In the pre-internet age, looking for sports cars was simple. There was Hemmings, AutoTrader (both regional and national) and the local classifieds.
Time was not of the essence. When we started the Alfa Romeo Market Letter in 1988, we would ask Alfa fanatics across the country to mail us the classifieds from their local papers. We would end up with 100 or so unique Alfa ads every month, often with a significant time delay between the original placing of the ad and when it showed up in ARML.
Often, despite the lag, the cars were still available.
If I found something in Hemmings I was interested in, I would make a phone call and request pictures. They would then be mailed to me. A couple of weeks would pass. I was lucky if I got six snaps, one of each corner, one of the interior and one under the hood. I don’t recall ever getting one of the underside of a car.
Craigslist began in 1995, and our world changed. Its original intent was to be locally oriented. However, in 2006 Search Tempest (originally named Craig’s Helper) was launched and searched every CL listing nationwide.
I recall the first time I used “SearchTempest.” I typed in “Alfa Romeo” and suddenly every Alfa listed on every CL site in America popped up. I was in nirvana.
Of course, the rise of Craigslist led to the demise of local newspaper classified advertising and the disappearance of the print AutoTrader.
eBay Motors was started in 2000. Suddenly, not only were pictures of for-sale cars available online, but you could go ahead and buy a car online. While at first the world was dubious about anyone buying a car sight-unseen, eBay Motors has gone on to great success and is among the most highly profitable parts of the online auction site.
In today’s world, I gravitate towards the sites that make searching and notification the simplest.
For instance, when I was looking for our S4 Alfa Spider, I had set my eBay searches to notify me when any 1991-94 Spider was listed.
As there are few checks and balances for eBay listings, I would never consider buying a car from eBay without some sort of secondary verification. In this case, the seller was an SCM member, and the car was located where I could have someone look at it for me. It still arrived needing the a/c compressor rebuilt (“just needs a charge” is never true) but otherwise it was exactly as described.
Autozin has an excellent notification system as well. As I go through various collector-car mood swings and my desire of the moment changes from Jaguar V12s to Volvo 122s to Jensen Interceptors to Mercedes 250Cs to Land Rover Discoverys, I simply change my notifications.
A key to the success for any online site is that its developers make it easy for you to get updates when a car you are looking for is listed.
As the volume of cars available has increased, so have our requirements for information that can lead us to an informed buying decision. When I see, “new floor pans welded in pretty well,” a car gets crossed off my list.
What is your preferred way of looking for a collector car today? Can you make a decision after looking at 200 photos, or do you need to have a car inspected in person? Let me know, I’m curious. Thanks.