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classic cars

On Nov. 8, 1975, Robert Zambelli bought himself a Ferrari. It was a beautiful thing: a yellow 1967 330 GTC, one of the first twelve-cylinder cars sold by a dealership which was not yet called Ferrari of Atlanta. A pilot by trade, Zambelli paid somewhere in the neighbourhood of $10,000 for the car and drove it happily, performing his own maintenance.

Ferrari values began to climb. Zambelli drove his car. Suddenly, his 330 GTC was worth 10 times what he'd paid for it.

Zambelli put 10,000 kilometres worth of track time on his little yellow sportscar. The car's worth crested the US$500,000 mark. Bob took his Ferrari camping.

"I really don't think much about its value," he said, speaking from his home in South Carolina, "I just drive and enjoy. In fact, I drive it everywhere – to the post office, general shopping and on vacations. I've gone to Lowe's and put bags of mulch in the trunk. I fly model airplanes and I go to the flying field with a bunch of airplanes in the GTC. As I recall, the longest trip was around 700 miles each way. But I've made many other trips – 100 to 500 miles each way."

Today, Zambelli's Ferrari has about 300,000 kilometres on it. He's still driving it.

It seems as though every other day brings headlines trumpeting some new find of a low-mileage rarity. A pair of untouched Buick Grand Nationals shows up in an Oklahoma garage. A Ford GT with just 88 km on the odometer is found in a barn in Lethbridge, Alta., along with 40 other pristine machines. A yellow, delivery-mileage McLaren F1 gets unearthed in Japan, complete with the wrapping still covering its leather seats.

On one hand, these stories fire the imagination. Who hasn't driven past some dusty, tarp-covered lump in an underground garage and wondered if hidden treasure lurked underneath? Ford bringing the original Bullitt Mustang up on stage at the NAIAS, revealing that it had been hiding in a garage in Kentucky for decades, makes you wonder if your neighbour might have some automotive holy grail tucked away somewhere.

Yet each of these stories is also a tragedy in a way, a tale of opportunity lost. Whether circumstance forced a car off the road, or whether the speculators snapped up a rare model as investments, any time a machine doesn't have the chance to get driven is a shame. They're cars. They're meant to be driven.

In New York, director James Glickenhaus takes delivery of a brand-new 1988 Ferrari 512TR. The Testarossa, wide, side-straked and mid-engined, was already a poster car to many young gearheads. However, like Zambellli, Glickenhaus bought his Ferrari for driving.

To a Ferrari enthusiast, the car's life might have sounded abusive. "I drove it in the sun," Glickenhaus relates, "I drove it in the rain. I drove it in the snow. I parked it on the street. I strapped a baby seat into it and drove my daughter around. Later I drove her to school."

In all, he put the Testarossa through eight major services over 14 years, on its way to an eventual 250,000 km. On the last service, his mechanic, noting that rust caused by driving on salty New York roads was eating the chassis, sold the car.

"When I got home it was gone. He sold it," Glickenhaus said. "I told him I wanted to fix it. He replied, 'That's why I sold it. I knew you would.'"

These days, Glickenhaus has his own boutique car company, producing a handful of specialized endurance racing machines, some of them street legal. He also has a small collection of classics, ranging from a Dusenburg to a prototype coachbuilt Dino 206. He no longer has his Testarossa, but the memories forged over his ownership with his daughter are perhaps even more valuable.

When spring comes to Toronto, the highest mileage Porsche 930 Turbo in the world will once again take to the street. It belongs to Bill MacEachern, who bought it new some 42 years ago. Perhaps it's less surprising to find an air-cooled Porsche racking up the miles than a traditionally fragile Ferrari, but the mileage on the odometer should raise your eyebrows: more than one million kilometres.

He owns a carpet cleaning company and uses his 1976 930 any time he has to make a house call. He takes the machine off the road in winters these days – he has the unusual choice of a Toyota Supra twin-turbo as a winter machine – but the 930 still sees use day in and day out when the snow isn't flying. MacEachern describes the experience with, "We're growing old together."

The simplicity of the 911 means that keeping it on the road is simply a matter of proper maintenance. It's not so much out right reliability as it is durability: being able to repair pretty much anything that goes wrong.

It's not clear whether modern or near-modern cars will be able to replicate the feats of machines from the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties. With added complexity comes greater repair costs, and tricky to fix electrical gremlins can be an Achilles heel. Really high mileage stuff seems to be mostly the province of diesel Mercedes-Benzes or Volvo.

But there are a few high-mileage Cobras out there, a sprinkling of sprightly Citroen 2CVs that have circumnavigated the globe and squadrons of VW Bus owners that just keep going.

When a car gets tucked away into a barn or a garage, its life stops there, not to be restarted until the tarp comes off again. Far better to keep it out on the road, where the miles keep coming, the wheels keep rolling and the story keeps growing.

Ford has unveiled a new version of its Bullitt Mustang, which adds power and classic styling cues to the muscle car. Ford also took the wraps off its Ranger pickup, finally destined for North America after finding success overseas.