Automobilia Posts

What Makes a Classic Car a Classic?

The allure of a classic car is irresistible to any petrol-head but for the nascent investor, someone looking to take a step ahead of the crowd, buy in on the ground floor and see a profit, it’s vital to understand what attracts people to these vehicles. In short, what makes a classic car a classic?


Escort MexicoIn literal terms, a car becomes a classic for insurance purposes after 20 years but does age alone mean profitability? A pristine chocolate brown Vauxhall Viva from the 1970’s may have an attraction to some but a battered Escort Mexico from the same year would be worth several times more. The relationship between age and classic status primarily relates to exclusivity. If something is no longer made, there will be fewer available. Although the term classic is linked inexorably with age it is misleading. Without more, it’s just an old car.


Automotive aesthetics reach out to a wider audience, creating mass appeal and becoming instant classics. The Jaguar E-Type‘s place among New York’s Museum of Modern Art classic designs collection supports this. Unique design attracts profit but it’s not purely aesthetics. When form meets function perfectly a design classic is born. The Original Mini exemplifies this with its cute but functional exterior and its ideal size, maneuverability and simplicity for its owner.

Limited Numbers

Ferrari 250 GTOCars with limited production take on a life of their own. Ferrari 250 GTOs, for example, are not counted as a block of products but distinguished as individuals. Each car is known by its designation. Fanatics can recall the tale of how number 15 was discovered or the glamorous ownership history of number 7. It’s not just in high-end cars that this rule applies to. The Lancia Delta Integrale Evo 1, made to homologate the company’s Delta Rally car, sells for double the price of standard models.


Many of the most expensive cars ever sold are steeped in racing history. The desire to own THAT car which achieved victory in THAT race is overwhelming to the petrol-head seeking reflected glory. Mostly this relates to racing machines years ahead of their time but this can also apply to road cars. The Abarth name, for example, carries a history steeped in performance and wild styling that still attracts enthusiasts.

Nostalgia and fantasy

Lotus ElanThe 2-seater sports phenomenon in the UK is testament to this. From Lotus Elans to Jaguar E-types these cars harks back to a time when cars oozed with finesse and drivers enjoyed automotive freedom – cruising empty B roads with the wind in your hair and a beautiful partner at your side. Buying into the fantasy is how all cars are sold. If you can find a car that brings with it its own image without you having to apply one, it’s safe to say you’ve found a classic.

Celebrity ownership

Alan Bean and CorvetteA link to the glamour of celebrity can make an ordinary car sell for an extraordinary price. This was epitomized when Pope Benedict’s distinctly average VW Golf sold online for $244,000 back in 2005 making it the most expensive standard Golf ever sold. It doesn’t even have to be a rock star’s old Lamborghini. On a recent TV show I filmed we met a lovely gentleman named Danny who had bought a Corvette owned by astronaut Alan Bean, one of the last men on the moon, for around $7,000 back in the 1980s. The car is now worth $3 million.

Cult following

Certain cars appeal to a niche market in irresistible ways, whether it is based on performance, such as the Escort RS brand, on nostalgia, such as the Morris Minor, or on its lack of mainstream appeal such as the Reliant Robin. Whatever the attraction, a small number of people who feel passionate about something will spend more on it than a large amount of people who are mildly interested.

Its effect on the public consciousness

VW BeetleSometimes a car crosses over into the mainstream, grabbing the public’s attention like no others. The VW Beetle is a case in point. Through its accessibility when first produced and celluloid fame brought on through the Herbie movies, the Beetle appealed to almost every demographic. Female motorists and surfers alike were seduced, turning the car into a global icon.

All of the above point to classic status. When considering potential investments, the car collector must tick off at least one of these boxes. Tick off a couple and you have a great investment. Tick them all and you will be a millionaire. Only by layering the levels of interest can you consider an automotive investment watertight. So keep your eyes open, learn a car’s history and remain open-minded. The more emotions a car tugs on, the better chance of a sizable return.


This article was originally written for Rareburg which joined forces with hobbyDB to provide an excellent source of know-how for the whole collecting community. 

“Black & Gold” Explores Legend of John Player Special Brand (and more) in Motor Racing

John Player SpecialOf all the auto racing liveries to ever race around a track, one of the most iconic is the John Player Special scheme. Solid black with delicate gold accents and understated script, the cars exuded an unmistakable sense of class. Once the national flag of the host country dropped at the start of a Grand Prix, these Lotus-engineered cars performed in historic fashion as well. 

