The Discovery of the 1953-1954 Firearrow
Joe Bortz is now a familiar name among car collectors, a man who has earned their admiration for his single-minded dedication to finding, rescuing, restoring, and displaying show cars from the heroic age of styling, the Forties through the early Sixties. "I could name every car on the road by the time I was five," Joe remembers. "By age 12 I was answering for sale ads in the Chicago Tribune, calling sellers just to talk about their cars and telling them I was 17." My love has always been for the visual -- I don't know anything about cams or crankshafts, and racing bores me."
But Joe's first collector car was a 1920 Chevy two-door landau coupe, so how did he get from there to the finest collection of postwar dream cars in the country? "I went from Chevys to Classics, like the Cadillac V-8, Cord 812 Sportsman, and '31 Duesenberg Rollston Victoria. Around 1971, I began to get interested in special-interest cars of the Fifties and Sixties. It was before their time. People would say, 'I can see why you'd want one of those things -- but six?' Of course, nobody says that anymore."
When Joe found Pontiac's 1960 X-400 show car, he suddenly realized that it was possible for one-offs to survive -- "until then, like everyone else, I just assumed they were all cut up or junked." So he went hunting in a serious way.
Today the Bortz Auto Collection under Joe's son Marc owns two dozen one-offs representing the Big Three and several independents. Joe, who serves as curator, is writing a book on American designers, in between showing his wonderful collection.
"We have a rule," he continues. "Every car must be registered and driveable at a moment's notice at least 300 miles. This is a big responsibility for Marc, because although we have a self-imposed limit of 50 cars, that's a lot to worry about and something is always needing a fix." Joe likes to show dream cars in groups of three to six, which he believes lends necessary visual impact. From August 12 to mid-September 1991, however, the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana, showed a dozen Bortz dream cars, the Firearrow II among them.
"Chrysler's attitude toward one-offs was different from GM's or Ford's," Joe says. "They tended to store or destroy their cars, but Chrysler, being harder up, often sold them. This helped pay the overhead, but to avoid heavy import duties after all that expensive Italian bodywork, they often sold a car out of the continental United States, to places like South America, Europe, or the Middle East."
For more information on the Firearrow II, continue on to the next page.
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