If your inbox is anything like mine, it is overflowing with “Hot Tips on Cars to Collect” or “Which SUVs to buy now before their prices take off.”

Let’s make one thing clear. If your primary reason to be in the collector car hobby is to make money buying and selling cars, then you are not a hobbyist. You are a dealer.

Nearly 40 years ago, before the Alfa Romeo Market Letter, I was General Manager of Ron Tonkin Grand Turismo. My job was to make sure we made money on every deal we did. I didn’t care if Dinos or Daytonas were over- or underpriced. I just knew if I had someone who would pay me $165k for a Daytona, my job was to find one for $150k or less. And I did.

A memorable deal was when I traded a seller who had a 3,000-mile GTC/4 straight across for two brand new 328 GTs we had on the showroom floor. I already had a home for the C/4 and the dealership cleared $20k. I didn’t care that the C/4 was appreciating and the 328s were depreciating. I just knew I could make the dealership some money.

After I left Tonkin, I got my own dealer’s license and opened “The Alfa Romeo Exchange.” My ads for “Alfas Wanted” were prominently placed next to another new dealer, Mark Hyman, in Hemmings Motor News.

I was sending 20 or so cars a month to Europe in 40-foot “hi-cube” containers, in packages of six.

I would buy anything I thought I could make a buck on, from Alfas to TR6s to vintage Land Rovers to a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. (This was part of a barn-find package in Vermont that included a decrepit Alfa 6C2500 cabriolet. The seller insisted I take the Caddy or he wouldn’t sell me the Alfa. I gave the car and its title to the car hauler and told him I never wanted to see it again.)

The words “future collectible” or “appreciating classic” never crossed my mind.

As the Alfa Market Letter evolved into Sports Car Market, I gave up my dealer’s license, as I felt it was becoming a conflict of interest. I stopped buying purely for resale. I became transparent about the deals I did, printing the purchase price and eventually the sale price in the magazine.

Now, I buy cars that interest me and are fairly priced. I’m not looking for a bargain or something that is on someone’s hot list. My goal is to buy, refurbish to my driving standards and then sell when I am done learning what a car has to teach me.

Rather than swinging for the fences, my transactions are all financial bunts. I make or lose a few dollars on each deal. Usually, there are no grand slams or strikeouts.

I bought my 1965 Volvo 122S for $10,000, as I wanted to learn what a 122 with the Borg-Warner automatic was like.

I spent another $10,000 on it, getting the suspension just the way I wanted it. (I’ve owned several 122s and when properly set up they are delightful cars to drive.) While it was an enjoyable car, the archaic transmission takes a lot of the fun out of the driving. So, I sold it for about $18,000. I lost a couple thousand dollars, but that was my tuition.

Recently I bought a wonderful 928 for $29,928. I put about $8k into it. When I was done learning what the car had to teach me, I had Matt Crandall (911r) sell the car on BaT. After paying seller fees, I brought in about $40k from the sale. I made a couple of bucks, but more important, I had scratched the itch of owning a 928, something I have wanted to do for a long time. Are 928s going up in value? I don’t care, I bought mine for me, not for the market.

You won’t find me picking out cars from anyone’s “Six Geo Metros You Have to Drive” list, or bidding on 308 GT4s because “they will be the next Ferrari to take off in the market.”

If you are buying cars because they are on someone’s “hot list,” then you are buying them because you expect to make money, not because you are looking forward to the driving experience.

I only buy what interests me, and I pay a fair market price with no expectation of appreciation.

That makes me a collector.

 

10 Comments

  1. Thomas Taylor

    Love it! What a great attitude, Keith. The market flippers are an annoyance. More power to the collectors!

  2. Rand Wintermute

    A more appropriate word for “Dealer” is “Speculator”,… a dangerous game with
    Much at stake; better to be curious and enjoy owning the character of other marques not experienced by the average collector ….you are commended for looking out side the box
    Of the average typical model … so many other
    Great cars to discover and so
    Little time . Case in point , is a MB SLK I just acquired , with factory 6 speed ….superior to the 3 Boxsters I have owned , yet undiscovered !
    There are many undiscovered models of many Marques . Keep on the hunt !

  3. David Andersen

    Great post, Keith. Couldn’t agree more. The collector car hobby in recent years has become all about the money for too many enthusiasts. Everybody’s a flipper now, or wants to be. Even most of the car guys I hang out with, all they seem to want to talk about is what the collector car market is doing, or what certain cars are selling for on BaT, or how valuable their car has become so now they “can’t drive it.” Sheesh, really?! I’m with you, in it to enjoy owning and driving different cars from different marques, and to hell with market values.

  4. Keith, I really appreciate your approach. I seem to run across two types of attitudes lately the ones wanting me to sell into the buying as they are trading cars like mad and the other who never wants to let any go. Although, I look back at some of the cars I have let go as the value is much more, I am at peace with it and it gives me something to talk about.

    I currently have a 1969 427 Corvette Cpe that I have been farming work out for work now for 20 years. I have recently had it shipped here to the DC area and in the two times I have taken it out, have been two of the most stressed driving experiences I have had since gaining my lic at 16. I have had alot of interest now that the market is catching up with my build (Built 427, EFI, 6sp, C6 brakes, 18in rims, Crazy Le Mans blue paint with pearl etc.). I think that I am ready to let go, not because of the money, but I have seen my vision come to life and have a hard time enjoying it now since it took so long to happen, especially in sharing with the roads here.

    Thanks again for sharing your outlook.

  5. Carl Dreher

    I love your attitude. Three cheers!

  6. Tim+Gallagher

    Amen says a collector

  7. I have gone thru a bunch of cars for most of the same reasons you have. Occasionally I have bought a car without driving one and immediately regretted it (Acura NSX, my size 14EE feet prevented me from driving the car at all) but I learned from each car…and had fun

  8. Our misadventure in Vietnam made certain I didn’t flunk weed-out classes. And UAW wages for two second shift stints on the line a week were enough to pay my costs. But my last five years I worked closer to campus restoring major CCCA and a couple of Milestone cars. That was my other education.

    Forty years on, I sent my MGTC to a younger friend in New Zealand. I sold and auctioned the two that became a financial responsibility. They more than paid for and rewarded my passions. Now I’d love to find a good home at a bargain price for one of my Giuliettas near the Alps, because when commercial air travel and COVID become better managed than survivable, I’d most of all want to add a lot more memories driving fun and familiar cars on their roads.

    • David W Edgar

      Hello Kieth, the GTC/4 you mentioned belonged to my Father. I am guilty for most of the miles that was put on that Orange beast. Many a mile to the coast and back from Eugene, what a car. Experience with GTC/4 kindled my own purchase of a new Mondial 3.2 in 1988 from you when at Tonkin, a very pleasurable experience. Soon after that he got the bug to trade the GTC/4 for 328s.
      I’ve been a dealer off and on over the past 30 year. My problem I was more of a collector than a dealer, you can’t make money when you fall in love with it.
      Thanks for all your hard work and dedication to hobbyist and dealers alike.

  9. Really good post Keith. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.