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.