Fantasy Junction is Where Automotive Dreams Come True
Photography by Nima Salimi
As a part of the new Petrolicious Marketplace, we’ll be interviewing sellers, dealers, and collectors to give the audience an inside look at some of the key figures in classic car sales and introduce you to the people behind cars you’ll see listed on Petrolicious. We’ll also be discussing the classic car market, potential investments, and getting their take on current trends.
Our first chat is with the father-son team behind the 40-year-old establishment that is Fantasy Junction. These guys live and breathe cars – outside of their business they are serious racers, competing in amateur and professional events from the Daytona 24 Hour to the Mille Miglia. Their facility is top notch and one I’ve been visiting since I was a kid growing up in the Bay Area.
MEET THE TRENERY’S
Shayan: What was your first car? Talk us through the moment you knew you became a car guy.
Bruce: My first car was an Austin A40 with a fiberglass body that I went to see with my father in Oakland. We found it in a dark garage, and you could kind of wish it was a Ferrari when you saw in the dark. I also had a 38 Pontiac.
The reason I knew I was a car person was I always read every Road & Track and Sports Car Graphic and those types of magazines about the racing scene, particularly in Europe. In Berkeley where I grew up there were a lot of cars that were brought back by professors who were on sabbaticals and working overseas and were not cars you would normally see on the road in California. There were a lot of really strange microcars and sports cars, so always a lot of things to look at in my area.
Spencer: Looking back at it now, it doesn’t seem like I had much of a choice. When I was a kid we raced cars, we sold cars, we showed cars so it was pretty all consuming. My toys were cars, the things I drew in class when I didn’t pay attention were cars. I’m not sure there was ever an obvious alternative to being interested in cars.
My first car in high school was a red Fiat 600, which wasn’t particularly in line with the thinking of say, the football team, or the baseball team and those guys would sometimes pick up the car and put it places to joke with me. At one point they put the front wheels of it over on a woman’s porch. So I got a note while I was in Biology, that my car was incorrectly parked, which meant getting a group of my friends together to go and get it off the porch.
Shortly after, I got a Hudson Hornet 4-door sedan in house paint brown with 3 blue wheels and one white wheel which wasn’t a show car by any means but it surely prevented people from moving it around because it weighed about 6,000 pounds.
Shayan: Great solution. Bruce, before you started Fantasy Junction did you work in automotive at all?
Bruce: I bought and sold a lot of cars in high school and college – Porsches, a lot of Lancia Aurelias, Aston Martins, Morettis and odd ball Alfas. I then worked for a few dealerships in the area.
Shayan: So tell us about how this interest turned into Fantasy Junction?
Bruce: We opened in September of 1976. Fantasy Junction was first owned and operated by a BMW Dealer in Marin, and they lost money the entire time so he just wanted to be out. Finding out about this through a mutual friend, he and I, along with another partner went together and paid the owner $500 for Fantasy Junction thinking that they had used the name in advertising and we thought to capitalize that by bringing it to Berkeley.
Shayan: Wow, still such a great name.
Bruce: Funny enough, when you call someone who is a CEO of the company and you have to work through some secretaries to get to the person, sometimes if we know who the person is we might say something like “it’s about the massage bill” and then we get right through (chuckling).
Shayan: LOL. Let’s talk about racing. You both are well accomplished racers, so tell us about how that got started.
Bruce: When I started racing cars you had to be 21. The fellow who helped me with the expenses was a printer, so he redid my birth certificate so I could drive a little earlier. I drove Formula Vee in SCCA and immediately went to Formula C without any skill and then Formula B. I never had enough money to run those cars properly and I had a lot of mechanical problems so I quit racing from 1969 – 1979. Then I went back to Formula Ford and worked into Formula Atlantic and then went into vintage racing mostly in American specials and I also had a Lola T70 Chevy powered coupe.
During that time we had Fantasy Junction and meeting a lot of friends from Europe, some of which were wealthy, allowed me to drive some really great stuff both in Europe and the US. I got to do the Mille Miglia 6 times, once in a Speed 6 Bentley, an SS100 Jag, a couple times in an Alfa Monza, my favorite, and then in a Ferrari Testarossa.
