SCD: Where is the collectors market headed?
BC: I think what is happening is that tangibles are finally starting to surface as real worth. The reason I’ve always collected cars is because I’ve said there is only one of those, or there are only two of those, or 30 of those. Somewhere there has to be value for that because it’s not being reproduced. It’s never going to happen again, and that’s what it is. To me a car has always been a form of art, much more so than a picture. This is an engineering feat, a mechanical wonder. If you look at cars, they are the most incredible technological feat of my lifetime. Being born in 1950 and watching cars, watching what happened from what a 1960 car is and comparing it to today’s car is pretty amazing. Now you go back and really have an appreciation for what was handmade and machined and done. That is what these old cars are, they’re art.
Unfortunately, some of them are a problem created by man. New cars don’t have that design elegance that old cars have. I’m a designer and I feel that all the truck design I did when I worked at Kenworth was all done by hand, we sketched it, and then we built a full-size scale as a prototype. Today, everybody’s in a hurry so they draw it in the computer, and put in a machine and cast the part, whether it’s a hood or whatever, and they have a model in hours. Then they say send it to tooling, and that is the process. There are some great designers in the world, as good today as back then, but they don’t get to sit there and study that car for a month and tweak it and do this and that. You’ve got to get it out all the time. The demand on schedules has taken away the design elegance.
Now that’s one part of the problem. The other part of the problem is that they don’t get to design cars that look like that because they have this crash standard and these airbags and this that and the next thing. You have to have all this stuff, so anyway it just leaves out a lot of the artistic part of the car design. You have all these modern cars, whether it’s a modern Ferrari or Aston Martin or Porsche, I don’t care what it is, you can’t find a new car that has as much design appeal or identity as an old car.
A new 911 is a perfect example. They’re great cars, but a new 997 Porsche is not a ‘67 RS or a ‘73 Carrera RS. I just say it’s so limited now, what they can do to that car. Look at the old one, they did not have to look at bumper standards and weight, they could build the car light. They had no emission standards, so you really got to build a pure automobile, more than what you can do today. Now I think that people are realizing that this is really a form of art and the values are really starting to show it. I mean people pay $100 million for a painting or a sculpture all the time. Paintings that are 20 and 30 and 40 million, sit there and I think, well that makes no sense to me at all. I mean that makes absolutely no sense at all. Because that guy was talented with a brush, I’ll give him that. But still, he didn’t engineer anything, machine anything or make it work when he was done. The car is a much higher level of artistic quality than a painting. Really, how many tangible things in the world are like that?
So you say, “I’m not going to do that I’m going to do something else.” What are you going to do? Military equipment? Old airplanes? I love old airplanes. You take P-51s and Corsairs and all those old airplanes, but there are even less of those, and they have no utility unless you are a really experienced pilot. You can’t go out and play with a P-51. And even if you are an experienced pilot, you’re not playing with a P-51, that’s a serious piece of equipment. I mean with a car you can play with it. You can get your buddy and cruise down the street and fart around with it and do whatever you want. You’re not doing that with an airplane. Not safely. And then it’s not easy to house it and maintain it or anything, whereas with a car you can take it home and put it in the garage, and the next day, fire it up again, or a month later fire it up and go again. I think people are starting to realize that there is nothing like that in the world, so the numbers are huge, but relative to other things. I just saw a house on the beach in Malibu for $57 million. Who cares?
SCD: What are your feelings about the latest mega million sales of cars like the Bugatti Atlantic and the Ferrari GTOs?
BC: What I think is happening is that they’re starting to have their just value. Now, when the muscle cars went crazy I thought that was unjustified. This is one of 17,000 Corvettes built that year; that’s not the same. Now, if it’s 1 of 1, or 1 of 10 or something, then that’s entirely different. You look at some of these cars, take the GTO, and now there’s three GTOs sold. Now look at that Bugatti. It’s unbelievable what that car looks like, from every angle. The first one of those cars I saw was Ralph Lauren’s. If you were a car guy you couldn’t walk away from it. The first time I saw Ralph’s was at Pebble Beach when it was first restored and he unveiled there. It was magnetizing. You just sat there and kept looking at the car from every angle. I tell guys real design is such that no matter what angle you look at it — low, high, three-quarter, front, side, back, from the top down — I don’t care where you look at it, it’s gorgeous. If you look at every angle, and every angle is correct and the design is angled, that’s real design. There aren’t many cars like that in the world. There aren’t that many. So I think they’re just being recognized as valuable.
