Editor’s note: As each year draws to a close, the ClassicCars.com Journal polls its editors and correspondents to determine what we consider to be the top-10 stories from the collector car world during the past 12 months. Check out the other top stories here.
In early November came the news that the Woolsey Fire near Malibu, one of three blazes that were ravaging California with unimaginable losses of life and property, had destroyed yet another unique piece of automotive history, one of the most significant and imaginative of post-war custom cars.
Called the Norman Timbs Special, the swooping mid-engined roadster completed in 1948 was lost along with a collection of about 30 collector cars owned by well-known shop owner and classic car enthusiast Gary Cerveny when the blaze roared through his property and turned his sparkling assemblage of classic automobiles into a pile of burnt rubble.
Cerveny had resurrected the Timbs roadster after buying it in junkyard condition in 2002, and eight years later debuted the striking aluminum streamliner at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Florida. Now, there was nothing remaining after the intense wildfire swept through.
The loss of Cerveny’s collection and the Timbs Special represented just a small portion of the thousands of collector cars lost during 2018 to the wildfires of California and the hurricanes and flooding that hammered Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
While the loss of thousands of collector cars might seem trivial compared with the monumental level of death and devastation caused by yet another year of widespread disasters, the destruction of treasured vehicles adds to the sadness of owners already grieving for the losses of their homes and communities.
The storms that took place in the Southeast represented the third consecutive year of above-average hurricane activity and damage. They inundated 10s of thousands of vehicles, many of them cherished classics that were thrashed by the storms, crushed by collapsing structures or ruined from being submerged.
In Panama City, a streaming video showed the destruction of a commercial garage filled with classic cars, the entire side of the building torn open as Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm. Inside the wrecked structure could be seen what appears to be a 1950s Ford 100 pickup truck, along with a silver Austin Healey 3000 sports car, a classic Mini, a Porsche 911 and what could be a valuable Ford GT Heritage Edition just visible above the debris.
Along with the details of the hurricanes and flooding in the Southeast came the warning to consumers about unscrupulous people who clean up flood-damaged vehicles, including classics, and try to pass them off as normal used cars to unsuspecting buyers. Many are on the open market around the country, their electronic, mechanical and structural components ready to fall apart. Buyer beware!
While the hurricane damage was terrible, the destruction done by the wildfires was absolute, leaving almost nothing but ash and twisted metal in their wake. The entire town of Paradise, California, was essentially razed, and many other neighborhoods lost street after street of homes, businesses and other structures.
The fires also arrived so swiftly, driven by high winds, that many people had no warning of their approach and had to flee for their lives, leaving everything behind to burn. At least 85 people were killed in the Camp Fire, the most deadly and destructive wildfire in California history.
Among those things left behind by fleeing people were classic vehicles parked in garages and driveways. The fires consumed an unknown number of vehicles, which have yet to be completely tallied; we’ve all seen the pictures of the areas devastated by the fires and the hulks of cars, trucks and SUVs completely consumed by the blazes.
Of the classic cars that are caught in the intense heat, there is generally nothing left to salvage.
Although, there were a few bright spots that came out of the misery. Such as the 1966 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 that was rescued by firefighters battling the Woolsey Fire. A widely circulated photo shows the firefighters pushing the car away from a burning home and out of harm’s way.
And there was the odd instance of a 1915 Ford Model T parked on a trailer in Paradise when the Camp Fire roared through. When the smoke cleared, it was found to have somehow survived the scorching blaze virtually undamaged amid the devastated homes and woodland all around it.
Another collector car disaster on a smaller scale happened early this month when Country Classic Cars in Staunton, Illinois, was hit by a tornado that destroyed buildings and wrecked classic cars parked inside. The worst part was that the owners had just completed rebuilding the business after it was destroyed by a fire last year. The owners vowed to be back in business again in no time.
As the new year begins, classic car owners need to be prepared for the worst – fires, floods, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, you name it – that can hit without warning. Have an action plan ready for saving your treasured vehicles. And if you’re in the market for a used or classic vehicle, watch out for the signs of flood damage.