Hurricane is largest disaster to hit hobby
By Angelo Van Bogart
After 12 long years, the Vintage Car Club of Ocean County finally fulfilled its dream of opening a car museum in Point Pleasant, N.J., on Sept. 15. Less than three weeks later, that dream washed out to sea, almost literally, when Hurricane Sandy came crashing into the United States’ East Coast on Oct. 29.
“It was the wind and the flooding that devastated us, but the biggest thing is the flooding,” said Ray Patnaude, marketing director for the newly opened and closed Vintage Automobile Museum of New Jersey.
Although claims are still trickling in, Bob Wallace, president of J.C. Taylor Insurance, said, “This will most likely be the worst loss of hobby vehicles from one disaster in the history of the hobby.”
“This is the largest single loss event the collector car world has experienced — larger than hurricane Katrina,” said Jonathan Klinger, public relations manager of Hagerty. “The storm hit a much more densely populated area and the flooding was with salt water.”
The water damage affected cars several miles inland, and among those cars that took the brunt of the hurricane head-on were those in the New Jersey automotive museum.
“We are on the water, next to the New Jersey Museum of Boating,” Patnaude said. “In its 30 years, the boat museum has never experienced more than 18 inches of flooding. Based on that, we raised all of the cars up 18 inches. However, when the storm came through, we had 52 inches of water in the building. Needless to say, all of our precautions and moving the library higher didn’t do much good.”
Patnaude said it took four days before the museum could be accessed after the storm due to street flooding. Once to the museum, its staff found the building still stood, but was in obvious need of considerable repair. As of Nov. 14, the damage assessment was still under way.
“We lost the computer, all the furniture,” Patnaude said. “Right now, there is a film of mud and a combination of grease everywhere. We checked the drywall and again, the water [damage] is 52 inches up the walls. We lost all the carpeting. There isn’t much that we can save. The building will stay up, and it’s a matter of redoing the interior.”
Patnaude said the electrical outlets were awaiting safety checks by electricians and once they are determined to be safe, the inside of the building will be power washed to clean out the museum to further determine the extent of storm damage.
Days before the storm, there were 11 vehicles in the museum, so the museum staff warned owners of vehicles on loan to remove their cars. Just three owners took their cars out of the museum.
“The remainder [of owners] lived in the area and it didn’t make much difference, because their cars were still going to be exposed to the same weather,” Patnaude said. “No one expected a storm of this magnitude.”
Two of the vehicles were the museum’s own vehicles, a 1927 Ford Model T “doctor’s coupe” and an 1896 Ford Quadricycle replica. Both vehicles were submerged in salt water pushed inland by the storm. Two other vehicles displayed by a museum supporter — a Ford Model A pickup and a 1923 Model T —were AACA National Winners and were also affected by the flooding.
“I pulled the dipsticks on all of the cars and water spurted out, so you know it got into the crankcase,” Patnaude said. “Some of the paint started to peel off. The one thing that was devastating is the salt water.”
Besides the damage to the museum, Patnaude and other car collectors in New Jersey are still reeling from the storm’s damage to property, including its toll on vintage iron.
“Between the vintage auto museum and the Vintage Car Club of Ocean County, the amount of cars that have been destroyed [in the area] is overwhelming,” he said. “It’s a water community, and a lot of these folks have homes on the water and cars in the garage. I know one fellow that had two cars on the island and one on the mainland and he lost all three. Within the vintage auto museum and the club, 30-35 percent of the cars were damaged in one way or another.”
At this point, it is too early to determine a date the museum can reopen. In the meantime, the museum is accepting donations to help with the repairs. They can be sent to: The Vintage Automobile Museum of New Jersey, PO Box 234, Beachwood, NJ 08722.
Winds beat Maryland business
Although the epicenter of Hurricane Sandy’s damage was to New Jersey and the New York City area, it left a path that tore up parts of the coast north and south of the New York metropolitan area. In the Annapolis, Md., area, the home of RestoreATag was beat by the strong winds that accompanied Hurricane Sandy, rather than the flooding that affected the coast north of the tag restoration company.
“We actually had 87 mph winds,” said Shawn Mahaney, owner of RestoreATag, which restores existing license plates and creates new vanity tags. In the winds, two trees on Mahaney’s property crashed into the building in which he operates his business, causing equipment to be destroyed.
