Keith’s Blog: Buy – Learn – Repent – Move on

I’ve bought and sold a lot of cars over the years.

They tended to come in bunches. There was an MG period, then a Porsche period, then a Rover period and so on.

Some more-disciplined collectors have a linear approach. For example, having one car of each year of Corvette production.

That’s never appealed to me.

My guiding principal has always seemed to be, “It’s red, I’ve never owned one and I can afford it.”

What I call the “stray cat approach” has its romantic attractions. You are always on the hunt, and your daily email from Craigslist, eBay or Bring A Trailer has you just one or two key strokes from adding something to your collection.

With this haphazard “safari style” of collecting comes a constant stream of unexpected adventures.

SCM’s Legal Files Wizard John Draneas once partnered with me to buy a two-stroke SAAB 96. Why? “Because it was cheap.” The car was hidden in the back of a barn in Missoula, Montana. We got about one-third of the way home before the engine seized.

I went through a Mercedes-Benz Ponton period. I started with a 219 that taught me that what I really wanted was a 220S. Having them both in the driveway at the same time was an expensive learning experience. Ultimately, I learned I didn’t want to collect 50-year-old German 4-door sedans.

During one dark time, I became fascinated with AMC Pacers. I sold a metallic green one I owned to PR guru Joe Molina of JMPR (his  partner in the car was insurance mogul McKeel Hagerty). Then I found an even better one – red with vinyl wood-grain on its sides, and a coveted “Navaho” interior. For a brief moment, I was King of Pacer Peak — okay, Pacer Hill.

In 2011 I went to the national MG meet in Reno. For the trip, I acquired three 1973 MGBs — two roadsters and a GT.  An intrepid team of SCMers including Miles Collier, Donald Osborne, John Draneas (he also seems to be a slow learner) and Thor Thorson joined me for the drive from Portland to Reno.

As I had poured thousands of dollars into them, the MGBs were reliable. However, I learned that they were worth exactly the same amount after I invested in them as they were before. In other words, nobody cared that I had great MGBs. I lost my shirt.  But driving there with my buddies sure was fun.

There have been Citroen ID 19s and Meharis, Mercury Colony Park Wagons and Chevy Novas. Now there is a Bradley GT sitting in Fort Lauderdale that is itching to begin its journey to Monterey.

My Land Rover period included a Disco, a Series III 88 and a Range Rover Classic. Those were sold (at either a small or huge loss), and now there’s a RHD turbo-diesel D90 in the garage.

My journey through Lotus Land included a RHD Elite I bought from Bob LeFlufy at an AutoClassic auction in Vancouver, British Columbia and drove home 300 miles to Portland. I learned that you must follow other cars very closely if your generator isn’t charging — while hoping the State Patrol won’t notice that you have no headlights.

The Elite was followed with a 1968 Elan convertible, then an Isuzu-based M100 and now our Elise, which I’ve owned twice.

Our 1963 Corvette Split-Window coupe was a great car, as was the 1991 C4 I drove to Anchorage, AK, from Portland.

My traipse through BMW Land included an early 2002 I bought from Steve Serio and a tii that SCMer Ned Scudder sold to me. I had a brief tryst with a lovely 633 CSi that Alex and I flew to Wenatchee, WA to pick up and drive home. There have been more than a few Isettas over the years —all of them equally horrible and entertaining machines.

While there have been plenty of V8 Ferraris including a 308 GTS and GT4s, our only 12-cylinder was a 330 America I found in another barn in Montana and drove home. I bought it for $22,000 and sold it for $26k — and was sure I had made the deal of a lifetime.

In the interest of brevity and attempting to appear somewhat sane, We’ll just skip over all the Alfas.

While I can’t claim any thoughtfulness or logic behind this winding, random timeline of old cars, I can say that each has provided me with a unique experience. I would be quite eager to repeat some of those experiences, but I would run from many like a startled cat.

If I had any advice for you in terms of your own collecting, it would be to buy with your heart first and your wallet second. You can always get around to earning a few more bucks to make up for any ill-advised decisions.

Nothing can substitute for the adventures you will have as you set off in a newly acquired vintage machine — without really knowing where it’s going to take you.

 

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.

Posted in Blogs, Keith Martin

5 comments

  1. Can’t believe I might be the first to respond…sounds to me like you have traded money and time for adventure and relationships…which would seem to be a fine formula for life, at least to me. Important affairs of the heart, life’s most vital emotions, should never be limited by logic or pure reason. That formula would lead to a world without Alfas and Ferraris and a host of others, or at least a world where they never sold.

    Keep buying, driving, writing.

    Wish you had posted a picture of that Pacer.

  2. Thanks Keith, I love your magazine but sometimes I think it champions the guys who make money buying and selling (often after sombody else has poured all their money and effort into the car). The real car heros are the guys that follow their heart and rescue the quirky old heaps that offer no upside, but never-the-less are part of automotive history worth preserving.

    As a former MB 219 owner, and who might have the world record for Land Rover losses, and who aspires to own the trifecta of a Rolls Royce Camargue, Aston Martin Lagonda, and a Citroen SM, I applaud your sentiment that you should collect with your heart first!

  3. Keith, you are doing this thing called life very well. By seeing the good in things, you keep trust in your heart. Does it really get any better than that?

  4. I got to drive the best known Pacer on the planet last October at the Barrett Jackson Vegas Auction. I was in the right place in the driver’s line and got the keys to the Wayne’s World Pacer. It was by far the most fun I’ve had driving a car across the block.

  5. Keith, as you know, thoughtfulness and logic go right out the window when the passion hits. There is no way I can ever own a fraction of the cars that push my buttons. I bought the 65 Corvette Coupe at Mecum Monterey that you featured in a 2 page spread in ACC in the fall of 2012, and every time I start it up and hear the rumble of the 396 through the side pipes, I don’t even care how much I paid or what it’s worth.

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