The old saying of “Can’t see the forest for the trees” also applies to good deals at the Monterey Car Week auctions.
Despite auction houses working to get high-end cars for record-setting sales prices, there are inevitably a few consignments that don’t fare as well as hoped.
Throw in car consignments that are staged to fill in less-desirable time slots — or to lead or follow heavily hyped vehicles — and a screaming deal will appear once in a while.
As I’m SCM’s resident cheap-car aficionado (or is that resident tightwad?), I’ve come up with five well-bought cars that could be considered “deals” at any of the venues.
Now, a cheap car is not always a good deal, so I considered cars at all price points. However, because it’s the lowest-hanging fruit, I’ll start with THE cheapest car to sell at any of the auctions — and it’s the absolute best buy of the week for the money.
1984 BMW 528e 4-Door Sedan
Mecum Auctions Lot T16, s/n WBADK7301E9200465
Sold at $1,100
One of two E28 sedans offered by the consignor, this one has a 5-speed manual transmission (the other one was an ’85 535i with an automatic). I watched both of these driven in and staged the day before crossing the block. They ran out well and weren’t scary beaters or botched attempts at wannabe tuner cars.
While the 2.8-liter Eta engine got a lot of flak back in the day from the BMW cognoscenti (mostly due to being tuned for efficiency rather than performance), they were decent engines. One bad mark is they have a timing belt instead of a chain.
Yet if the car has been properly maintained (the belt gets replaced every 60k miles), it’ll serve you well.
This is a significantly better car than what $1,100 will get you for a late-model commuter bomb. You can just run it until it breaks if you choose. That’s not a bad choice, as collector interest is nil — even among my fellow BMW loonies.
Still, this was decent enough that if a prudent person who is a good detailer grabbed it and tucks it away, it could do a lot better in a few years. Twenty years ago, nobody thought bare-bones E30s were going to be worth more than $1,100. Now, good ones are a hot commodity because they are thought of as the last “analog” BMW. And this 528e hails from the same era.
The worst-case scenario is it snaps the timing belt and eats the interference engine. You still can’t beat the price for it just as a 5-speed conversion donor for an E3 sedan, or E9 and E-24 coupes. A very good buy indeed.
2002 Ford Thunderbird 2-Door Convertible
Mecum Auctions Lot T6, s/n 1FAHP60A62Y123094
Sold at $6,600
It seems just like it was yesterday when Ford dealers were getting $6k over sticker for these. Lately, I see them at venues like this selling not too far from either side of $10k — depending on mileage.
Never mind that the original 2-seat T-bird also plummeted in resale value in the late 1950s after the 4-seat 1958 Squarebirds hit the market. Prudent folks picked them up on the cheap in the 1960s, and they looked like geniuses in the 1970s when those ’Birds came back into vogue as collector cars. In good original colors and with the optional hard top, this is either a fully depreciated driver or future collectible or both — if there’s an open corner in the back of the shop for a few years.
2000 Aston Martin DB7 Vantage Volante Convertible
Russo & Steele Lot F421, s/n SCFAB4230YK400302
Sold at $21,500
I saw this car in the staging lane and checked it out, but I didn’t peruse it beyond that, as I figured it was going to sell beyond my pay scale. Very few other folks were watching either, and it sold for an extremely reasonable $22k. Most didn’t like the 80,543 miles, and purists tend to pooh-pooh the Ford bones in it. However, build quality was significantly improved under Blue Oval ownership, and those same bones mean there’s actually a level of aftermarket parts support for normal wear items. And best of all, has a 6-speed manual — for those of us who prefer three pedals over two paddles. If you’d just like a drop-top to take out to dinner or be the only Aston-Martin at the golf-course parking lot in Alliance, Nebraska, you could do a lot worse.
1978 Land Rover Series III 88 Lightweight Ex-Military 4x4 Utility Truck
Worldwide Auctioneers Lot 72, s/n 95400195A
Sold at $28,600
Somehow, I knew this was going to happen.
Not four days before seeing this Landie, I was at the Central Wisconsin Military Vehicle Show, and picked up a reference book, The Half-Ton Military Land Rover by Mark J. Cook, thinking that they turn up at MVPA conventions and I’m bound to trip over one of these at an auction and will have to write about it. Now I get to put it to work.
If you think a traditional Land Rover looks a bit bloated, you are in good company. Land Rover developed these trimmed-down, lightweight “airportable” trucks for government contracts only.
Made for Her Majesty from 1968 through 1984, they were also sold to several other governments — most notably the Netherlands. That is where I suspect our gas-fueled, left-drive featured unit originally mustered out into civilian life.
Personally, I’d prefer to go the fully authentic mil-spec configuration with a soft top, but it was civilianized with a safari roof for the still-hot vintage SUV market. Even 1960s IH Scouts are now bringing this kind of money. So if someone like me were to have picked it up, they’d have a highly marketable roof to pay for the other mil-spec bits. The best part of this sale is that the truck made the short leap across the ocean and the huge leap through federal and state bureaucracy — and now has tires on our turf with a transferable title. Placing this truck toward the end of the auction hurt this sale, as this was short money even if it were a regular Series III built in 1978 (remembering that no Landies were U.S. market from 1975 through 1992). There might not be a lot of money left on the table, but it’s better than a bill.
1991 Nissan Skyline R32 GTR 2-Door Coupe
Worldwide Auctioneers Lot 74, s/n BRN32015996
Sold at $23,100
One of the cars that started the current Japanese Domestic Model craze in the United States is the R32 generation Skyline — especially the top-end GTR.
While there’s always the possibility that it could’ve been a fakey-doo, folks in the know on them (including SCM’s own Brian Baker) think that for what this sold for and how it was configured — even with non-stock bits added and changed around — it was a real GTR rather than a dolled-up GTS.
While the selling price is about what you’d expect to pay on the lower end for a no-issues GTR example still in Japan, this one is here with a U.S. title — and ready to drive home. No waiting to clear customs, no being surprised when it does arrive that it’s not quite as described, and no sick feeling when you find out your state won’t title it — or that Homeland Security impounded it.
All that red-tape avoidance made this a good buy, especially if you’ve wanted to scratch this itch but weren’t entirely sure unless you saw one up close. This car has reached the 25-plus-year point for easier importation, but supply and demand is still balanced enough to keep prices in check. They’ve been going up steadily — but not at silly money rates anymore.
Offered second to last (the final lot being a motorcycle), it was the last car offered for the evening. At no reserve. Someone who stayed until the end scored on this Skyline. ♦