Somewhere, it may still be rumbling down a city’s main drag or nudging the speed limit on some Interstate
highway: The Mach One that started it all.
After its previous owner slid the car into a telephone pole, the shattered ’71 Mustang – or what remained of it – was purchased by a 15-year-old boy in Etobicoke, Ontario for $200 cash. With the assistance of his welder father, the teenager spent the summer repairing and restoring the car in the family driveway, sinking $600 worth of parts into the project. In September, he sold the now beautifully-restored Mach 1 for $2700, sliding almost $2000 profit into his bank account and launching Peter Klutt on one of the most successful and rewarding businesses in the automotive industry.
“I was hooked,” the easy-smiling Klutt says, referring to that long-ago rebuild. “All through school I bought and sold cars, making enough money to cover my tuition at university.” Totally enamoured by the business of finding, restoring, driving and marketing collectible vehicles, he made the pragmatic decision to earn a university degree in management economics. Good idea. Blending his love of cars with his business acumen and warm, open nature, Peter Klutt became a leading influence in the collectible car industry. His Legendary Motorcar Company (LMC), launched in 1985, has grown from a tiny frame suburban single-car garage to become the dominant force in the restoration and marketing of rare cars. Its new 55,000 square foot headquarters showcases about 100 exquisitely restored vehicles for sale. The attached work area, with fully-equipped mechanical, assembly and finishing bays, is constantly busy working on others. Some will replace models sold from the showroom. Others belong to near fanatical owners who refuse to trust their cars to anyone but LMC.
The building also includes a conference centre and video studio, where episodes of the Dream Car Garage & Legendary Motorcar TV show are produced for broadcast throughout the English speaking world.
With more than 30 years of experience behind him, you might suspect that Peter Klutt has become a little jaded with this business. After all, how much “Wow factor!” can you have when, at any given time, half a dozen Ford Shelby Cobras are parked just down the hall from your office and a $4 million four-cam Ferrari is rolling out the workshop door?
Peter Klutt’s response is to smile and shake his head. “You have to remember,” he explains, “that over the years hundreds of manufacturers built thousands of models, each different from the others in so many ways. Not all of them were Lamborghinis and Duesenbergs. But it doesn’t matter what make or model of car it is. One way or another, they are all cool and interesting.
”Cool and interesting may inspire fascination and affection but no one, including Peter Klutt, has built a business operation as large and successful as LMC on those qualities alone. His business ability and years of experience have produced an insight into the rare car market that few can match and even challenge.
This is important, considering the large sums of money involved and the wide swings in market value that can rapidly occur where exotic cars are concerned. Peter is closely tuned to this reality. In fact, his accurate gauging of the market and its direction is much of the secret behind his success.
“Everything about these cars moves in cycles,” he says. The collectible car market is just as complicated and volatile as the stock market.”
Complicating things are sub-markets that move at their own pace, sometimes in parallel with the overall collectible car market and sometimes on their own. As an example, Peter refers to the value of muscle cars, which grew spectacularly over the years between 2002 and 2008. At the beginning of the cycle, a restored Hemi-powered ‘Cuda convertible sold for about $200,000. Five years later the same car might fetch $2 million. “In that same time period,” Peter notes, “a fourcam Ferrari went for about three hundred thousand dollars at the beginning. Five years later the price had barely doubled.” Not a bad return for Ferrari owners, he notes, but nothing like the ten-times increase of the ‘Cuda’s price.
Then, around 2008, the teeter-totter effect kicked in. Muscle cars began dropping in value, and everyone began craving Ferraris. Peter Klutt monitors these price swings, making buying and selling decisions according to whatever the market tells him, peppered with his intuition and experience.
Maybe no formula is available to use when dealing these marvellous machines, and there’s no computer app that can nail a price point and make a buy-or-sell decision. But Peter Klutt comes close.
“We look at two things,” he says. “We start by checking the price history of cars, comparing one make and model against others in its class over the years. Then we look at demographics and ask ourselves who is most likely to want certain makes and models.”
He makes the point by noting that ’57 T-Birds, cherished by the generation prior to the baby boomers, sold for $30,000 to $50,000 in 1990. Twenty-five years later, the price had barely budged. Why? Because the demand for early T-Birds in 1990 was driven by middle aged buyers who had lusted after the car when they were teenagers. But now that they are 75 or 80 years old, they have other things to be concerned about.
Tracking, trading and restoring vehicles is an intriguing and potentially profitable business. But – no surprise – the cars themselves have an attraction that extends well beyond their market value. Anyone who loves cars, after all, would love to get behind the wheel and drive a rare beauty just for the thrill of it.
Peter Klutt agrees. It’s the contrast that intrigues him most. Driving a 1929 Ford Model A may be fun, but driving a 1929 Duesenberg is a revelation. “They are incredible, compared with other cars from the same year,” he says, referring to the Duesenberg. “So far ahead of their time, refined and exciting. You get the same experience today by driving a LeFerrari. The price is out of sight, but so is the car’s performance and its design appeal.”
Without admitting that he falls in love with some cars, Peter makes it clear that a few vehicles have warmed his heart as much as they have tempted his wallet. When this happens, which one wins the tug of war?
“The financial side spurs the research into the car for sure,” he confesses. “But sometimes, even if the chance to make money on the car isn’t great, I still want to own it.” Included in this list of unrequited love objects are Shelby Daytona Coupes, the Aston-Martin DBR1s and some of the 50’s and 60’s Ferrari Sport Racing cars, all cars with serious history.
Just as with people, however, good looks aren’t everything. Peter loves driving rare cars, but if the driving experience fails to measure up to a car’s promise, the romance quickly fades. This can happen even with cars that seem, at first glance, to deliver over-the-top driving exuberance. Like an Aston-Martin DB4GT that Peter purchased and then featured on his television show. A great-looking vehicle, but the driving experience was not up to his expectations.
A tour of LMC’s facilities is anything but disappointing. Behind the showroom crowded with restored vehicles, each more rare and eye-catching than the next, is the equipment needed to bring them back to better-than-new condition. From Pullmax metal formers to downdraft paint spray booths, it’s all state-of-the-art. But when it comes to explaining LMC’s uncompromising quality standards, they’re not what Peter boasts about.
“The secret to what we do is not the equipment we use,” he says. “It’s the people who do the work. They’re passionate about what they do and they all have the skills to get the work done by hand, if necessary. The equipment is first-rate, no doubt about it. But it just helps us work more efficiently, not more precisely. The people doing the work are the one who set the standards, and they insist on perfection. Nothing less.”
Peter Klutt’s enthusiasm for cars is being passed down to the next generation. Son Gary shares the chore of hosting
the television show. His other son Ryan is always busy searching for barn finds, which are cars that have sat alone and in shadows for years, waiting to be found, purchased and carted off to LMC for restoration.
Maybe one of them is that ’71 Mach One from Peter’s high school days, the Mustang that started it all.
Now wouldn’t that be a treasure?