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You Gotta Beware

You Gotta Beware


What you think you see and what you get can be way different things especially when buying something over the phone or internet, and more so if you live far, far away!

Down in Australia, I keep hearing how the hot rods built in America are so far inferior to the Aussies, etc. No wonder at this totally ill-founded reputation, since much of it is based on some of the vehicles that are shipped Down Under every year. This is particularly true of customs and so-called performance late models. What is advertised, and what arrives west of Laramie is far, far apart.

Now, I’ve been amidst all this chicanery for years now, having been introduced to it mainly through the false and fraudulent ad claims that surfaced in the restored old car industry a half century past. All that is still prevalent, of course, and it became a part of hot rodding in a big way when hot rod prices got up in the five figure bracket. Yes, we had the shysters in rodding all along, but the rip-offs weren’t so widespread.

When I moved to Yorba Linda in Orange County to ultimately create Street Rodder magazine, I had a neighbor several streets over who was a kind of hot rodding dabbler. One day, he stopped by the house to show me a ’34 roadster he had just bought out in Riverside. Paid a whopping $600, and it didn’t look to need much more than a good hose cleaning. Instead, he found some decent tires, changed to full chrome wheels, sewed up a tonneau cover, in total spending another couple hundred bucks. Then he sold the car for $1500. My friend went on this way for a decade, earning enough to pay off his home mortgage, add a swimming pool, etc. But he never, ever, misrepresented anything he sold. What you saw was at least what you got. But then consider a lady who is in the local Aussie car club.

She asked me one day if I had a friend in Georgia who could look at a car she had found advertised. Fortunately (for me) I couldn’t oblige with any sort of contact. Just as well, since that deal fell through and she eventually bought a ’37 glass bodied roadster from the west. After the car arrived, it spent a year getting fixed! It had been literally thrown together simply to be passed down the line to unsuspecting buyers. This happens all the time here in Australia, with some very unscrupulous sellers passing along shoddy merchandise at wholly obscene prices.

The one word I keep seeing in these marginal area ads is “rare.” Just how rare is a “just completed, totally reliable, under l000 miles” red glass-bodied 1932 Ford roadster, from the same guy advertising a slew of cars across the variety of magazines serving the car enthusiast tableau. Yes, most of them are honest. At least, close enough. But you can bet anything offered as being rust free really will give you all the free rust you can haul away. In short, if you can’t have a trusted car guy look at your potential purchase, pack your checkbook and go look at something else.

Back when I was doing Old Cars Weekly out of Wisconsin, I noted some really outlandish claims included in the rafts of auction ads coming over the transom. One day, I asked one of our trusted contributors, who was also into hot rods, to check out a particular car being advertised at a forthcoming Oklahoma auction. Back came his response that the car just didn’t seem to be all that the auctioneer was claiming, and there was an added note that gave me info to pass along to another correspondent. My second source said that actually the  previous owner’s claims did not match up with his own memory of the claimed (now dead) original owner. When we got into it, there was absolutely no justification for the auction claim of authenticity, only what the seller was passing along. Buyer beware indeed.

This is becoming alarmingly common in the used high performance parts swap meet arena. I don’t know anyone who will buy a used cam, no matter what that cam is supposed to be. If the price is way low, then perhaps it is worth taking to a reputable grinder for verification of timing. But to just claim that a famous guy once used the camshaft in his famous car doesn’t wash with me. Heads are only a tad better, and you better know your stuff when contemplating such a purchase. Same with a block, and crank, and the list is endless.

I happen to know that the hot rods built in America, for the most part, are superior to any in the world bar the most superior constructors. Outside the US, those craftsmen are few and far between. I’ve been around the world, and I’ve paid attention.