Keith’s Blog: New Year’s Resolutions For a Car Collector

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As we wait for the ball to drop in Times Square, it’s a good time to reflect on all the good, bad and insanely stupid things we’ve done in the name of car collecting this past year, and how we might become better collectors in the future.

Here are my resolutions. Let’s check back in December 2014 to see how I’ve done.

First: Never fool yourself into believing that a car needs nothing. Unless you know the restorer, the mechanic and the owner, and have seen the car perform in a tour or rally, you have no idea what you are buying. I’ve bought “fully restored” cars that had wipers that didn’t wipe, heaters that didn’t heat, distributors that didn’t distribute spark, and brakes that weren’t interested in braking.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy a car — just that your price takes into account the reconditioning that will be necessary — and it will be.

Second: There is no such thing as a “simple, driving-level” restoration. Most of the cars we deal with are 40 or more years old. If you have to do a “simple” restoration, it means the car has been neglected or improperly restored in the past. Once you start unraveling the ball of string, you will never get it back together. If you paint the car, the chrome looks bad. If you do the chrome, all the window gaskets show their age. If you attend to a few rust bubbles, you’ll find more.

And asking a good shop to do a “driver level” (i.e., “cheapskate”) restoration is asking them to go against their own standards. When you get your “affordable” paint job back and see the orange peel, runs and overspray, and the shop tells you, “This is what you asked for,” will you been happy? I know that in these situations, I always wish I had been willing to spend more for an end result that didn’t make me crazy every time I looked at it.

And finally: Be truthful with yourself about why you are buying a car. “Red and affordable” are two good reasons, always — but once you get the car home, is it a car you really want to live with?

For me, I’ve got Alfas in my blood. So when I bring home an MG or a Triumph, I need to be upfront with myself and anticipate that the driving experience these English cars offer will be different from what I truly enjoy. And if I don’t enjoy the driving experience, the car will soon be on its way.

During the past few years, I have hopscotched all over the collector-car map, buying BMWs, Saabs, Volvos, MGs, Chevy Novas and more. I get excited when I discover them, I like doing my research and I love the negotiation that leads to the score. The best part is flying out to drive my new trophy home. Because of my nature, I have to fix the cars up and make everything work, which is generally expensive.

But after all the energy, effort and money, the driving experience simply don’t measure up to what I have come to expect from my Alfas.

So now, when buying a car, I ask myself, “Will I really like driving this when I get it home? Will it offer me an experience that is different and satisfying?” It’s a question to ask yourself. For instance, if you’re a Corvette guy and a great MG TD comes up at the auction block, and you think you should buy it because it is cute, will you really ever drive this no-power, no-room, no-brakes and no-suspension bit of British history?

Good luck in your car collecting, and I’ll report back to you as the year unfolds. I hear there is a Hemi ‘Cuda resto-mod coming up for auction in Arizona, in my favorite ‘70s color, Sub-Lime, and I’ve never owned one, and the estimate looks affordable, so…

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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