Manhattan Beach’s Adrien Durban Seeks Out Stories in Vintage European Cars … and Shepherds Them Back Home

The wheels of a dream.

  • Category
  • Interviewed by
    Sara Debevec
  • Photographed by
    Shane O’Donnell

Adrien Durban could never sit still in class. He knew at an early age he wanted to be a formula race car mechanic. His parents, who owned a car dealership in France, supported this idea and sent him to Bugatti School—one of the best technical schools for sports cars in Europe.

In the U.S., Adrien learned how to fix, build, create and design engines and cars. He also learned he was never going to be a formula race car mechanic. Self-admittedly he is too clumsy, cutting his fingers all the time and even gluing his eye.

So when his father asked him if he wanted to help with the family business, Adrien didn’t think twice. He worked with them in Strasbourg until the business sold in 2010, prompting his move to L.A. to study English at Santa Monica College.

Now, nine years later, he has found a home in Manhattan Beach and a Hawthorne-based business selling European classic cars. Much of his inventory finds willing owners in the continent the cars were manufactured in.

What was the first vintage car you ever bought here?

I love cars. Also, my cousin is a race driver, so I grew up around a lot of different cars. When I was here studying English, I bought an old Jaguar—a 1969 Jaguar E type convertible. I shipped it to France and made some money. That is how it all started. I then opened my business in 2012, buying cars here and shipping them to France. I was studying them, quickly made connections with big collectors and some French actors who became my clients.

Tell us about the business of selling vintage cars.

The car sales process starts with buying a car from a private party. I have 55 people—not working with me but giving me leads. They are everywhere: in Texas, New York, Missouri, Florida. Every day I receive leads from these people.

If the car I am interested in is in Florida, then I go to Florida, talk to the owner of the car and try to find out the history of the car because that’s very important. How many owners has it had? Has the car been restored? Is it original mileage? What about color change? These are the kind of stories that I like. After that we negotiate, I buy the car, bring it here, and then I resell it.

What are some of your favorite stories you’ve come across through your cars?

Two years ago I got a lead on an early 1954 Jaguar XK-120 that was supposedly not restored. When I arrived at the location, I met a 50-year-old man who told me that the car belonged to his father who passed away 20 years ago.

It turns out that the family drove the car for five years, from 1954 to 1959, and then the car sat in the garage. The car had 5,000 original miles, was unrestored, came from the original owner and everything was there—every single tool, owner’s manual, service book … even the window stickers from the dealership were there. The car was just gorgeous!

And that’s what collectors like. They like unrestored cars, which is what makes their value. You have two types of collectors: people who want a concourse car, fully restored, and they are capable of spending $200,000 or $300,000 on them. In the end they make them better than they were made in the factory. You also have the other collectors who want original stuff with original paint, original mileage and full history from the beginning of the car up until now.

Do you see people driving older cars in the South Bay?

Yes, I do! I specialize in Porsches, Mercedes, Jaguars and BMWs. That’s what I’m known for: European luxury brands. You must know that one of the biggest dealerships in America was Vasek Polak, and they had dealerships in Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Palos Verdes.

In your opinion, where does the fascination with vintage cars come from?

Usually the reason people buy these cars is to remind themselves of their childhood. They buy them to remember what it was like seeing those new Porsches drive down the streets when they were a kid. Now they’re in their 50s, 60s or 70s, and they just want to buy something that reminds them of their childhood.

I would say 50% of the owners drive their cars and 50% don’t. They like to have a few cars in different colors, and they just like to look at them. For example, they like to have 10 different cars in different colors next to each other in perfect shape, but they don’t dare drive them because to fix them costs a lot of money.

Have you experienced those types of collectors?

Oh, yes. I went to New Mexico a year ago, and this guy had 50 Jaguar E-Types and 50 Porsche 911s. I have pictures of this place. You have crazy people who buy cars to just keep them forever.

So is it an art?

It’s art, actually! You also have a lot of investors who just buy cars so they could invest in them. They come to me and ask me what car they should get, and I offer them my advice. We buy a car for them, and then we keep the car at their place for two, three years. Then they call me and they say, “OK, I want to sell it. I’m ready.” Then we sell the car, and they make their profit. But they are not real car collectors; they are investors.

What are the prices of these cars?

Range-wise you can go from $15,000 up to $3 million or $5 million. I sold my priciest car, a 1961 Porsche 356 Carrera, for $500,000. This car was a project. It wasn’t running. They only made 32 of those in the world, and there are probably only 16 left. The rest have been destroyed during a race or something like this because it was a race car.

What do you classify as a vintage car?

Anything that is 30 years old is considered vintage. Then you have vintage collectible cars, which are 30+ years old with a low production, good history, nice coloring, nice color combo. That’s what makes the value of the car in the end.

How much can you make if you invest in a vintage car?

Right now the market is pretty soft and slow. It’s going a bit down, actually. But over the past 10 years classic car business hit 400%. I’ve known people who bought a car worth $500,000 and sold it for $1.5 million a couple years later.

Why is it so exciting to have an old car in your possession?

First of all, it belongs to the story of the brand. For example, Porsche never changed their design since 1965. So you want to own a piece of history if you like the brand. It’s also low-production, which means it’s a rare car. So if you have one, you’re going to be one of the few people in the world who own it.

I sold one car to the Porsche museum and one to the Jaguar museum. The Jaguar was a convertible, and I like the convertibles because they have a greater value. I like the leather they use, the shape of the seats, the wood steering wheel and the engine because it’s something you can fix and repair all the time.

Right now they don’t fix car parts. They just replace them. Back then those were still the cars you could work on, and you’d always have something to do with the car. The process of taking care of those cars is very interesting, and working on the car becomes part of the experience.

What’s your plan for the future?

Over the past years I’ve been working with cars from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, but right now I am also working on the cars from the ’80s and ’90s because they are becoming collectible cars as well. I really like my 1979 Porsche 911 SC and 1974 BMW 2002 Tii, as they are in perfect shape. I’m now building my knowledge on the ’80s cars so I could propose those cars to my customers and get more cars into their collections. I have a branch in France, and I have one here. I would also like to open a branch in Germany and Italy. So I am working with people who want to join the team and work with me.

What is your favorite car?

I would say Jaguar E-Type Series 1 convertible and 1965 Porsche 911. Why? I like the design of Porsche, and that’s the first year of the 911 ever produced. When it comes to the E-Type, it’s one of the most beautiful cars ever produced. Even Enzo Ferrari was saying that Jaguar E-Type is one of the most beautiful cars ever built.

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