July 24. 2013 9:32PM

Derry business filling the soaring demand for classic cars

Union Leader Correspondent

Stephan Condodemetraky of Dusty Old Cars in Derry checks under the hood of a 1951 Oldsmobile Super 88. 

For Stephan Condodemetraky, the vintage car business ultimately comes down to one basic thing.

"This business is about putting a smile on someone's face," said Condodemetraky, who owns Dusty Old Cars, a classic car dealership in Derry.

And there are a lot of smiles around the antique auto world these days. Despite the sluggish economy, sales of collectible cars have been on a roll for the past couple of years.

Buyers are scooping up Mustangs, Thunderbirds, Chevy Bel Airs and other makes and models that ruled the roads during the '50s, '60s and '70s. And there's also a demand for vintage Ferraris, Bentleys, Jaguars and other luxury vehicles.

In New Hampshire, where there is a strong affection for just about anything with wheels and a motor, vintage cars are a big slice of the summer economy.

"There's a car show almost every night of the week," Condodemetraky said.

This weekend, old cars will move into Holden Stadium at 67 Amherst St. on Saturday in Nashua for the city's annual vintage car fest from noon to 4, and the Field of Dreams Antique Auto show in Amherst will hold its July show beginning at dawn on Sunday at 157 Hollis Road.

And when vintage car collectors aren't strolling through shows, they are often parading in community celebrations, riding along on special vintage car cruises or just enjoying the way they look and feel behind the wheel of a classic car.

Vintage car dealers are the hub of the antique auto industry, and there are a range of dealerships in New Hampshire. Car collectors can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on rare editions and models.

Earlier this month, a 1954 Mercedes racer set a new record for the highest price paid for a vintage car when the final bidder offered $29.6 million at a sale in London. The former record was $16 million bid for a 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Roassa.

Although that sector of the vintage car market makes headlines, Condodemetraky said it's the top sliver of the vintage car customer base. The much larger vintage car market is made up of car enthusiasts looking for an affordable ride.

"I would say that $5,000 to $10,000 is our sweet spot," Condodemetraky said.

But whether a buyer spends $5,000 or $500,000, antique autos are assets that have an impressive record of appreciation. Unlike new cars that lose value with every mile, vintage cars in good condition that are well maintained increase in value over time.

Condodemetraky said some buyers are collectors interested in cars for their historical significance, but the majority of vintage car enthusiasts are driven by nostalgia.

"It's more about their personal history and memories," he said. "They want to relieve their high school days."

Bryan Barbin, who runs Cutting Edge Industries in Candia with his brothers Alan and Craig, sees the same trends in the vintage car market.

"We help build peoples' dream cars," Barbin said. "Mostly what we do is restore the types of cars people had in high school."

The Barbin brothers grew their business from a shop started by their father, and they now have a team of eight service technicians who restore antique autos. Cutting Edge can fix all the basic equipment and systems and make sure a vintage car runs well. For higher stakes investments, the Barbins will research a vehicle and restore it with complete accuracy and pain-staking detail.

"Everyone's needs are different," Barbin said.

Cutting Edge is one of many local businesses that specialize in vintage car restoration.

At Dusty Old Cars, a service team works on all part of the cars inside and out. At other shops, owners specialize in restoring emblems or re-chroming fixtures.

Beyond the buying, selling and restoration work, the vintage car industry generates jobs and revenue in the insurance industry, advertising and accessories. And the full schedule of shows, exhibits and parades draw big crowds that pump up business in local restaurants and shops.

Although vintage cars are a global business, Condodemetraky said New Hampshire is a natural antique auto hot spot.

"We have a small but beautiful oceanscape and hundreds and hundreds of miles of tree-lined country roads," he said.

Although the vintage car industry is humming, there are some dealers who see problems ahead.

While crowds today may cheer when they see a Packard or an old Ford in a local parade, some dealers worry that an eco-minded public may eventually want less environmentally friendly vintage cars off the road.

And vintage cars require mechanics who can diagnose a problem by the sound of an engine or the smell of the fumes. Today's mechanics are dependent on computers to assess problems, and the skills needed to maintain antique cars are dying out.

Don Haynes, who has a small antique car dealership in Tamworth, also sees the vintage car movement tied to the current generation of retiring baby boomers who have time and disposable income to spare.

"They want the cars they drove when they were younger," he said.

But Haynes doesn't see much interest in vintage cars among younger people who have grown up driving cars that are safer, more fuel efficient but lack the flair and excitement of the older models.

"I don't think you'll see a lot of business when the younger generation moves up," he said.

But Condodemetraky thinks the antique cars will maintain a devoted following.

"It's about chrome, steel and Americana," he said.