With millions at stake, car collectors scour Earth for lost classics by Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press

Excerpt from online article Nov 9, 2018

Like Indiana Jones with a socket wrench, grease-spattered detectives are searching barns, backyards — even the sewers of Paris — hunting for classic cars that vanished into the mists of history.

At stake: millions of dollars and some of the 20th Century’s great stories.

1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special


Joe Bortz’s list is public record. He collects concept cars automakers built to generate excitement for new styles and technologies. They were all documented in news coverage when new, but many are missing.

The retired Chicago restaurateur has saved dozens. He discovered a treasure trove in a suburban Detroit junkyard, classic concepts GM ordered destroyed when times got tough during the recession of 1958. The junkyard owner couldn’t do it, saving the cars for 30 years until Bortz promised to restore them. One, the 1954 XP Bonneville Special, a fiberglass-bodied sports car with a bubble-top canopy, went for $3.3 million the last time it changed hands.

The Mercury Messenger concept was hailed as the brand’s salvation. Then it, like Mercury, disappeared.

Bortz recently recovered a couple of 21st-Century Ford Motor Co. concepts, the 2001 Lincoln MK 9 and 2003 Mercury Messenger. Both were hailed as potential brand saviors when they debuted, but they mysteriously escaped Ford, which tends to hang onto its concepts, according to the publication Hemmings Classic Car.

Bortz has 35 cars in his private collection. He’s hunting recent concepts, which he thinks are underappreciated and undervalued.