We’re also big into endurance racing. We did the Nurburgring 12 times, Spa, Daytona 24 hours, Sebring 12 hour. We really like the endurance racing because it’s more of a team event.
Spencer: My angle on racing is a little different and concentrated on more contemporary cars. I’ve done vintage racing in a pretty wide breadth of cars, ranging from prewar Monoposto race cars to 1970’s and 80’s Formula 1 cars but my passion for motorsports lies in contemporary racing in sports cars, GT cars, and more recently been expanding into off road racing.
Off road racing is interesting to me because it combines two of my hobbies, racing and traveling. I’ve raced trucks and motorcycles in Baja, and although we didn’t complete the event I experimented with the Dakkar rally in South America, where you travel 9 or 10,000 KM over 14 days, in a tube framed side-by-side UTV which I wouldn’t recommend to anybody.
Shayan: Do your racing interests have any effect on the types of cars you sell?
Spencer: We do race a lot of the kinds of cars that we sell. I think that the racing that we do, probably lends great credibility to us selling race cars because we have a really deep understanding of what track ready or race ready means or what it’s like to experience driving these types of cars.
THE RISE OF FANTASY JUNCTION
Shayan: You mentioned earlier that Fantasy Junction was not succeeding at the time you acquired it but here we are some 40 years later. How did you turn it around?
Bruce: Basically, the crux of our business is that we consign a lot of the cars and own fewer of them than we consign. In order to be a success in that business, both the buyers and sellers of those cars have to feel like they got a fair shake. Some of it is very, very simple but we’ve been very good to make sure everybody felt like they got a fair deal. We can’t be an expert of all the cars we handle, but we have a good working knowledge and we really try to be honest with everybody about the condition of the car so nobody is surprised upon sale. The honesty part of it is probably the most important thing.
Shayan: What’s the next step for Fantasy Junction?
Spencer: We’re moving away from traditional advertising and heading towards digital media to promote the cars and trying to evaluate the functionality of various promotional campaigns analytically.
Shayan: Spencer, at what age did you decide to get involved professionally with Fantasy Junction?
I would come in on Saturdays to help detail the cars around the age of 13. It wasn’t till my early 20’s until I got heavily involved in the business.
I would attend a lot of the car events at knee height level since I was a kid, and now that I’m involved with the business I am working with people who have known me since I was a toddler. I think that’s also probably true for people like David Swig and Howard Swig who have also been involved because their father was ultra-active in the community, but I think that’s pretty unique in the industry.
Shayan: Growing up at Fantasy Junction must have been a treat. Was there a particular car in the shop that stood out to you as a kid?
Spencer: Well, when I was a kid I would watch the Indy 500 and see the Roberto Guerrero STP car and just a few years it was sitting on our floor as a used race car trying to find a new home, that was quite impressionable because that was the stuff I idolized.
Bruce: I remember once in the same year we had two Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 Spiders come through here, and thinking “I don’t know what I’m going to do if that place burns down, that 2.9 Alfa is worth $400,000” which is now worth about $30 million. We were also lucky enough to sell David Love’s Testarossa after he passed away which is a highlight of all the cars we’ve sold here.
Shayan: What’s it like working as a father son team?
Spencer: It’s mostly good (both chuckle). We have some differences of opinion where my snapshot experience in the industry over the last 10 years leads me to slightly different conclusions than what Bruce’s experiences over the last 40 years would lead him to. There are also a lot of cars that Bruce has a great deal of understanding of, Prewar European cars, Talbot-Lagos, Duesenbergs, Delahayes, where my interest and understanding of those cars is somewhat limited. Moving forward, the active buying population is more focused on Postwar European sports cars, which is my area of expertise and what I’m emotionally drawn to.
Bruce: I’m very proud to have Spencer working with me, it makes me feel good and I think that as time goes along more people ask for Spencer and it’s good to see, it’s good to see the business can carry on successfully with someone else in charge.
Shayan: We have several shop dogs at Petrolicious. Tell us about yours (Tilden).
Bruce: Since the early days at Fantasy Junction there has always been a Husky, German Shepard, or Lab mix and they’re always good natured dogs and I love to have them with me. They seem to be good ambassadors for the company, and visitors. Spouses and kids who are less interested in the cars enjoy playing around with the dogs.
