Selling a Needy BMW 318i — and Buying an MGA Twin-Cam or Datsun 2000?

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After more than a half-decade of use, the 1995 BMW 318i’s time with us is done. The car served as Alex’s daily driver, and she put more than 50,000 miles on it. 

It’s a four-door with 5-speed. I recently spent over $2,000 replacing a computer board in the car, and I thought we were good for another couple of years.

But then it started misfiring. I took it to Boyd Motor Werks, and they diagnosed a slight leak at the rear of the head gasket.

There is no evidence of water in the oil or oil in the water. Over time, a little water gets into the rear-most sparkplug well, and the plug shorts. When the water is removed, the car runs on all four cylinders.

The solution is to pull the head and put in a head gasket, but with more than 150,000 miles on the car, I think we are just done.

As I remarked in an earlier column, I’ve had it maintained by the book. It has good tires and brakes, an excellent interior and good paint. The a/c blows cold. The stereo is modern with a big sub-woofer. Everything works. I wouldn’t be uncomfortable setting off across the country in it.

But the reality is that it has needs, and they are not going to heal themselves.

I thought it was a $4,500 car. But with a leaky head gasket, I figure it is a $2,000 car. If you’re interested, drop me a note at keith.martin@sportscarmarket.com. For the right person, it’s a great deal. In any event, it will be going away.  

What’s the Next Car?

There’s an empty slot in the garage, and I’m musing about what to put in it. Two cars on the current Bring A Trailer auction have captured my interest. BaT founder Randy Nonnenberg has a knack for putting exactly what I am looking for directly in front me — even if I didn’t know I wanted one until I saw the listing.

The first car is a 1959 MGA Twin-Cam. My gurus looked it over, and they say it’s a decent older restoration and that anything under $45,000 would be a fair price.

I drove a nice Twin-Cam that belongs to local SCMer Dave Stewart, and it was a revelation. The engine revved easily past 6,000 rpm, and the 4-wheel disc brakes actually stopped the car from 60 mph in less than a football field.

I’m interested in this car for two reasons: first, my second sports car was an MGA. I was 17, and in 1968, I set out to drive from San Francisco to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. You won’t be surprised to learn that I never made it.

I am thinking of reprising this drive in the spring of 2016, starting in San Francisco and retracing my route through Twin Falls, ID, to Estes Park, CO, and home again to SF. There’s one part I don’t plan on re-living — having a connecting rod go through the side of the block.

Maybe I’ll make it an MGA-only caravan. SCMers with MGAs would be invited — but of course I’d need one myself.

A second reason to buy this car is its twin-cam engine, which would fit in well with my collection’s Alfa Romeo DOHC motif.

An Auction-Price Side Note

By the way, while I’m poking around in the world of English cars, I could also be interested in an older, fettled restoration of an Austin-Healey 3000 – either the Spartan BT7 2+2 or the more luxurious BJ8. I have no interest in a freshly restored trailer queen. I think an honest driver should be in the $40,000 range.

Which leads me to comment on the growing gap between the ultra-high prices paid for restored-to-visual-perfection #1+ auction cars and the reality of pricing for the #2 and #3 cars that make up most of the market.

The deep-pocketed collectors who buy these perfect cars at auction are often looking for affordable trinkets for their massive warehouses already filled with perfect cars. They can pay whatever it takes for instant gratification.

People like you and me buy and sell the #2 cars with hobbyist restorations, and we have to make thoughtful decisions about how much to allocate for an old car. Hence, the wide disparity in the prices.

Several times a week, I tell disappointed owners that a perfect MG TD or similar car bringing $50,000 at auction doesn’t make their driver-condition examples worth $45,000.

Time for a Datsun?

The second car I’m looking at is a 1968 Datsun 2000 roadster. So far, it seems like it will be much less expensive — perhaps 1/3 the cost of the Twin-Cam and well under $15,000.

It’s attractive in factory black but clearly has a number of incorrect details that I would want to attend to. I’m not sure how much of a project I am up for, but then again, price solves all problems.

We at SCM are very aware of the growing interest in Japanese cars. Since I sold my 35,000-mile 240Z a decade ago, I haven’t had a Japanese car in the collection. This 2000 might be a good start.

Both these auctions end on Wednesday, March 27, so if you have strong thoughts, don’t wait to send them.

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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