Dean Silvera, the man behind the wheel at Aventura Motors, knows what today’s collector wants in a vintage automobile. His Southampton showroom is packed to the doors with sleek, mirror-buffed imports carrying six-figure price tags, each one ready for glory laps around Main Street.
But don’t take his word for it. To show that these vehicles are more than shiny baubles encased in glass, he turns the motor on a 1970s-era Mercedes 280 SL. “It’s the world’s greatest 50-year-old car,” he says as the engine purrs on cue. He is currently working on no less than four of these vintage sports cars for his clientele.
While the competition for rare cars is fierce, so is the need to fix, restore, and service them. The job of keeping these collections running—and in time for Memorial Day weekend—falls on the shoulders of the few specialists willing to meet such lofty standards.
Start your engines
“I was the customer,” says Silvera, who has been buying and selling vintage automobiles in the Hamptons for over 20 years. “So I knew what the customers wanted. A lot of these cars are my taste. They’re such stylish cars and they’re so modern to drive.”
Emphasis on modern to drive. At Aventura, you won’t find many ‘57 Chevys. Yesterday’s “classics”—the kind you might find trundling along in a 4th of July parade—do not seem to register much demand from the modern Hamptons collector. For that reason, Silvera stays in his wheelhouse, stocking up on the glamorous, sporty and expensive.
In most parts of the world, purchasing (and servicing) these vehicles isn’t exactly as easy as walking into a dealership, going for a test drive and saying, “I’ll take that one!” But this is the Hamptons, so you can do just that. At Aventura, you’ll find vintage E-Type Jags and Porsches, along with super-rare models like an ‘89 Aston Martin (yours for a cool $385k) and a quirky Ferrari Dino, among hundreds of others in various conditions. According to Silvera, the items in his showroom are the four-wheel assets Hamptons collectors are currently thirsting for. “These are the new classics,” he says.
Car care for the very rare
Right now, the local demand for these vehicles (and the service and storage they require) is higher than ever. And as the prices for high-end collectibles have skyrocketed, the pool of clients who can drop six or even seven figures on an impeccably restored supercar have grown more exclusive than ever.
At the high-end, the circles are small and restrictive, so good luck getting a foot in the door at über-exclusive, invitation-only show-events like The Bridge, where multi-million dollar supercars cars are displayed on the grounds of a private Bridgehampton golf club (this year’s event is on Sept 23rd.) There are plenty of shows, however, for the average collector to show off their wares, including the Hamptons’ Classic Car Show around Memorial Day weekend and the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center’s Car Show, held this year on August 12th.
“Our clients are very demanding,” says a smiling John Stankiewicz, owner of Timeless Classics, a full-service mechanic based out of Quogue who specializes in vintage Jaguars and Porsches from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. While he started his career with Aventura, he’s spent the last decade as the go-to mechanic for some of the Hamptons’ most notable collectors, including Wall Street CEO Howard Lutnick and restaurant tycoon Herb Wetanson.
“Basically, my job is to allow our clients to drive their cars during the driving season. Turn the key and go,” he says. “And if there’s a problem, we have to fix it immediately.”
The good news is while the cars can be rare, finding original parts for older vehicles has never been as easy as it is now. Luxury auto brands like Mercedes and Porsche have begun stocking inventory for their older models. All of which makes it less troublesome to track down, say, a replacement top for your E-Type convertible or a gasket for your air-cooled Roadster.
As though to prove the demand for his services, Stankiewicz’s phone starts to ring. “It’s a client,” he says. Many of them have his personal number, and the boundaries aren’t always apparent. Often, he will agree to do the less-exciting work of servicing his better clients’ daily rides. “We want to keep our customers happy,” he says.
Hot rod help line
Such is the life of a specialist who applies his well-used tools to the stable of show-rides owned by Jay-Z and Beyonce. As you might expect, there is currently a waiting list for Stankiewicz’s work. Last summer, he showed three of his client’s cars at The Bridge, including a 1959 Ferrari California Spider and a Jaguar XKss.
“To me it’s very satisfying and gratifying, especially when a car has been to four shops and no one can figure it out, and then they give it to me,” says Stankiewicz.
Greg Miller, of Greg’s Garage in Noyac, is both a full-service mechanic and a collector. His current passion project is restoring a 1967 Amphicar, a vehicle that operates on both land and sea. With a few exceptions, Miller no longer works on vintage cars. “It’s a slippery slope,” he says about the business of fixing and restoring older vehicles. His preference is to work on locals’ everyday drivers. The new fascination with dream cars from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, he says, is all part of the generational cycle.
“People want to drive the cars they loved as kids. Guys are getting older, they can afford them now, they connect to these cars. Collectors out here want to relive their youth and come out here and play the game.”
Not to mention that many of the “new classics” can be strong long-term investments. “These cars hold their value,” says Silvera. “You’re not going to drive it out of them [like a new car]. I always say, the good stuff is the good stuff, like real estate.”
As with real estate in the Hamptons, many who purchase cars from sellers like Aventura often do so through agents and intermediaries, with some even going so far as to ask for signed NDAs to keep buyers’ names private. Silvera says that while he works with plenty of bold-face names, his reputation has evolved so that he now buys, sells and restores vehicles across the country and internationally. For example, he has a new Australian client with a hobbled Ferrari who just happened to discover his work on the internet.
With his international connections, Silvera also partners with a Dutch company to carry one of the all-time summer favorites in the Hamptons: restored vintage Land Rovers. These boxy all-terrain vehicles continue to be beach-season icons. Silvera sells a lot of them.
“Their great for the lifestyle out here. Drive 15 minutes at a time, open roof, throw your boards in the back,” said Silvera. “Where else do people spend a 150 grand on basically a glorified Jeep just to pile stuff into and go to the beach?”