a few unique cars in amazing original condition.”
Definitely more of those to come. Tomorrow there are a couple Mustangs, don’t shoot me.
“I am going to go out on a limb and argue that the seat upholstery on the 66 Cutlass is not original. That looks like a reupholstery/seat cover job to me”
You could be right. What about it looks like reupholstery to you? I based my assessment on 3 things:
-the seller states the interior is original (He could be wrong or lying. There is not a lot of detail given on most lots. I’d be uncomfortable buying a car with the scant info provided on many auction cars and not being able to test drive)
-the cloth looks period correct, at least
-the cloth is not in perfect condition
I didn’t try to match the interior to a known original. Trying this afternoon, it’s surprisingly hard to find any picture of a non-442 Cutlass cloth/vinyl bench seat.
I agree, the 53 is super cool in every way.
On the Cutlass seats, I have never seen a mid 1960s American car seat with such plain, unbroken cloth surfaces. American cloth/vinyl upholstery designs of that era had pleats, seams, buttons, or something else that gave them some character. A look at the 66 Olds brochure shows a Cutlass Supreme seat with the center armrest that seems to add a vinyl stripe in the middle of the cloth, and even the F-85 wagon seat shows an intricate stitching pattern.
This car looks to me like Aunt Lucy took her Cutlass to the local upholstery shop around 1982 because she had a split or two in the seams. She had them find a black cloth that looked reasonably period-correct and got her seats re-done in a nice serviceable, but generic style.
Here is a 4 door sedan with cloth seats – but the door panels are different.
These are hard to find – F-85 was different and so was Cutlass Supreme and also 442. All the convertibles came with vinyl, I think, and everyone who has restored one seems to have buckets. A regular Cutlass with a cloth bench seat is really a unicorn.
And a vinyl seat car. These door panels match – I wonder if this was a vinyl seat car originally?
I think you’re most likely right, based on the plainness of the upholstery, even though the fabric does have an appropriate 60’s look to it.
Tough to find dispositive proof. The 4 door Cutlass Supreme certainly would have different style upholstery than the Cutlass Holiday coupe, to go with the fancier door panels. But I would agree it’s likely the seller is unaware of the history of the car or deceptive
Nice tour. Thanks.
Pretty strong prices on some of that stuff! I don’t know; it’s a little new, but I like that ’77 GMC Squarebody quite a bit. The Bel Air is fun too, but I’d always regret not holding out for a ’49-’51 Fleetline. Looks like you had a good time!
I don’t keep up with car prices that much. I felt like almost everything I saw was expensive, though I imagine the majority was roughly market value. B-J is known for getting strong prices, which is largely how they can get away with not having reserves. I figured classic cars are expensive because 1. They are effected by the general inflation we’re all suffering under lately 2. The weak stock market has made them more attractive as an alternative investment. Heck, I’ve been thinking maybe I should think of them more as an investment than a toy, and actually buy a nice old car. Couldn’t lose much more than I have been in the markets lately, and it would be more fun.
You forget how appealing those first few years of the C3 Corvettes were. The years weren’t kind to the later versions, but the originals with the chrome bumpers were beautiful. And I’m with you . . . much prefer the small blocks in both the C2’s and C3’s. Only demerit for the blue C3 is the automatic.
True! It’s been a long time since I liked a C3 as much as that one.
It is amazing to me, that a person would buy a new car and then restrict it’s use, while keeping it garaged and in constant spic and span condition. There were several guys in the Riviera Owners Association that did that with the first gen models. It would take most cars over twenty years to start to be considered collectible. There might have been a long time going to shows with what would have just been just considered a “used” car. Of course that’s the best way to ensure that the car has been preserved and maintained properly. That would require a long term view, but if it’s a car that you really like, maybe it’s not a bad idea.
The other cars that are more mundane, might have been bought from an elderly original owner or estate. This is probably the best method, provided that you can find something that will interest you, and has been well tended. I don’t put very many miles on my cars since I’ve been retired, and I have several to spread the mileage over. I’ve considered buying a new ’24 Mustang. I’ll bet that wouldn’t rack up more than 25,000 miles in the next 15 years.
You’d have to really love a car to treat it as a collectible from new, I would think. It would be hard not to just drive it!
They had the 24 Mustang displayed at Barrett-Jackson. Not bad. Exterior looks a lot like the 23 to my eyes. I can’t imagine most of the public will notice a difference. I think the interior is pretty generic Late Model Car. All screens, no style.
Thanks for the pics and commentary, never been, too crowded, but nice to see remotely!
Just to nit-pick a bit, the hoi polloi ARE the proles, we the great “unwashed” masses.
Guess I’m too hoi polloi to even get my terms straight! I fixed the text.
Nice ! .
Is there perhaps a link to the “Mag” auction results or catalog ? .
THANK YOU ! .