Spencer: Bruce selected Tilden from the litter he interviewed based on his size so he would be appropriate for a bucket seat.
Shayan: Yeah, that’s going in the article.
LET’S TALK CARS
Shayan: Daily driver?
Spencer: The bulk of my mileage I chalk up in a BMW X3 mainly but when the weather is good my daily driver classic is a little baby blue Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider and I have to tell you I don’t know if anyone needs anything more than a little baby blue Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider. It’s sort of vehicular therapy for me. I’m never in a hurry, and it’s not in perfect condition. It’s got door dings and all kinds of paint imperfections and I just love it that way.
Shayan: That’s how we like them. Bruce – I noticed your E36 M3 outside, is that your daily?
Bruce: That’s pretty much what I drive during the week. Over the years I had a 630, 635, 635 Alpina, a couple E30 M3’s and then moved to the E46 which was too heavy and cumbersome so I went back to the E36. I like those cars, there’s nothing super fancy about them.
I have some nice Ferrari’s, a 330 GTC I’ve had since the early 80’s, couple of Dino’s, XKE, still have Spencer’s Fiat 600 and slew of racing cars.
Shayan: Seller’s remorse on anything?
Bruce: I had a 275 GTB/4 that, at the time, was a $200,000 car and I couldn’t sleep at the time thinking I had car that expensive so I sold it even though I always wanted one. I still think it’s one of the all time beautiful cars. When Spencer was born I brought him home in a Ferrari 330 GTS that I borrowed from a friend who had his car here on consignment (with his permission) and that was another car I knew I should keep it but didn’t have the $30,000 necessary at the time.
Spencer: I supposed if I had to pick a car that I had placed with a client that might have been great to keep it might be something like SWB Ferrari, but those are in the neighborhood of $10 million these days.
Shayan: What car ticks all the right boxes for you?
Spencer: Regardless of it’s practically or value, I’d like to try and have a Ferrari 512M or 512S which would be the coolest thing under the sun to me. Because that’s a wish and a dream, I’ve tried to supplement that by buying a Daytona Prototype, which if you squint from across the parking lot it kind of might look the same.
Bruce: When I was racing the Lola T70 I always thought of it as the poor man’s P3 Ferrari, and Gerald Evans used to have a P3/4 he used to race at the Monterey Historics and it wasn’t the fastest car on the planet but it was just absolutely fabulous to pull up behind it and watch it for a while.
Shayan: Having witnessed the market develop over the last 40 years, give us your thoughts on how the market got to where it is now and where you think it’s headed from here?
Bruce: When I started, the cars were interesting old things that had some value and we sold 330 GTC’s for $10,000, 275 GTB’s for $35,000 and they all became much more valuable. That’s not to say that $35,000 in 1976 was nothing, people looked at it as “God, you could buy 3 new Chevy’s for that price, how could that Ferrari be worth that much money?”, but people wanted those cars because they were unique and very interesting.
The market has generally moved forward. If you took a graph and compared then and now, values are much higher. However, there are blips in the market. A friend of ours bought a 275 GTB in 1974 for $17,000 and in 1989 everybody was after buying it because they had gone up to $1.2 million, but shortly after the market collapsed and he had a very, very difficult time selling the car to buy a house for $300,000. Now the car is worth $3 million, so you have to expect, like with any other collector asset that there are going to be high points and dips and the market. If you follow the herd mentality that Ferraris are going up and up and you just count on that forever, that’s when you end up getting burned if you’re only into it for the investment. If you treat the cars similar to your retirement account where you hold onto the car for 20 or 30 years you’ll be just fine, but the market mentality seems to be more short term than long term.
Now we’re experiencing a bit of a slowdown in the market. We’re still selling lots of machinery but there are less calls and emails for each car. Now that the market has flattened out over the last year and a half so you see people who were dying to go buy one more Ferrari have kind of toned it down. Now the cars are back to selling on their condition versus the cost of restoration, the rarity and history of the car, but overall these dips are healthy for the long term rather than having the prices go up stratospherically.
