Save on transport: buy a tow truck

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By John Gunnell

The cost of transporting collector cars is rising as the price of gas increases at the pump. Whether you purchase a vehicle at a show, in an auction or through a classified ad, if it has to be hauled a considerable distance, the cost of moving it has to be considered. Transporting a car can cost hundreds — or thousands — of dollars.

Hobbyists who do a lot of buying and selling, or dealers who dabble in collector cars to make their living, probably find themselves facing higher vehicle-transportation costs today. If you are an active buyer, one option is purchasing an old tow truck and doing your own hauling.

Tow trucks are showing up for sale more and more in the collector’s market. At the recent Atlantic City Classic Car Auction, there were at least two vintage tow trucks. One wrecker went under the hammer (it was too big to go “over the block”) and the other was offered in the car corral section. Neither of the trucks was a giant rig that only a professional tow man could drive. In fact, the one in the car corral — a GMC with a 454-cid V-8 — started out as a 3/4-ton pickup. The other was based on a 1970 Chevy C40 (1-1/2-ton) truck.

Arrow Towing Co. of Elmwood Park, N.J., had its name lettered on the doors of the GMC, which was a very nicely done conversion. In addition to a  big-block V-8 that’s suitable for some hefty hauling, the truck had power steering, power brakes, a never-used push bumper, a roll/light bar (without lights), a tow sling, a Holmes Model 1501/1502 boom with a 4-ton winch safe rating and a custom-fabricated, diamond-plate bed.

This truck had an almost flawless two-tone light red/dark red color combination, a black vinyl seat and automatic transmission. The tires looked new and rode on chrome rims with chrome center caps. Any car collector seeing the truck could appreciate how well it had been maintained. The asking price was $16,500, which included a $3,000 “price reduction.”
The larger Chevy C40 tow truck belonged to Steve McShane and Michael Horstmann, the owners of Premiere Motor Cars, Inc., a collector car dealership in Levittown, Pa.
 “Everything works,” McShane told Old Cars Weekly. “We have towed a lot of cars with it.” McShane had brought a 1970 Pontiac GTO to the auction with his truck. “We really got looks going up the highway,” said McShane, who hauled the Pontiac all the way from Langhorne, Pa., to Atlantic City.”

He said a friend bought the tow truck from Lankford Buick in Conshohocken, Pa. Coincidentally, Lankford is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. A plate from the Philadelphia-area dealership is still affixed to the tow truck’s Holmes wrecker boom.
The man who bought the truck cleaned it up and replaced some parts before selling it to Premiere Motor Cars. The dealership had been using it for six to eight months. “Our business is growing and we don’t have the room for something this big,” McShane admitted. “We need the room for cars.”

The Chevy had a 350 and a four-speed. “The thing just runs,” McShane said. “It never breaks or overheats. It runs better than some cars we have on the lot.” McShane said the circa-1970 wrecker is easy to operate and simple to drive. He had a $7,000 reserve on the Chevy and that’s what it sold for.

Any collector who gets serious about purchasing a tow truck to transport cars can start out looking for one by checking the classified ads in this publication. Two types of trucks may show up: collectible ones that have been restored to original condition for show, and “good used” trucks that may appeal to collectors because they have been well taken care of, even though they aren’t classics yet.

Mechanical condition is the most important factor to consider. If you’re going to be using the truck to move around your collector cars, you want the hoist or tilt bed to be safe and sound. You also want the vehicle lifting mechanism to function perfectly. Fixing some such apparatus may require special — and expensive — skills.

Avoid rusty vehicles, but a truck with a solid old body that needs only paint might be a good bargain. Tow trucks don’t need 20 coats of hand-rubbed lacquer and “show” chrome. A quick re-spray in bright colors like red and orange can have an old truck looking great in no time at minimal cost.

Another source of old tow trucks is a towing industry trade publication called Towing & Recovery Footnotes. It is available from Dominion Enterprises, 150 Granby St., Norfolk, VA 23510. For information, call 757-351-8633 or visit www.trfootnotes.com.

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