Is it fair to say that we love our cars? Over time, we develop relationships with them based on the things we have done with them — from changing spark plugs to repairing upholstery to going on tours and rallies.

In a way, a favorite car is like a faithful Labrador retriever. It sits and waits for us, and when we turn the key, it jumps to its wheels and wags its exhaust pipes. Our favorite cars exist to be our companions in adventure.

But a relationship with a pet comes to a natural end. Dogs and cats age and pass, and we remember them through pictures and stories. Cars, on the other hand, can live forever, as we renew one piece after another, and either restore them or allow them to mellow nicely in their own “eau de patination.”

So when we decide to say goodbye to a car, it can be a very difficult decision. Imagine having 10 great years with your Labrador and then selling the dog to a stranger. Not likely.

How we decide

There are many reasons to sell a collector car. Sometimes you just fall out of love with it. This generally happens during the first couple of years of ownership with a car, especially when it stubbornly resists efforts to make it into a “service vehicle” — one that is on the button, starts, turns and stops as you would expect, and is always ready to take out for a run.

We all speak fondly of cars that “never let us down.” On the other hand, there are cars that “always let us down.” No matter how often we fix them, something else decides to break — or the repairs we’ve just made don’t hold. The result is the weekend of joy in a vintage car tour turns into 72 hours of misery. You limp from cell service area to cell service area, calling for advice, trying to get parts sent to NoWhere U.S.A., where you are currently stranded. You’re an unhappy camper when everyone around you is talking about what a great drive they had that day.

While you might miss this car, you don’t miss the continued aggravation and its fun-spoiling, cantankerous nature.

Too many cars

Sometimes you decide you’ve just got too many cars. A surplus of automotive riches leads to diminished seat time for each car, and cars rot when they are not used. If you have 20 cars, are you really going to put 1,000 miles on each of them each year? Probably not. Consequently, there is some logic behind deciding which four or five cars you use most often and bring you the most pleasure — and culling your collection down to those.

Why punish your family?

As collectors come of a certain age, we become aware that our family may not share our passion for our cars. That’s the same as any hobby, whether it is horticulture (who’s going to fertilize the roses when you’re gone?), or collecting coins or vintage wristwatches. What sets cars apart from other collectibles is the amount of space they take up — and how much constant attention they need to stay viable as operable machines.

Imagine someone who has little affinity for old cars trying to start a vintage Bentley. They will struggle to decipher the spark advance, hand throttle and more. If the car hasn’t been run in a long time, the gas may be bad, the battery dead and the carburetors gummed up. It’s a recipe for frustration.

Rather than leave their assemblage of cars for their families to deal with, some collectors are deciding to turn some of their cars into money, which can then be put into trusts and other instruments that are both simpler to transfer and can have attractive tax aspects.

And then there’s the money

A final reason to say goodbye to a car is that it has simply become worth too much money to keep around. For example, a friend owned a 289 Cobra for decades — he paid less than $30k for it. He recently commented that his car was now worth nearly as much as his house. The Cobra now represented so much of his net worth that he wasn’t comfortable driving it.

Further, he had done everything he wanted with the car, including tours, rallies, extended vacation trips and more. With the car’s value exceeding $1m, turning the car into money could offer him choices in his liquid-asset base that would make a measurable difference in his life. Whether he ends up taking a trip around the world with his wife, buying a second home or funding a trust for his children, he has had the best of both worlds — a lifetime of driving a spectacular car, and then a “lottery payoff” bonus at the end for his stewardship.

So while it was difficult for him to say goodbye to his Cobra, in this instance it was time for the car to move on to a new owner who can begin creating his own memories. And it was time for the seller to bask in all the good things the Cobra had brought to his life.

Selling a collector car that is dear to you is no easy thing. But there is logic to looking at your collection and deciding whether each car is bringing you the pleasure and enjoyment it should. You may decide that you just can’t let go of a beloved car. Or you decide to turn that car into money — and then purchase a different kind of pleasure and satisfaction. ♦


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