If you open the September 1998 issue of Petersen Publishing’s Kit Car magazine (pp. 33 & 57) or Petersen’s Rod & Custom (p.93) or in Petersen’s Hot Rod magazine (p.148), you’ll discover that the spectre of Classic Motor Carriages is lurking once again, with full-page color and b&w ads, just waiting for you to pounce upon the lure of a toll-free telephone number and assurances of “Rush us your deposit today to get this once-in-a-lifetime special deal.” This company is called “Innovative Street Machines.” Some of the same (CMC) personnel, same Miami-area locale—you know, Florida, the telepredator capital of North America. But there’s no way you could know that Innovative Street Machines is in Florida. Petersen, you see, doesn’t even require its advertisers to display their state (or province) of residence, much less their street address. Even the “888” toll-free telephone number won’t provide you a clue as to where they’re located. Update: now these ads have appeared in McMullen Argus’ Kit Car Illustrated (12/98 issue) and Street Rodder (11/98 issue) magazines, and in Paisano Publications’ American Rodder magazine (11/98 issue).
CMC/ISM’s new ads contain an offer that reads “Starting at $129 per Month!” By now you should be aware, certainly if you’ve read my exposé articles about Classic Motor Carriages, that one of that outfit’s biggest sources of revenue was its “liquidated damages” clause in its sales agreement; under that onerous clause CMC would routinely concoct some pretext to declare you to be in some sort of violation of your contract; then you would receive a letter from CMC’s “Sally Russell” that they were seizing all of your layaway-plan funds that you had paid them over time.
In 1991 I began warning our readers about (and denying advertising to) Classic Motor Carriages (aka Fiberfab International, then Classic Auto Replicars/CARS, then Champion Auto Works (whose president, James Nearen, was indicted and convicted on federal criminal charges in 1996), then Auto Resolution Ltd. Now you’re treated to Innovative Street Machines, with a curiously similar model lineup and sales techniques (not to speak of the CMC similarities in ISM’s purchase agreement).
It’s largely the same old cast of characters from CMC, some of them predictably operating with new aliases [CMC’s “Sally Russell,” real name Delores Russell… may now be using “Lena,” as only one example); CMC/FF/ISM President Ben Harrington, who signed the checks to the magazines for CMC/FF (et al.) from 1989 ’til 1995, and who now signs the checks for Innovative Street Machines; Richard Skolnick, ISM’s VP of Sales, CMC pitchman Richard Chaiken, and the same old telemarketing tactics and other pitchman maneuvers]. If you’ve read either of our buyer’s guides (“The Complete Guide to Specialty Cars” or “The Complete Guide to Cobra Replicas”), then you’ve been provided with ample investigative reporting about Classic Motor Carriages. If, on the other hand, you’ve trusted your favorite enthusiast magazine to deny advertising space to such operations or to provide you with honest warnings about the industry’s archvillains… again, don’t hold your breath. Remember: these suspect advertisers enrich the magazine publishers with their advertising dollars. Quite an enduring partnership, this telemarketer/magazine-publisher consortium.
One of Petersen’s editors put the issue (of corporate ethics and corporate responsibility) into dismal perspective: In the September 1995 issue of Petersen’s Kit Car magazine (page 4), editor Steve Temple defended Petersen Publishing’s refusal to reject dishonest or unscrupulous advertisers, with this rationale: “Regarding certain suspect companies, I occasionally hear the question ’How can you let them advertise?’ Well, that’s not how most magazines operate. You might liken a publishing company to a hotel owner. When a couple reserves a room, we don’t ask for a personal reference or marriage certificate. Of course, if they tear the place apart or don’t pay the bills, they’ll eventually get kicked. out.” (end of quote).
The publishers’ lunging for megabuck display ads from these telemarketers is a kick-in-the-teeth, a glaring breach of trust for automotive magazine purchasers like you; if you’re like most motorcar enthusiasts, you feel that you can more-or-less rely upon what you see and read in the magazines; if so, you’d better guess again: you cannot. It’s also a betrayal of the magazines’ honest and reputable advertisers—the silent majority—who are forced to share space with the boiler-room bunco artists that some of the auto-enthusiast-magazine publishers so fondly (and profitably) embrace. I predict that within the next few weeks or months, the enthusiast magazines will be… persuaded… to run favorable feature articles about this Sunshine State operation, and will justify their favorable coverage by claiming that they’re convinced that this latest mirror-image of Classic Motor Carriages/Fiberfab/ CARS/Champion Auto Works/Auto Resolution model-lineup is made up of charter members of the Mother Theresa Fan Club, and that they’ve received favorable feedback from ISM’s delighted customers. They’ll probably even publish “Letters to the Editor” from among the barrage of happy-camper correspondence they’ll have received in a carefully-choreographed letter-writing campaign. And you won’t be treated to a single letter from among the hundreds that they’ve received over the years from the anguished and abused and swindled victims of CMC/Fiberfab/CARS/Champion Auto Works. In fact, I’ll bet the farm that all those complaint letters have long-since been permanently disposed of. Can’t risk possessing evidence of collaboration, you see. And if my prediction comes true… remember where you read your first warning.
And this situation is never going to improve as long as you and other motorcar enthusiasts remain unconcerned and silent and deem the efforts required to protest these publishers’ “damn-our-readers, full-speed-ahead” policies to be someone else’s responsibility. That ’someone else’ is YOU. The first thing you can do to help to effect change is to divert your magazine-spending dollars to those publishers who take substantive steps to provide you with the information you need to be able to discern the villains from the good guys. First and foremost, any publisher who steps forward and clearly declares a consumer-oriented change of direction—including refusing ad space to those firms whose product quality is unacceptable and/or whose modus operandi is unlawful, abusive, fraudulent—and with a clear declaration that their automotive editors henceforth have a free hand editorially, without being under the thumb of the advertising department, should be promptly rewarded with your subscription dollars and your letter of praise. Dammit, are you listening? Take the time to write to the magazines’ President or CEO (not the editors) and let them know how you feel about these concerns. The name and address of each magazine’s Chief Executive Officer is posted on the staff listings column near the front of every magazine. The time for you to become involved is now!
Curt Scott, Publisher
The Complete Guide to Specialty Cars
The Complete Guide to Cobra Replicas
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