In its most expansive use of the term, collector car can mean any vehicle that some person thinks is worthy of keeping or collecting. It may refer to an antique over 100 years old, or even a newer high-horsepower exotic sports car so expensive it is rarely seen on city streets. One thing they have in common is a collector who finds them worthy of owning — and many of those owners need hand controls to drive their prized vehicles.
Collecting and restoring cars can be an addictive activity, and for some young people it started because their fathers were car collectors. Bryan King, a T3 para who lives in Imperial, Calif., received his first “muscle car” from his dad at age 9. That 1968 Camaro SS — worked on by the two of them for several years — was fully restored by the time Bryan graduated from high school. After his spinal cord injury in 2001, he reluctantly converted his Camaro to an automatic transmission, and has also restored and customized a 1959 Chevy pickup. The truck is equipped with air bags and hydraulic shocks that drop it to ground level, and has a lift for swinging his wheelchair into the back of the pickup so it will ride under the fiberglass bed cover.
American manufacturers were not the only ones building muscle cars during the 1960s and ‘70s before pollution controls decreased the amount of horsepower available on new cars. Many foreign makes from that era are also highly prized by collectors.
John Knighten, a para from Issaquah, Wash., has been injured for 47 years. In 1978 he bought a ‘74 Jaguar E-type convertible, a high-performance British sports car, and began restoring it. The car has been returned to new condition, and has since won top awards at several competitions. He likes to drive it to local car shows. Even though it is 40 years old, it still has only 23,000 miles on the odometer. His biggest challenge is finding a qualified local mechanic who is skilled at tuning up a 12-cylinder car. Many modern cars only have four or six cylinders.
Some collectors like to own cars that they have memories of driving, or at least admiring, from an early age. Glen White helped out at his father’s body shop before a 1964 auto accident left him paralyzed at T10 at age 15. His first car was a 1958 Pontiac Bonneville convertible. Later he enjoyed driving a 1966 Chevy Impala while attending community college. He now has two ’66 Impalas, one of which is a convertible. Their engines and exhausts have a nice rumble to them, and the large front and back seats are great for hauling his wheelchair and several passengers.
Collecting classic cars is a family affair for the White family, so he has constructed a large shop in Perry, Kan., that can house up to 10 vehicles. His two Impalas share the space with his wife’s ‘81 Buick Park Avenue and his son-in-law’s ’55 Chevy and 1970 Plymouth Duster. The whole family — including grandchildren — enjoy driving in the classic cars and attending car shows throughout the Midwest in the summer.
For those who have the classic car bug, White recommends that they go to classic car shows in their area to see what is on the market. “Some fixer-uppers can be cheap, but might be costly in terms of parts and labor to get them to a presentable level,” he says. “Additionally, I would suggest looking at Craigslist, Hemmings Motor News, or eBay and see what is available for sale under classic cars. There are still some good bargains out there.”
Collecting as a Business
Collecting cars is also big business. Millions of vehicles are routinely collected, restored, modified, traded and sold throughout the world. Some rare automobiles sell at price levels in the millions of dollars; one of the most expensive, a Ferrari, sold for $38 million at a 2014 auction. Similar but smaller transactions fuel a thriving business of classic car auctions, websites, auto repair and restoration shops, magazines and specialized automobile dealers.
There are car clubs open to anyone who drives a collectible car and wants to get together for cruises, car shows or other group activities revolving around their automobiles. Some car clubs are even organized around a particular make or model of vehicle.
John Bevins, a para from Berthoud, Colo., knows quite a bit about those clubs, thanks to his experience owning Amphicars. Injured while snow tubing behind a Jeep in 1982, Bevins began working on classic cars with his dad while still in the eighth grade. In 1998 he began restoring his first Amphicar, and has since purchased and sold others. His expertise has been recognized by his election as president of the International Amphicar Owners Association, dedicated to finding and restoring those rare vehicles that can operate on both land and water.
Even though the Amphicar was only manufactured in the 1960s, and there are only about 600 still driving and swimming worldwide, it may soon be possible for Disney World visitors to go for a ride in one of these German cars. About 20 Amphicars are being restored and will be available for tourists to ride in at one of Disney World’s lakes.
Bevins is more than a one-model type of collector. Over the years he has owned and restored classic cars of all types. He currently owns a 1964 Oldsmobile Starfire and a ‘66 Cadillac DeVille, both convertibles. Much of the restoration occurs in his two-car garage, with final body work and painting taking place at a local body shop. Bevins has some advice for those seeking an older vehicle to restore. “If a chair user, it is best to focus on two-door models for ease of access,” he says. “Even those that have a manual transmission can be adapted.” He recommends checking out Hemmings Motor News, AACA.org and auction websites, all which can provide a gauge of car values.
