Techno-Classica Essen: The world's biggest classic car experience ... plus a disruptive new technology
The raw numbers touted in the Techno-Classica press releases told the story all along, but like one's first visit to the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas, you really don't understand the sheer magnitude of an industry until you go to its global "Mecca" and walk the show floor.
Techno-Classica Essen (Germany) is the largest event in the world dedicated to classic automobiles and like my first visit to CES in the 1980s, the show's gargantuan size was beyond my imagination had provided for and it turned out to be a totally different experience than I'd expected.
The breadth and depth of expertise across countless automotive fields on display in Essen augurs well for an industry that has sprung from nowhere in the last three decades and while its ultimate destiny is still unfolding, when viewed through the prism of this event, the future for the classic car industry appears bright. I guess that's why people use the word "experience" to describe very special events. This event is an experience in automotive passion, the sort of experience which makes you realize there's a global community that has formed around the altar of the automobile.
As I walked the 22 halls and passed 1250 exhibitors, I became aware of just how big that community has become.
Common wisdom has it that around two thirds of the global collector car market is conducted through private sales, prestige dealers and brokers, with the most visible and valuable third sold at auction. While walking the halls of Techno-Classica I made a mental note to try to put some solid numbers around that estimate because there's clearly a lot more activity outside the auction arena than in it. The press office for the event estimates around 2700 classic cars were for sale within the show this year, with previous years reporting a sell rate of slightly better than 40 percent. That means around 1100 classic cars were probably sold from the stands this year, maybe more considering the final attendance came in at a new record.
I'd estimate that the percentage of classic cars sold at auction to less than 10 percent. Choose any country, look at the number of cars registered from each decade of manufacture, the number that change hands each year, and the number of auction sales reported and you'll never see more than a single digit percentage for auctions. Ah, you say, but at the top end of the market, auctions rule. Yes, they do constitute the majority of elite cars sold to a degree, but if there are 39 Ferrari 250 GTOs in existence, why have we only ever seen one at auction?
Retromobile in Paris is the world's second largest classic car event and it too is smashing attendance and display records year on year. In February this year it attracted 120,000 visitors, 500 exhibitors, 120 car clubs and filled 46,000 square feet of exhibition space with 500 classic cars on display - all of those figures were records for the event.
By comparison, Techno-Classica's attendance in 2016 was 201,034, there were 1250 exhibitors, 220 car clubs, and it covered 127,000 square meters of exhibits, with 2700 vintage cars for sale, along with a lot more on display. That's a big margin between first and second place, emphasizing just how big this show is.
It also emphasizes just how robust the dealer market is and why prices which have seen relentless growth for two decades are unlikely to deflate any time soon.
Now in it's 28th year, Techno-Classica Essen has spanned both peaks of the Classic car industry. The event was inaugurated in 1989 when the first classic car boom was at its peak.
In the mid-1980s, cheap money became available and the resultant influx of "get-rich(er)-quick" speculators created a perfect storm in the oldtimer (a frequently used colloquial German word that needs no explanation) market and gave the industry its tulip mania moment in the early 1990s when prices halved. The classic car automotive industry has been fearful of another massive marketplace correction ever since.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said it best with "that which does not kill us, makes us stronger" and the subsequent decades of infrastructure development and the rise of the internet (and access to information for all) is very relevant in this instance. Techno-Classica Essen was first held in 1989, so when the supply of play money dried up and the classic car price bubble burst, the show was just getting started. It's survival and subsequent prosperity has not been fueled by the gold rush mentality of the 1980s as it is underpinned by an industry that has matured considerably since then, with the prices paid, extant numbers, and passionate subscribers to the automotive ethic providing a rock solid foundation for what has become a legitimate global industry, far more legitimate than the smoke-and-mirrors art market in my humble opinion. There is no greater proof of the solid foundations which now sustain the classic car marketplace than this event and the myriad facets of the classic car industry which it showcases.
Research shows the enthusiast market is far more stable and resilient than fickle financial markets. As the above three charts so clearly illustrate, the market soldiered straight through the Global Financial Crisis (as the above graph which compares Historic Automobile Group's Top Index and Frankfurt's Deutsche Borse DAX indicates) and on to its current state of consistent growth.
