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How Florida's Classic Car Scene Is Shifting Gears and Profits

How Florida's Classic Car Scene Is Shifting Gears and Profits - Cuban Exiles Bring Exotic Rides to Miami

A key part of Florida's shifting classic car scene is the Cuban influence in Miami. When Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959, waves of exiles brought their prized automobiles with them to start a new life in Miami. These rare vintage cars from the 1950s now cruise the streets of Little Havana and reflect an important part of the area's culture.

For prosperous Cubans prior to the revolution, owning an American luxury car was a status symbol. Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, Chrysler Imperials, and Ford Thunderbirds were in high demand. Some of the most iconic cars from pre-revolutionary Cuba were the 1955 and 1956 Chevrolet Bel Airs, which came in lively two-tone color schemes. These Bel Airs were known as "bellas" in Cuban Spanish. After arriving in the U.S., Cuban exiles lovingly maintained their cars to preserve memories of better times.

Passionate car collectors, like auto dealer Pedro Iglesias, have amassed stunning collections of pre-1958 American and European classics that might have otherwise ended up in Cuban junkyards. Iglesias sees each car as a work of art that shares the story of pre-communist Cuba. His collection has over 200 cars, including a 1956 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, 1953 Cadillacs, and a 1930 Ford Model A Town Car that belonged to Cuba's pre-revolutionary president Fulgencio Batista.

For Cuban exiles, these cars represent more than just nostalgia. They are proud symbols of a prosperous past and a lingering hope that Cuba will be free once again. As Iglesias notes, "Our culture is maintained through these cars. I think they represent the idea of returning to a free Cuba one day." The cars let owners share their cultural heritage with future generations.

The Cuban car club CafeCuba has worked diligently to preserve these "time machines" from the 1950s. The club hosts exhibitions where owners can show off their restored vehicles and share preservation tips. For many Cuban-American families, these cherished cars are part of their inheritance passed down through generations. The classic car scene has brought scattered families together and strengthened cultural ties.

How Florida's Classic Car Scene Is Shifting Gears and Profits - Daytona Beach: Birthplace of Speed Gets a Makeover

Daytona Beach holds a special place in racing history as the birthplace of speed. Long before Daytona International Speedway was built, thrill-seeking drivers tested their skills on the wide, smooth sands of Daytona Beach. Speed trials were held on the beach from 1902 to 1935, with new land speed records set multiple times. Legends like Barney Oldfield and Sir Malcolm Campbell pushed speed and engineering limits here in vehicles named Bluebird, Golden Arrow, and Mystery S. The sand became hallowed ground for racing pioneers.

Today, Daytona Beach is undergoing changes to honor its legacy while developing for the future. Ongoing infrastructure projects aim to make the area more pedestrian-friendly and improve traffic flow for beachgoers. The city's Beach Street project has transformed beachside roads with wider sidewalks, landscaping, and seating areas. Other projects like the Main Street renovation have created a more walkable downtown. These improvements make it easier for visitors to access Daytona Beach's landmarks and small businesses.

The Beach Street project also gives motorists better views of the beach that made Daytona famous. Interpretive signage will educate visitors about Daytona's racing past. The signs detail events like Henry Ford setting a new land speed record of 91.37 mph here in 1904. His success proved Daytona's hard-packed sands were ideal for speed trials. Other signs highlight record-setting drivers like Tommy Milton who pushed the limit to 156.046 mph in his Twin Six Packard. These tributes will immerse guests in the thrilling history that took place along the shoreline.

Beyond infrastructure, Daytona Beach community groups are initiating programs to preserve its racing roots. The Halifax Historical Museum opened an exhibit honoring the beach's land speed records. The exhibit showcases artifacts like vintage timing equipment used to clock speeds. The Museum also developed an educational program where local students build Soap Box Derby cars and compete in gravity-powered races. Events like this foster an interest in Daytona Beach's automotive past in the next generation.

