At times, the SCM offices resemble an automotive confessional. Emails, texts, Facebook postings, faxes and sometimes even old-school, hand-written letters flood in — each missive asking for collector-car absolution or permission.

“Dear SCM, please forgive me as I have sinned and bought a car over the Internet without seeing it in person… again.”

“Keith, I am offered a great deal on a Ferrari. It’s a 308 GT4, friends tell me they are the last undervalued Ferrari, and they’re sure to jump in price soon. This one has been color changed from yellow to red. I’m told the engine was recently tuned by a specialist but they don’t have any paperwork, and the aftermarket sunroof looks great. Best of all, it’s really cheap! Do you agree this is a great first Italian Stallion for me?”

In the spirit of helping you find the SCM Way of car collecting, we’re sharing three chapters from our evolving catechism for car collectors. You’ll probably find sins, errors and omissions familiar to you.

Thou shalt have agreed value insurance

SCM has existed for 26 years, but we continue to be amazed at the number of collector-car owners who are not aware of insurance specifically designed for collector cars.

I recently got a letter from a gentleman whose 1962 Healey BN7 tri-carb was badly hit. The frame was bent, all body panels damaged, and it needed a total restoration. He had insured the car, which he described as at concours-level condition before the crash, as an occasional driver on his regular car policy. His insurance company decided it was worth $50,000, and that’s the end of the discussion.

He asked me if I can help him with the value of the car — and convince the insurance company that the real value is more like $100,000.

This horse is already out of the barn. The day job of those who insure regular cars is to minimize their losses. Essentially, when you agree to a modern-car insurer’s policy, you agree to take their value for your car if it is totaled.

With nearly every collector-car policy, you have an “agreed value.” You and the insurance company agree on what your collector car is worth, and if the car is totaled, you get written a check for that amount. Period. No questions asked.

The determination of value is done before you sign the policy, so that never becomes an issue. In fact, in a rising market, your challenge is to make sure that the agreed value of your car is in line with current market values.

As a general rule, the only advice I give to someone who has a regular car policy for their collector car — and who is involved in a dispute — is to hire an attorney. And make sure their other collector cars have an agreed-value policy.

Thou shalt not have a shop practice on your car

Another query we get frequently goes something like this: “A couple of years ago, I bought a Gullwing, my first expensive German car. The shop that takes care of my MGs and Triumphs said they had always wanted to work on a Gullwing, and thought it would be fun. They were sure they could do it much cheaper than the outrageous prices they had read about from Gullwing specialists.

“It is now two years later, my Gullwing is in 1,000 pieces, the new paint job is crappy and the shop is tired of the project. The bills keep coming but I don’t see any work being done. How do I get out of this mess?”

There’s no simple answer here. Exotic cars — especially expensive ones — are extremely complicated, and each marque, and often each model within a marque, requires its own expert to properly take it apart, renew it and put it back together.

Fifty years ago, when many of these cars, even Gullwings, were just used cars, the service options were more diverse, primarily because all the cars needed was “service.” They hadn’t become a Lego set of thousands of parts, all either worn out or nearly worn out. Someone who has restored 100 Gullwings will have learned nearly all of the “gotchas” by now, and what you are paying for is their accumulated expertise as they make your car right.

There is no winning with amateur-level restorations. Without an expert, hose clamps will be wrong, shades of paint will be incorrect, engine clearances will be set improperly, heater valves won’t work properly and so on — and on and on and on.

You need a restorer who knows your car like the back of his hand, and does everything necessary — whether evident at first glance or not — the first time through.

Thou shalt not confuse a just-restored car with a fully functioning one

“Dear Keith — I recently bought the car of my dreams: a 1955 Lancia Aurelia Spyder. I’m going to have the drivetrain and braking systems completely redone, as I’ve been accepted for next year’s Mille Miglia. My restorer says he can have the car done three months from now — just in time to have it air-freighted to Brescia for the start of the event. What could possibly go wrong?”

In a word, everything. On an emotional level, there is nothing more tragic than seeing freshly restored cars stopped by the side of the road, hoods up, during the first 100 miles of a high-end event.

It’s never something large that brings these shiny-paint-job, zero-miles-since-restoration cars down. It’s almost always something simple with the fuel system, electrics or brakes.

As a rule of thumb, it takes at least six months to get a “restored” car into daily-use condition. There is no shortcut. You take it out, and before it dies and you have to have it towed back to the shop, you quickly make a list of deficiencies. These range from windshield wipers that don’t wipe to brakes that pull to the left. Have those problems fixed, take it out again — perhaps without a tow home this time — make another list, and repeat as necessary until you’ve got a real car.

Our goal at SCM is for you to extract the maximum pleasure from your vintage machine. There’s no cheap way to make a worn-out old piece of machinery into a reliable car, but there are ways to proceed that are more thoughtful than others. Don’t be a part of the gang that has to learn from painful experience; follow the SCM Way and we’ll help you get to the Promised Land of On-The-Button old cars. ♦

 

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