Archive for July, 2007

Gus Grissom Corvette

July 30, 2007

 Throughout the 1960’s, the U.S. was engaged in a “SPACE RACE” with the Soviet Union….it was a race to be the first to land a man on the moon and return safely back to Earth.

At the Cape, there was a different kind of race going on…it was a race to see which Astronaut had the fastest Corvette!.

The 2 major contenders were Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom.

In early fall of 1966, both Gus and Alan took delivery of new 1967 Corvette Roadsters equipped with the 427/435hp pavement pounding big block engines.

A dear friend of mine, Jim Rathmann who owned Jim Rathmann Chevrolet/Cadillac in Melbourne, Florida delivered both cars from his Chevy dealership.

Gus went privately to Jim and told him that Alan was a more experienced driver and that if he were to be competitive, he would need an edge.

Jim had a 4:56 posi-traction rear installed in Gus’s car and then had the rear wheel openings flared out and a set of racing slicks installed. I’m sure you can guess the outcome…Gus won almost all of the time when the 2 would square off at the Cape on a Saturday night and race each other a 1/4 of a mile for dinner or a beer.

Sadly, all this fun ended tragically on January 27th, 1967 when Gus along with fellow Astronauts Edward White and Roger Chaffee perished in the Apollo One fire on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy.

The car had several owners and in 1985 ended up in the hands of a gentleman in South Florida.

He owned this incredible piece of history until the Spring of 2006 when the Corvette was purchased by Cars Of Yesterday, Inc. This vintage car dealership operates the Cars From Yesterday vintage car museum which can be seen at

Rick Hofberg, Shawn and Marvin Friedman appeared in December of 2006 on the Today show in South Florida hosted by long time car collector, Bob Mayer who has been a news caster with NBC for more than 30 years. Shawn  announced the car would be sold at the Russo and Steele car auction in Scottsdale,  Arizona at NO RESERVE in a few weeks.

The car was sold to a Corvette Collector in the Phoenix area for $275,000.


Collecting Vintage Cars

July 6, 2007

How it all began…………………………


Cars Of Yesterday….the 1st real collector

In 1966 my dear late friend, James C. Leake of Tulsa, Oklahoma was visiting the great city of London, England. While his wife was doing some shopping, Jimmy wondered into an auction that was being conducted by Sotheby’s…they were auctioning off a 1911 Rolls Royce “Silver Ghost that had once belong to the Maharaja of Mysore…it was ornamented with all types of jewels…Jimmy thought is was a really neat car…and minutes later he was the proud new owner at a staggering price of $27,000! This was a ton of money to pay for an old car in 1966!                         

BeforeJames C. Leake, Sr. collecting Cars Of Yesterday or Cars From Yesterday( was a business, before collector cars became a hobby, back when ‘old’ cars were considered junk – that is when the passion for the ‘old junkers’ took hold of Jim Leake, Sr. Finding these old cars and stockpiling them brought about one important stage in the evolution of collector cars – one of the first collector car auctions in the United States!

In 1964 the Leake family hired Park-Bernet (later to become Sotheby’s) to conduct a 1-day auction on the Leake site in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Considered a smashing success by everyone, this one event set the stage for a museum on this site and the annual collector car auction based in Tulsa.

The Antiques, Inc. Car Museum in Muskogee showcased the largest private collection of Rolls-Royce’s in the world. Other fabulous cars such as Isotta Fraschinis, Talbot Lagos, Duesenbergs, Packards, Ferrari’s and unusual steam and electric cars housed in their museum have made the Leakes a household name for 50 years of car collecting and expertise worldwide. In the 35 years of business three generations of Leakes have worked with collector cars. The Leakes have sold over 30,000 cars. Jim Leake, Sr. died at age 85 in July, 2001.

In 1987 Jimmy flew to Tulsa to help with an auction that I was putting on at the Hollywood Dog Track. Without his help, my auction would have never been successful.

Jimmy was a true Gentleman and a wonderful human being….anyone who was privileged as I was to know Jimmy and to have him as a friend…indeed misses him today. He was a  “one of a kind gentleman”

Brighton Run, 1996Today Leake Auction Company conducts several collector car auctions a year. The Leake commitment to quality, service and care have made the Tulsa Auction a leader in the industry. Held the first weekend in June, this auction is without question one of the top 5 automobile auctions in the United States. Richard Sevenoaks began his association with the Leake Auctions in 1972 and is now President of the company. Through his leadership Leake Auction has expanded operations into Texas. His wife, Nancy Leake Sevenoaks, an avid car enthusiast, is also very active in the business.

