Collector car shows are virtually the second office of Bryan W. Shook.
He grew up attending car shows and restoring cars with his father. Right now he’s working on a full restoration of a 1967 Camaro convertible. And when he’s not in his garage, he represents car collectors from around the world.
Earlier this year, the Dethlefs-Pykosh Law Group attorney put together a $1.5 million deal to bring racecars from Europe to the U.S. He also researched the history of a ’53 Corvette for a client, and the vehicle eventually sold for a near-world record price: $660,000.
Shook has worked with everything from horseless carriages to modern roadsters and all the muscle cars in between. His clients face a range of issues involving ownership, vehicle history and acquisition. “A lot of times in the classic car world, cars are bought through very loose partnerships,” says Shook. “This is nearly 100 percent a cash business. We’re talking six-, seven-, eight-figure transactions done in cash.”
It is, however, a hobby that can be ripe for fraud. Shook’s clients include buyers who discover that the vehicle they just bought was misrepresented to them. One scheme involves what’s called a re-body. “Some unscrupulous restorers will take another car, [a] much better quality or condition vehicle, and take the VIN number off of the rusty one, and put it on the good one and then build the car around that VIN number, so that it resembles the original,” says Shook, who has even been called to help police figure out where the other VINs could be or how title washing may have occurred.
Some of his clients choose to revoke acceptance of such a car. If they choose to sue, though, Shook, who has experience as pro hac counsel in 14 states, is more than prepared. He’s usually able to work out a pretrial settlement. By combining his knowledge of antique and collector car laws—which vary by state—and the Uniform Commercial Code, “I understand how the fraud occurs, and I understand it to the same level as the defendant does. So it’s really difficult for them to spin a story when I know how they did it,” he says. “If you know how the bank was robbed, it’s easier to prove the case.”
Fraud cases aren’t the only thing on Shook’s dashboard, though. One client was driving to a car show in Hershey when police pulled him over and cited him for not having the proper license plate on his antique vehicle. Turns out the plate was fine—it was just the 1907 original. “The vehicle was registered and licensed in Virginia, [which] permitted the use of certain style of license plates that the Pennsylvania local authorities were not familiar with and didn’t recognize. So eventually we got the case dismissed,” he says.
Shook began steering his career toward this niche practice area during his time at Widener University School of Law in Harrisburg. Every time he heard of automotive law, he says, it dealt with personal injury and insurance, rather than the cars themselves. “I said to myself, ‘there’s a whole area of automotive law that’s just not discussed,’” says Shook.
Joining Dethlefs-Pykosh in Camp Hill after graduation made for a perfect fit. “We’ve got two of the largest antique collector car venues in the world within 15 miles of my office,” Shook says. “Carlisle and Hershey play host to the largest and most well-attended collector car events in the world.”
Shook’s clients hail from places as far away as Germany, Puerto Rico and Uruguay, but his cars are all-American. He calls his 1959 Chevy truck his hot rod. He also owns a 1972 Chevrolet El Camino, a 1976 Corvette, several vintage Harley-Davidsons and that ’67 Camaro. Shook and his wife—who has her own 1956 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL—welcomed their first child in February, and now Shook is looking forward to his own father-son car show trips.
“All these little aspects of [my practice] make it so that I really enjoy going to work,” he says. “I play with cars all day. Maybe not physically with wrenches, but I play with cars all day.”