AutoWeek: We drive three great classics from the Auctions America catalog
The Porsche 356, Jag XK140 and Shelby Mustang GT350 Hertz are all fun to drive in their own way
We walked into the darkness of the massive Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport not knowing what we’d find. Over the years we’d seen everything here from TV tapings to the launch of Tesla. On this occasion we’d been invited by Auctions America to photograph cars scheduled to go across the block July 17-18 at its annual California sale. Turned out it was a nice group of cars:
2004 Ferrari Enzo
1967 Ferrari 330 GTS
1971 Mercedes-Benz 280 SE
1997 Porsche 911 Turbo
2003 Porsche GT2
1957 Jaguar XK140 MC Fixed Head
1966 Shelby GT350 Hertz
We were told we could drive them, but only some of them.
“What would you like to drive,” asked Auctions America’s Ian Kelleher.
“How about that,” we asked pointing to the Enzo.
“No, you can’t drive that.”
“How about that,” we said as we pointed at the GT2.
Likewise the Ferrari 330 GTS, 993 Carrera, 911 Turbo and something called a Sorrell Manning Special that wasn’t even in the building were all on the do-not-drive list.
But fear not, there were three cars we could drive and drive them we did: a perfect Porsche 356 SC, Jaguar XK140 and a Shelby GT350 Hertz Mustang.
Oh what a day. What a lovely day!
First was the Porsche, a 1964 365 C 1600 SC ‘Sunroof’ Coupe by Reutter, estimated to sell for between $150,000 – $200,000. It was, to our admittedly untrained eyeballs, perfect. Maybe that’s just because we had seen so many unrestored daily-driver 356s in our time, with more wear and tear than could be called patina. Auctions America (should we say AA?) says the car has the original engine and trans. It also “has undergone a nice restoration” and has been in the hands of the previous owner since 1976.
We have taken out 356s before and always found them delightful and very rarely a challenge. This one was one of the best we’ve ever driven. It surpassed our expectations for all flat-four-powered vehicles: never once did the brakes fail nor the engine catch fire. We have a friend who owns a 1965 356 and who occasionally lets us drive it short distances, so we know about the model, including the secret fuel shutoff lever. One time, through sheer happenstance, we got to drive a 1955 Speedster through most of the California Mille Miglia, over 500 miles. We still can’t decide if that was a dream or not, but the story is there, in print in Autoweek, so it was a very vivid dream if it was dream at all.
This 1964 model was in excellent shape. Pump the gas a few times then fire it up. Okay, pump the gas a few more times, surely there’s a technique, then rattlerattlerattle fwoom wheeee, it’s running. Pump the brakes just because you can never trust brakes on anything older than the Nixon Administration, find reverse (left and up) and back out of the parking slot. Ease it into first gear – even the best 356 transmissions are vague and this may have been the best – and you’re off. Power was very good for such a small engine. But you don’t need a lot of power because it’s light. The average 356 weighs just over 2000 pounds, easy enough for the just-under 100 hp engine. Soon we were scooting down Airport Drive and out onto the streets of Santa Monica. These cars are so light and so easy to drive that, for the most part, you can just concentrate on having fun. This one was in the best condition you’re likely to find on the free market for a car that drives so well. The electric sunroof even worked!
From the profile you can see some of the coming XKE, perhaps? Photo by Karissa Hosek © 2015 courtesy Auctions America
Does the Jaguar XK140 look better with the fixed roof or without? Photo by Karissa Hosek © 2015 courtesy Auctions America
We put the 356 back and got into the meticulously restored Jaguar XK140 Fixed Head Coupe. This one was a 1957 model with the more powerful MC option, meaning it had the cylinder head from the C-Type to bring power up to 210 ponies. AA estimates it will go for between $90,000 and $120,000 during the sale.
The shape of an XK (perhaps less-so a fixed-head coupe) can make normally astute businessmen throw due diligence out the window. From the profile you can even see some XKE. Maybe.
Before we got into it there was the question of ergonomics, something with whichone must grapple on all XKs. Oh man, what did we ever do to the British to make them design interiors like this? Try and get both legs in there. Go ahead, try. It ain’t easy. Right leg all the way in first, under the enormous steering wheel. Then keister in, then left leg. Now close the door and… smash your left knee between the steering wheel and the door! What is this? Once you get all body parts in and the door closed you’re still not off the hook. That wheel is like a spinning loom. The clutch pedal is heavy and the shifter, a new and improved Tremec five-speed though it may be, is not perfect.
But all that is attributable to “character” and once you get in start it up and go, the XK begins to exhibit some of the elegance that its exterior belies. Underway the ride is quite comfortable and the torque from the straight six is as strong as engines from a much later era. Steering is still heavy but you can anticipate that and when you turn the enormous wheel you’ll find that the whole thing actually corners. For the most part.
The owner also added disc brakes and we’re not going to argue with anything that helps a car stop.
If you start reengineering it in your head with a smaller steering wheel, compensated for by power steering which requires bigger tires, then pretty soon you’ve built yourself a 1995 BMW 3-Series. Stick with the original and have a great time driving it. It does offer stately good times once you accept it for what it is and stop trying to change it by complaining. Like your spouse.
This was once the best rental car money could rent. Photo by Karissa Hosek © 2015 courtesy Auctions America
Back in Barker the 1966 Ford Mustang GT350 Hertz offered no such quirkiness. It started with that metallic skidding sound big Fords start with and then the big engine just rumbled. This owner had added a “period-correct” Paxton supercharger, air conditioning and even Bluetooth, the latter with a cell phone mount and a microphone for his Samsung Galaxy 5. But the car was otherwise mechanically the same as it was when it rolled off the assembly line 50 years ago.
Put it easily into gear, step on the gas and it’s all you can do to keep from imitating Steve McQueen in Bullitt. This car has big, beefy American horsepower and torque, gol dang it, and it ain’t afraid ta’ use it. Sure, it’s not perfect. It takes, by our count, 145 rotations of the steering wheel to turn. The on-center feel is about as vague as a politician trying to speak out both sides of his or her mouth. And the seats offer just about no lateral support. But it’s American, gul durn it and we was proud ta’ drive the thang.
Back in the hanger we contemplated our lot. This stuff could be great fun to own. Maybe it would even make a good investment. Maybe the kids could go to state schools, they’re just as good, aren’t they? Aw, who knows?
The auction is July 17-18 at Barker Hangar on the taxiways of the Santa Monica Airport in Santa Monica, Calif. Check out the whole lineup at www.auctionsamerica.com.
Author: Mark Vaughn – After working in Europe five years covering F1, Group C and DTM, Vaughn interviewed with Autoweek at the 1989 Frankfurt motor show and has been with us ever since.