Black & Gold John Player SpecialJohn Player Team Lotus is the subject of “Black & Gold: The Story of the John Player Specials,” a new book by Johnny Tipler  from Coterie Press. The vivid storytelling and beautiful photos are every bit as elegant and exciting as the cars themselves. Best known for their Formula 1 cars from 1972 to1986, JPS also sponsored Trans Am Mustangs, Formula 3 cars, and even power boat racing. All of these are covered here.

Black & Gold John Player Special“The depth of research and the beautiful photos make this a truly special book,” said William Taylor of Coterie Press. This large format book includes 316 pages of the rich history of John Player Special in motor racing, written by the team’s Press Officer in the 1970s, Johnny Tipler. This is Tipler’s seventh book on Lotus cars. New and vintage images come from Ian Catt, the team’s official photographer. In other words, this is as official as a book like this can possibly get.

jps andretti

This autographed bookplate will be inside the Emerson Fittipaldi edition of the book.

There is also two different limited, leather-bound “Special” editions of the book, autographed by one of two racing legends. You can get one of 72 copies autographed by Emerson Fittipaldi, who won the Formula 1 title in 1972, the first year of the JPS program. (His version of the car was the Lotus 72.) Or you can order one of 79 copies signed by Mario Andretti, who won the F1 title in the Lotus 79 in 1978. The “Special” Edition comes in a clamshell case with JPS badging on the front.

jps fittipaldi

This is the autographed bookplate from the Mario Andretti edition.

In addition to Fittipaldi and Andretti, JPS drivers such as Nigel Mansell and Johnny Dumfries were interviewed for the book. Several of the original engineers and mechanics offer up their recollections, as does JPS Project Manager George Hadfield. Paul Rego at Regogo Racing was also indespensable in the creation of this book.

Black & Gold John Player SpecialThe Standard edition will sell for $64.95, and the Special Editions will be $250.00 each. The book will ship in late October, but you can preorder it at the Coterie Press Store on With the very limited quantities, it will sell out quickly.

John Player Special book badges

These badges will be affixed to the Special Edition box covers of “Black & Gold.”

Curiously enough, while John Player had been in the tobacco business for many years, the “John Player Special” name was created as a product to be promoted by this racing effort. The name was chosen partly because it sounded like the name of a racing car, so it was a natural fit when it showed up on the livery. And even though the cars were built and engineered by Lotus, they were specifically called “John Player Specials” so that even in countries that didn’t allow tobacco advertising the name would still be mentioned on air and in print.

Black & Gold John Player Special

Johnny Tipler

“Black & Gold” author Johnny Tipler at the wheel.

With over 40 books published on a variety of motoring topics ranging from racing cars and driver biographies, to motorcycles and commercial vehicles, motoring journalist, historian and author Johnny Tipler is based in Norwich, England. A major contributor to the Lotus Club International magazine, interviewing well-known Lotus personalities, writing drive stories and book reviews, Tipler is also author of seven books on Lotus road and race cars.

He also writes on new model launches, significant historic vehicles, famous drivers, and covers a host of classic racing events such as the Mille Miglia, Spa 6-Hours and Goodwood Revival. His most recent book, on one of his favourite events, La Carrera Panamericana: the World’s Greatest Road Race, was published in October of 2008. Johnny has a degree in Art History, and in the black-and-gold era he co-ran the John Player Team Lotus press office, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Emerson Fittipaldi, Ronnie Peterson, Jacky Ickx and of course Colin Chapman, trumpeting the fortunes of JPS-Lotus and Player’s sponsored events around the world.

To date Tipler has owned just one Lotus, a 1970 Series 4 Elan SE, though a recent drive for the in-house Lotus Club International magazine from Stuttgart to Marrakech and through the Atlas Mountains, made owning a modern Europa an attractive prospect he still hankers after.

Cheers to the Bus Driver, Especially These 10 Fictional Ones!

ed roth bus driver ron ruelle

Don’t Let The Author Drive The Bus!

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

My car has been in the shop all week getting expensive performance upgrades… *sigh*… I wish. Actually, the shop is waiting on one little but significant part to finish a boring maintenance-type job. But I guess brakes are important on a car, right?

As a result I’ve been taking the bus all week. There’s one from my neighborhood to right in front of hobbyDB headquarters, so it’s not a bad way to go. Of course, it does take a bit longer than driving, but I don’t have to watch the road, plus the bus service in Boulder has Wi-Fi. So in the interest of being efficient while commuting, I started working on a list of fictional bus drivers, mostly with collectible connections.

