When it comes to Collector Cars - Do they really exist?  Published 3/1/2004

The American Heritage Dictionary describes an “Expert” as “a person with a high degree of skill in, or knowledge of, a certain subject.” Therein lies the quandary; can any one person really be an expert on Classic Cars?

I would not argue that Dr. Henry Lee is an expert of forensic medicine or that Steven Hawkins is an expert physicist - but when it comes to collector cars, to me, there seems only to be a bunch of guys with varying degrees of “experience” in a variety of areas. This one rebuilt a motor or two, this one’s good at bodywork, this one good at paint and so on. Now collectively they may demonstrate ‘expert’ knowledge – but I don’t know of an individual who can truly claim that title.

Take a car dealer, these folks see, hear, touch, and drive perhaps hundreds of cars every year – are they experts? I think not, as there sole objective it to make a purchase to affect a profit – I’ll wager there are many cars they buy and sell that they barely know at all. How about a restorer – are they experts? Clearly they know a great deal about a car if they’ve taken it all apart and reassembled it, but what do they know of cars they haven’t restored?

I often think about the folks that judge cars at Pebble Beach each year – certainly these people are knowledgeable but it seems they often judge cars that they have never seen before, no one has! – You know these “one-off’ prototypes that get found in German barns and are restored at no expense by ‘suits’ for investment – how can they be experts on those? - Even the guy who restored it had to ‘feel’ his way along as he delved into uncharted territory.

The reasons why each of us loves old cars can vary dramatically, what is important to one may be insignificant to another. It seems inconceivable to me that with so many makes, models, years, components and conditions, destroyed records, modifications and subjectivity that any one person can really claim to be an expert in anything more that one aspect of a car, or at the very most, perhaps one or two specific models, and even then I have to ask how this knowledge was gained. Did that individual strip the car, or restore the car, or both? And how much of the work did they actually do themselves? Did they totally dismantle the engine themselves or just remove it and send it to a machine shop? What about the upholstery – did they do it themselves or farm it out… Did they strip a car that was from California and therefore perhaps have no knowledge of where they typically rust when they do as theirs had none? Do you get my point?

I totally disassembled an Austin Cooper ‘S’, every nut and bolt – and apart from sending the shell out for final paint, I did everything myself, including the engine rebuild – does that make me expert on Mini Coopers? I don’t think so, am I knowledgeable about them now – yes, am I experienced with that particular year/model/car? Certainly, but I wouldn’t call myself an expert.

We had a case recently where a client bought a 1966 Corvette; it was purported as being a 427 4-speed car with matching numbers. Well to cut a long story short, the deal was done and cash changed hands. Well, over the next two months our client took the car to three different Corvette “experts”, who told him that the car wasn’t correct; they believed it was in fact a 327 4-speed car that someone had put a 427 into and re-stamped the block. As part of the pre-purchase inspection the client had done on the vehicle by there was a very clear photo of the number stamped on the engine [ see photo ]. It matched the ID tag, but the experts said it looked “too perfect” to be factory done and therefore had to be a fake. We’ll not to be argumentative, but who is to say that it wasn’t the original block which after having had some machine work done by a shop was re-stamped with the original number that was on the block before they shaved it off?

Do you see my point and does that REALLY make this car worth SO much less?, I have enclosed the engine number photo so you can be the judge – if any of you have ever tried to re-stamp a block you know you really only get one chance to get it right – so if this IS a fake – whoever did it may well be an “expert” number-stamper!

In my opinion there are no "legitimate experts". What there is, are folks who have spent a lot of time around cars and have become knowledgeable about one or more aspects of a car i.e. paint, interior, specifications or history etc. often times this knowledge is limited to one make, year and even a particular model.

If you are going to buy a 1965 GTO and you know of a friend or restorer who has just got through doing a nut and bolt restoration on one, I’d say it would be great to bring them along when you go to look at a 1965 GTO that you are interested in buying- there will likely be several similarities between their car and the one you are considering buying and they could likely point out some areas on your prospective car that they had on theirs – but judge your car on it’s own merit.

I just wish we could do away with the term “expert” when we talk collector cars – and use instead the word “experienced” or “knowledgeable” these are words I can live with, because we are all experienced to greater or lesser degree. The dictionary reads;

Experienced - Skilled as a result of observation, use or practice.

Knowledge – The state or fact of knowing. Familiarity, awareness or understanding gained through experience or study. The sum or range of what has been perceived discovered or learned.

Knowledgeable – Possessing or showing knowledge.

I wrote about this because folks who don’t have the knowledge themselves often rely on others who present themselves as “experts” to guide them on their purchases. I can’t tell you how many times someone bought a car only to get it home, bring it in front of the local “expert” who proceeds to tear the car apart, then they get buyer’s remorse and forget what owning a classic is REALLY all about – FUN!

Jeff Webster