How Florida's Classic Car Scene Is Shifting Gears and Profits - Concours d'Elegance Events Showcase Rarest Rides

Concours d'Elegance events offer a rare glimpse into the upper echelons of the classic car world. These prestigious gatherings showcase some of the most valuable and impeccably restored automobiles on the planet. For well-heeled collectors, concours represent the pinnacle of the hobby.

The concours tradition originated in 17th century French aristocracy as a demonstration of driving skill and the newest carriage designs. This evolved into a high-society event where luxury car owners competed to be judged "best in show." Concours d'Elegance literally translates to "a competition of elegance."

While there are numerous concours events across the U.S., the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance has become the most eminent. Occurring each August on the Monterey Peninsula, it draws over 15,000 spectators. Only the crème de la crème of cars get invited, with winners taking home trophy prizes instead of cash. Just displaying a car at Pebble Beach is considered a feat.

The lawn at Pebble Beach becomes a visual feast of automotive rarities. Attendees can admire Isotta Fraschinis, Bugattis, Mercedes, and obscure one-offs. To earn a spot on the grass, cars undergo rigorous examination. Judges get nitpicky over details like properly encased wiring and the accuracy of replacement parts. Owners have been known to repaint entire vehicles to get the precise historical color. Some spend years chasing documents to validate a car's original components.

This fastidious restoration and research requires enormous investments by owners. Showcased cars at Pebble Beach often sell for millions - if owners can even bear to part with them. For enthusiasts, simply having a car accepted to a top-tier concours is a point of prestige that money can't buy.

Participating in concours events becomes a labor of love. Arizona car collector Ron Pratte, who regularly attends with his rare Bugattis, appreciates the friendships formed. He states, "You build a camaraderie with car collectors that lasts a lifetime." Florida's Pedro Iglesias notes that Pebble Beach reminds him of his childhood in pre-revolution Cuba when attending an elite concours was a significant social occasion. Concours allow these men to recapture the magic of their youth.

How Florida's Classic Car Scene Is Shifting Gears and Profits - Car Culture Goes Retro with Rat Rods

Rat rods offer a funky, retro twist on classic hot rods that embraces imperfection and patina. These creatively customized vehicles discard the polish and perfectionism of traditional show cars in favor of a gritty, post-apocalyptic look. Pieced together from discarded parts, rat rods display ingenious innovation on a micro budget. Their raw, unfinished appearance exudes nonconformist attitude. In recent years, the rat rod style has revved up car culture with youthful irreverence.

To purist collectors, rat rods may look like rusty wrecks. But to devotees, every uneven weld, mismatched fender, and primer spot adds character. Rat rods deliver customization without the pricetag using salvage yard finds, abandoned car bodies, surplus military trucks or anything automotive. A Model A body dropped over a modern S-10 truck frame births a "œFord-a-Chevy" fusion. Motorcycle engines add power to tiny car shells. Hand lettering emerges where paint is too costly. It"™s a showcase of creativity and resourcefulness.

California native Mike Burroughs of StanceWorks represents a new generation of rat rodder. At 16, Burroughs found a "™36 Ford pickup body rotting in the desert and decided to make it his. Using internet guidance, Burroughs chopped and lowered the Ford over an S-10 frame on his parent"™s driveway. The completed "Truckzilla" channels Mad Max style with exposed engine mounts and bare metal accents. For Burroughs, the build process itself - learning metal shaping and welding - was the real reward.

Female builders like Sara Ray of RatRodGirl have also found empowerment in rat rods. Ray's signature turquoise "Pinky" Model A coupe proves skill knows no gender. She states, "I'm building to show people, especially women, that they can get out there and make things with their own two hands." Her do-it-yourself YouTube tutorials teach welding to over 24K subscribers.

How Florida's Classic Car Scene Is Shifting Gears and Profits - 'Trailer Queens' Take Over Amelia Island

The Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance has become a prime destination for "œtrailer queens" - ultra-rare classic cars kept tucked away in specialized trailers, only brought out for elite events. For collectors, transportation is too risky for these irreplaceable automobiles worth millions. At Amelia Island these seldom-seen trailer queens get a brief moment in the sun before returning to seclusion.