So, Cheers to the Bus Driver !

fictional bus drivers

Otto, Ms. Crabtree, Ed Crankshaft

Otto MannThe Simpsons
“My name is Ot-to, I like to get Blot-to!” As questionable as his driving (and other) skills may be, Otto has been piloting the Springfield Elementary school bus for almost 30 years, so he must be pretty good at it. Or else the Springfield School District is really desperate. Either way, he starred his own comic book, “The Gnarly Adventures of BusMan.”

Veronica Crabtree, South Park
Speaking of long-tenured cartoon bus drivers, did you know the ill-tempered lady with a bird on her head on South Park had a name? Now you do. Sadly, a couple seasons ago, she and her bird were found dead (“I know she wasn’t in any recent episodes, but dammit, she didn’t deserve this!”) and has been replaced by Jose Venezuela.

Ed Crankshaft, Crankshaft
Neither of the previous cartoon drivers can hold a candle to Ed Crankshaft of Tom Batuik’s comic strip, who’s been backing up over mailboxes since 1987. So he must be like, 122 years old by now. A longtime Cleveland Indians and Toledo Mud Hens fan, the character was honored as a giveaway bobblehead by the Hens in 2016.

fictional bus drivers

Ms. Frizzle, The Pigeon, CatBus

Ms. Valerie Frizzle, Magic School Bus
Another cartoon bus driver, but one of the few who’s actually careful and considerate. And since her bus can fly and go under water, she shows dazzling busmanship. All this while imparting important life lessons to the kids onboard.

The Bus DriverDon’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!
The Pigeon, Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!
Never mind that it seems awfully irresponsible of The Bus Driver to ask a child to watch his vehicle to prevent a very persuasive bird from taking the wheel. This children’s book by Mo Willems rivals The Monster at the End of this Book for enjoyable yelling and flailing while reading. Spoiler alert: The Pigeon does not, in fact, get to drive, but he did get his own stuffy toy.

ralph kramden

Ralph Kramden, to the moon!

CatBus, My Neighbor Totoro
As an anthropomoprhic anime bus/cat hybrid creature, we’re not really sure if CatBus has a driver, or is the driver. Either way, all hail CatBus!

Ralph Kramden, The Honeymooners
Fun Fact: While you frequently see Jackie Gleason’s character in his bus driver uniform on The Honeymooners, they never once showed him actually driving a bus. Kinda makes you wonder what he was really up to all that time. Maybe he was a detective or something off screen.

fictional bus drivers

Annie Porter, Not Dirty Harry

Annie Porter, Speed
Speaking of detectives on buses, Keanu Reeves’ character also does not, in fact, drive the bus in Speed. Annie Porter, played by Sandra Bullock, spends much of the film behind the wheel, driving fast, causing havoc and winning our hearts. Reeves and the bus do not appear with Bullock in the dreadful sequel Speed 2: Cruise Control. Ms. Bullock’s career managed to survive that wreck, however.

Ben Shockley, The Gauntlet
Long before Speed, Clint Eastwood drove a bus very slowly down the streets of L.A. in this movie to deliver a key witness to an important trial. Since it was made around the same time as some of his other films, many people mistakenly think this was a “Dirty Harry” movie.

harry potter ernest prang

Ernest Prang, Knight Rider

Ernest Prang, Harry Potter franchise
On the topic of movies about someone named Harry, Ernest Prang drove the purple triple decker Knight Bus in the Harry Potter novels and movies. It was yet another way to reach Hogwarts if magic train, flying car, teleporting, dragon riding, or viking ship weren’t cutting it. Despite minimal screen/page time, he got his own Lego Minifig.

Shirley Partridge, The Partridge Family
Finally, as if being a Mom who totally rocks wasn’t enough, Shirley Partridge was also the primary driver of the Partridge Family’s tour bus. She piloted the converted mid-50s GMC school bus from concert to concert and adventure to misadventure and into our hearts for four years on TV.

shirley partridge bus

Shirley you remember Mrs. Partridge driving the bus.

Well, my stop is coming up, time to hop off and head into the office. If you think of any other fictional bus drivers, especially with related collectibles, let us know in the comments!

Fireball Tim Visits hobbyDB, Shelby American Collection, and More In Boulder

The folks at hobbyDB recently enjoyed a couple days hanging out with Fireball Tim Lawrence, dropping in on some automotive attractions in the Boulder Colorado area. Fireball was visiting to record video for his Fireball Malibu Vlog on his his website

fireball tim shelby

Steve Volk of the Shelby Museum meets Fireball TIm.

