Confessions of a Car Guy
What I may have learned over the years in collecting classic cars
Many years ago, in a land far away (well, Ohio), I started what one might call a lifelong binge. No, it wasn’t ice cream or hamburgers or Pepsi. It was buying cars. I think it all started when I saw those West Coast kids driving up and down the Pacific Coast Highway in their little English sports cars. Lots of them drove Triumph TR3s or Austin Healeys, but my ride of choice was the MGA. I ended up buying two of them, one right after the other, and both needed significant work.
I remember how proud I was driving over to my then-girlfriend and now-wife’s house to pick her up for a date. I had ensured that the car got painted before introducing “her” to my other her, but much of the restoration work remained undone. I expected some praise for my investment savvy in buying a classic. Instead, my human lady called my rolling lady “cardboard and rust.” Maybe she was right. After all, the leather-covered door panels did almost fall off during our first drive.
As time went on, I moved from little English cars to American “muscle cars.” My first was a Mustang fastback with a four-speed on the floor. If you don’t know what that means, you’re obviously a “youngster.”
I then moved into my Pontiac Firebird phase. My pride and joy ended up being a bronze-colored Trans-Am with a gold bird painted on the hood. It was fast as greased lightening, to be sure. However, after seeing the gleam in my eye, the salesman convinced me that the fact that it had no air conditioning was somehow a good thing. You see, he told me that the cooling function cut into the raw horsepower of the beast and no self-respecting muscle car owner would abide that. He also pointed out that I was saving a good bit of money. That was the hottest and most uncomfortable couple of summers in my life.
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As I got older, my attention turned back to Europe and the great machines out of Germany. Much as with my encounter with the Pontiac salesman, my first buying experience of more upscale product line was ultimately not very pleasant. You see, when I asked about leather interior, which I thought to be standard on that type of car, he managed to convince me that the car would outlast the upholstery and therefore make resale more difficult. Anyway, the salesman continued, who would want to add the exorbitant cost to upgrade to leather to an already hefty bottom line?
I’m guessing you see where I’m going here. I bought my first couple of MGAs for a few hundred dollars, but both needed so much work I broke the bank to bring them up to any reasonable state of repair. My decisions to listen to the two salesmen and save a few bucks backfired and I lost my shirt on the resale of those two cars. Bottom line, of course, is the old “you get what you pay for.” There is, as they say, the cost of a product or service and then there is the value.
I was so smitten with those darned cars that I listened to the cost argument and didn’t think through the value proposition. The good news is that I’ve changed now and really try to focus on value. I’m proud to say that my wife will even let me visit the German car dealership by myself now (I think).
Phil Perkins is a writer, business owner and musician who lives in Richmond and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, with his wife, Sandi, and two pups named Skippy and Jeter. He is the author of several business books and two novellas about a legendary surfer in the 1960s.
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