Dieter Hatlapa founded the London-based Historic Automobile Group International (HAGI), an independent investment research house which began when a group of car enthusiasts from London's financial markets decided the rare car market needed some statistical rigor, and it set out to create benchmarks which accurately tracked collectable automobile prices. HAGI publishes a monthly index for investing in rare classic motorcars, which is the gold standard for wealth tracking calculations and the data supplied in the accompanying charts is supplied by HAGI. Indeed, investing in rare cars offers a better return than just about any other form of investment, despite the high upkeep costs.
"We've discovered that classic cars move independently of any other investment area, and that's a very attractive attribute for collectors and investors alike in this day and age," Dieter told me
"Some people says the stockmarket is weak and that's one of the reasons cited for the current softness in the classic car market, but in all our data work back to 1980 we have looked for correlations with external events, and we haven't really come across any meaningful correlation that shows in times of economic downturn that this market does also. We found everything, we found phases of correlation, phases of no correlation and even phases of negative correlation.
"I am very reluctant to say that just because the stock market is down, people are not buying cars. All markets are the same in that people see a phenomena and in hindsight, people find all sorts of reasons for it, and it's just a really boring game. When I worked in the financial sector, we had all sorts of important people telling us why things had happened in the past but very few told us in advance and got it right. In most cases these reasons are just one possible explanation but not necessarily the right reason. At the moment, economic factors or big picture factors are not really an issue."
There's another big factor which doesn't seem to get much discussion and that was very evident at Retromobile. Across the acres of show space I saw more than 20 Mercedes 300 SL Gullwings and Roadsters for sale - at least a dozen on one stand, albeit the display of 300 SL specialist HK Engineering (bottom three images above). Cars such as this are regulars at auction, but not in these numbers. People don't realize that the elite dealers hold a huge stock of important cars and while it may be the auction market which drives up the high end prices, the dealer network doesn't have the same frictional losses and will act as a damper on any downward swings in the auction market.
By frictional losses, I refer to the approximate 25 percent costs involved with an auction sale - add sellers fees and buyers fees and the seller routinely loses 25-30 percent of the reported sell price. Then there's the additional costs of insurance and the cost of getting the car to the right auction, be it in London, Paris, New York or Monterey, and being prepared to double those transport costs if you don't get the price you want, because the car must then be brought home again. A handshake deal on a known product has much to commend it. A broker or dealer is likely to add a 10 percent premium to the price of a car, so if you're buying a million dollar car, that's a saving of $150,000 by comparison with the auction block.
Private sales are also a huge part of this marketplace because the networks of friendships which develop in this fraternity ("tribal group" might be an equally appropriate description) often mean that when it's time to move it on, you have a friend or two willing and able to take it off your hands. They know the car, love it as much as you do, and it sort of "stays in the family". You know it's gone to someone who will appreciate it as much as you do and you'll still get to see it and maybe drive it from time to time. The savings on a million dollar car can add up to $250,000 if you sell it to a mate by comparison to taking it to auction and a big chunk of the the market clearly knows that.
Auction prices are illustrative of what happens in the marketplace but they are only an indication. I spoke at length with Rob Johnson, the MD of Classic and Sports Finance (which underwrites many of these deals) and when the auction market "took a breather" in Scottsdale, Paris, Stuttgart and Amelia Island earlier this year, Rob reported that nothing much had changed in the dealer network in the way of volumes or prices. While the data set for a finance company is smaller than the entire auction market, the point of difference is that they see the real invoices, not just the reported sale price from the dealer. It's an insight into the marketplace which few individuals are afforded, and one I value access to.
The classic car dealer network and the auction market work synergistically, and the result is a stable marketplace and it all adds up to a recently anointed viable alternative asset class. The team at Classic and Sports Finance also believes the auction market accounts for a much smaller percentage than the oft-quoted 30 percent.
The rise and rise of Techno-Classica
This year, Techno-Classica finally filled the entire exhibition space of Messe Essen, the enormous 22 hall exhibition center which houses many of Northern Europe's largest expo events.
Germany gave birth to both the automobile and the automotive industry, and the legacy of Karl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach, Nikolaus Otto, August Horch, Ferdinand Porsche, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, et al. is that it has imbued the population with a strong affinity with and commitment to craftsmanship and automotive excellence. German automotive marques have won more European Car of the Year, International Car of the Year and World Car of the Year awards than any other country. Germany's love of the automobile is more than skin deep. It goes to the very heart of the population.