The emergence of trailer queens stems from the skyrocketing value of rare classics. Take the 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante Coupe displayed at Amelia Island in 2020. Only 17 were produced, and fewer than half survive today. Its elegant tapered form conceals a race-built straight-eight engine. The last Atalante sold at auction brought $7.9 million. At that price, owners think twice before driving them on public roads.

For Paul Russell"™s client with an exceptionally original, unrestored Mercedes Gullwing valued at over $10 million, even attending Amelia Island raised concerns. The car required intricate preparations like custom-built air ride and temperature control systems inside a padded trailer. At the show, it remained on a polished turntable display, guarded by security. Precautions like these have become standard for trailer queens.

At Amelia Island, crowds gather as trailers carefully unload their six and seven-figure cargo. It becomes a meeting of the elite as millionaires admire each other"™s priceless possessions. Spectators are enthralled to see a "œSindelfingen" Porsche 917K in Gulf livery or a 1934 Voisin C-25 Aerodyne with original leather interior.

For owners like Rob Walton, there is pride in preserving automotive history and educating the public. Walton brought his unrestored 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Gangloff Drop Head Coupe to Amelia Island for its concours debut. Seeing a genius objet d"™art like the Atlantic-bodied Bugatti in motion delights enthusiasts. "œFor me to drive a car is really what it"™s all about," Walton says. Other trailer queen owners feel a responsibility to occasionally expose these rolling works of art.

How Florida's Classic Car Scene Is Shifting Gears and Profits - Auction Houses Attract Big Spenders and Dreamers

The adrenaline and drama of the auction floor holds a magnetic allure for classic car collectors. Top auction houses like Mecum, Barrett-Jackson and RM Sotheby"™s have become prime spots to acquire new trophy pieces, watch record sales unfold, or just daydream.

While online auctions have become popular for modern collector cars, the elite blue-chip classics still trade hands on the live auction stage. Standing room crowds flock to these events for the unfiltered excitement. Auctioneer chanting builds momentum as paddles raise in a bidding war that may vault a car into the million dollar club. In the heat of the moment, buyers get caught up in the action and make record-shattering impulse purchases.

Dr. Floyd "œBud" Shenk is one of those bidders who enjoys the rush of adrenaline at auctions. At a Mecum event in Kissimmee, FL he made the winning $3.3 million bid on a rare 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible, one of only two produced that year. Despite exceeding his planned budget, Shenk has no regrets. "œI got caught up in the moment, but have never been happier with a purchase," he said. Auction environments seem to have that effect on bidders.

RM Sotheby"™s Arizona 2019 auction produced multiple eight-figure sales, including $19.8 million for a 1939 Porsche Type 64 prototype and $13.75 million for a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. Auction specialists note that being surrounded by other enthusiasts fuels the desire to collect. RM Sotheby"™s Bill Willis stated, "œEnergy is infectious. When they witness other people bidding aggressively, it rubs off." The auction floor psychology opens wallets wide.

For those without millions to spend, auctions allow access to view these rolling gems of art history before they disappear back into private collections. Florida college student Samantha Eckland attends auctions to admire the craftsmanship up-close. "œI love the stories behind rare cars like the Ferrari GTO. Since I can"™t own them, being there in person and hearing the history is the next best thing," she said. Auction houses recognize they are also selling dreams.

How Florida's Classic Car Scene Is Shifting Gears and Profits - Restoration Shops Keep Classics Running Smoothly

As the value of rare classics continues rising, restoration shops play a crucial role in preserving these automotive artifacts. Without proper maintenance and repairs, even prized vehicles will deteriorate. For trailer queens worth millions, trusted restoration experts are the only ones entrusted to keep them roadworthy and retain their pedigree. This niche field balances intricate craftsmanship with in-depth history knowledge.

