The Ones That Got Away

This month’s ACC Reader’s Forum question:

We’ve all been there: A great car comes up at a great price, but you just aren’t in a spot to do anything about it. Maybe it’s a lack of funds, maybe it’s a lack of parking places. Either way, the deal slips away, quickly becoming one of your car-person regrets.
Which car deals have you missed, and what were they?

Here’s how you responded:

It is 1974. I have returned from the military and am in college. I am at a friend’s house and one of his friends comes in, saying, “I’m really tired of that car.” I ask “What car?” The answer? “That damn Shelby.”

Turns out to be a 1965 GT350 — steel wheels, no stripes and it needs a clutch. How much? $4,000.

I was driving a ’70 GTO and liked it, but I wanted the Shelby really badly. But, of course — I had no money. Even selling the GTO would leave a college student way short of things like food. So I passed.

I have seen the car several times since then. I always ask about its chain of ownership, and it goes back to the guy in St. Pete, FL. Just one of those things.

Not as bad as the four Corvettes in San Diego stored in a sealed building that were advertised for $10,000 for the bunch: A ’62 with a 327/340, a ’65 Fuelie, a ’67 convertible and a ’67 coupe with the 427. Wife said we have nowhere to keep old cars — and we have to move back to St. Pete.

And that brings us back to the Shelby. — Lyn Lopez, Seffner, FL

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In 1960, I was 18 years old, had graduated high school, had some money saved from summer jobs and a little more my grandfather had given me. I was looking to buy my first car.

I was particularly interested in British sports cars. My dad was a car guy but couldn’t understand my interest in “foreign” cars and kept asking, “What’s wrong with a nice American car?”

One Sunday, while perusing the car ads, I came across an ad for a Cab-Allard. No phone number, just an address in a blue-collar neighborhood in South St. Louis.

I figured this was a misprint and talked my dad into going over and having a look at the car.

The two guys selling the car took us around to the garage in back and there was a beautiful red J2X Cadillac Allard, with front cycle fenders, tan painted wire wheels and in-board rear brakes. The asking price was $3,000 — about $300 more than a new Triumph TR3.

I could tell Pop was not impressed, as he made a comment about the car looking more like it belonged on the track at the Indy 500 than on the street.

I noticed the car had a single 4-barrel carburetor, but sitting on the workbench was a manifold with dual 4-barrel carbs. I asked one of the guys about it and out of hearing of my dad he told me that the car was scary fast with one carb setup and they hadn’t had the nerve to try the dual carbs.

Needless to say, Pop didn’t think that was an appropriate first car for an 18-year-old, and we had to pass. — Jack Malacarne, via email

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Any Challenger or ’Cuda Hemi during the gas crisis of 1974/75. The used-car dealer lots were full of them at deep discounted prices… and they still couldn’t sell them.

I had a 1970 Dodge Hemi Challenger at that time in great unraced condition. I wound up letting it go for $1,900! — John Rogers, Lake Chapala, Mexico

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A real 289 Cobra, red, right in the town I was working in. I’d heard stories for a couple years about the doctor who owned it from longtime locals, but I never could get the proper address for him and never saw it out and around, even though I spent a lot of time looking.

Finally, one bright, sunny day during lunch break, while I was driving around looking for interesting cars, there it was, sitting in the local hardware store parking lot. It was on a trailer towed by a pickup with Texas plates. I pulled over to check it out.

Two men soon came out to see what I was up to. It was the doctor’s Cobra, but he’d just sold it through a broker to a collector in Texas for $9,000. I wasn’t wealthy then, but could have made that deal happen. But it was not to be.

The car was in at least #2 condition, no top, but had a tonneau cover installed. They were gracious enough to let me have a look at the engine compartment, which proved to be mostly original. I was pretty sure the carb was an aftermarket Holley and there were a few parts-store replacement pieces, but it was pretty clean. This was in the spring of 1980. — Ric Pratt, via email

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I had a college friend whose father owned a Dodge dealership. They had gotten in a blue fully loaded T/A. The dealer didn’t know what it was and didn’t want it. His son told his father he knew a car crazy kid who’d want it — me.

I went to see it and got a chance to test drive it. WOW. The dealer offered me his net/net cost after all hold-backs, etc. I seem to remember the price was around $4,000. When I called home to talk to my father, his answer was a simple NO. Even after all these years, I wish I’d bought that car.

