Was it genetics or surroundings that gave Jamie Kitman his love of cars? His grandparents on his father’s side didn’t drive. His grandmother on his mother’s side didn’t; his maternal grandfather drove, but badly. He was brought home from the hospital in an MGA, so there was enthusiasm on his parent’s part, but that came and went.
At ten months old, while riding with his parents on the FDR parkway, baby Jamie spied a Beetle
and uttered his first words “Volksendriven.” From there the gateway drugs of Matchbox, Dinky and Corgi cars followed. By the age of four, the family had moved from Brooklyn to Leonia, NJ— home of BMC, later British Leyland. A babysitter who worked at the BMC office fed young Kitman’s addiction by bring him sales brochures for Healeys and MGs.
In 1964 his father, television critic, humorist, and author Marvin Kitman, ran for president in a satirical mock campaign with Land Rover presumably supplying the campaign vehicles. Grist for the mill. A year’s subscription to Autocar as a birthday/Hanukkah present meant more fuel on the fire.
The car Jamie truly aspired to own was an MGA. So his first taste of car collecting started with a four-way purchase of a $50.00 MGA that had been in a fire with some friends ($12.50 each.) It got close to being a runner when the decision was made to part the car out. The five partners doubled their money.
Kitman is pretty sure this was the last time he made money on a car for at least 30 years.
At 16, before he could even drive, he put down serious money on an MGA—$250.00.
His alternative high school gave him credit for working on the car, doing mechanical and cosmetic restoration work. After college he had two Brits in his stable: the ubiquitous MGA and a Triumph TR4. From there he ran through a collection of Volvo 122s, wagons, and Opel 1900s (the poor man’s BMW.)
In the 1980s, when Jamie was entering law school on a student loan, he took his first semester’s tuition and picked up a Lotus Elan. This was his daily driver through the three years he was studying in Boston. On a road trip to visit a friend in the dead of winter, after paying a toll, the window failed in the down position. Shortly afterwards a salt truck passed and gave Kitman a taste, literally, of what the highway feels like when it is hit with road salt. That plus the cold made for a memorable trip.
As he finished his studies, that pesky law school still wanted Jamie’s first semester’s tuition.
So the Lotus had to go.
Law degree in hand – but was the future set in stone? It didn’t seem to be. Jamie had always wanted to write about cars. In high school he wrote pretend reviews on favorite machines. This continued into college, writing the only car column to ever appear in the newspaper of NYC Columbia University, the Columbia Daily Spectator.
Jamie loved cars, but he was concerned with the environment and safety. This put him beyond the pale for car journalists of the time. Driving his latest acquisition—a very old MGB—across country, he stopped in Michigan to meet with the editors of Car & Driver. He was told, “You’re a good writer, but you don’t like cars very much. If you ever come up with something nice to say, get in touch.” He was completely dejected… no sad endings, though. Soon he had a column in Car magazine that led to writing for Automobile.
The law thing was still happening, and Kitman landed a job at a heavy-duty firm. At the same time, he used his powers of persuasion to convince Automobile magazine to give him a Corvette and let him drive around the country visiting every baseball park in America, feeding several of his great loves at once.
Halfway across the country in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jamie realized he was due back in NYC in three days. But the 1986 playoff game between the Boston Red Sox and the Anaheim Angels was happening. He couldn’t do both. What to do? At a roadside phone he called the office.
“Sorry I can’t make it Monday.”
“WHAT!? How about Tuesday?”
“How about Wednesday?”
“Actually I’m never coming back.”
Unemployed? Well, not really. Within the year he was both writing and putting his legal mind to work managing rock bands – the law was never the only thing. He wasn’t going to be a lawyer lawyer. Kitman likened it to learning a martial art; it was interesting, and he saw how it would help him with the things he really wanted to do. He had a full-blown car addiction, and was going to need cash and flexibility to feed it. Managing bands and writing about cars was the perfect multi-tasking combination.
Investing in what you know
Jamie has no stocks… he has rolling stock. The collection is better than a low-interest savings account, or shoving chemicals in your system, or being a degenerate gambler, and it’s a whole lot more fun. Occasionally, you are in the right place, at the right time, with the right car, and you make a profit.
Having driven every high-end exotic for his work gives him a greater appreciation for his hoard.
When driving a high dollar test car, he may get a thumbs up—or, the universal middle finger, and not be allowed to merge into traffic. When he drives his Morris Minor pick up, much more than likely he gets a thumbs up, and the right of way.
Many in his collection might be considered orphan cars, but in one way or another they all speak to Jamie, in many different languages.
There are the cliché cars that interested him as a young kid, and there are the ones that came on his radar later in life through different experiences. Cars that he has gotten over and ones that will stick with him for life; ones that make the average person stand around scratching their head.
Everything is there to be driven, not dragged around to be displayed on a podium.
From an International Travelall to a Riley Kestrel with stops in Sweden (Volvo, Saab), Italy (Lancia), France (Peugeot) and Germany (BMW) in between, the collection covers a lot of real estate. Of course there has to be an MGA and Loti with windows that work.
The collection, like Kitman, is an eclectic, diverse mix, and they get more interesting as each day passes.
Enter the French
One of those cars that people might scratch their heads about in Kitman’s collection is his GTI.
Not the German hot hatch – but something with a touch of Gaelic flare – a 205 GTI Peugeot.
Kitman had started to write for automotive magazines at the same time he was managing bands, so he found himself in England a great deal. All the people at CAR magazine were wild for the little French ride, so Kitman wanted to experience it firsthand.
He got hold of one and drove with a booking agent from London to Manchester to see his band ‘They Might be Giants,’ (an American alternative rock band.) The first hour and a half was spent in London traffic, but once he cleared the city he knew right away he was at the wheel of something super special. It was immediately slotted onto the list of cars he’d one day own.
Jamie would have to wait a good long time to check that box on his list. When the 25-year DOT/EPA exemption came along, the two could finally be united.
Santo Spadaro knew a mechanic in Italy who knew of an unmolested, low mileage example. The car was given a proper going-over; anything found wanting was taken care of. It then took a boat ride to the shores of New Jersey, where Jamie picked it up and drove it home.
Kitman fell in love with the feel of the steering; it was a swift little beast, and for a small machine it actually had some room in it. At under 2000 lbs with 136 hp, out on the open road it holds its own with modern traffic.
You have to be present when you drive it, but that’s why you choose to drive something like this. Kitman feels it drives better, it’s faster, it handles better and it’s a more handsome machine than the VW GTI. So you have a no-holds-barred battle of the Italian designers. Pininfarina doing the French car and Giorgetto Giugiaro doing the German car. Who’s the winner?
The 205 GTI is for the truly committed car guy, but not someone who truly has to be committed.
Kitman feels the Peugeot is the fruit of getting to experience all the different cars that many American buyers don’t get a chance to drive. There’s a strong attachment to the little French car that could… Jamie feels if he had to only have one classic car, this might be the one, even edging out his beloved MGA.
You may still be scratching your head, but if you spend time behind the wheel of a 205 GTI you’ll be shaking your head and thinking to yourself, “Why didn’t I get one when I had the chance?”