A nerve-racking countdown has begun for an Auckland man whose $500,000-plus investment in a customised hand-built 1965 Ford Mustang is about to be tested at a huge American car auction, with no reserve.
Igor Sutich’s restored, modified fastback “Venom” is already turning heads before the Barrett-Jackson event at Scottsdale, Arizona - arguably the world’s biggest collector car auction – having been named among the top 50 cars on offer.
For the property businessman, who also has a Ferrari in the garage, the decision to ship the one-of-a-kind classic muscle car to the auction on January 21-29 is a “calculated risk”.
He won’t be the only seller with a case of the jim-jams. Barrett-Jackson told the Herald it expects more than 1800 blue chip collector vehicles at Scottsdale, all offered at no reserve.
The only “out” if bids are way below Sutich’s investment is for him to bid and buy his car. It doesn’t bear thinking about. He’d have to pay an 8 per cent fee on top and pay to ship the car home again.
Meanwhile Venom, the product of Sutich’s “perfectionist” tendencies, is ironically back in the country it came from.
It’s thought to be the first time a New Zealand-built classic car has featured at a prestigious Barrett-Jackson event.
Sutich, who once owned an American car yard called Hollywood Cars in Auckland, isn’t the only one counting down the days.
Venom’s exposure at Scottsdale is a “huge” opportunity for its builder, custom and restoration specialist Matamata Panelworks says owner Malcolm Sankey.
If it goes well, it could open up the US market for Americans wanting work done, especially with the favourable US-Kiwi exchange rate.
“Someone could ask us to build a car.”
Matamata Panelworks is already well-known in classic-car-crazy New Zealand, and among some petrolheads overseas, as an old hand at car building, customisation and restoration. It is this country’s only authorised builder of supercharged Shelby cars.
With its meticulous attention to the tiniest detail, the US showcasing of Venom could also refresh Panelworks’ existing fan base and bring in more work.
Venom, five years in Panelworks’ shop – the secret “Blurple” colour paint alone took a year to perfect – is already an A-lister at Scottsdale, which last year recorded US$203.2 million ($319m) in sales.
Of this, US$196m was from 1857 “no reserve” collectable vehicle sales.
Venom’s entered in the Super Saturday sale event, the biggest money day of the eight-day auction.
Sutich nominated it for the Barrett-Jackson Cup, and it’s been accepted as one of the top 50 vehicles to vie for the title. Barrett-Jackson has done a special promotional video for the car, which Sutich says doesn’t often happen because it’s at the auction company’s expense.
A vote for the top five cars is held, with the winner in line for US$10,000.
“It’s not about the money; it’s about the recognition – not just for me but for Matamata Panelworks. It’d be huge,” says Sutich, who will be there for the action.
As well as luring thousands of visitors, the Scottsdale event is followed by more than 6 million television and online viewers, says Barrett-Jackson.
Last year it had a 100 per cent sell-through rate and raised more than US$8.8m for charity. Two of this year’s highlights are expected to be a 1989 Ferrari F40 and a 2005 Porsche Carrera GT. A 2004 Carrera GT last year sold for US$1.98m (NZ$3.1m), Barrett-Jackson told the Herald.
Venom will be up against offerings from some of the biggest names in US muscle car building such as Ringbrothers and Chip Foose. So what makes it special?
Venom is all steel, no fibreglass. Powered by a 427ci Roush IR engine, with a Tremec TKO600 five-speed gearbox, McLeod triple-plate clutch, custom drive shaft and enough other top-shelf technologies to make a petrolhead giddy, it’s easy to imagine how it made a hole well north of $500,000 in Sutich’s bank balance.
In a previous life, Venom was a Mustang he bought for $25,000, knowing it needed work for rust.
Known in petrolhead circles as a “restomod” (restored/modified), Venom is customised to Sutich’s specifications, from the smallest nut to its chassis features, front and rear bumpers, wheel arches, flush-fitting windscreens, operating side vents, tail lights, door handles, grilles, paint and side skirts.
“Every line on that car is absolutely perfect. When you put the bonnet down, it’s exactly the same space between the guard and the bonnet all the way round. I wanted it to be the best ever,” says Sutich, a self-described perfectionist.
“There’s stuff on that car you can’t see, under the body especially. We spent a lot of time under the body. It has special covers underneath that protect all the suspension and underbody from anything on the road so the underbody can’t be chipped.
“The sides of the car have been hand-fabricated, widened. A normal Mustang hasn’t got flared guards. Mine was the first they did like that.”
Panelworks’ Sankey says Venom wasn’t his most expensive build, but with Sutich’s design requirements calling on all Panelworks’ engineering, mechanical and technical skills and reputation for meticulous attention to detail, it was a “fantastic” experience for his “one-shop” service team, these days nudging 30 specialised staff.
Sankey says big names like Ringbrothers and Chip Foose “do nothing under one million US dollars and three years”.
So for Venom to be named among the top 50 cars so quickly is incredibly exciting, he says.
“We don’t know where it is on that list. But we built that car. This is why it’s so important for us.”
He says Sutich’s entry in a no-reserve auction is “ballsy”, especially given the global economic gloom.
“The economic recession could reflect on the car unfairly. It’s okay for me; I’ve been paid. But what he’s doing is ballsy, and I wish him the very, very best.”
For Sutich, “risk equals reward”.
He’s been planning for the auction for more than a year.
“Whatever happens, happens. There are far more people in America who are not worried about the economy. Far more with money to spend.”
Sutich says the build with Panelworks was “really good fun”.
“It was my design at the end of the day though we worked together on it. They know their stuff. I’m so proud of it.”
He’s only driven Venom for 100 miles (160km) of the 500 miles (804km) on its 2018-installed engine, most of which has been road testing.
He loves the “old school V8 roar” and its grunt and says it corners like a dream.
So why on earth is he selling it?
“It’s a bit like I’ve finished an artwork. I’ve taken it to shows, and it’s won awards. I want someone to enjoy it. I’ve put so much time, energy and dollars into it; it’s almost a bit scary to use.
“I wanted to take it to a race track and give it a good thrashing, but I didn’t want to devalue it.
“I’ve had my fun; I’d like someone to enjoy it more than just have it sit in a garage. It needs to be out.”
Sutich didn’t try to sell Venom in New Zealand.
“There really isn’t the market for it. We have collectors here but probably more supercar-type collectors rather than a one-off restomod type vehicle. There are quite a few collectors in America; that’s where there’s the best chance of success.”
He has a suspicion he’ll end up selling one car at Scottsdale and bringing home two.
“I don’t think I’ll build another one myself. More than likely, it’ll be someone else’s. A Chevy Corvette, a 60s Corvette, possibly.
“I wouldn’t be able to beat my Mustang, so why would I buy another one?”