The Dallas Fall Auction, held the weekend before Thanksgiving, has shown incredible quality under Sevenoaks’ leadership and now can boast being the largest collector car auction in Texas. In partnership with Kruse International, Leake Auction manages several additional markets including Oklahoma City.

Cars Of Yesterday

July 5, 2007

In 1960 I was involved with the development, distribution and sale of the world’s first car stereo. It was called AutoStereo and soon became a household word. Everything I learned about marketing, sales and promotion, I learned from my mentor, Earl “MadMan” Muntz( Sadly Earl passed away in 1987 and I think about him often.

I became interested in Cars Of Yesterday( before my 21st birthday. I began to buy as many Cars Of Yesterday( and Cars From Yesterday( in 1960.

I remember buying a 1952 gorgeous V-12 Ferrrari for $5000 in 1961….I still have that car.

As time went on, I accumulated more and more of the fabulous Cars Of Yesterday…today, 421 of the Cars Of Yesterday are on display in our auto museum….Cars From Yesterday. Our web site is If would like to take a trip back in time…to the 1920’s, 1930’s, 1940’s 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s…please visit our free web site.

We are constantly adding photos and stories about Cars Of Yesterday and Cars From Yesterday(…if you have a great story about a car you owned or currently owned…please e-mail it to us…if we think it’s unique and of interest…we will publish it on our web site.

With more than 60 million “baby boomers” around…the interest in the great Cars Of Yesterday continues to grow.

The Legendary “409” Chevy “Continued”

July 2, 2007

In June of 1962 I received a box of “goodies”at my home in New Castle, PA. from Jim Rathmann Chevrolet in Melbourne, Florida. I was home for the Summer vacation from college when a box containing 8 Crower “Power Slot” pistons with special rods & wrist pins arrived. They had a deep horseshoe notch in the tops of the pistons…they were rated at 14-1 compression! I needed 2 batteries to crank my car!I spent the next 4 weeks going to the Valley Machine shop in Youngstown, Ohio where I personally balanced and blueprinted my 409 engine. I installed all new rings and bearings and really took my time making sure every reciprocating part was meticulously balance and assembled with great care.I towed “Black Thunder” behind a pal’s Mopar to Indianapolis for the holy grail of drag racing….”The Nationals”( who was anyone in drag racing was there.. Dave Strickler, Grumpy “Toy” Jenkins, Don Nicholson,Hayden Proffitt, Tom Jacobson, Malcolm Durham, Butch Leal, Jim Wangers, Arlen Vanke, Arnie Beswick, Harold Ramsey, Howard Maseles, Dick Brannan, Bill Lawton, Al Eckstrand, Tommy Groves, The RamChargers, Bill “Maverick”Golden, Bud Faubel, Les Ritchey, Len Richter and more( it was incredible…I was in awe…afterall…I was barely of legal drinking age…I had the luck to draw the Ramchargers( in the 1st round….in a flash I was back on the trailer…..I was so disappointed that my crew and I headed for home and didn’t stay for the rest of the meet. I was out of my league…these guys (and gals) were the best of there best.

Hayden Proffitt ( took home the Stock Eliminator Honors in his 409 but that was the beginning of the end of the real glory years for Chevy and it’s 409 engine (

In 1963 Chevy  built 57 of the Z-11 optioned special cars with the 427cid engine( It was to be the only car ever built by Chevrolet expressly for drag racing with a Z-11 option cost of $1237.40.

This stroked 409 had a displacement of 427 cubic inches and had a new set of cylinder heads, a new camshaft and a new dual 4bbl intake manifold.

The body package consisted of special aluminum fenders, hood, fan shroud & bumpers and no sound deadening materials…and of course a radio & heater delete.

It weighed in at 3245lbs or 145lbs less than a standard Impala..

It was rated at 430HP but 550hp-575hp was more realistic.

Throughout 1963 these unreal Z-11 cars were running in the low 11’s at OVER 120mph and were constantly putting the competition of the trailer!

The Z-11 met an early demise when General Motor’s( decided to end it’s involvement in ALL racing programs.

In 1964 many went to the Ford and Mopar( camps where they were welcomed with open arms……

To be continued…