Techno-Classica is the classic car industry "Mecca" event because it has been built on the devotion of the world's strongest automotive enthusiast market, giving it vast reserves of "grass roots" resilience. Statistics compiled by the Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion (Oldtimer Study 2015/2016) show that the percentage of German drivers who would like to own a classic automobile grew from 17 percent in 2013 to 27 percent in 2015. The detailed survey is regularly held and the most recent poll shows that 37 percent of German drivers below the age of 30 would like to have their own vintage car. This percentage drops ever-so-slightly with age, with 32 percent for drivers 30–44 years, 28 percent for drivers 45–59 years and 17 percent for drivers 60 years and older. It should be pointed out that until the baby boomers came along, 60 years of age was considered positively geriatric. Now one in six German sexagenarians wants a matching oldtimer car and the nature of the clothing being sold at Techno-Clasica indicates they're driving them too. Some markets, where the interest in classic cars is more akin to stamp collecting, see very few miles added to the odometer each year.
It's no secret that wealth accumulates with age, and the latter segments of monied "empty nester" drivers were predominant amongst the crowd at Techno-Classica, particularly so on the initial "happy viewing day" where you can pay twice as much to get first crack at the goodies on offer in an uncluttered environment. It's a technique other motor shows might consider too, as it sorts the buyers from the tire-kickers better than any other methodology I have witnessed and reduces the clutter so media professionals can get the job done.
From the behavior and dress of this first day clientele, it was quite clear they were not the traditional car show audience either. Never before at a European car show has my camera been shown so much courtesy. In a major thoroughfare at one stage, I looked up from the viewfinder to find I'd stopped the foot traffic entirely. I was attempting to photographically capture the blurred motion of the crowd past the stands, but the crowd stopped whenever I aimed my camera as they were politely waiting for me to finish my photograph. This is the polar opposite of my experience over countless visits to motor shows the world over, and Germany's primary automotive industry event, the Frankfurt Motor Show, in particular. At Frankfurt, I feel like paparazzi, shouldering a rugby pack aside to get each shot. In Essen, I felt like I was waving a magic wand, such was the courtesy and respect of the crowd.
The 200,000 strong army of patrons at Techno-Classica is a very different crowd to the masses that attend a normal motor show and walk heedlessly, sometimes knowingly, in front of the camera, even on the press day. The camaraderie, gentlemanly demeanor and respect for fellow patrons is more akin to the experience of a motorcycle get-together than a mainstream car show, and the quality of the exhibits at Techno-Classica leave little doubt as to the financial wherewithal of the audience. They may not wear salmon trousers and speak with a faux British accent, but manufacturers selling €20,000 coffee tables (like the one above) and desks and bars made from aircraft wings, expensive period clothing and elite period automobilia do not come back year on year if it's not a viable exercise. I finished "happy viewing day" with a wide grin and a feeling of zen I have never experienced photographing a car show before.
This is a parts-and knowledge-sourcing event for a large and growing global enthusiast market. On the first afternoon of the show I witnessed a gentleman in couturier clothing crawling under the front end of an obscure classic car with a Leica pocket camera. I observed him for some time, wondering if he was an artist of some sort. It turned out he was capturing the exact detail he needed to recreate in his own restoration project from a car that had already been impeccably restored. As the show wore on, I saw similar curious sites many times. That is, people who looked like the Chairman of the Board, doing somewhat undignified things, in the name of their automotive passion.
As any market researcher will tell you, what people say they do/think and what they actually do/think are not necessarily the same thing. Germany is in complete congruence when it comes to matters automotive.
There are more than 250 automotive museums in Germany - more than any other country in the world. It has more than 7000 drive-in camping grounds – waaay more than any country with just 80 million people should have. It gave the world its first high speed road network, the world's best known driver's circuit (the lap time for the Nurburgring (AKA "the Green Hell") is to this day the recognized yardstick of a car's all-round performance) and it has more enthusiast car clubs than any country regardless of size. There are more than 1,000 clubs, associations and "communities of interest" dedicated just to classic and vintage cars in Germany.
Any marque-specialist club in Germany is invariably much bigger than the corresponding club in the native country of the respective brand. More than 220 classic clubs turned up this year to display their enthusiasm and enroll new members and the levels of enthusiasm was contagious - car clubs are part of the social fabric of German society and it only takes a quick glance at these images to see the camaraderie and passion involved.
