Flipping a car for profit is one part science, one part art form. The science is in identifying one that can be salvaged, and the art is in re-tooling it to look and perform like new. If you can't balance those elements, you won't make much money flipping cars.
Jeff Allen, the star of CNBC's "The Car Chasers," has been striking this balance for years. As the owner of Flat 12 Gallery in Lubbock, Tex., he buys, restores and sells classic cars. He has no guarantee whatsoever that he will find a buyer, or even make back the cost of getting a car to his shop from a faraway city. But he consistently earns top dollar for his flips, so he must be doing something right.
He doesn't do it all on his own. Restoration artist Perry Barndt makes sure each detail is painstakingly restored, and technician Eric Ables has been known to bring even the most hopeless engine back to life. Last but not least, his fiancee of 18 years, Meg Bailey, runs the shop's day-to-day operations, which includes making sure that once a car is restored, it gets sold, no matter how much Allen has fallen in love with it and wants to keep it.
What follows is a list of 10 memorable flips from Flat 12 Gallery's history. All of them were discovered in states of extreme disrepair, restored to perfection and sold for a profit. Allen has provided his recollections of the circumstances that marked each car's transformation from junkyard find to collector's item.
Read ahead to see 10 restored cars that turned major profits.
"The Car Chasers" airs Tuesdays 10 p.m. EST/PST
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 4 March 2013
This car appears on the first episode of "The Car Chasers." Allen found it in what he described in an interview as "excellent condition," bought it for $18,000 and sold it for $25,000 to his next-door neighbor Chad.
Chad would visit the shop daily in the hopes of finding a 1979 Camaro. Instead, he fell in love with the Bel Air and bought it before Allen could even finish working on it. "I was going to change the wheels to make it more modern and increase the value, but Chad wanted it as is," he said.
Allen said that he bought this 1932 Model AA for approximately $4,500 and sold it for "nine grand, off the top of my head." He described the buyer as "an Australian fellow in the entertainment business. I forget which studio."
He said that the truck was originally the property of an elderly man, and it had been his "pride and joy." The owner had kept it in good shape, but it hadn't been driven in many years. This meant draining the fluids, fixing the radiator and carburetor, installing a new battery and giving it a complete tune-up in order to make it run again.
This car appeared in the 2009 film "Fast and Furious," and it set Allen back approximately $25,000 to buy it. He flipped it and sold it for roughly $40,000 at a Dallas auction.
He said this car was in such excellent shape that it was like a brand new car when he bought it. "I didn't fix it," he said. "I just drove it. I drove the crap out of it. I loved that car."
When the Ford Motor Company was manufacturing as many four-cylinder Model A cars as possible, Chevrolet tried to compete with the furious pace. Allen found this relic from that era in a garage where it had sat idly for years, but despite its vintage, it was in good condition and didn't take much work to bring up to speed.
He bought it for $10,000 and sold it for $12,500. This is not exactly a major profit for a flip, but in this case Allen was motivated by something other than money. "I sold it to a gentleman with a rare condition, and his doctor had given him two years to live," he said. "I sold him the car on the condition that I would buy it back from his family after he died."
Fans of the "Twilight" movie saga will recognize this truck as the one driven by main character Bella Swan. Allen bought it for $10,000 and sold it to a very committed fan of the movies for $14,000.
The new owner had plans for the truck beyond driving it. She took it to conventions and charged attendees to have their pictures taken with it, and donated the money to the Locks of Love charity.
Flat 12 Gallery is around the corner from another classic car dealership. This situation is a little complicated, as the dealership is owned by Jeff Allen's father, Tom Souter. Despite the good-natured competition between the two, many of the cars Allen has flipped were bought from his father, including this 1965 Impala.
Allen bought the car so that his fiancee Meg would have a suitable ride for her roller derby matches. "We had a pinstriper come in and paint the girl on the side of the car," he said. It was later sold for $8,000, and he still misses it. "That car was so cool, I would buy that car back today if it was around," he said.
This 1957 Silverhawk cost Allen over $2,000 to transport from Tennessee and get up to snuff. The investment was worth it --- in addition to everything else that she does for Flat 12 Gallery, Meg is also a journalist, and she featured it in an article for Hot Rod Deluxe magazine, which increased the value of the flame-shooting car.
As is the case with many of the cool cars that come through Allen's shop, he was tempted to keep it. He conceded that this was not an option, due to the limited amount of space that he has. "It's cool and all, but the hard thing with me is that something's always coming up," he said. "I'm not like Jay Leno. Things pile up."
Allen estimated that this former race car cost him $13,000, and was sold for $26,000. It took quite a bit of tender loving care, not to mention a lot of money, to restore.
"We took its original race photos and put the car back to how it originally looked," he said. "We repainted it. Someone else put in modern, after-market seats, so we had to put a lot of money into it to restore it to its original glory."
Allen bought this Corvette for $18,000 and it sold at an auction for $40,000. It was desirable for its race history, and its possible ties to legendary hot-rodder Dick Guldstrand, who autographed the dashboard. Allen was never able to definitively prove that it had actually been Guldstrand's car, which may have cost him thousands of dollars.
"Because it had been altered so much, he couldn't confirm that it had been his car," Allen said. "If we had the documents, the car would have been worth thousands and thousands of dollars more. It could have been a $100,000 car."
"This one was built back in the day for the show car circuit with added fiberglass anywhere it could," Allen said. "It had god-awful yellow flames and the motor was so obnoxious they had to cut a hole in the hood because the motor wouldn't fit."
Allen made numerous modifications to restore it, including removing extra fiberglass from the windows and adding the correct wheels for the car's vintage. He couldn't remember what he paid for it, but guessed that he paid $20,000 and sold it for $30,000. "Once I sell them, I remember the stories and the good things about it," he said, "but I don't remember the money."
Jeff Allen and Perry Barndt are gamblers…their game, classic and exotic cars. They travel the country looking to buy and sell cars. Whether it's a rare Shelby Mustang or a vintage hot rod, the key is buy low and sell high, something that doesn't always happen. Selling cars is a dangerous business…but perhaps there's no greater danger than negotiating with your own dad. Tom Souter, Jeff's dad, runs a classic car dealership right around the corner from Jeff's shop in Lubbock, Texas. They are not just regular trading partners; they are trading partners hell-bent on one-upmanship. Tom says doing a deal with his son is like being locked in a closet with a porcupine, "it's gonna hurt but you know it won't kill you."
Tune in to CNBC's The Car Chasers, Tuesdays 10 p.m. EST/PST