Classic cars are a good financial investment, but it rarely is the reason why collectors buy them. They are drawn to their beauty, their rarity, the legacy they come with and often an interesting background story.
The so-called ‘Blood Money’ muscle car collection, recently auctioned in the US for an eye-watering total amount of over NZ$3 million, is certainly representative of this rich heritage, with a soupçon of scandal which will make a great dinner party story for their new owners!
Comprising 15 cars, the collection used to belong to David Nicoll, former president of American company Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services which processed blood tests and other lab tests for the medical profession. To fund a lavish lifestyle, Nicoll bribed physicians so that they would order unnecessary tests for their patients, and amassed about US$33 million (NZ$44 million).
The law eventually caught up with him and he is now a convicted felon, expected to spend the next 15 to 20 years in prison. Properties, private club fees and expenses, seats at sought-after sports events were among his assets, and in an unusual turn of events, prosecutors on his case were granted the right to seize them and sell them off at auction to pay into a fund to compensate defrauded patients– health care being notoriously expensive in the US, it seems only fair.
More interesting to car collectors, Nicoll spent over NZ$5 million of his criminal gains on muscle cars, which, for this reason, has been colourfully dubbed ’The Blood Money Collection’. But not just any cars: his collection reads like a Who’s Who of the golden era of muscle cars.
Managed by U.S. Marshals Service auction in New Jersey on September 12, 2014, the auction created much anticipation, with over 150 bidders making the journey to the auction house’s warehouse from all over the US, while over 3 dozens participated online, which, according to Marshals’ staff, is an unusually high attendance.
In this auction, the 9 coveted classic cars sold were:
• a 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle
• a 1969 Chevelle Yenko hardtop,
• a 1970 Chevelle convertible
• a 1969 Chevrolet Yenko Nova
• a custom 1967 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500
• a 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda’
• a 1969 Chevrolet Yenko Super Camaro 427 COPO
• a 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429, and
• a 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Hemi Superbird.
The 1967 Shelby GT500 is one of the legendary Ford Mustangs. Wouldn’t you know it, it even has a career as a movie star, with one of them in a prominent role as “Eleanor” in Gone in Sixty Seconds released in 2000, with Nicholas Cage and Angelina Jolie. Blackmailed into stealing 50 collection cars in 96 hours – as one would…- master car thief Cage attempted, but failed, to steal it on several occasions, and Eleanor is his Holy Grail, as it were.
The Shelby started its life as a Fastback Mustang, and received special attention at the Shelby American’s Las Vegas facility to make it something rather unique. It was all ‘glammed-up’ with a series of cosmetic improvements such as the sequential taillights of the Mercury Cougar, an elongated nose and twin hood scoops. But it isn’t just a pretty face. Under this demure appearance roars a fire-breathing V-8, and it was also fitted with a 428 Police Interceptor Big-Block into the front end.
The Shelby GT500 sold at the Marshals auction was painted lime gold with a black knitted interior, and features power disc brakes, optional 3-speed automatic and extra cooling package.
The 1971 Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda was sold in an interesting state: undergoing restoration when it was seized by the Feds, the coupe was sold partly disassembled, with its parts displayed on the warehouse floor around it. You may think that it would put buyers off, but it didn’t, as it sold for a staggering US$347,500 (almost NZ$426,000).
The amount it was able to fetch even in that condition will be no surprise to collectors, as it doesn’t necessarily diminishes its value when it comes to such a rare and valuable car.
The Plymouth Barracuda was manufactured by the Chrysler Corporation from 1964 to 1974, with 3 different generations. The third generation, to which this model belongs, was launched in 1970, but it wasn’t until the following year that Chrysler produced this iconic model, the only one to feature double headlights and fender gills.
This particular model is even rarer for featuring a 425 horsepower engine, “borrowed” from the 426 Hemi V-8, and it is one of only 48 ever made. As far as ‘Cudas go, you simply can’t do any better.
Sold for “only” NZ$324,000, the 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429 is however no less rare. Towards the end of the 1960s, competition between Chrysler and Ford was fierce. This has led to Ford producing a range of high-output variants throughout the decade. The Boss 429 was one of them, but stood out from the rest with its new semi-hemi 429 engine, built for the sole purpose to compete with Chrysler’s 426 Hemi engine, which, by then, was dominating the motor market.
The powerful semi-hemi 429 engine could be easily fitted into Ford Talladega model to race in the NASCAR’s (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) Grand National Division, but Ford made the extraordinary, yet inspired, decision to drop it into its pony car. It wasn’t without difficulties, as the Ford Mustang was too small as it was to accommodate the engine. Such a small detail wasn’t going to deter Ford, and the chassis was modified considerably so that the larger, heavier and more powerful engine could fit in. Thus was born the Boss 429, which turned out to be one of the best mustangs ever made.
When put to the test in a dynamometer, the Mustang was measured to output around 500 horsepower but, interestingly, was advertised by dealers as a more modest 375 horsepower. The reason for playing down its power? To make it cheaper to insure!
The Boss 429 put on sale in this auction was deemed to be in superb condition and featured a paint colour only used in 1970, the Grabber Green, which added to its rarity.
Manufactured by General Motors under the Chevrolet brand, Camaros are the stuff of legend, and their iconic status is evident in the fact that they have been in production for almost half a century.
Launched in 1966, the first generation had been designed to compete with the Ford Mustangs and enjoyed great success. However, internal policies held it back, as GM had forbidden Chevrolet to fit them with engines larger than 400 cubic inches. By the end of the decade, it became evident that the Camaro was lagging behind other muscle cars and that a solution needed to be found if the car was going to remain competitive.
At the same time, requests from car dealers who were already installing 427 cubic inches engines into Camaros led Chevrolet to think creatively and use a special order system normally used on vehicle fleets, the Central Office Production Orders – which gave the name COPO to the vehicles that were manufactured with this process – to offer 427 engines in the Camaro. With their 450-horsepower 427cid engine, their power disc brakes, a 4.10 rear end, and sway bars, the Camaro had nothing to fear from its rivals, the Ford Mustang Boss 429 and the Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda.
Don Yenko, one of those dealers calling for more power, was instrumental in creating this 1969 model. He ordered 201 of them, to which he added racing stripes, personalised Yenko badges, cowl-induction hoods and rear and front spoilers, giving us the 1969 Yenko Super Camaro 427 COPO.
The car sold at this auction displays all the standard Yenko additions, including vinyl roof and aluminium wheels, as well as the original Rally Green paint.
Another beauty manufactured by the Plymouth division of the Chrysler Corporation, the Road Runner Superbird 426 Hemi was created by MOPAR, the parts and service department within Chrysler which also designed highly-customised vehicles, as a higher-spec replacement for the successful Daytona Dodge Charger, and was released in 1970. Taking the best features of the Daytona, the Superbird was also given a 19-inch aerodynamic nose cone and 36-inch rear spoiler.
But it was more than just a car, it was also used to woe back Richard Petty, NASCAR champion, who had left the team for Ford’s the year before, as he believed that the then Plymouth racing model wasn’t competitive. The Superbird won him over, and the rest is history.
As a bit of entertaining trivia, the Road Runner Superbird 426 Hemi featured in the children’s movies Cars as “The King”, a racing legend, to which Richard Petty aptly lent his voice.
The car sold for auction is one of only 100 produced. It featured a Vitamin C orange paint and its black leather interior was in pristine condition.
Classic cars and muscle cars come with a rich history, but this lot has certainly more than most can boast of!
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