Saved searches and RSS feeds are now the Pandora’s Box of my collecting life. Years ago, I would get giddy and feel the onset of the red mist once a month when Hemmings arrived (by first-class mail, of course). And when I went to an auction or swap meet, I would be temporarily overcome by my need to buy something, anything, that day.

But there were days—and sometimes weeks—when I wasn’t thinking about buying another car. That’s changed. Not only does the Internet provide a constant stream of fresh classifieds, as a collecting gourmand you can select exactly what your weakness is at any given moment and have information about related cars for sale delivered right to your desk or smartphone.

It doesn’t help to have friends who treat you like a car junkie—and they’re your personal pusher. A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in my office, and an email from Roger Williams, producer of our TV show, “What’s My Car Worth,” popped up.

Williams sent me a link to a red 1993 Moto Guzzi  Daytona 1000 that was for sale in Grants Pass, OR, which is about 250 miles south of Portland. The bike was immaculate and priced at $4,800, which Williams said was a good deal.

I called the seller, Ted Holman’s Automania Grants Pass (, and Holman turned out to be an SCM subscriber.  About 15 minutes later, the Guzzi was mine and Ted was arranging to have a Portland SCMer, Richard Stark, truck it up. (Stark is a practicing artist, and his work includes aviation, WWII, automobiles and more, see it at

You Bought What?

So far, so good. But as I began to recover from the excitement of acquisition—no, I didn’t light up a cigarette —I began to hear a little voice which sounded suspiciously like that of Miles Collier. “Are you collecting with a theory or a purpose, with an end goal in mind, or are you just buying anything red you can afford.”

At his biannual seminars, Connoisseurship and the Collectible Car, Collier brings a perspective on collecting akin to that of art and furniture collectors. He urges car collectors to bring logic and thoughtfulness to their collecting and their collections. As I paced the garage, wondering where I was going to stick the Guzzi, I ruminated about some guidelines that might make my future purchases have a semblance of logic to them.

1.  What Are You Going to Do With it?

This is the most important part of your buying decision. Most old cars today are not daily drivers; their mediocre brakes and lack of safety equipment make them a hazard to drive in regular traffic. Further, as cars and SUVs have ballooned in size, your 1963 MG Midget will be dwarfed by an Escalade.
So ask yourself, is there a vibrant club in your area for the car you are looking at, or will it sit, unused and deteriorating, year after year? For example, our 2006 Lotus Elise was purchased specifically to go on a 1,000-mile rally sponsored by the local Porsche club; our older cars could never keep up with the big dogs. And the Elise gets to run hard every year.

2.  Is it really the model you want?

I had a white 1967 Alfa Duetto when I was in college, and I put 50,000 miles on it in two years of driving between Portland and my hometown of San Francisco. I’ve always had a soft spot for Duettos, and recently a very nice 1969 model came along. Now, the 1969 model has some improvements (fourteen-inch wheels, rear sway bar, better brake booster) but it has some drawbacks as well (Spica injection, clumsy headrests and obtrusive side-marker lights). I asked Collier his opinion, and his response was, “If you want a ’67, wait until the right ’67 comes along. If you buy the ’69, no matter how good it is, you’ll just be waiting until a ’67 comes along so you can get what you really want.”

In other words, don’t let a killer deal spark you to buy something that isn’t what you are really looking for in the first place. Be patient, and wait for a right example of exactly what hits your hot button.

3.  Don’t make a car into something it isn’t

If you buy a white 308 with the plan of making it a red one, you’re doomed. Just buy a red one. If you find a ’58 Corvette with an automatic and want to convert it to a four-speed, forget it. There will be a host of little things that have to be changed, it will cost twice what you think, and you’ll have a non-original car. Buy a manual-shift instead. The phrase, “I can make it into exactly what I want” is a dangerous one.

4.  Make sure the maintenance fits your budget

This is a big one, especially as late-model exotics start to get cheap. A 360 Spider at $80,000 seems like a screaming deal, and it is when you measure the performance against the dollars spent. But the cost of maintaining the Ferrari will be factored against the $200,000 MSRP car that it was. Parts and labor don’t depreciate.

So, if spending $10,000 every couple of years “just for little fixes” makes you crazy, don’t buy the car. The entire ownership experience has to fit within your budget. If taking care of your car properly makes you feel like all the blood in your wallet is being sucked out by an alloy-engined vampire, sell the car—or don’t buy it in the first place.

So, What About the Guzzi?

The Guzzi, a motorcycle I knew nothing about at 9 am that morning and owned by 9:15 am, looks terrific nestled between the Lotus and our 1965 Alfa Giulia Spider Veloce. With its Staintune exhaust, it rumbles like a small-block Chevy. Once I have my arms lengthened by six inches, I’ll be able to sit comfortably and reach all the controls. I put exactly 154 miles on my Suzuki SV650 last year; all while chasing daughter Alex on her Ninja down two-lane roads—so I don’t think I’m going to rack up many miles on the Guzzi.

But I’m not going to modify it, I can pay to have it tuned once a year if it needs it, and I’ve talked myself into believing that if I had known anything about Moto Guzzis, the 1993 Daytona would have been the one I wanted.

And best of all, it was red, I could afford it and I’d never owned one before.

Welcome Mr. Cumberford

My absolute favorite non-SCM column is written each month by Robert Cumberford and appears in Automobile Magazine. Beginning this month, his analyses of the styling of collectible automobiles will also grace the pages of SCM.

Thanks to Automobile President and Editor-in-Chief Jean Jennings for allowing Cumberford to share his thoughts on old cars with SCM readers. Cumberford, as a designer and writer about design for more than 50 years, brings a one-of-a-kind, erudite and insightful perspective to the shapes of automobiles. We are pleased to have him aboard.

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