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Chasing cars: It’s ultimately about the bottom line

Jim Motavalli
Monday, 21 Oct 2013 | 12:34 PM ET
Ask the Car Chasers
CNBC
Ask the Car Chasers

"The Car Chasers," an auto-themed reality show on CNBC, comes back for a second season of wheeling and dealing on Tuesday. Jeff Allen, the owner of Flat 12 Gallery in Lubbock, Tex., roams the countryside looking for bargains that he and his team—including his bottom-line-oriented wife, Meg Bailey; his fixer, Perry Brandt; and a master mechanic, Eric Ables—can flip for a profit.

Providing dramatic tension, the gallery's chief competition is Mr. Allen's car aficionado father, Tom Souter, also known as "Roundman." A major theme in the first episode is Mr. Allen's $17,000 purchase and subsequent over-the-top restoration of a 1957 Chevy Bel Air, which he (unconvincingly) argues has nothing to do with an attempt to equal or outdo his father's pristine example.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Allen said that what distinguishes "The Car Chasers" from, say, "Counting Cars" on History, is an emphasis not on transforming rusted wrecks into showpieces but on how much money is made or lost when a car is sold. On-screen graphics give viewers the numbers—from offers on the table to the profit or loss.

(Read more: The most anticipated cars of 2014)

"We're on CNBC, so it's more about the investment," he said. "We mostly deal in cars that are $25,000 and below, because for prices like that people will say, 'Yeah, I could own that car and drive it on the weekends.' On the higher end, a Camaro might be $75,000 or $80,000, and very few can pull the trigger and write a check to us in an amount like that. Sometimes I'd rather have five $20,000 cars than one $100,000 car."

The Car Chasers -- Behind the scenes
Go behind the scenes of "The Car Chasers," season 2. Watch how Jeff seals the deal for a famous movie car!

Mr. Allen says he has sold or acquired cars for actors, including Tim Allen (no relation) and Charlie Sheen. One rule of thumb he said he acquired from that experience is that celebrity ownership of that type can add perhaps $5,000 to the value of a car.

In the first two episodes of this season's show, cars the team deals with include the '57 Bel Air, a 1969 Pontiac Catalina convertible, a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS and a 1978 Pontiac Trans Am. The emphasis is on muscle cars, but Mr. Allen said that some foreign vehicles will also be traded in coming shows.

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Asked to name three "holy grail" cars he would like to add to his collection, Mr. Allen offered these:

First, a Ferrari Testarossa. More specifically, Mr. Allen is after one of the original white cars driven by Det. James Crockett, known as Sonny, played by Don Johnson, on "Miami Vice." He claims to know where it is.

"I've been keeping my eye on it for a long time," he said.

(Read more: How to hustle a deal at an auto auction)

Another is the 1970s Australian version of the Ford Falcon. The models that most interest Mr. Allen are those made famous by "The Road Warrior" starring Mel Gibson.

"Some of the Falcons came with the 351 Cleveland motor and top-loader transmission," Mr. Allen said. A hugely collectible variant was the limited-edition 1978 XC Cobra, decorated in the classic livery of white with blue stripes.

"Those Cobras are very radical-looking," Mr. Allen said. "I don't like to fly, but for the right car I would hop on a plane to Australia."

The last entry in his automotive trifecta would be the Corvette Grand Sport. According to the Grand Sport Registry, this very special 'Vette was the byproduct of a Chevrolet racing program that began in 1962, but was stopped by the automaker after only five were built as Cobra-fighting racers.

They were to be the precursors of an intended 125-car run. The lightweight Grand Sports produced 550 horsepower, and were briefly campaigned, the registry said. Mr. Allen does not expect to find one of these cars gathering dust in a barn.

(Read more: 10 of the hottest new car models for 2014)

"All of the Grand Sports have been found—everybody knows where they are," he said. "But if price was no object, I'd definitely go after one of those."

Mr. Allen said his "unicorn" car was the ill-fated DeLorean, which he acquires on this season's show.

"I wanted one of those ever since I was 16 and drove one my father had," he said. "When I finally bought the car I'd been chasing for 17 years it was an emotional moment. I was a huge fan, but I knew the car is gutless, can't get out of its own way, and is in many ways antiquated. When it comes down to it, I love the chase more than anything, so as fast as I got it running, I sold it. It's kind of like what they say about boats—the two happiest days are when you buy it and when you sell it."

See the second-season trailer from "The Car Chasers" here.

—By Jim Motavalli, The New York Times

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