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Feature   April 1, 2004   by Allan Janssen

Showing a little muscle

Always thought hobbies and work should be kept separate?

Talk to Peter Klutt.

The 40-year-old entrepreneur parlayed his interest in muscle cars into a multi-million business in the unassuming bedroom community of Milton, ON, a half hour outside Toronto.

His Legendary Motorcar Company houses up to 150 vintage cars at any given time, displayed in a beautiful showroom or tucked away in storage in a two-storey climate-controlled warehouse.

And it all started when he was a teenager, fixing up his neighbors cars and experimenting with home-made modifications. He fixed up his first car, a Mach-I which he bought for $200 after it had been wrapped around a hydro pole, and sold it for a tidy profit. And a dream was born.

"I learned by doing," he says. "Rebuilt motors, upgraded the brakes and suspension. I even built moulds to make racing aprons out of fiberglass. I did all kinds of goofy stuff to cars, but I learned at the same time and had a lot of fun with it."

Although he earned a university degree in management economics, his real education was on-the-job training buying cars, fixing them up, and selling them again. He originally called his business "The Shelby Shop."

"I flew out to Nova Scotia to look at a "65 Shelby, but I didn’t have the money to buy it. So I left $1,000 deposit, came back and went to three banks to find the money. The third bank finally gave me the money so I could buy it, and I sold it two weeks later for a pretty decent profit," he says. "I went back to the bank, paid the loan off, and talked to the manager. I said here’s what I did, and heres what I want to do, and he gave me a line of credit. We just grew from there, always put everything we made back in the business."

Eventually the name held them back,

because Shelbys weren’t the only thing on their plate.

"I changed it about eight years ago to Legendary Motorcar – a more generic name that everyone would interpret in their own way," he explains. "To you legendary might mean a 1969 Camaro. To the next guy it might mean a 1956 Shelby. To the next guy it means a 1932 Packard. It incorporates anybody’s dream car."

Today LMC employs about 15 people in a well-equipped operation that does everything from rebuild, restore, retouch, and modify vehicles.

"The restoration work is pretty much all custom work for customers," he says "We buy stuff the way it is and sell it. We might do some minor stuff to a car, but for the most part we don’t touch it. I don’t want to buy cars that need a lot of restoration. As a matter of fact, I shy away from them."

There’s even a small manufacturing shop where body and engine parts are made for use and sale into specialty markets, most in the U.S.

With so many projects on the go, organization is a crucial part of the business. A stock room has clearly marked bins with parts for the most exotic vehicles.

"You want to make sure it’s easy to find the parts you need when you need them."

His customers are boomers, mostly, many of whom couldn’t have afforded the cars they covet when they were first produced.

"Not all customers are particularly wealthy," he says. "You’d be surprised. There are some guys who just have a dream to own a car like this and it might be the only one they ever buy, and they may put part of every pay cheque away for it. I did that when I was 16 or 17. Every dollar I made went into cars. It was what you did with money."

Money helps though. There’s no question about it.

"For many people, this is the next investment. The house is paid for. The cottage has been bought. Now they’re looking at cars. Muscle cars range from $20,000 to $1 million& and collector cars go up from there. One of our customers just bought one for $6 million (not from LMC)."

There’s been a real upswing in the muscle car market in recent years. Some cars that were worth $20,000 just 15 or 20 years ago are worth 10 times that now. A Hemi Cuda convertible wasn’t even $20,000 in the 1980s. Today it"s worth $1 million or more.

"It’s all about scarcity, and people simply wanting it," says Peter. "It’s just like art. People are saying, you know, there were only 14 of these built, or seven of these built, and I want one. It’s all a matter of availability and desirability."

His personal holy grail is the Shelby

Daytona Coupe, worth a fair fortune. But sentimentality doesn’t come before business. He’ll part with anything if there’s a buyer out there.

"I’ll hold onto something for a while, but if someone offers enough money, I’ll say, "OK, time to move on." Sometimes there’s a little regret in seeing it go, but it’s time to move on."

The people who buy classic cars tend to fall into one of two schools: you either buy a car to show it or you buy it to drive it.

Surprisingly, Legendary Motorcar is open to the public for walk-abouts.

"Saturdays are a big day; we get a couple of hundred people walking through to look at the cars," he says. "I think a lot of it is nostalgia. You remember when these cars came out, you remember driving in them as a kid, especially for people who are in their 50s. They were at the right age when a lot of these cars were originally built."

Today’s generation of "aspirational" vehicles is no less impressive, though.

"There’s a ton of great cars being made today. You got Vipers and Corvettes that are better driving and more powerful than any muscle car ever wanted to be," he points out. "You’ve got Mustangs. You’ve got the exotic stuff, like Porsches, and Ferraris. It’s incredible. Car-wise, there’s as much out there to want as there ever was."

Although LMC

specializes in muscle cars, the collection includes a little of everything, from antique vehicles to racing cars.

Peter uses the Internet to source parts and cars – a medium which has had a big impact on buying.

"You used to have to wait three days for a picture of a car. Now it takes 10 minutes, so it’s easier to buy and sell. But there’s so much information out there that the market moves faster. People know immediately when prices go up. You can’t scoop up bargains as easily because everyone knows what everything’s worth to the minute, practically."

For those interested in getting into the business of restoring and reselling classic cars, Peters says appreciation of the market is the most important thing.

"You start to appreciate every car for what it is. I like muscle cars the best but every car has its quirks. They get the reputation they deserve, for good or for ill. People still like them, either because of the quirk or in spite of it. That’s just the reality of those cars."

And you don’t have to start out looking for a million-dollar classic muscle car to restore.

"You probably can’t get the same satisfaction out of restoring a "74 Chevette. But I’d say you get as much satisfaction restoring a "69 Camaro that’s worth 20 grand as you would restoring one that’s worth 300 grand," he says. "You won’t get a crowd of people looking at a Chevette at a car show. It’s still a Chevette. Given the choice between the two cars, the crowd will always be drawn to the Camaro."

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1 Comment » for Showing a little muscle
  1. Frank K says:

    What exactly was the “did not meet safety standards”. I would like to know the whole story…after the publicity ban of course 🙁

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