The clubs contest the "Techno-Classica Club Grand Prix" for the best booth presentation and competition was fierce with the winning stand taken out by the Fiat 500 club, which created a model kit car theme for the stand. Just how many hours were involved in choreographing this ambitious schema is almost beyond imagination. Finally, the Techno-Classica gathering of German classic car clubs is the largest automotive club gathering of any form in the world. QED!
While on the kit car theme, the rebranded Jaguar Classic took a similar approach with a serious budget and the result was equally as enthralling. Series I and II E-Type Jaguars in particular were fraught with quality control issues in their day. It is very likely that restored E-Types from Jaguar Classic are a cut above anything produced by the factory in period. A sign on the wall read thus: "To create a true rendition worthy of the E-Type's legacy, Jaguar laser-scanned every panel from an original series-1 – ensuring perfect alignment."
Germany adores its automobiles, motorcycles, indeed anything with an internal-combustion-engine pulse. The show's official subtitle ("World Show for Vintage, Classic & Prestige Automobiles, Motor Sport, Motorcycles, Spare Parts and Restoration and World Club Meeting") is not the fanciful musing of a copywriter, but an accurate reflection of what happens at Messe Essen every April. If you're looking for anything for a classic car of almost any description, you'll find it here if it exists.
Anything? Yes, pretty close to anything if it is related to automotive pursuit. One of the dilemmas faced by someone who has restored an oldtimer is procuring a period-appropriate entertainment device for the dashboard. Slotting the latest digital sound system into a 1950s classic is decidedly gauche, so as more post-war cars are returned to new condition, there's now a thriving business sourcing, restoring and selling appropriate second hand period car radios and sound systems. One car radio dealer I spoke with had sold his entire stock by the second morning of the show - another reason to pay the extra freight for "happy viewing day".
Anyone who has ever undertaken a restoration project will agree it is akin to raising a child, with similar unforeseen pitfalls and the need for an all-consuming unrelenting dedication, only a restoration is crammed into a much shorter time frame. The biggest difference is that in restoring a car, perfection of methodology is within reach and part of the fun is getting it as close as possible by hunting down the correct key and fob, switch, knob, door handle, badge, carpet and seat material, tool kit, fuel line, rubber trim, hose coupling, ad infinitum, or replacing items that have perished to the point of detracting from your masterpiece with substitutes of exactly the right patina. The above is just a selection of the pics in the image library for this article - I can't think of anything that isn't available for the restorer at Techno-Classica, and if you can't find it, you'll find someone who will find it for you given a bit of time.
Sourcing these items for cars produced 50 years ago is difficult, but with each decade of age you add to a car's date of manufacture, an inverse square law applies to the ease of procurement. Try finding the right headlamp or speedometer for a car born at the turn of the century and you really understand the problems faced by archeologists.
Many of those acres of stands in Techno-Classica are filled with specialist suppliers of all of the above, plus much much more. The photographic library contains many images of stands with specialist suppliers dedicated to parts many would consider insignificant - unless they have attempted to repaint an automotive masterpiece.
All the big manufacturers with a commitment to the classic marketplace were there. Volkswagen came out swinging after the 2015 emissions scandal, intent on ensuring its dream team of historic marques would be seen in context by this influential core audience. In any population there are "key influencers," people whose knowledge on certain matters is so great that they become logical enquiry points for advice on those matters in that population, The importance of influencing the key influencers is a strategy well understood by modern marketers.
By grouping together Auto Union, Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Ducati, DKW, Horch, Lamborghini, NSU, Porsche, SEAT, Škoda, Volkswagen and Wanderer, the VW stable filled an entire hall. From contrasting a Type 35 Bugatti (above) with the very latest W16-engined projectiles, through to undressing a Lamborghini P400 Miura SV and its fire-breathing motor next to one it had just restored, the company's brand custodianship could not be faulted.
It wasn't all "same stuff, different show" either. Audi showed something that hasn't been seen anywhere before (to my knowledge) in the form of an 1100 cc prototype motorcycle dubbed the Z02 from 1976. The top dog at that time was the Kawasaki Z1, so there's little doubt what their target was. Roland Gumpert is best known these days for his own supercar brand, but he was then fresh out of engineering school and headed the project to create a superbike for the marque using a highly-modified liquid-cooled engine from the Audi 50 as the heart.