“It’s about $30,000 in damage,” Mahaney said. “Water did get in once the trees came in through the roof and all of the paint stuff had to be replaced; the paint mixing machine and the paint booth were totally destroyed. Some of the metal fab equipment was damaged, but nothing electrical in the offices was affected.”
To continue operations, Mahaney moved part of his business to a rented space, so he’s now operating out of two posts which he says isn’t quite as efficient. Additionally, he lost a couple weeks’ of time by setting up equipment in the new building, and he’ll eventually have to move it back once the building is repaired.
“By the end of November, we should be up and going, but in the meantime, I had to take out a loan until the insurance comes through, and when I took the loan out, I took it out for a bit longer so I could pay my employees for the two weeks they didn’t work; they need their money to support their families.”
Mahaney figures his operation will be back to 100 percent and working from the original location by mid December, and the timing couldn’t be better.
“The winter is our busiest time — that is when everybody puts their cars aside and they want their stuff restored.”
The facts and figures
Experian Automotive estimates there are more than 9 million vehicles in the areas most significantly impacted by Superstorm Sandy. Of those, Hagerty insurance estimates 8,000 to 10,000 are collector cars affected by the storm.
“Out of that, Hagerty has had just over 1,000 of our own claims, and while the amount of claims being reported has significantly slowed, they are still coming in each day,” Klinger said.
J.C. Taylor has already received hundreds of claims itself, most of which it says are related to water damage.
Of the claims Hagerty has received regarding hurricane-damaged vehicles, Klinger said about 70 percent have been total losses primarily due to flooding with salt water. At J.C. Taylor, Wallace said a “small percentage” appear to be salvageable at this point. That doesn’t mean many of these cars won’t hit the road again – Klinger said about half of the owners are electing to buy back their vehicles with plans to rebuild them.
“Of those total losses, 50 percent of the owners have chosen to buy back their salvaged vehicle,” he said. “Virtually all of them are salvageable; it is a matter of personal decision if they want to go through the process of a complete restoration.”
“The beauty of the classic car world is that many of these owners are choosing to completely restore their damaged vehicles,” added McKeel Hagerty, President and CEO of Hagerty Insurance. “To many, these cars are a part of the family and represent memories beyond the cars value. Hagerty is well positioned to absorb these losses and our main priority is helping our clients bring their cars back to their pre-storm damage.”
Collector car insurers expect claims to continue to trickle in, because in some case, the damage to life and other property is too fresh to concern themselves with collector cars.
“We are mostly concentrating on getting people into some type of housing or [complete] repairs to their living spaces, then I’m sure they will begin looking at the collector autos,” said Craig Meads, national market coordinator of CHROME Insurance. “In these instances, first things first.”
American Collectors Insurance of New Jersey noted several clubs in the affected area have rolled up their sleeves to offer help from within the hobby. It said, “Wicked Rides Car Club organized a Sandy relief supplies drop-off in Manahawkin, N.J. Paul Davis Restoration of Hopewell Junction, N.Y., and The Embalmers Car Club are not only collecting supplies, but they’re driving them into affected areas, too.”
The insurer added that Dutchess Cruisers Car Club is collecting supplies for Staten Island while the American Cruisers Car Club in Binghamton, N.Y., helped bring a truckload of supplies to the Ocean County Food Bank in New Jersey. Many club events have been or will be using proceeds to help victims of the storm.
In the wake of historic Hurricane Sandy, untold thousands of new and used vehicles have been severely damaged by flooding water, high winds or both. Consumers can protect themselves by getting a free record check from instaVIN(R) at instaVIN.com and flood.carfax.com
A few tips from Carfax to avoid flooded cars:
- Check for signs of water damage on the inside of the car, such as water lines in the trunk or engine compartment, rusted bolts underneath seats, condensation on the instrument panel or brittle wires under the dash.
- Ask the seller for a Carfax Vehicle History Report or purchase one at www.carfax.com. Carfax backs the flood damage and other DMV-reported title brand information with its industry-leading Carfax Buyback Guarantee.
- Have a trusted mechanic do a pre-purchase inspection and look for signs of water damage.
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- Old Cars Guide to Auto Restoration CD Volume 2
- Eddie Paul's Paint & Bodywork Handbook
- The Collector Car Restoration Home Video Library DVD Set
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