Peter Klutt was just 15 when he restored his first car. Well, restored might be overselling it, but he sold the car for a tidy profit. The experience set him down a path that he’s still following today, more than 30 years later.
Today, Klutt owns Legendary Motor Company, one of North America’s premier collector car restoration and resale shops. He and his crew restore about a dozen classics each year, and sell hundreds more. The driveway where Klutt did that first slap-dash job on an old Mustang has given way to a sprawling shop that sits on 20 acres in Halton Hills, just outside Toronto.
Klutt runs the place with his wife, Vicki, and their sons, Gary and Ryan. He and Gary, who drives in NASCAR Pinty’s Series, also appear in the Motortrend Network TV show Legendary Motorcar. Given his expertise on collectible and classic cars, we chatted with him about where he sees the market going. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What got you into this business?
My dad was a welder, so he had some equipment at home. He taught me how to weld when I was 15. My first car, a 1971 Mach 1 Mustang, needed a bunch of bodywork. The car had sideswiped a pole. I kind of welded a quarter panel on it and painted it in the driveway. It was a crude attempt at a restoration, but I bought it for 200 bucks and sold it for about $2500. I thought it was a pretty good deal.
I just kept buying cars, fixing them up in the driveway, and selling them. I repaired our neighbors’ cars and worked on cars on the side. I never really thought I’d make a living at it. After I graduated from school, I thought, “I'm going to try this for a year and see if I can make a living.”
What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
There are a lot of cars I wish I bought 30 years ago, that’s for sure. Back then, instead of looking at three Shelby Mustangs, I wish I'd have looked at one Cobra. Instead of looking at three ’69 Z28s, I should have looked at a ZL1, or a COPO, or a Yenko. The spread between the values back then were not as big as the spreads today. I guess the best way to say it is we always tried to buy the best quality cars, but not always the rarest cars.
The other thing I wish I'd paid more attention to back then is race cars with history. Back then, race cars were really, really hard to sell. Nobody wanted them. Today, with perfect hindsight, you look at it and say, Well, why buy a street car when you could buy the car that actually won the race that Rodriguez raced in or Hill raced in or any of the big guys back in the day, Gurney or any of those guys?”
Are there different market trends in Canada and the United States?
No. They've always been very similar.
Is there a segment of the market you believe is undervalued?
I still think significant race cars, certain models, are undervalued. Part of that may be just a personal preference to the cars. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when the movie [Ford vs. Ferrari] comes out this summer. The fact that Shelby beat the big dog is impressive. I think when you compare the values of those Cobras, which beat the Ferraris back then, against some of the European cars that are from a similar era, I think they're very much undervalued. Don't get me wrong, they're not cheap, but they’re still a lot cheaper than the Ferraris and the Astons and the Jags.
What advice would you give a first-time buyer?
Buy the best and the rarest you can afford. I think a lot of guys look at it and think, “I can buy this. It's good value. I can fix it up. It's not exactly the most desirable car but…” What they don’t realize is that it costs the same money to do a restoration to the same level on a super desirable rare car as it does on a Volkswagen Beetle. I mean, if you're going to do the body and paint the same level and do the plating and do the upholstery, it's the same amount of money.
What do you believe drives the market for collector cars?
I think a lot of times it's what we grew up with. We want to recapture some of our youth. As you get older, you want to buy the cars that you grew up with that you remember that you wanted as a kid and couldn't afford. But I think you mature in your tastes and you start to appreciate the different eras, even if you didn't grow up in them.
I get a lot of people asking, “Well, what happens when the boomers start to get to the point where they don't want to drive anymore and don't want to have the cars? What's going happen to all of the muscle cars of the era?” Well, what happened to the great cars of the ’30s? They’re as strong as ever today even though the guys who grew up with them are long gone.
If you take the great cars of each era, they've continued to go up, because the guy who’s 40 or 50 years old and just sold his tech company for a bazillion dollars, he starts doing the research and thinks, what are the great cars of ’30s? And so you get an 8C Alfa or a W196 or you know, a SSJ Duesenberg. They’re great, great cars that are also art; they’re a big part of history and they continue to go up, and I think they transcend the ages and they will continue to do that.
I think super special cars are going to continue to go up long-term, and then you're going to get the more mainstream cars from the era are just going to kind of go sideways as the guy who grew up with that car starts to age out.
Will the “youngtimer” trend toward cars of the ’80s and ’90s continue?
Yes, because of what we were saying earlier. The people who grew up with those cars want to recapture their youth. But only the really significant cars are going to continue to go up exponentially. Something like a McLaren F1, which was a lot of money in the ’90s and now 20 times what it was. A lot of other cars from the ’90s, like Ferrari Testorossas and stuff like that, aren't 20 times what they were. I mean, a Countach cost a huge amount of money when it was new in 1989. They were hot then but they’re not much more money today.
What about the lower-end market? Cars like Toyota Supras, Acura Type R Integras, and Buick Grand National Regals are trending up. Do you think that will continue?
Probably for a little bit, sure, because, again, the guys who grew up with those cars are now in their 40s and 50s and able to buy them. Every era is going to have its super special cars. Some of the cars coming out today are spectacular performing cars built in low numbers, and it'll be interesting to see if some of the race cars from today increase in value like the older cars have.
Will the popularity of pickups and SUVs continue?
I think so. There’s such a demand for new trucks and crossovers, so it only makes sense guys go back and say, well, geez, the cool trucks from the ’50s through the ’90s are as valuable as a neat muscle car from that era.
What’s the future of the American muscle car market?
I think the next 10 years have the potential, depending on what happens with the economy and all sorts of other issues around the world, to be really strong for the simple fact that the Baby Boomers are retiring. Say he’s 65 years old and that guy now is retiring. He's got some money. He remembers the cars and he's in a position to purchase one, and he also has the realization that time is running out. If I want to do this and enjoy these cars, it's time to do it.
What do you see happening in the Corvette market?
The cars of the ’60s will continue to be popular. Some of the cars have pulled back a little. We've had a little pullback on L88s. We've pulled back a little bit on Corvettes, and you're going to get those cycles. They're going to go up and down. I think the super rare cars are still going to be strong long term. If you had one of the ZL1 Corvettes come up today, I think it would set a world record price. Same for a Grand Sport. We had a couple of L88 race cars, sell for some big numbers a couple of years ago—millions and millions of dollars. There's the race history that is making those cars far more significant than the street L88. I think that will continue.
At the other end of the Corvette market, you can buy a C4 ZR1 for 30 grand or 35 grand. It's been like that forever. I like those cars. I raced a C4 for years, and I thought they were fabulous cars with big bang for the buck and they're super cheap today.
What’s the future of Legendary Motorcar TV?
We're shooting season five right now. Hopefully we'll have it out mid-year.
You’ve been at this a long time, and you’ve owned thousands of cars. What vehicles are still on your bucket list?
Oh, that's a long list. What's interesting is that we actually do have a list, we just can't afford them all. The top cars on my list would be probably be a Daytona Coupe, a Cobra that I've missed a couple of, and there's some significant Ferrari race cars that I think are just great cars. Will I ever be able to actually buy him? Probably not, but they're on the list.