Arbie Parnell, of Channel View, Texas, drove collectible cars, starting with a ‘69 Mercury Cougar, while still in high school. His dad gave him a 1975 Pinto, and he has continued to own a variety of classics since then. Parnell, a T4 para due to a 1990 drive-by shooting, bought his first Chevrolet El Camino — a ‘79 model — that same year. He has owned five of the unique pickups since then, and currently drives an ‘83 El Camino SS which was originally being used as a ranch truck to haul dirt and debris around his property.
Parnell likes the versatility of the El Camino, but the ‘83 doesn’t haul much dirt since it received a custom paint job. He likes the wider doors and the pickup feature, since it makes transferring into the driver’s seat and loading his wheelchair very easy. Other collectible cars interest him as well, and he is currently selling a Lincoln Mark VIII and buying a Chrysler Sebring convertible. His advice to would-be collectors? “Find what you liked while still in high school — drive through the country and take $1,000 along to seek out barn finds.”
Mike Mayer of Missoula, Mont., was injured at 20, resulting in C5 paralysis. He has since restored a 1967 Plymouth Barracuda that he spotted while driving by a local car lot. Initial plans were to modify it so that he could drive, but subsequent neck surgery required him to give up driving. He was fortunate to have a close-knit circle willing to work on the car, which Mayer now describes as a “family and friends project.” His original goal was to replace the engine, but once that was done it became clear that the engine compartment needed to be cleaned up as well. That led to a complete rebuild, mostly accomplished by volunteers, although a local body shop did body work and paint.
Mayer figures the car will never be finished. He and his wife take it to local car shows in the summer, so to make it easy to transfer him into the passenger seat, he and a friend devised a transfer seat from an old aluminum wheelchair that allows him to slide onto the car’s swivel seat.
Unusual and Newer Collectibles
During the 16 years since he was paralyzed, Steve “Wheels” Bucaro of Palmdale, Calif., has been actively involved in several aspects of the motor sports world. He has built racing motorcycles and also raced them. Off-road racing with his Honda Pilot UTV occupies many of his weekends, when he is not riding it for recreation in the deserts of Southern California. He has even customized some newer vehicles that are destined to become classics.
One of the top venues for designers and builders of unique accessories used to modify new and collector cars of all types is the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association show held each fall in Las Vegas. Only representatives from the automotive industry and companies that manufacture and market accessories can attend. Builders compete for the opportunity to showcase their work at SEMA, as there is judging for some prestigious awards. The best designs are often adopted by vehicle manufacturers in their following model year. Bucaro has won top awards at that show for six different vehicles — a testament to the quality of his ideas and the products he helped develop.
Newer collector cars are also very familiar to Allen Garrett, a para from Florida who has customized a 2008 Toyota pickup that is a familiar sight at car shows in the region. It is now an award-winning “low rider” with high-tech audio and visual equipment as well as upgraded lighting throughout. One of the unique features of the truck is a lift system that stows his wheelchair under the bed cover while he’s driving. A similar lift system has been installed on his BMW convertible, and there is now one being added to his new 2015 Camaro SS convertible.
Patrick Cottini spent the summer of his 15th birthday recuperating from a C7 SCI level. Upon arriving back home in Chico, Calif., he and his dad searched for a vehicle with larger doors that he could drive. He found a classic in a barn, covered with dirt, with bullet holes in the rear window. The 1956 Chevrolet became a family restoration project, but Cottini was already in college before it could be driven again.
That prize-winning show car was just the tip of the iceberg. Since that first project Cottini has restored or modified several more vehicles, and has even bigger plans ahead. He bought a 2011 BMW 328ix, which has four-wheel drive, perfect for rally track racing that includes drifting and speeds in excess of 150 MPH. He is also working on some resto rods — cars from the 1920s that he intends to race at the Bonneville Salt Flats in an attempt to set speed records for these types of “quad-driven” cars.
Why do people collect cars? Bryan King enjoys the process of restoring cars, not just the final product. “I think and dream of cars and trucks: how to change them and add my own twist to fit my personality. I love talking about this kind of stuff all of the time,” he says, “and while I actually do have pain every day, just like everyone else does, talking cars for some reason seems to erase all of those pains and worries.”
To share that pleasure he just bought his 16-year-old son a 1969 El Camino, so the family legacy is sure to continue.
• Antique Automobile Club: AACA.org
• Hemmings Motor News: hemmings.com
• International Amphicar Owners Club: www.amphicar.com
• Mecum Classic Car Auctions: mecum.com
• Okoboji Classic Car museum: okobojicc.com/the-occ-experience.php
• Specialty Equipment Market Association: www.semashow.com