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“On the Road” With Dan Barton

About JC Whitney Editorial Team

Meet the JC Whitney Editorial Team, your go-to experts for automotive insights, from in-depth car culture articles to the latest in vehicle tech.

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“On the Road” is a podcast produced by JC Whitney. Every other Thursday we bring you interviews with a cavalcade of figures from across the world all united by one thing: their undying love of all things automotive. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Dan Barton got into the car business on a whim. He had a friend who wanted several classic cars sold but didn’t want to have to spend all day fielding phone calls and talking to buyers who were only there to look at the collection. So, he hired  Barton to sell them, and he ended up making a career out of it. Barton, better known as the SoCal Car Guy, has been restoring and selling classic rides in Southern California for years. We sat down with him to talk about his favorite rides and most challenging restoration projects.

Angel Sala-Belen: Hello and welcome! I’m your host, Angel Sala-Belen, and today we have Dan Barton in the studio with us. Dan, can you give us a little introduction about yourself, how you got into the automotive world, and where you are today?

Dan Barton: I grew up with these cars in the 1950s and 60s. They were a big part of pretty much everyone’s life. They were beautiful and we always looked forward to the next year, wondering what they would look like, what color they would be, and if they would be fast. We grew up with these cars. As time went on, I owned many of them and sold a lot of them for pennies compared to what they’re worth today. Over time, I started to collect them and wish I had kept all of them. When I retired and moved to California, I sold my collection completely aside from one vehicle. Years ago, a friend of mine asked me if I would sell all of his cars—about 150 of them. He didn’t want to deal with the phone blowing up or tire kickers; he just wanted someone to sell the whole lot. So, I built a website, thinking it would be a short-term project. That was many years ago, and I’m still doing it. I enjoy it; I love the people and the cars. There are a lot of good people in this business, some in it for the hobby and some for investment – but even those in it for investment have a love for these vehicles.

Angel: What do you currently have going on in the automotive industry that you’d like to share with us?

Dan: Since the late 90s or early 2000s,I’ve built a worldwide clientele and love what I do. I love the people in this business and hearing their stories. These cars are part of our lives. We never thought they would be worth what they are today, but they are. They’re art on wheels. After World War II, our boys and women in the armed forces came home and decided to build big, beautiful cars, even painting them pink without caring what the world thought. In the 1950s and early 70s, the Big Three—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler—changed their body styles drastically every year, which was a tremendous tooling effort. They built beautiful cars that are still admired today.

Angel: Out of all those cars, if you could pick one, which would it be?

Dan: Mine would be the 1962 Corvette because it was my first car. It’s just beautiful. My second favorite, probably because it’s so unique, is the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz Convertible. I found one of those—they only made about 100. It had every option, including bucket seats and air conditioning. I found it in a carport in Tampa, Florida. It was just sitting there, filled with beer cans and paint cans. It needed everything. So, I bought the car, stripped it down, and dipped it in acid to remove all the paint and rust. It only had one tiny spot of rust in it.

Angel: When you say dipped it, what do you mean?

Dan: Dipping it in acid strips all the paint and rust. You take the car completely apart, leaving just the body shell, and dip it in acid. When they pull it out, all the paint and rust are gone. If the car has a lot of chicken wire and Bondo in it, you’re not going to have much left. But this car was 100% there, with just one tiny hole in the passenger side front seat floor pan. I was talking to a guy yesterday and he said it was probably just a leaky heater core, which was common. I restored it, and now it’s a 100-point car, meaning it’s as flawless as you can get. I sold it to a collector in Canada who still has it and laughs, saying he’s never going to sell it back to me.

Angel: A 100-point car means a flawless car?

Dan: Pretty much as flawless as you can get. There’s no such thing as a perfect car, but it’s close. If you look hard enough, you might find something, but it’s as close to perfect as possible.

Angel: You talked about your 1962 Corvette and how you got into the automotive world. Was there a single moment when you realized that the automotive world was it for you?

Dan: I grew up with these cars and loved them. They were just part of life growing up. When the new model years came out, we would all wonder what they would look like. Back in the day, we could look in the rearview mirror and tell what kind of car was behind us just by the headlights. I started collecting them one at a time. I had a 1962 Corvette that I bought from a guy who needed money for his business. He needed $5,000 instantly, and I bought it. It took about three months to go get it, but when I did, it was ten times more beautiful than he described. That was my second 1962 Corvette.

Angel: What business were you in before?

Dan: I was in the high-fashion ladies’ apparel business. I had a stellar reputation worldwide and in the United States, representing three top designers out of Los Angeles in the southeast United States. I had showrooms across the country. When Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1999, my job went to China overnight. It was devastating. We knew it was coming but didn’t realize the impact it would have on our livelihood.

Angel: That prompted you to switch gears?

Dan: Yes, it did. I didn’t know what to do at the time, but a friend of mine had about 150 cars in a small town in Kentucky. He wanted to sell them all but didn’t want to deal with tire kickers and phone calls. So, I built a website, thinking it would take a little while, and I’m still doing it.

Angel: So, before you started selling cars, you had a collection of cars?

Dan: Yes, I had about 14 cars, including several 1953 Buick Skylarks, a 1958 Bonneville Convertible, a 1967 GTO Convertible, a 1959 Eldorado Biarritz Convertible, and some Corvettes. I had a 1954 Buick Skylark, a very rare car since only 836 were made, all convertibles. I thought every one of them could be salvaged and brought back to their original glory. One day, I got a call about a 1954 Buick Skylark sitting in a creek in Canada. It was rusty but had all the essential parts intact. I bought it, took it out of the creek, and restored it using a donor car for the floor pan. The car is now beautiful and still in good condition.

Angel: It’s amazing how you managed to save those cars.

Dan: Yes, it was a labor of love. I hope whoever owns them now is still enjoying them.