The project got canned but had it been accepted, it might well have rebirthed the company's motorcycle heritage forty years before it snapped up Ducati. For those unfamiliar with the origins of the four rings in the Audi logo, two of them represent companies which absorbed other companies with wonderful motorcycle heritages. One was DKW, a motorcycle manufacturer of great pre-war significance. DKW stands for Dampf-Kraft-Wagen, which is German for "steam-driven car" - little wonder they abbreviated the name when the motorcycle division was a runaway success and became the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer in the 1920s and 1930s.
The other was NSU which stood for "Mechanische Werkstätte zur Herstellung von Strickmaschinen" ("Mechanical workshop for the manufacture of knitting machines") and had been founded in 1873. Clearly, changing the name of both companies was a good idea, but NSU also went on to become the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer in the 1950s and "Mike the bike" Hailwood had his first racetrack success on an NSU. Indeed, an NSU was the first motorcycle past the 200 mph mark at Bonneville in 1956.
With a name like Ducati in the portfolio, Volkswagen obviously feels it has it's two wheeled bets more than adequately covered, but with two names of such historic significance at its disposal, should the need ever arise for a smaller displacement motorcycle, maybe ... I'm a romantic at heart. That's a DKW 250 two-stroke single cylinder racer from 1930 below. The subsequent "supercharged" twin piston DKW 250 gave us an inkling of what the two-stroke racers could do to four-strokes when German engineers Adolf Schnürle and Walter Kaaden figured out what was really happening with gas flows inside the simple motor and exhaust system. When metallurgy finally caught up to their ideas, horsepower quadrupled. But that's a different story.
Getting back to the Audi Z02, if the running gear looks familiar, the frame, wheels, brakes and even the fairing are all borrowed from another well-known motorcycle of the period – BMW's R90S. There are plenty more images of this machine in the image library.
Beyond Volkswagen, amongst those 22 halls were official displays from Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Bitter, BMW, Citroën, Ferrari, Fiat, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Opel (GM), Peugeot, Rolls-Royce and Volvo. Despite many of those brands being indelibly associated with a national motoring heritage and now owned by companies in different countries, the commitment has far from waned, and from this year's show, it is demonstrably growing. There are many images of the official displays and the cars for sale with prices in the image library. For now, we'll continue with the stuff you may not have seen before.
Land Rover Classic's 'Reborn' Initiative
One of the landmark media notifications at Techno-Classica was Land Rover Classic's announcement that it is restoring 25 Series I models to original 1948 factory specification and the cars are to be sold to the public. The show car (above) began life as a CKD (Knock Down Vehicle) despatched as a kit from Solihull and assembled locally for the Australian market. It was sold new to a farm in Queensland, Australia, (where farms are the size of small countries) and based on its experience with this car the Pentland property eventually grew its own fleet of a dozen Land Rovers. Despite a close inspection of the vehicle, I found it impossible to distinguish it from new. Check out the photo gallery for a close look at the paint. Indeed, I'm quite sure it's better now than it was when new.
Launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1948, the rugged and reliable go-anywhere Land Rover has been deeply loved by its customers and has drawn a loyal following amongst those who rely on it for transport in hostile terrain, most notably the British Special Air Service (SAS) which adopted it as the vehicle of choice for it's mission-critical tasks from the early fifties. Getting the job done in the harshest environments imaginable has been the key point of difference for the marque, and an albeit small initial production of 25 refurbished cars augurs well for the future of this marketplace. One statistic quoted by the company that "says it all", is that three-quarters of the two million Defenders built over two thirds of a century are still in regular use.
Though production of the Defender recently ceased, there's a replacement in the works and what appears to be a ready-made business refurbishing them to new. Formerly this aspect of the enterprise surrounding the classic models of both iconic British brands was known as Jaguar Land Rover Heritage but has now been rebranded as Jaguar Land Rover Classic, and the writing is already on the wall that refurbished cars from both brands will be much better than the originals.
Looking the part
The automotive heritage of the European marketplace and the population's penchant for both couture and comfort has seen many motoring fashions over the last hundred plus years, and each period has its hallmark elements of style.
The halls of Techno-Classica contained them all, with dozens of couturiers crafting exquisite garments and every element required to play the role perfectly in-period, regardless of what year your car was born.
It was this aspect of Techno-Classica that best illustrated the resonance of the European community with the automobile and its role in society. It simply isn't possible for so many automotive couturiers to exist without the patronage of a large and wealthy audience. If the exchange rate between the greenback and the euro holds for twelve months, American enthusiasts should consider making the trip to Essen next year as there is a plethora of automobilia on sale there which isn't readily available in the States.
