“Yankee Destiny – My 39 Years in America with a Shelby Cobra Dragonsnake” is a true-to-life story about a race car I bought in 1967 for recreation and to commute to the office on irregular days when I couldn’t carpool. Even had to use it as a delivery vehicle for the print shop a few times. I paid $3,600 for the car, then sold it for $1,525,000 (minus commission) at the 2006 Mecum Spring Classic auction – and was haunted by remorse from the moment Dana Mecum stuck the ‘Sold’ sign on the windshield.
Loved the money, hated to say goodbye to an old friend. After four decades of an eventful and sometimes tumultuous relationship, I had a hard time silencing the guilt about abandoning her. ‘Destiny’ had stopped years ago being a bucket of bolts and steel and aluminum. She had acquired a soul because the two of us had built memories together. Her capricious surprises and misadventures had enriched my time on earth for half a lifetime. And that, not the biggest check I ever cashed, is what this story will be about.
When you own a car as important as the first of only two factory-campaigned Dragonsnakes that set world records and collected a ton of ¼-mile trophies – fresh from having played a leading role in the Elvis Presley movie Viva Las Vegas – prepare yourself for a heart-to-heart talk with your ego: It’s the car that’s the celebrity here. It will likely outlive you, and all the while the world will see you as more of a caretaker than an owner. Most car lovers get that. But hey world, feelings! When we meet someone we haven’t seen in a while, we’d rather not have the first question be “you still have that Cobra?” Car guys are people, too.
I hope the book will be an interesting read but please don’t expect insider guidance on how to get rich flipping cars, or what barn find to track down because it may someday be worth 430 times what you paid for it. Even if I could write such a book I would use that mystical ability to make a fortune buying and selling collector cars. But I would still write this book because there’s a story here that needs telling. And somewhere along the way I will absolutely add my two cents about investing in cars. That’s a given. Lack of qualifications has never stopped me from talking about anything.
Was I lucky to have bought the Dragonsnake? I wasn’t unlucky. But comparing my financial gains to hitting the jackpot ignores the intent: I didn’t buy ‘Destiny’ as a lottery ticket, I bought her because I wanted a crazy-fast car. The thought that she might also make a good investment never occurred to me until years later, when wealthy collectors drove up the price and turned her into a sought-after celebrity. The $3,600 check I wrote in 1967 was for nothing more than a used race car.
That’s not to say I’m entirely out of my depth when it comes to recognizing worthy cars. I had driven to the Belvidere auction with a single mission: To sell a car. I had no intention of buying one. But buy I did, a 1957 factory-air Chevy Nomad station wagon. It was the only car I brought home from the auction, subsequently voted “Best Buy” by Sports Car Magazine, best out of 571 cars that changed hands that weekend.
A month later I spent $162,945 from the auction proceeds on a brand new 2006 Ford GT. That car I did buy as an investment first and for its 205-mph top speed and Go-Kart on steroids credentials second. Ford only built 4,038 GTs. They’ve since doubled in value and will probably reach half a million. Here I claim at least some credit. Say what you will, hitting two balls out of the park in a row are a league up from the blind pig finding an acorn now and then.
Whether through dumb luck or by virtue of an exceptionally clairvoyant crystal ball, no car will grow in value from $3,600 to a million and a half overnight. Somebody has to have a hand in it. Even when the stars are aligned just right, luck is by nature drawn to the hidden, sparsely populated places where preparation meets opportunity. The years of research and planning and behind the scenes maneuvers – how the car brought the money it did – cry out for a chapter in their own right. It would be empty-headed to not share that with you.
In the end, as anyone who’s ever restored a collector car can attest to, all the marketing efforts pale compared to the hours of work it takes to get a one-of-a-kind classic ready mechanically, making sure it’s the absolute best car for the auction. That the sale was consumed at all was because of the immeasurable help I received from some truly dedicated friends. Thank you, Dieter and Jerry and Kenny. And thank you, Terry, for bringing coffee and home-baked oatmeal and raisin cookies and sunshine to the happenings most every morning. Couldn’t have done it without you!
Copyright 2016 Helmut Heindel