| PEBBLE BEACH, Calif.
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. Aug 17 One sunny afternoon
this week, a well-heeled crowd was milling around a showroom at
Gooding and Co, the antique car auctioneer, to preview the
prized relics that would soon go on the block.
They paused to admire the sumptuous 1929 Duesenberg and
spotless postwar Ferraris. They appraised a gleaming MacLaren F1
and the perfectly restored 1936 Bugatti Atalante - a specimen
rumored to be worth $10 million.
But what stopped many of the car aficionados in their tracks
was a decidedly less-than-perfect Bugatti, an aqua-blue racecar
from 1925 with worn upholstery, peeling paint on the hood and
surface rust wrapped around its rear strut.
Despite the superficial flaws, the attention lavished on the
Type 35, as the Bugatti is known, embodied an accelerating trend
among car collectors that values authenticity and originality
above cosmetic perfection.
In the last few decades, a growing number of hobbyists
flooded the market with flawless restoration pieces and
restoration experts exhausted every possibility for
technological improvement. But now more and more collectors are
prizing original untouched cars known as "barn finds" - vintage
vehicles that had been locked up and forgotten for a half
century or more.
OUT OF A BARN
"They drag them out of a barn after 50 years and don't even
clean the dust off" before they are submitted for competition,
said Ian Davey, the co-owner of RX Autoworks, a Vancouver
restorer who gained worldwide praise last year for an
award-winning Alfa Romeo restoration.
"I guess it's not good news for my line of work," he added
with a chuckle.
The Bugatti Type 35, a two-liter, 90-horsepower model that
practically swept every Grand Prix race from Tripoli to Boulogne
in the late 1920s, will be auctioned on Saturday at the Pebble
Beach Concours d'Elegance. One of the most exclusive annual
competitions for classic cars, it has morphed into a full-blown
The Type 35 is estimated to fetch between $2.5 million and
$3 million but could go for much higher, if the recent trend
favoring originals holds up.
The Pebble Beach show will feature 260 historic cars,
including classic Lincolns, as Ford Motor Co tries to
revive its luxury brand.
Last year, Gooding and Co auctioned a well-preserved Shelby
Cobra for $1.3 million, well over the estimated price range of
$800,000 to $1 million.
"It was a very common car on the market but a supreme
original," said Paul Hageman, a Gooding specialist. "These cars
are becoming increasingly important, increasingly valuable."
Some say the shift in taste is a sign the U.S. classic car
market is maturing. The classic car market remains young
compared with that of antique art, watches or furniture.
DOCUMENT OF HISTORY
"We see original cars as a document of history," said Peter
Hageman, Paul Hageman's father and the chief judge of the
"preservation class" at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance,
which added a new competition category in 2007 to recognize the
"If they have been modified or changed or restored, it
modifies the story."
Still, many of the top U.S. collectors continue to put a
higher value on flawlessly restored models, while the European
market has long shown greater favor to time-worn cars. But Peter
Hageman said with a hint of satisfaction that the growing
preservation movement in the United States suggested a
diminishing gap between Old World sophistication and New World
"There are people who like wools and leathers, and then
those who like chrome and glass," he said. "Europeans have more
of a sense of old streets, old buildings, and old furniture.
Europeans are quite ahead of us in many ways."
Collectors these days even tell technicians to go to great
lengths to make a car for which they paid hundreds of thousands
of dollars look worn look by distressing the leather upholstery
or not polishing exposed metal, mechanics said.
"In their zest to have the best-preserved car they end up
resurrecting a corpse, dressing it up in brand new finery and
then making it look old again," said Herbert Glasier, a mechanic
at Alan Taylor Co, an Orange County restoration shop.
But enthusiasts insist that an experienced eye will always
spot the difference between the new fake and a time-tested gem
like the 1932 Stutz LeBaron sedan that won the prewar preserved
car award at Pebble Beach last year.
Much of the paint has separated from the body and the
interior suffered some damage from moths and mites, said Jim
Callahan, the car's owner. But at car competitions and
gatherings, Callahan said, the showstopper is usually guaranteed
to be the Stutz - rust and all.
"This is the one everybody's interested in next to these
perfect things that are too good to be true," said Callahan, an
Oakland, California-based piano dealer, who also expresses a
preference for vintage Steinways and worn leather jackets.
In 2007, before he submitted a different vintage model for
competition, he debated whether to glue tiny specks of stripped
paint back onto the car. But he was later glad he did not, after
one of the judges told him they were impressed by his
"You won't believe how many people still ask me: 'When are
you going to repaint it? When are you going to restore it?"
Callahan said of his beloved Stutz. "They just don't get it."