Also in 1971, after college, I needed a car and almost purchased a leftover 1970 LS6 Chevelle. I had just started a new job in outside sales. I passed because of a lack of a/c. I couldn’t see myself arriving for an appointment in a suit stained from sweat. Two misses that I wish I had today. — Ira Tabankin, via email

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I should have bought the guy’s three-month-old ’66 Hemi Belvedere as a complete car. He had gotten in over his head with the thing, and traded me the engine, the 4-speed, radiator, battery and exhaust system and took my slant 6 with a 4-speed, the 6’s radiator, battery and exhaust system out of a ’64 Dart, plus $700 cash.

After we had spent all night pulling the Hemi’s drivetrain (I was a 19-year-old kid with a $20 toolbox) and we were loaded and leaving, the seller told me that he should have offered to just give me the whole car for my Dart and the $700.

I must admit, owning that engine taught me a lot, but some things might have been easier. Maybe not as wild and as much fun, but maybe easier. — Robbie Redner, Cloverdale, CA

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Perhaps my biggest missed opportunity for an interesting collector car dates back to the late ’70s. The International Race of Champions series had just finished. That version of the series had been conducted using track-prepared Chevy Camaros built by Penske Racing.

I thought it would be interesting to buy one of the cars and to preserve it as a car that had been used in the series over several seasons and driven by some of the best drivers in the world.

I spoke to Jay Signore and asked about the cars. As I remember, he quoted me the following prices: A rolling chassis-less engine and transmission and in the condition as it came off the track, $4,000; a fully functioning car as raced was $6,000. I was a young professional just starting out and I did not pursue the chance to buy one of those great race cars. — Gary Frantz, via email

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A 1960 Corvette in 1979. It was an all-original red 4-speed in great, garage-kept condition for $4,500 — a little more than half of what those were selling for then. A New Orleans police officer had owned it for a long time and was selling it, and it had been in the area since new.

I was 17, my parents wouldn’t co-sign a loan for it. I still have the photos I took of it. But six months later, they co-signed a loan for $3,800 for me to buy a 1966 GTO convertible, which I kept original, numbers-matching, for nearly 29 years. So missing out on the 1960 Corvette wasn’t all bad. — Giles Stewart, via email

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Back in the summer of ’76, I came across a Curious Yellow-and-black ’71 Dodge Charger R/T SE with a 426 Hemi/slapstick automatic. It was being sold by an airman stationed at the Duluth, MN, airbase who said he bought it from a doctor. It was highly optioned with houndstooth cloth seats, ps, pb, power windows, AM/FM stereo, tach and gauge package and rear defroster. It had the hideaway headlights, Ramcharger fresh-air hood with chrome hood hold-downs, spoilers, 15-inch Rallyes and dual chrome bazooka exhaust tips. I thought it had cruise control and the console-mount cassette but can’t say for sure.

The asking price was $2,600. At the time, I had a ’71 Road Runner in the same color combination except mine was a stripped-down all-business car with a bench seat, 383 with Air Grabber hood, no ps or pb, just an AM radio with rear speaker and a light group and Magnum road wheels. There was no way I could drum up close to the asking price being just out of high school and working at a gas station for less than $2 per hour.

I joined the Air Force the next year, and after spending two years overseas, I came across my next keeper that I missed while stationed in Minot, ND. A guy had been buying up Hemi cars and even bought a truckload of Hemi engines when they stopped producing them. I was even told that he raced on the local dirt track with an original ’66 Hemi Charger. His daily summer driver was an immaculate 44,000-mile ’70 Hemi Charger in black with white tail stripe.

I spoke with him one time and he said he had identical orange Hemi ’Cudas — one automatic and the other a 4-speed. He would sell me one for $4,000. They both had mid-20k miles in 1980. He moved and I was never able to track him down again before leaving. I still think of those cars. — Tom Casey, Superior, WI

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  1. Well, my car story isn’t as sexy as the ones above but I was approached by a long time school mate/ acquaintance about his trying to raise so money. He and his brothers had a crowd of cars at their ranch all parked Willy-Nilly out in the timber. Nothing for sale of course except now. I’m in the middle of building a log cabin out of pocket and keeping the 3 old cars I have without having to sacrifice any for building construction.
    So he tells me that his 1929 Ford Model A pie truck is for sale for $500 until he can raise said amount. This was decades ago but still a bargain. I looked it over, couldn’t find the scratch and someone else got the deal. Cabin got built and I’ve made up for it.