During the two decades that I have been writing articles and columns about accessible collector cars for NEW MOBILITY magazine, two basic facts have become clear: There is no “cookie cutter” definition of exactly what a collector car is, nor is there one single reason why people choose to collect, restore, customize or drive them. The cars can be called many different things, including classics, antiques, muscle cars, exotics or hot rods.
The hobby of collecting them is big business, as evidenced by the multimillion-dollar companies that sell or auction them, provide parts to restore them or haul them around the world to auction sites, dealerships and new owners. While some rare and pristine vehicles can sell for several million dollars at elite auctions, it is not necessary to spend a fortune to enter the world of car collectors, and the returns can be more satisfying than any monetary investment. One enthusiast summed it up best when asked what advice he would give someone who wants to purchase a collectible car: “Find something you like and then just do it. The first step might seem like a big one, but the results are well worth it.”
Fulfilling the Dream
Steve “Wheels” Bucaro of Palmdale, California, found his dream car at age 12. It was actually a model of a 1970 Chevelle, which he assembled and painted purple. When old enough for a license, he was into riding motorcycles and bought a road bike as a graduation present for himself and totaled it three months later. The insurance payoff allowed him to purchase that dream car, which had already been set up for drag racing. Two years later he was working on the car’s engine but didn’t have the torque wrench that he needed to finish the job. While waiting for a mechanic, he went on a motorcycle ride and was struck by a car and paralyzed. The work on the dream Chevelle has continued — slowly — for the last 20 years, with other priorities pushing it to the back burner as he pursued off-road racing and the building of other classic vehicles for competitions at the SEMA show in Las Vegas. Thanks to the help of several friends, he hopes to fulfill his childhood dream and have the car on the road later this fall.
When Bob Shatney, a T12 para from Garden Grove, California, bought a used 1969 Camaro in 2007, he figured it would not take much work to return the popular classic car to its original condition. Unfortunately, that restoration turned into a seven year project that occupied most of the spare time he had available in retirement. After he bought it, he learned the engine needed rebuilding and the car was besieged by rust. Getting rid of that rust required replacement of the floor pan and most of the major sheet metal. Although it took more time, he did most of the work himself. Because of that effort, the project turned out exactly as he envisioned it would. Some setbacks with his health have kept him from getting behind the wheel for the past few months, but he anticipates cruising in it again very soon.
One of the attractions for those who collect classic cars is that popular styling doesn’t fade away over time. The Camaro is a good example of that according to Sam Learn, a C5-6 incomplete quad from Clackamas, Oregon, who drives a 2014 Camaro. When the later model Camaros were reintroduced by Chevrolet a few years ago, they had a big advantage in horsepower over those built in the 1960s. It is not necessary to pay a premium for that horsepower, as the car’s styling turns heads no matter how fast it is driven. By changing the chrome wheels into blacked out versions, Learn says the car has a look about it that is almost sinister, since the rest of the car is dark gray. He drives with Monarch push-pull hand controls, and there is room to put his wheelchair in the passenger seat during his transfer.
Room for 10 (or More)
Some collector car owners who use hand controls are not satisfied with owning just one vehicle. Glen White of Lawrence, Kansas, is a paraplegic with a love for the types of vintage cars he helped his father work on in the family’s shop while growing up. His 10-car garage houses several of these sturdy classics, but recently he has put most effort into updating his 1966 Impala convertible. While this convertible is a frequent visitor to car shows throughout the Midwest, it will have a more important role very soon — White intends to take a top-down “nostalgia drive” with his grandson, Kai, following historic Route 66.
Some people started their restoration projects while very young. Bryan King, a para from El Centro, California, started work on his 1968 Camaro when his dad gifted it to him at age 9. They worked on it together for years, and finished during his senior year of high school. In 2001, he was injured at work and has since outfitted the Camaro with hand controls. He has also converted several pickups with features like bed-mounted wheelchair lifts and a remote-controlled canopy. King and his father recently finished installing hand controls in a Polaris RZR ATV that he can race in the desert.
Vincent Lopresti, a C6-7 quad from Hurst, Texas, has a 1985 GMC Caballero Diablo with a Bruno Outrider wheelchair lift in the back. The Caballero is similar to the Chevrolet El Camino, so he named his vehicle the “Hel Camino.” With the help of a mechanic, he has been doing much of the work on the Caballero himself, using his standing power wheelchair and several adaptive tools, and plans to race it once the work is completed. A recent setback when someone stole the truck and ruined the engine has altered his timeframe, but the truck was recovered and he continues to get it race-ready.
One of the most popular and longest-running collector cars is the Chevrolet Corvette. Jemal Mfundshi, a C6-7 quad from Portland, Oregon, owns a 1998 Corvette for his daily driver. This is not his first collector-quality vehicle, as its predecessor was a GMC Cyclone, a high-performance pickup truck. As a longtime employee of an accessible car dealership, he knows the ins and outs of adapting vehicles and making them safe for individuals who need hand controls to drive. His Corvette is equipped with Sure Grip hand controls, eliminating the need for one of the rods that extends to the accelerator. Another safety feature that he has installed is a four-point safety harness to replace the standard combination shoulder and lap belt. While being firmly secured in the seat is a must when driving a high horsepower vehicle like the Corvette, he recommends that method of securement for anyone with limited trunk muscles in order to be safe behind the wheel.
Rebounding from a Rough Start
Someone who would probably agree with the importance of proper securement is Barry Long, a para from Woodinville, Washington. Long drives a 1968 Mustang that he bought in 1994. The classic car has 370,000 miles on it so far and is still going strong, but his first day of driving it with hand controls started out a bit shakily. As he explains, “The first time I drove the ‘Stang with the hand controls, I drove it out of the installation garage never having any type of training or practice. When I got to the first intersection, as I took a left, I pushed the knob with my right hand to turn the car to the left and fell over into the passenger seat. Luckily I was going slowly so I pushed the shifter into park and the car lurched to a stop.” After practicing driving in an empty parking lot for about 30 minutes, he drove the 200 miles home without further incident. It still looks great and is driven regularly.
• Barrett-Jackson collector car auctions, azure.barrett-jackson.com
• Gooding & Company auctions, goodingco.com
• Hemmings Motor News, hemmings.com/auctions
• Mecum Classic Car Auctions, mecum.com
• National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, nmeda.com
• Russo and Steele auctions, russoandsteele.com
• Specialty Equipment Market Association, semashow.com
• Sure Grip Hand Controls, suregrip-hvl.com