In addition to the stylish in-period clothing, costumiers of racetrack fashion were also in abundance, and the stylish jackets, shirts and caps of every race team of the last few decades are also available, regardless of the genre - fashion showing allegiance to every WRC, WEC and F1 team was available at a price, from the subtle and stylish, to the most flamboyant.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of all of the clothing available at Techno-Classica is the array of overalls on offer. It's part of the job description of professional race teams to look good at all times, but in the real world of club and classic racing, that's somewhat harder to achieve when you're elbow deep and racing the clock to get the damned thing going for the next event. Salvation is at hand, because amongst the outlier suppliers were stands with every team mechanic uniform ever seen inside Parc fermé. Look closely at the image below and you'll see the uniforms of dozens of teams, many long since extinct. If you're going period racing in style, you can get what you need here.
Decorating the office, den or man-cave
This is another aspect of Techno-Classica that I know will thrill my fellow neanderthals. Some of the previously mentioned furniture, objets d'art and mechanical curiosity available at Techno-Classica are as good as it gets, regardless of your taste, and the following samples are all available in hi-res in the image gallery.
From a genuine Ferrari race suit worn by Michael Schumacher or Eddie Irvine, through jet fighter ejection seats, Concorde models, vintage fuel pumps or Dalek sculptures, it's all available.
That's a Porsche racing motor fashioned into a coffee table with the hardened glass supported on six venturis
Juke boxes, beer coolers, brolly dolly uniforms ... Americana everything, from any period.
Portable garden furniture - perhaps not entirely automotive themed, but an indication of the audience profile.
Wall hangings for the creation of an automotive theme were available in abundance.
I counted more than a dozen stands that just specialized in models cars. If it's been made, it's here.
Some of the automotive objets d'art from a century ago were absolutely beautiful.
The Special Presentation - the 1955 Mille Miglia
Each year the organizing body responsible for this bohemoth show (S.I.H.A.) does something beyond special - the special exhibit this year was to draw together seven of the leading cars from the legendary 1955 Mille Miglia.
The Mille Miglia (1000 miles) race was actually held over a 992.332 mile (1597 km) course made up entirely of public roads and consisting of a round trip between Brescia and Rome, with the start and finish in Brescia.
The 1955 event is one of legend as it was won by Stirling Moss, with navigator (automotive journalist and 1949 World Motorcycle Sidecar Champion) Denis Jenkinson famously witnessing what must have been one of the most thrilling voyeur experiences in history from the passenger seat - the fastest ever Mille Miglia before several tragic accidents, most famously the death of the larger-than-life Marquis Alfonso de Portago (see halfway down this article for some of his outrageous history), saw the demise of the event on safety grounds. Moss (with Jenkinson calling the corners) drove the 992-mile distance in 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds at an average speed of 99 mph (160 km/h), finishing 32 minutes ahead of Juan Manuel Fangio, both driving the equally legendary Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. To be fair to Fangio, he drove alone, without the ability to get into thousands of blind corners on the absolute limit thanks to Jenkinson shouting instructions from his meticulous notes.
The presentation at Techno-Classica drew together the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR driven by Fangio (with the start number 658 representing his start time of 6:58 AM) which was on loan from the Mercedes-Benz Museum.
The other cars beyond the futuristic Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR (which, at that time, was considered proof that aliens had landed and were using their superior technology to go racing) that made their way into the beautifully curated Mille Miglia display were a Ferrari 750 Monza, a Fiat 8V Zagato and a Fiat 8V, a Maserati 300 S, a Maserati A6GCS, an Osca MT4 1500, an Osca MT4 1100 and a Porsche 550 Spyder. They're all detailed in the image gallery.
Pursang - Argentinian Artisans par excellence
The stories within this show are so many that it isn't possible to give it adequate coverage in a single article, but there are several worth telling and tucked away in the back blocks, I found a company I've been aware of for a long time, but wondered if I would ever meet them. Pursang is a small company located in Paraná Entre Rios, about 450 km from Buenos Aires in Argentina. The work they do is astonishing and it's difficult to describe without a superlative festival. Essentially, if you want a period race car produced, they can do it. F'rinstance, should you desire a brand new, atom-perfect Type 35 Bugatti or Alfa 8C Monza, they are the go-to guys
The conversation I had with them was brief, concise, language-challenged and showed the company's enormous and completely unfounded humility. "We are a small company", I was told, "so we cannot take on many projects each year." There's probably not much they cannot do, but it will be expensive and it will be to your satisfaction.