Russell Restorations embodies that blend of artistic and technical expertise. From their Essex, Massachusetts shop, they undertake complete rebuilds and concours preparation on cars like Bugattis, Mercedes Gullwings, Ferrari Testa Rossas and Duesenbergs. Owner Paul Russell has established himself as one of the foremost authorities on pre-war classics. His artful restorations have achieved Best of Show at Pebble Beach.

Russell seeks absolute authenticity and period correctness during restorations. Instead of modern sealants, he uses seal gaskets made with meticulously researched original formulas. Electrical wiring gets woven on a vintage loom machine. Pete Russell spent five years analyzing factory construction notes to recreate an exact 1936 Duesenberg dashboard. "Our goal is preserving the car's soul," Russell explains. This near-fanatical attention to accuracy requires artisan-level skill and patience. But for rare classics, compromising on quality risks destroying provenance.

Brian Joseph's Classic & Exotic Service out of Florida takes on more everyday exotic car maintenance and bespoke upgrades. During car shows, he transports his mobile service truck for on-site repairs of overheating classics. Joseph knows the intricacies of vintage European marques from his experience as a dealership master technician. For Dodge Charger owner Mark Thompson, Joseph performed a full engine refresh to factory specifications along with discrete air conditioning upgrades. "He understands how to enhance a classic's functionality without sacrificing originality," says Thompson.

Paint shops like Pollock Auto Restoration perform exact color matching using technology like laser spectrometers. "Matching the factory colors takes research," says owner David Pollock. His painters layer colors by hand to recreate the nuances of finishes like Mercedes Siena Brown. Such precision makes vehicles eligible for top-tier concours judging. Paint alone can exceed $100k on a rare classic.

Mechanical restoration work balances original engineering with preventative upgrades for safety and reliability. For Porsche collector Tayson Welch, Rennwerks installed period-style seat belts then discreetly reinforced chassis welds on his rare 1959 356A Coupe. "They ensured the car drives smoothly while retaining purity," notes Welch. With skyrocketing values, restoration shops enable enthusiasts to actually drive and enjoy their rare automobiles.

How Florida's Classic Car Scene Is Shifting Gears and Profits - New Laws Protect Iconic Models from Alteration

As classic cars become recognized as artifacts of automotive history, some states are passing laws to protect iconic models from alteration. Supporters seek to preserve the purity of significant cars by deterring changes to original specifications. However, opponents argue laws infringe on ownership rights and make maintenance difficult. The debate illuminates how preserving heritage must balance with practical needs.

New regulations like Missouri's NAPA law ( Named After the Owner), championed by collector Guy Mace, aim to guard classics like Shelby Cobras and Duesenbergs. Under the law, changing defined aspects like the body, chassis, or engine configuration of registered historic vehicles is prohibited. Those caught flouting restrictions face felony charges, similar to smashing a rare sculpture. Proponents view certain classics as rolling works of art worthy of legal intervention to stop unscrupulous modifications.

Yet tampering laws complicate even routine repairs. Parts matching factory specifications are scarce for classics like 1930s Packards. Rigid authenticity standards make substitutes risky. Without flexibility, meeting standards for renewal registration gets challenging. Critics claim overreach when simple carburetor swaps could trigger violations. They argue owners should have full discretion over personal property.

Striking a balance between preserving originality and drivability tests lawmakers. Along with iconic exotics, NAPA laws protect mass-produced classics like "˜57 Chevys that owners often customize. Grading alterations by model invites complex questions. The morality of modifying a rare 1933 Pierce Arrow differs from a far more abundant "˜69 Charger, of which over 84,000 were built. With alterations deemed destructive to some vehicles but integral to others, blanket tampering bans stir debate.

Still, certain enthusiast communities have willingly adopted strict standards to protect treasured models. The Ferrari Classiche program refuses to certify Ferraris as authentic if they do not match factory specs. Even using wrong color zip ties in the engine compartment will void a car's pedigree. Some owners gladly surrender modifications for the prestige of Classiche badges that attest to originality. However, such choices remain voluntary.

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