Fear & Loathing The Classic Car Dealer
This article is going to touch a nerve with some, so I am consciously watching my words as I type them. I don’t want to spit out something that’s too terribly toxic and over dramatic, but I do want to express my feelings accurately and without filter. I’ll tread lightly. I’ll hold back… if just a little bit.
For the most part, I find Classic Car Dealers to be a rude and brainless subculture of money-hungry fiends that are more disgusting by nature than maggots oozing out of the carcass of a dead animal.
Wait, Mr. Classic Car Dealer that feels singled out, don’t go for your revolver and head for Texas quite yet. I’m not saying that all dealers are bug-eyed degenerates out to suck money from the passion that drives this industry like a leach to a pot belly pig. I’m saying that a lot are. I’m also saying that I believe the Classic Car Dealer Industry is bad for our hobby.
Let’s say it’s Autumn. Traditionally, autumn is always a time of fear, greed, and hoarding for the upcoming winter season. I know that’s the case because Raoul Duke told me so. Collection agencies awaken with new vigor. Retail establishments begin their holiday sales. Traffic fines go up. Arrests follow. And it’s all in preparation to stuff the bags with enough dough to weather the tortuous red months of January and February.
According to eBay motors, the sale of classic cars also spikes in autumn. So, let’s say it’s autumn then… and our hero is a little old lady struggling across her lawn with a walker. We will call her Martha. She’s headed to her driveway where her beautiful 1965 Buick Riviera is parked with a “For Sale” sign in hand.
Meanwhile, our villain (we will call him Teddie) is driving down her street in a two year old Ford F250 with dealer tags and a spotless bed. He rolls past our hero just as she places the sign in the window and grabs the brakes hard to take a look.
Martha has had her nephew do some limited research on Rivieras and they decide the car is worth somewhere around $7500. She realizes that there is some surface rust around the back glass and that the brakes need some work and, as such, is trying to be realistic about her asking price. She doesn’t want to gouge anyone… She just wants to get value out of the car and she wants it to go to a good home.
Martha is startled when Teddie brings up all of the problems with the car. He calls the surface rust “cancer.” He questions how bad the brakes really are. He fingers the shopping cart ding she got in the Albertson’s parking lot in 1982 and another from 1986. He lays it on as thick as he can and crosses his fingers.
“I’ll do you a favor and get it out of your driveway for $3000.”
Martha’s feelings are hurt, but she goes inside to call her nephew for council anyhow. Together, they decide her bottom dollar is $5000. It’s an arbitrary number. They aren’t chin deep in these old cars every day and have no real way of knowing its absolute value. BUT, $5000 will take care of the new patio out back. And so it is so…
Of course, Teddie pretends to think real hard when Martha fires back the counter. He wants this to look gut wrenching.
“Look, I like you and I want to help you out. So, I’ll give you $4000 cash right now. Final offer. The car simply isn’t worth that.”
Martha folds and a roll back is in her driveway an hour later. She takes the check to the bank and then hurries back home to call her contractor – her left turn signal acting as a beacon of age the entire trip. The contractor, however, remains firm on his $5000 bid and Martha never does get the new patio she coveted. Instead, she passes away indoors without ever spending the $4000.
Her estate was willed out to her nephew, but due to a phantom credit card used for QVC purchases as well as some strange federal tax law her nephew never sees a dime. The government gets it all.
Teddie has the Riviera unloaded into his lot’s “shop” and has his mediocre mechanic look into the brakes while his half-blind body man addresses the door dings. The brakes have 40,000 miles on them and the wheel cylinders are leaking, but they find that a simple bleed will get the pedal pumped. It’s best if they forget ever seeing the leaky wheel cylinders. And how about those door dings? Slap some bondo in there and touch it up a bit. Looks like new… For now.
Teddie puts an ad for the car on his website, eBay, and Craig’s List. It reads:
“1965 Buick Riviera. Incredible survivor that drives wonderfully and looks divine. We bought it from a little old lady that only drove it on Sundays, did some maintenance to her, and now she is ready for you and your family to drive and enjoy. This might be the best Riviera survivor in the country. It won’t last long at $10,000. We finance anyone!”
Scott is your average car guy. He’s had a few old heaps through the years and has worked hard to whip them into shape and style. Each time, passion and taste have changed and he’s sold them off. He was lucky if he broke even on any of them, but he’s never really done the math. He simply doesn’t care. Now, he’s in the market for a ’65 Riviera and has a harsh budget of $9000 due to a wife with dreams of her own.
