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Just how far gone is TOO far for a car TWO: Flushing away $99k or shrewd entree into a major payday? The new owner lets us know!

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On: Tue, Apr 5, 2016 at 10:50AM | By: Andrew W Davis


Just how far gone is TOO far for a car TWO: Flushing away $99k or shrewd entree into a major payday? The new owner lets us know!

You're not a real automotive enthusiast until you've let a project car you had all the plans in the world for go to someone else for a song, only to find that what you sold for scrap value—if you were lucky—was something truly special.

Like WORTH A LOT special.

Now, the pale yellow '66 Saab I hauled home—for the price of pruning the massive hedge that had engulfed it—wasn't as clearly valuable as the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona we're talking about here, but when the internet came around (yes, it was THAT long ago) and I ran the VIN, it turns out I had had an ultra-rare “Monte Carlo 850”, the ne plus ultra of the very last of Saab's two-strokes.

Even harder to take was the fact that the Saab specialist I sold it to—who saw me coming from a mile away, to be sure—had it ready-for-resale-restored in THREE MONTHS. [I sold it for $800, BTW. Current price guides give an average value of $21k.]

There is NO WAY, however, that this Daytona-shaped pile of parts will be available inyears, let alone months, and God only knows how much restoring it'll cost. Yet IT sold for $99k at a Mecum auction. What the ...?

As I covered in a much earlier article, there seems to be no shortage of people willing to pay more money for a “barn find” than an expertly-restored version of the same car. But what's happening these days with people buying two percent of a car for 100 percent—or more—of the finished project's ideal value is hard to understand, even for slavish acolytes of the “it's only original once” school of thought.

Most of the time.

Some vehicles are so important and/or so rare that recreating them from little more than a VIN plate makes sense. And, in the case of my earlier article's “Example 2”, the figures worked out this way: Guy pays $27k for the (barely) rolling chassis of what turns out to be a genuine even-serial-number—that means factory-built as a racer—1952 340 America Spyder, which, at the time, was a multi-million-dollar car.

Ferrari competition cars are rare enough, but we're talking single-digit production numbers here. Even if you didn't have all the expensive bits of the car in your shop required to restore it—which this guy did—and had to basically rebuild it from scratch, you would STILL come out ahead when the car was restored and sold.

But a racing Ferrari this ain't. It's a Dodge. A special Dodge, sure, but the least special version of this particular Dodge.

[That will make sense in a second.]

See, in 1969, Dodge built the Charger Daytona to win in NASCAR. But to be eligible to race, 500 “street” versions had to be built and sold to the public. So Dodge duly built 500 of them—plus a few more—each like the other, just like the rules required.

And racing they went, and win they did (as did the Plymouth version—the Road Runner Superbird—that came along the next year). But they did their job TOO well, and NASCAR effectively banned them both from competition (or—as the official tale goes—imposed so many penalties on the cars that they were no longer competitive).

[BTW, the “Win on Sunday” guys—Ford—actually won the 1969 championship, NOT Dodge. But in a twist, Dodge DID win in 1970—in the face of the all-new Superbird and its higher total of race wins (21)—thanks to scoring more overall points. But don't feel bad; Plymouth won in 1971...]

But back to the street cars. While they all seem the same from the outside (apart from paint schemes), there are Daytonas and there are DAYTONAS. The NASCAR racers, you see, didn't win just because they were shaped like bewinged bullets. No, they sported a racing version of the famous Hemi engine, too.

“And so did the street Daytonas, right?” you ask. Well, yes. But only 70 of them, or a mere 14 percent. The “other” 433? They sported the standard 440 cu. in. V8 you could get in just about any Mopar product of the day for a song (aka not much more than the 383 cu. in. V8).

Anyhoo, while sources vary, my fairly extensive research verifies the total Dodge Charger Daytona build at 503 units and has them equipped thusly:

The standard factory setup—a 440 cu. in. V8 mated to a 3-speed “Torqueflite” automatic—was, as expected, the most popular choice, appearing in 294 of the 433 cars that bore that particular engine. As for the optional 426 cu. in. Hemi V8-equipped cars, 48 of the 70 stayed with the standard (ha!) automatic while the balance sported the much more desirable four-speed stick.

Now it doesn't take a math degree (thank God) to predict what this means in terms of prices:

Transmissions aside, cars that sport the Magnum 440 average around $150k at auction, with the top seller hitting $303k. Hemi cars, however, manage an average of $800k, with the best pulling just over $25k shy of a million bucks.

So it's easy to see why this moldy-oldie four-speed Hemi car warranted the $99k paid for it. What? This was a slushbox/440 car? Well, then I am sure it had an illustrious racing career or a star-studded ownership history. Oh. Then it did something historically important like be the first to break 200 mph or just plain be the first off the assembly line, right? STILL no?

Then what the bloody hell, dude?! Why on Earth would you pay a hundred grand for not just the least valuable of all Daytonas, but one that's in very nearly the worst shape possible?

Look, while “barn find” is one of today's magic money-magnet phrases, even a city boy like myself knows that nearly everything you find in a barn is something you don't even want to smell, let alone pay for and take home. And on the face of it, this *ahem* car is no exception.

Sure, it's low-mileage (the odo reads just 20,553) and—so far as we know—relatively complete. It has a known history from new, and—apart from the tacky flame job some monkey sacrilegiously scrawled around its nose and fenders—it's just as it left the factory, matching serial numbers and all.