First, let’s clear up the confusion about his name. “Fireball” is not a nickname, it’s his actual name. And no, he didn’t legally change it to that, it’s from his parents. “My Mom and Dad were a Hollywood writer/producer team,” he said. “They were always having to come up with interesting names for characters and went with ‘Fireball’ for me.” Aside from the usually teasing that comes with middle school, the name suits his go-getter life style just fine. My wife usually just calls out “Hey, you!” he laughed.

hobbydb office

At Tatooine, the headquarters of hobbyDB (from the left Anastasia, Devan, Ron and John).

While he was in Boulder, he stopped by the hobbyDB office to ask about working/collecting/playing with toys, and also the Model Car Hall of Fame. He took a private tour of the Shelby American Collection with Steve Volk, dropped in on William Taylor at Auto Archives, and paid a visit to the office of Hagerty’s Insurance. He also met hobbyDB store owner Bud Kalland to see his real and his diecast cars, and went to Loveland to view one of our Advisory Council member Steve Engeman’s collection of promo cars and other automobilia.

william taylor

A tour of Auto Archives and Hagerty Insurance with William Taylor.

Along with a ride up the twisty turns of Boulder Canyon, he shot enough video to create four episodes of his vlog.

Here’s the rundown of the episodes with links…

  • Episode 758: Visit to the Shelby American Collection (Private tour by Steve Volk)
  • Episode 759: Visit to hobbyDB, World’s Coolest Collectibles Database (Meet the hobbyDB staff and visit to Steve Engeman)
  • Episode 760: Visit to Auto Archives & A Rare 540HP McLaren (Auto Archives and Hagerty Insurance in Golden, CO)
  • Episode 761: A 400 HP Mustang GT is only  the Beginning (Visit with Bud Kalland)
bud kalland

Bud Kalland shared his diecast collection and his real Mustang (here with John and Christian).

Being immersed in Hollywood culture his whole life gave him a sense of wonder and possiblity. “Never listen to the Doctor No’s in life,” he says. By that, he means the negative people and voices that tell you to play it safe and never take chances. So to that end, he has worked for Disney Imagineering designing them park rides, created production designs for countless movies, and even worked on the 1989 Batmobile from the Tim Burton movies. “I take the script, and sketch out what the vehicles, weapons, props, and sets should look like for a movie,” he said. He also had a company called Fireballed which produced hypertuned Mini Coopers.

Steve Engman

With Steve Engeman, promotional model collector.

Fireball Tim is also an author/publisher, with several books to his credit. He’s created a couple volumes about his movie and TV cars, but also several activity and coloring books for kids. The children’s books focus on, as you might imagine, cars, beach, and ocean culture. “I just want to share my love of these things through coloring and reading.”

fireball tim books

Just a few of Fireball Tim’s books…

So, yeah, he’s pretty busy and loving every minute of it. These days, he splits time between Malibu and traveling anywhere there’s an opportunity to talk to people about car culture. His vlog features daily posts, so in the past couple years, he’s already created over 750 15 minute or so episodes. “The message of my work it that life is fun,” he said. “You can live a long time where it’s not fun. I play with cars, I live a beach life. Happiness is present, not in chasing dreams.”

Everything Fireball visited on his trip to Colorado is being archived on hobbyDB, The World’s Online Museum. He came to visit hobbyDB because he was a bit skeptical of our mission of documenting the entire world of collectibles. “I came out here because I didn’t think it could be done,” he said, “and now I thinks they just might. I love it!”  In fact, we plan to have him visit again later in the year as there is lots more to see here in Colorado!

How the Colorado License Plate Evolved Into an Icon

Colorado license plate

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

At hobbyDB, we love automobile related collectibles as much as we love diecast. One of the most popular bits of automobilia is the license plate, which can (or should, at least) be found on every car. And since we’re based in Boulder Colorado, let’s take a look at the history of our state’s license plates, one of the most instantly recognizable designs in the United States.

1908 Colorado license plate

The earliest license plates were homemade, often using house numbers on leather or wood.

The earliest license plates came within a few years of the first cars as a way to identify one from another, and most importantly, make some money for the state coffers. The very first ones in Colorado came around 1908, and were homemade. The DMV (they probably didn’t call it that yet, or despise it as much as we currently do) would give a number to the motorist, who would then fabricate their own by attaching aluminum house numbers to wood, leather, or whatever material was handy.