The other thing that has happened is that the wealth in the world has expanded. I mean you have wealthy people in China, you have wealthy people in Russia, lots of places besides just the United States, but you don’t have more cars. There are only so many. I don’t know how many billionaires there are in the world, but probably two percent of the billionaires would buy up all the GTOs. So not much supply for the billionaires. If they all wanted a GTO, they’re out of luck. I think that’s what’s happening in the car trade. I’m not surprised. On one hand, I think it’s great because I have a nice collection of cars. On the other hand I hate it because there’s a bunch of cars I can’t afford to buy. I can’t afford to write a check for my own collection today if I had to start over. I really think we’re only a few years away from when China will be buying lots of cars. Right now they can’t take them in. When they open the door to wealthy Chinese buying collections and bringing them home, omigod. They could buy them all.
SCD: From a collector’s standpoint, what is there to buy for under $100K and over $500K? From a Vintage and Historic racers standpoint, what is there to buy under and over $100K?
BC: I think it depends on what a person is comfortable to drive. I think there are more pieces to that puzzle. I don’t think you can limit it to dollars. You have to include a couple of things, because one guy may not like driving one thing with slick tires and 200 horsepower. You have to figure that part out. For $100,000, I tell guys that one of the most fun cars you can drive, that will teach you to drive almost anything, is an early 911. That is a car which is extremely safe, which I think is important, because as people come into racing who never did it, they have no experience of getting hurt. None! And I’ve had a fair amount of getting hurt. I think what happens is that I can sit there and say I wouldn’t want to get hurt like I was driving Sprint Cars. When you’re young, you heal right up. “A skull fracture? No big deal, when do I get back into the car?”
It’s different when you are over 50, breaking bones isn’t so simple with your other responsibilities, your companies, your families, everything. You really can’t afford to go out and get injured. OK, so I sit there and think, if I’m going to vintage race, I’m going to be really smart and get into a car and if I have an accident, I’m safe. And I say that because people say these are old cars and they’re really not that fast. I tell guys to go down the freeway in your streetcar and just for a minute look at the bridge above and just imagine hitting it at 60mph in your streetcar with 20 airbags. You would say you would never do that. When you go to the racetrack you’re going 80 or 90 or 100mph in an old vintage car, and you have no airbags and if you hit anything there is nothing there. It’s just not the same, and yet guys just have no concept of speed when they’re racing, none. They forget it all. “I can go as fast as the car can go.” Not really, but that’s how they think. They think, “I’m successful, so I can drive,” and that’s not necessarily true either. Even guys who can drive sometimes think they can drive when they can’t. There are plenty of wrecked racecars to prove that.
So, I think if you talk about a $100,000 car, it’s an early 911, a short-wheelbase 911. That’s a fast car, it teaches you oversteer and understeer, to whatever degree you’re comfortable. It handles unbelievably well. I mean, a 50-year-old Porsche doesn’t handle like a 50-year-old car. You get into one of these old 911s, or a 911S, and it’s just a blast to drive. And if you crash, I tell guys that Dr. Porsche was really the first guy to discover deformable structures. I have wadded up a Porsche and walked away because the car took the brunt of the energy and slowed it all down, and I got out of it with nothing more than bruises. I think that’s a great $100,000 car for a guy to start with. It’s as safe as you can be. Most of those cars are 200-220 horsepower. They run on a 6-inch wheel with a pretty good chunk of tread under it. They stop good, they turn good and do everything really well. So there is your $100,000 car.