The type of job they routinely get tasked with? Let's say you've just spent a couple of million on a period race car of significant provenance and desperately want to race it, but it's too valuable to race with a clear conscience because it should be in a museum. Well you can take it to them and they'll replicate it – perfectly! Then you can get crazy in the replica while the real one stays warm and safe in your climate-controlled garage.
Sports Car Digest's Rick Carey has actually undertaken the pilgrimage and his report will help you understand: "They just get down to the job at hand and translate concepts into physical entities, much of it by hand. It seems to be part of the Argentine character. Forced to be self-sufficient by a dysfunctional economy and import restrictions that make acquiring even the simplest components from outside the country almost impossible, what they can't buy they make, in an astounding profusion."
Books, big and small
If there's a book you're looking for, if it exists, you'll most likely find it here. Most of the major automotive booksellers can be found here, regardless of their country of origin. Those who follow the auction prices will already be aware of the bible of the industry, the Classic Car Auction Yearbook, which has been produced annually since 1994. Copies of the early years are now becoming exceedingly rare and a complete set is worth a king's ransom, but as the classic car marketplace grows, competitors are emerging, with one popping up this year in German. It's kinda ironic really, because the beautiful auction annual which is still produced by Adolfo Orsi and Raffaele Gazzi in English was originally published only in Italian as "Catalogo Bolaffi delle Automobili Italiane da Collezione."
Auktionsspiegel is a new publication based on European data from Germany's industry-dedicated Classic Data, a company which produces a goldmine of information about the industry in general and will mine that data for any vehicle you might wish to purchase, producing a personalized report. Auktionsspiegel goes deeper into the data than the global Classic Car Auction Yearbook, with high bid pricing and more auctions covered, albeit for a smaller geographic footprint. The second annual is due out later this year and just as the "Catalogo Bolaffi delle Automobili Italiane da Collezione" annuals can be mastered with a few dozen words of Italian, "Auktionsspiegel" offers lots of accessible and useful data once you've "Google translated" those same words from German.
When it comes to really big books, you have James John Audubon's "Birds of America" for those who are allergic to petroleum, and the Official Formula 1 Opus for those who are addicted to it. At half a meter square, it constitutes 852 pages and weighs 37 kilograms, slightly less if you opt for the "Champions Edition" in it's carbon fiber presentation box (lined with Alcantara).
It is the biggest book on Formula One racing ever produced, lovingly hand-bound in the finest leather and silk, and will make any coffee table look good. There are a two editions, with the "Champions Edition" limited to 100 copies and personally signed by every living F1 champion. You could buy both editions at Techno-Classica, with the "Champions Edition" normally retailing for €25,000 at a special show rate of €18,750 and the "Classic Edition" which normally goes for €3,750, available for €2,950.
Disruptive technology comes to the Classic Car Marketplace
In 16 years of working at Gizmag, I've witnessed many disruptive technologies, but few that gladden my heart like this one. Techno-Classica saw the introduction of a new service which seems certain to take a lot of the uncertainty out of one of mankind's most beloved hobbies and cause lots of headaches for many elements within the industry.
Carl Messtechnik has been offering optical and infrared thermographic testing services to the European aerospace industry since 1999. More recently, it has developed Active Thermography testing systems for aircraft. The biggest advantage of this type of system is that it is accurate, all-seeing, non-destructive and contact-free, and it means that important structural parts of aircraft in service can be checked to ensure that everything is in perfect working order, and failure is not imminent as the loss of human life can result from any lack of structural integrity in an aircraft.
The ongoing development and research of active thermography has seen the system adapted for other uses and one of them is that it can be used to look underneath the paint of automobiles to examine not so much the structural integrity of body, but the thickness of metal, paint and other body parts, regardless of what they are made of, and can accurately detect the use of body filler and other repair work hidden by the aforementioned shiny paint.
Working in conjunction with GTÜ (Gesellschaft für Technische Überwachung) it has developed a portable system for using active thermography for looking under the paint of automobiles which means that the system can be taken to the automobile in the field and tests performed as a turn-key franchisable service.
Under the skin, this Porsche can be seen to have had a significant accident on the left side that has been repaired with a new door and a lot of filler used in the rear left quarter panel and door surround. The coming availability of active IR systems will mean this type of repair work will no longer be undisclosed to a buyer.