He stumbles on Teddie’s ad on eBay and is instantly energized. It’s the car he wants. It’s the right color, the right options, etc… It’s perfect if not for the $10,000 “Buy It Now” price. Thinking an offer won’t hurt, Scott shoots an email off to Teddie with specific questions regarding condition – both surface and mechanic. Teddie responds with broad strokes of perfection and explains that this car is as good as you are gonna get for this price or any other.
Considering shipping costs and what not, Scott fires off an offer of $8000 and is countered by Teddie to the tune of $9000.
“I like you Scott and I want your business.”
Scott goes for it realizing this car is exactly what he wants and that he just might be able to hide the overture from his wife by cooking the books a bit. A deal is made and the car is delivered a couple of weeks later.
When it arrives, Scott isn’t entirely disappointed. The Riv looks decent, but he didn’t realize that the window rubber was aged – hard, cracked, and useless. Nor did he think to ask about the condition of the Buick GS wheels that were pitted and a bit rusty. Even so, it’s all correctable and he finally had his car. He tries not to think on the terms of monetary value.
A couple of weeks go by and Scott has gone from slightly disappointed to downright pissed. The brakes completely failed on the way back from work one day which caused him to slam hard into a curb. In turn, of course, the bondo snapped out of those old Albertson’s door dings. The Riv just wasn’t what it seemed to be and certainly not exactly as it was promised.
And the worst part? Scott’s car budget is in similar shape to Florida’s mortgage environment. He simply doesn’t have the dough that would allow him to put his head down, get to work on improvements, and forget about this whole bad deal. Instead, he has to sit it out… and steam… and boil… and think. Is this old car shit really worth it? Isn’t this supposed to be fun?
The anger and disappointment consume Scotty. It’s not long before he finds himself cracking open that bottle of stale and powdery Oxy the dentist gave him after a root canal three years ago. One thing leads to another and Scott is strung out, his kids never see him, and his wife hates him. The divorce just puts him further in the hole. Martha’s Riviera sits and rots.
The Classic Car Dealer ruined two lives in the stroke of a deal. He swooped in like a buzzard on poor old Martha and then regurgitated what had yet to be processed all over Scotty. Neither of them saw it coming. Neither of them had the means to avoid their ultimate doom.
There are honorable ways in this world to keep up with the Joneses. Maybe at some point, being a Classic Car Dealer was one of them. They could have been considered a “locating” service and their reasonable margin was simply their finder’s fee. As a bonus to society, they employed competency and the cars they inventoried left in better condition than they arrived.
Unfortunately for the fiends, technology has changed the world. Locating services are now called search engines and their finder’s fee is paid out in CPM’s. Where does this leave the Classic Car Dealer? What is their role if it’s not one of intimate knowledge?
Those aren’t questions a simple mind like mine can answer, but I do know there is ample opportunity through technology these days for Scott to find Martha before Teddie can get his creepy hands on her.
I’ve thought about buying a car from a Classic Car Dealer and then recording the process in words. It would be like an undercover exposé on the trials and tribulations of those that can’t figure out eBay… or some other means of locating a car for sale by owner. But I don’t have the budget for it and fear I would share Scott’s destiny.
Res Ipsa Loquitor.
A sidebar of sorts… Most of this article was written in 2007 after a long conversation with a friend of mine that happened to be and still is a Classic Car Dealer. He’s a good guy. He isn’t out to hurt anyone nor is he a kin to maggots oozing out of a carcass of any kind. He’s just a guy trying to make a living doing what he loves.
Even so, I questioned the ultimate good that his business did for our industry. It seemed to me that all a dealer was really doing was adding a middle man where one wasn’t needed. And, in the act of doing that, they were driving the market unnaturally.
He retorted by saying that guys like us weren’t his market. He served people that weren’t as educated about the specifics of living with an old car and just wanted an easy “in.” He was selling a lifestyle as much as he was a car.
I held the article back for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I wasn’t confident (and I’m still not) that people would be able to laugh off the suggestive Gonzo writing and see that I wasn’t really calling Classic Car Dealers “crooks and swine.” It’s all just an act.
So, I say this for the record and still expect the backlash:
I don’t believe all dealers are bad folks. In fact, I feel like 99% of all people in the world mean good. It’s just that I feel like a time has come and gone.