When you talk about the over $500,000 car, we never got there. My comment is the ultimate development of a racecar was the later 911 RSR. It is my value for an over $500,000 car. It has all the safety of anything you could ever drive. It now has 350 horsepower, it has 14-inch wide rear wheels and slicks and wings. That car is absolutely as much fun as anything you could ever drive. It goes fast on a fast track and it handles great on a short track. There’s lots of other cars. You could go to Can-Am cars, or F1. If you drive a 911 or you drive an RSR, you get out smiling and laughing. You get out of those other cars and you’re sweating and trying to get yourself calmed down again because it’s a fair amount of stress compared to a lot of other racecars. I can drive one of those and chuckle and talk to those guys all the way around the course.
SCD: How important is maintaining original “patina” in a vintage/historic car?
BC: I think the problem with racecars especially, more than road cars, is that there are very few racecars that you can leave as they were because they have been through so many wars. If you look at how many times cars have been re-wadded up or re-bodied, or engines that have been changed. I mean, you don’t find many racecars where you can say you’re leaving it as original. Even in my museum upstairs there are two cars that are pretty good examples of that. The Pearson Ford is a great story because it was built for the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1975. They won the class at Daytona with that car. It was supposed to go the 24 Hours of Le Mans too, but it didn’t because John Holman of Holman and Moody died at that time. That program got cancelled and that car sat in the building, original. It just sat, it got parked. There are not many racecars you could take home and wash off and leave all the original patina from a 24-hour race and say this looks awesome. It’s original and has been kept that way. Most of them have been re-bodied, repainted 20 times, re-parted, upgraded as many times as they could figure out to make it go faster. So maintaining a patina is really hard to do. It’s extremely difficult to do unless you have a racecar that ran a season or a couple of seasons and then somebody put it over here on the shelf and kept it that way.
It’s pretty hard to have cars that are original like that. I like both. I tell guys if I can find an original car that is so original that I can completely restore it by cleaning it and going over it to make sure there is no oxidation on it — so you wouldn’t have rust on it if it rained yesterday — I’d need to restore it as close to the original as I could. I don’t want it to be different than it was. It will end up being better than it was. In the old days, even 962s, when we restored them, the noses didn’t fit, the doors didn’t fit, the tail didn’t fit. Every time you would put them on, it would chip the paint or fracture the composite, because they weren’t fitted very well. Now the Al Holberts of the world, and the Bruce Canepas of the world, we were so meticulous we would go get the car from the factory and go fit everything, and take it all apart and get it massaged and rebuilt. When Penske used to buy a car from March, it was completely rebuilt in his shop, like new. Everything he didn’t like he threw away, and everything else he finished, because they were production racecars and they were never finished, there was no time to finish them to that level. So, when I restore one, I want the doors and hood and everything to open and close and fit, so we take a 962 and we gap it. We go around and make sure all the doors open and close without banging into the body, and same with the nose and same with the tail. We don’t make it street car perfect, we don’t make it dead flat, we don’t make the gaps all consistent. We just make sure as a racecar you can put the tail on and off 20 times and not fracture the paint and the stuff. We do that with all the parts, we basically go through the car and do a lot of that with everything because I want the thing to be nice when it’s done. So that’s kind of what we do.
SCD: Do you develop and support cars for clients?
BC: Yes, I do that for clients who basically race with us. If I’m going to go to Monterey and run two or three classes there, if somebody we’ve sold a car to wants to go to Monterey, then we’ll take them there. We do all that, we have full track support, trailer, awning. We do it like a number of other guys do it. We don’t go to Sebring and haul my car to Sebring. Unless I’m going, we don’t do that track. There’s guys who do that really well. There’s guys who do that full time, and do a fabulous job, but that is their business. I do it as a service for customers who want to race where I’m racing and have cars and do business with me. That’s what I’m about.
SCD: What else do we need to know about yourself or Canepa Design?
BC: I think the main thing about myself and this company is that if you want to do things absolutely 100 percent right, and thorough, and safe, that’s what we do. And if you don’t want to do that, you’re at the wrong place.
Bruce Canepa – Photo Gallery (click image for larger picture and description)
[Source: Dennis Gray]