But as any restorer of a 250-series Ferrari can tell you, regardless of the rarity/desirability of the model—or the “value” of the finished car—they all cost the same to restore. Sheet metal, glass, leather, and the rest don't care what they're in/on; replacing, refurbishing, re-manufacturing, etc., the cars' constituent parts cost what they cost, period.

Same goes for this Daytona (except, perhaps, for the cheaper-to-source engine parts in a 440 vs. a 426 Hemi): every dime you spend on restoring a 440/automatic car, inside and out, is identical to what you'd spend on redoing a Hemi car, apart from that motor's “call-out” badges and whatnot, despite the fact that the 440 car is worth so much less in the end.

And this particular 440/auto needs everything. Out of everything you can see in the auction company's images, only the headlamps seem salvageable, and I doubt that even they work.

“So,” I hear you say, “why did someone pay 'so much' for this wreck?” Well, because it has two of the things you cannot restore: patina, and a great back story. [Alright, a DECENT back story.]

Taking the second part first, this Daytona was originally purchased new by an Alabama judge for his wife. In 1974, it was traded in on something else—no surprise there—only to be sold to an 18-year-old that added the tacky flame job right before he headed for Spring Break hijinks in Florida.

It was then sold, driven a bit and then left to molder—the then-owner is said to have stopped driving it soon after he bought it after bashing in its nose cone—in an open carport up until shortly before the consignor brought it to Mecum to sell.

Granted, it's not the best origin story, but it's better than most any you'll find attached to another 440/auto Daytona. Unfortunately, Mecum couldn't help itself and decided to add some lie on top of the already-good-enough truth.

The images you see of the Daytona in a barn are a lie. Fake. Period. I don't know why they decided to make “barn find” visually literal—especially seeing as how images of THE ACTUAL STORAGE SPACE within which the car was “covered” can easily be found on the interweb (and here)—but somebody dragged that poor thing into the barn scene you see for a photo shoot alone.

[And for the record, I've refused to use any of those images here. If you want to see the fakes, you can pretty much find them anywhere else this sale was reported as I'm the only one who bothered to suss out the REAL images. Shame on you, Mecum, and on the lazy editors/writers that fell for your nonsense.]

Anyhoo, I assumed the person who “won” this Daytona didn't do so based on those faked photos alone, but instead won the bidding war based on the car's terrible—but honest and original—condition.

And as it turns out, I was absolutely right.

Smart money says the way to get the most out of this car is to do the least amount of work to it as possible, or just enough to make it safely road-worthy (or at least on-and-off-a-trailer-worthy) so the owner can regale the crowds at car shows with tales of the car's history and all that's been done—or NOT done—to preserve it.

Not that that will be a disadvantage. I mean, if faced with a row of Daytonas, all like-new—save for this one—at a car show, which is going to attract your attention?

Sure, the underlying specifications are nothing special, but the fact that this car wears all of its decades—plus seemingly many, many more—right on its surface makes it unique, and therefore interesting, and therefore, well, I dare say worth $100k, lichen layer and all.

When I heard that it sold, my first thought was that now all the new owner has to do is find a “refurbishment” shop that specializes in preserving dust, rust, and moss. And, for God's sake, DO NOT EVEN WASH IT. For one of those truly once-in-a-blue-moon times in the collectible car world, the “dirtier” it is, the more it's honestly worth AS-IS, inside and out.

My vote was to treat it more as an art installation than an aero warrior. Put it on a redwood plinth as-is and place it in a garden or forest setting somewhere that everyone can enjoy it. Doing so would earn them the right to say they had the “greenest” muscle car on Earth, and what's growing on it might even earn them some of those precious “carbon offsets” everybody wants for the big-blocks they can actually drive. Just imagine how much fun it'd be to say that you had proof that “car people” ARE working to save the environment: one '69 Dodge Charger Daytona at a time.

But, as it turns out, that's not quite what's happening.

According to his explanatory letter to Mopar Muscle magazine, the new owner—a Dr. Jim Norman of Tampa, Florida—is taking a 50-50 Mecum v. me approach.

You can read the whole thing yourself here, but here's the gist:
I realized that the real value of this car is in how it makes people feel when they see it, and the memories that it inspires. I also believed that keeping the car as a 'barn find' for people to enjoy is more valuable than the totally restored beauty queen it could be. After all, I summarized that I could always restore the car to better than new condition, but making it a barn find again can’t be done. Barn finds are a part of the American automobile culture and every car guy’s dream, so I’m going to preserve it just as it is.

“We are nearly finished building a new garage to house a few of my other cars. The garage was designed with the purpose of holding fundraising [sic] events for charities. Now we have a centerpiece for the garage, a conversation piece unlike any other. In fact, one corner of the garage is going to be transformed into a 'barn' to give the Charger Daytona an appropriate setting. Let the memories begin!

So, it's not MY ideal scenario, but still… that's a win, right? Sure, it continues Mecum's “barn-find” lie, but it does so for “fundraising” purposes (which COULD include environmental causes, achieving a measure of my moral muscle car message-sending).

Oh, and most importantly, the Daytona stays as-is—as it should.

Screw that multi-million-dollar Ferrari-finding guff. THIS is the story we should all point to when it comes to REAL diamond-in-the-rough-finding stuff, both for the story of the car, and—for once—the guy who bought it.

[I just hope he'll let her out to see the light of day once in a while. She was obviously not meant for a life as a garage prop, and all that fresh air—in the end—really did her nothing but good...]


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