Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size image
Fast Lane: Old-Time Engines Can Bring In Very Modern Profits
By Jim Walbolt
Perhaps one of the most often overlooked markets for many shops is the collector car and restoration market, and within this I would also include antique trucks of all sizes, antique tractors and farm machinery and antique construction equipment and machinery. We discussed a few of these markets, such as muscle cars and antique tractor pulling, in previous "Fastlane" columns and we'll probably touch on these again, as well as discuss all of the above markets and possibilities.
If you don't believe that these segments of the automotive industry are seeing tremendous growth, all you need to do is start searching the Internet for antique and classic cars, antique trucks, antique tractors, or antique construction equipment; you will be bombarded by the many sites dedicated to these interests.
You can also find a national club for just about any of these. The Antique Automobile Club of America is probably the granddaddy of them all. The club was formed in 1935 and today has more than 400 chapters with more than 50,000 members. To name just a very few, other national organizations include clubs such as the Model A Ford Club of America (MAFCA), the Model T Ford Club of America (MTFCA), the American Truck Historical Society, the Historical Construction Equipment Association, the National Street Rod Association, and the Steam Automobile Club of America.
When it comes to antique tractors, there is a national organization for nearly every brand of tractor ever manufactured. For instance, John Deere collectors can join the Two-Cylinder Club, or International Harvester collectors can join the IH Collectors Association. Believe it or not, even military vehicles have a huge following of collectors and restorers.
In addition to the many national organizations, you can find a car club or tractor club in nearly every area of the country. In some areas of the United States, you'll find a car club or tractor club in nearly every county. With all these clubs, you can find a car show or tractor show every weekend of the year; most within easy driving distance, if not right next door. There are literally millions of collectors and hobbyists throughout the United States and Internationally.
Of course, people have been collecting old cars as long as there have been cars. A recent event I attended, The Newport Antique Auto Hill Climb is somewhat different from most car shows you'll attend. Just north of Terre Haute, IN, Newport has a long history dating back to about 1909 when automobile manufacturers would come to the city to test their cars on the Newport Hill, which has a 14 percent grade at its steepest point.
That history developed into an on-again, off-again competition as drivers and manufacturers competed against each other on the Newport Hill. For the past 38 years, the Newport Lions Club has promoted the event. During the weekend, more than 700 cars will be entered in hill climb or show competitions. In 2005, more than 200 vehicles made a run up the hill in competition.
This run is timed from a standing start to the finish line some 1800 feet away, up the hill. There are records for each class, plus an overall record. The overall record is normally held by a V8 pickup. The record was shattered once again when Hank Schlueter ran his 1941 Ford Pickup up the hill in 22.67 seconds. Interestingly, the 1906 Stanley Steamer ran the course in 27.19 seconds.
Although some of these vehicle owners are at Newport to have a good time, many are serious about the competition and it's amazing how hard many of these antique cars are driven. I saw nameplates ranging from a 1902 Oldsmobile, a 1906 Stanley Steamer, 55 Model A's, up to a 1959 Desoto. There were Model T's, Mercers and Maxwells. Essex was represented, as was Chevrolet, Dodge, Plymouth and Pontiac. There was also the occasional Auburn, Packard, Desoto, Lasalle, Hudson, and Oakland. Simply, there are very few car shows where you will see this much variety.
I wanted to discuss the Newport Hill Climb to give you an idea of just one antique car show and how the event is handled. This should give you an idea of just what is out there when we are talking about antiques. I also want to point out that, of the 700-plus show and competition cars officially entered at Newport, all but a very few are from within 100 miles of Newport, IN. If this is any indication, there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of these vehicles in your area.
Although many car shows are just that - shows - most of the vehicles are driven in to the Newport event. Also, when someone takes his antique construction equipment to an event, even though he may haul it in on a trailer, the equipment is often put to work, digging, grading, moving dirt, etc., just as when it was new and used on the construction site.
At an antique tractor show, they will drive the tractors in parades, run them on a "dyno," run other equipment via their belt pulleys or maybe even run them in a tractor pull. There are also plowing contests where contestants plow a field with their antique tractors and generally "work" the tractors as they were originally intended to be worked.
Antique construction equipment and tractors will nearly always be "trailered" in, but many times the owner will tow the trailer with an antique truck or semi. Or the owner may haul the classic on the back of an old Mack or Diamond Reo flat bed. The fact is, not all restored vehicles and equipment are restored just to look pretty - they are often restored to do what they were built to do in the first place, or at least something similar.
With the baby boomers nearing their '50s and '60s many are returning to their youth by finding and restoring that first car, or maybe that vehicle they couldn't afford back then. The baby boom generation is generally accepted as those born from 1946 to 1965, putting the majority of the "boomers" growing up and reaching driving age smack dab in the middle of the great muscle car era of the late '50s and the 1960s.
Many of these cars are also being raced at "nostalgia" drag racing events, a fast growing segment of the racing world. Whether for racing, showing, cruising, or just their own pleasure, this boom has taken many shops back to the heydays of 30 or 40 years ago when V8's comprised 90 percent of their business. Many expect this business to continue to grow for many years to come as the boomers continue to look to their past.
As each generation reaches its later years, collecting and restoration will continue to grow. We all look back, wanting to try and capture a little bit of our youth. These vehicles all have one thing in common: they each have an internal combustion engine (in most cases), that sooner or later will need the services you can provide. Are you up to the challenge?
Looking to the Past?
Antique Restoration Market Organization www.sema.org/armo
Antique Automobile Club of America www.aaca.org
Model T Ford Club of America www.mtfca.com
Model A Ford Club of America www.mafca.com
American Truck Historical Society www.aths.org
National Street Rod Association www.nsra-usa.com
Steam Automobile Club of America www.steamautomobile.com
Model A Restorers Club www.modelAford.org
Military Vehicle Preservation Association: www.mvpa.org
Historic Construction Equipment Association: www.hcea.net
Newport Antique Auto Hill Climb: www.newporthillclimb.com
A good place to start for Antique Tractors:
Another good place for antique tractors: www.ytmag.com/