Spencer: On a more immediate note, the cars we see that are most difficult for us to transact seem to be the wishlist cars from 2012, 2013, and 2014. These are the cars that had risen the most dramatically in terms of their value. The cars were transacting the most recently, are cars that didn’t enjoy tremendous growth over the last 5-8 years aren’t seemingly as affected by the market softening.
We’re also seeing the emergence of modern classics as acceptable things to invest in and cars you can drive as an enthusiast; particularly cars where you can compare them to predecessors where if you compare them to cars from the past, for example, a Ferrari 550 Maranello is very much a modern Daytona, a big V12 GT Car with front engine configuration. It just didn’t make sense to us that a Daytona would be $600,000 or $800,000 and a 550M should be valued at $75,000 or $85,000. It seemed obvious to us that was a car likely to go up in value proportional to other cars you could pick as an alternative.
Currently, we’re transacting a lot of cars that are fun to own, Alfa Spiders, Alfa Sprint Coupes, GTV’s, Jaguar XKE’s, early 356’s and 911’s. Cars that people can use and enjoy and picture themselves as a participating member of the car community that haven’t necessarily quadrupled in value.
Shayan: As the younger generation starts coming into the market, where do you see the demand for Prewar cars, arguably less desirable to the younger enthusiasts, going?
Bruce: I think there will always be a demand for the most beautiful cars – the art deco cars of France, the Duesenbergs – I think those cars will always have a following. But I think the younger people don’t identify with them. The cars that seem to be the strongest in the market are the ones where people in their peak buying power lusted after when they were 25 years old. The Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Daytona, those types of cars probably still have a good way to go still. I wouldn’t be putting my investment money in Prewar American sedans where the cost of restoration or maintenance is more than the car sells for, even though they are are pretty cool things.
We’re also running into the safety and the smog aspects, where people come look at Mercedes 3.5 Convertible and sometimes they don’t buy those cars because they don’t have airbags or really good seatbelts. There’s also the people who are concerned about the environment. If you pull up to a stop light in Ferrari 250 GTE 2+2 in good condition, when the light turns green the person behind you is in a cloud of blue smoke. It’s not as politically correct anymore to drive some of that stuff.
Spencer: Generally speaking, Prewar cars have a limited relevancy as a motorcar so people who are interested need to see value in them to be observed statically, but probably not as cars to be used on a tour, driving event or race.
Shayan: What do you predict is the next car to take off in the market?
Spencer: Going back to the 550 or 575 Maranello, I think those car still have quite a bit of room to grow in the market.
Bruce: Stuff that you can use is important. Some of the Japanese cars, the new Nissan GTR is probably a pretty good bet. Porsche Cup cars as well. When you see what an RS Carrera (~$1 million) has done, because it can be used on the road, is amazing when you consider that a Porsche Cup car that’s made out of carbon fiber with a good race history is worth less than $100,000.
Shayan: If you were giving advice to someone looking to get into the enthusiast hobby with a budget around $40-$50,000, what would you recommend?
Spencer: The car that comes to my mind would be something like a Lancia Fulvia, Rallye or Fulvia Zagato. It’s an interesting car with technically interesting attributes from a coachbuilder. They aren’t particularly expensive and maybe more difficult to service than a Datsun 510, but not impossible to keep running from a mechanical perspective, and they’re plentiful enough. This is the type of car that also almost requires the owner to become embedded into the car community because in order to find necessary parts you’re going to need to have some contacts and those cars tend to have people around them who are very interesting and very well educated on the cars.
Bruce: To me, since I started out with very little, have Ferrari always meant something to me. In my mind, when you a consider a beautifully restored XKE is in the high $200,000 range, and you can buy a Ferrari 308 GT4, which you can buy for $55,000 or $60,000, not in perfect shape but a nice one. They’re fun to drive, fairly simple similar to the Fulvia and they’ve got a great view out of the hood and they sound great.
Another car that stands out is a 308 GTB, which has much of the same body design and look as the 288 GTO and those cars are $60,000 to $70,000 for a very nice one. Those are cars young people can buy and expect to go up and you can have fun driving them.
Shayan: Seems like ‘fun’ is the key. Thanks for the chat guys, it was amazing to learn more about place I idolized as a kid!