By 1912, Colorado was manufacturing the plates, a process that was far more time consuming than it is today. The first designs just said “COLO” in stacked letters on one side and “1912” on the other with a 4-digit number in between. Colors varied for the next few years, but the porcelain construction stayed. Back in those days, by the way, there were no registration stickers to update your validation. You simply got a whole new plate every year, which really isn’t simple at all if you think about it.

1917 Colorado license plateBy 1916, someone had figured out a process to make the stamped style of plates that still exist to this day. By creating raised and painted letters, it became hard to couterfeit these plates. Colors remained in the traditional range until 1917, when black on pink was the choice.

Another interesting bit of design change was happening around this time as well. Those first stamped plates were about 12 inches wide and 6 inches tall, but the shape would become more horizontal some years, in some cases to accommodate more characters.

1941 Tennessee license plate

Not a Colorado plate, but pretty neat, huh?

By the mid ’20s, the 12×6 rectangle became the standard for most states. Even though the dimensions eventually became a federal requirement, Tennessee decided in the 1940s that the shape could be something fun. For several years, theirs were cut in an approximation of the outline of the Tennessee border. The most noticeable holdout in modern times is the Northwest Territories of Canada, whose plates form the silhouette of a polar bear.

1938 Colorado license plateBack to Colorado, however, a state with a rectangular shape like a license plate. The designs swung wildly from one color combination to another: orange on black for 1932, black on orange for 1933, black on yellow for 1934, white on blue for 19361938’s plate starts to look familiar with white on turquoise, but the parade of colors would continue into the late 1950s.

1958 Colorado license plate1958 featured one of the first license plates in the nation to include a graphic other than numbers and letters. A silhouette of a skier showed up on the plates, along with the word “Colorful.” And speaking of color, this was the first year for dark green, though paired with light green. 1959 saw the debut of the now familiar green and white (getting closer…) and finally, 1960 defined what a Colorado License Plate should look like. Jagged white mountain peaks with green sky and lettering became the template for most future plates.

1960 Colorado license plate

The green and white mountains debuted in 1960. The same shapes and colors have been used almost continuously since with some variations…

1963 1964 Colorado license plate

From 1962 to 1972, Colorado plates would alternate between these two designs. Notice how the mountain shape flips upside down.

The color arrangement was flipped in 1962 (green mountains, white sky) and then… the whole thing was flipped. Using the same stamp, but upside down, 1963 saw the entire border rotated to put a sliver of mountains at the bottom, with the lettering in the sky. The plates would alternate between these two looks yearly until 1972.

1973 1974 Colorado license plate

1973 and 1974 saw single year designs.

For some reason, 1973 went with a plain design (except for the word “Colorful”), and 1974 tried a busier version of the mountains with “Colorful” wedged in. But each of those designs would only last one year.

1976 Colorado license plateTo celebrate the Colorado Centennial, 1975-76 used a special light blue and white design with the state’s “76” logo in the middle, sandwiched between different mountains at the top and wavy water at the bottom.

1999 Colorado license plateIn 1977, the familiar green and white peaks returned for good. Those peaks were sharpened up a bit in 1993, but otherwise, there were no major changes for 24 years. One thing that vanished around that time was a stamped year… from that point on, drivers would adhere date stickers to the plate every year.

2001 Colorado license plateIn 2000, the mountains switched back to white (reminiscent of the 1960 plates) along with some subtle silver detail, and the plates have remained the same since. Notice that the mountains have also flipped horizontally, left to right from the previous arrangement. Another change was the mountains themselves were flat, no longer stamped in 3D. Even though there are many commemorative and special use plates in use today, they all show the same peaks, in different colors depending on the type.

Specialty Colorado license plateSo what’s the hardest Colorado plate to find? Depends what you want do do with it. Obviously the older, the rarer, and with fewer cars back then, there were fewer plates made to begin with. Colorado has required front and rear plates since the earliest days, except for 1943-46, when only a rear plate was required. Conserving steel for the war effort is the likely explanation. For the first time in state history, drivers were not issued new plates each year, but instead, attached a small metal year plate in the corner over their old designation, one of the earliest instances of multi-year plates.

1944 Colorado license plateIn answer to the question, if you just want to hang them on your garage wall, obviously the 1943-46 plates are rarest, along with the very oldest examples. But if you want to put correctly dated plates on your vintage car, you would only have to find a single plate for those WWII years. For other years, you have to find a matching set, which might be a lot more difficult.

If you have a history of your state’s license plates hanging in your garage, add the designs to our database!