Think of it as an automotive ultrasound for your potential new baby (classic or expensive prestige car), where you can see underneath the skin and identify all the things that might not be as they should. That is, things a repairer may have done to disguise the use of body filler and previous accidents (which may or may not have been disclosed to the potential purchaser) … all the way through to some of the less desirable cut-and-shut techniques. You can see it all, and knowledge is power, particularly if a sizeable financial transaction is just about to take place.
The Classic Car Check system is already being franchised to service providers across Germany and Switzerland who in turn are offering the service to car buyers and sellers, insurance companies, dealers et al.
One quote from my language-challenged discussion with Classic-Car-Check's Michael Veith that stands out was when I asked him "who is adopting the system ... buyers, dealers, insurance companies?" He said, "insurance companies love this technology ... dealers, maybe not so much" and laughed heartily.
Most importantly for all those in the industry who don't live in Switzerland or Germany, the opportunity now exists to be trained, equipped and to also offer the Classic Car Check service internationally.
This technology will almost certainly revolutionize the classic car industry because if you're just about to spend between $100,000 and $30,000,000 on a car, the peace of mind of having your intended purchase thermally x-rayed (that's not exactly the technology as different wavelengths are used to obtain the internal imagery, not x-rays, but I'm sure you get the picture) so you know exactly what you are buying.
As we all know, many corners can be cut in repairing a car and a paint job can disguise a multitude of sins, which henceforth will not be undetectable due to the coming widespread availability of this technology.
In a world where caveat emptor is a guiding principle of contract law, I can't see any options but for the immediate widespread adoption of this technology, especially if you're spending six figures on a car and you want to get what you pay for.
The cost of having this service performed on-site by Classic Car Check is about €400 (US$450) and it looks to me like a disruptive technology that will change the fabric of the industry henceforth.
While writing this article, I had the good fortune to begin an email conversation with Volker Carl, the person who developed the system, and several new capabilities and insights came to light. The first is that because active thermography works with any material, it can see things that couldn't be seen before. One example is its ability to examine the structural integrity of carbon fibre racing bike frames.
Volker wrote: "We are the only company in the world offering frame checks for people with carbon frame bikes. After an accident, nobody knows what might be wrong inside of a carbon structure. We use a similar technique to find the problems. Take a look at carbon-bike-check.com (sorry - it's only in German at this stage)."
The other insight offered by Volker had already been alluded to in my discussions with Michael Veith who had even provided an image (directly above) to validate his comments: that many manufacturers have taken unreasonable liberties on the production line in the name of expediency in days gone by and the quality of workmanship ex-factory isn't always what you'd expect. Porsche 356s in particular were mentioned and Volker's email contained the following gem: "Maybe you can add this image to the last one. It shows an original Porsche with standard tinning." The image is directly below.
This new technology also has the potential to cause problems for many of the links in the new vehicle supply chain even today. In discussion with another well-known automotive journalist in the press room at Techno-Classica, we were kicking around what the ramifications of this technology might be for different aspects of the industry. The journalist in question, who shall remain nameless because he once held a position of consequence inside a major automotive manufacturer, offered up the insight that the percentage of ex-factory cars requiring remedial work at the dealer level before they were delivered to the customer was ... wait for it ... 12 percent. It was a global car company and you would recognize the name in an instant. We don't expect the numbers to be much less at other manufacturers ... but we might be wrong. Maybe. With new levels of accountability, which this technology will demand, we expect some interesting developments on many levels.
Distributors and partners are being sought globally and enquiries should be directed to Michael Veith here.
What's more, if the baby boomer generation continues to get its way, companies with a long and storied heritage (Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Porsche, Bentley, Ferrari, Audi, Alfa Romeo, Rolls-Royce, Maserati etc.) may be making a sizeable percentage of their income renewing their older wares a decade from now.
In closing, I am embarrassed I haven't been to Techno-Classica before, because it is the finest testimony to the essence of this shared passion that I have witnessed. Henceforth, Techno-Classica will be a permanent fixture on my annual schedule, and if automotive heritage is close to your heart, might I suggest you also make the trip and experience it for yourself. Essen is a safe, welcoming environment, public transport makes getting around easy, the show is run impeccably well, the food is fantastic, and what happens inside those walls will positively enrich your hobby in many ways. One word of warning: walk a lot in the preceding months. Maybe a few miles a day. It will be good practice for the show. Oh ... and wear comfy shoes.