Six years ago I managed to make a $2000 profit on a car without it ever leaving the auction.
A few winks to the auctioneer. A few clicks on a digital camera. A few paragraphs on Ebay. Done. I had managed to purchase and remarket a 2001 Toyota Prius in mint condition with 113k miles. It was near factory clean inside and out. A spanking new hybrid battery. Brand new Michelin low resistance tires, and a maintenance history that showed it had been dealer maintained since day one.
In the car business we refer to these opportunities as an automatic slam dunk.
28 years. That’s how long the first and only owner of this 1982 VW Jetta Diesel Coupe kept his commuter. Apparently he didn’t do that much driving. 192,500 leisurely miles with a 55 horsepower engine equates to less than 7,000 leisurely miles a year. That is a mileage figure that borders on the miraculous here in traffic happy Atlanta.
In all my years of buying and selling cars I had never seen one owned by the same driver for such a long period of time. Heck, I was in elementary school when Mr. JT Allison bought this thing! It had been on the lot for at least 8 months beforehand according to the Carfax history and with gas prices cratering by April 1983… I’m sure Mr. Allison didn’t pay any more than $8,000 for this thing.
So… what should I do with it?
There are two extremes when it comes to minivan buyers. There are those who want all the options and knick-knack’s checked and marked for their next Mommy-mobile. Automatic dual sliding doors. DVD systems that can offer a continuous loop of ‘Barney’. Fortress like levels of safety and space combined with enough airbags and sound insulation to make even the worst of traffic a passing thought.
Then there’s the buyer for this minivan.
What would be your ideal car? Would you like to have the best of the best? A car that offers all the power and luxury an enthusiast could ever desire?
Or are your tastes a bit simpler? An amply powered but safe utility vehicle that will let you do all your work without a hint of regret about scratches or four figured maintenance bills.
This ‘ideal car’ question yields a thousand shades of gray in practice. Take this Mazda MX-5 for instance.
$100,000 can buy you an awful lot of cars these days. This morning I could have bought a 2011 Lotus Elise with 1100 miles ($42k), a 2003 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 with 16,000 miles ($24k), a 2003 BMW 745Li in mint condition with 80k (18K), and enough left over to take my family on a two month cruise.
But back in 1989 I could not have bought this car brand new for $100K. Not even close. A Mercedes 420 SEL would have set you back $111,000 in inflation adjusted terms before adding options, taxes and bogus fees.
I ended up buying the one pictured a few weeks ago for $1300 (and $115 auction fee). Should I…
The 1st generation LH sedans. Dodge Intrepid. Chrysler Concorde. Eagle Vision. These three beautiful masterpieces took Chrysler from an amortizing also-ran to a technological front-runner.
They offered everything back in the day. An optional 214 Horsepower engine that used the twice as expensive Acura Legend’s engine as a benchmark. Cab forward styling that transformed Chrysler’s bread and butter cars from staid three-box K car creations to coveted sleek machines. Oh and the features? Unbeatable for the time. Traction control. Leather seats that were angus thick. Infinity sound systems. They were hard to beat… and yet so easily beaten.
Kia no longer exists. Yes there is that Hyundai subsidiary now known as Kia. But before Kia Motors went Chapter 11, there was this strange Korean company that sold spasm inducing horrific vehicles.
I’m not sure any female car enthusiast would ever be happy with the name Sephia. Just saying that name alone can induce ugly flashbacks for prior owners and dealers. Sportage rhymed with ‘shortage’ and had parts that may have indeed come directly from plastic soda bottles and aluminum foil. Then there was this plain wretched thing…
I was happy as can be this past Monday. A 1999 Firebird with T-Tops was bought for the princely sum of $2750 at a recent sale. Then there was something I hadn’t experienced in a long while. A $300 car. A ‘good’ $300 car. The type that may have nothing more than a banged in door or a mechanical issue easily corrected by visiting an enthusiast site. The car in question was a 1986 Toyota Cressida. Older than dirt as far as cars go.
But then again could I…
The relentless pursuit of perfection. A lot of companies like to pretend that they mean it. Six sigma certifications. Cutting edge technologies. All the adjectives and adverbs worthy of a PR press release. But very few of them do. Even those that warrant those words for a time and place fall short when it comes time for their next step.
Sometimes it’s when they try to make the great leap from a niche segment to the mainstream. Apple, Black & Decker, Chrysler… hundreds of companies throughout the 1990’s tried to redefine themselves through expanding their audience. Most came out with worse products through the double edged sword of ‘blanding’ their focus while cost cutting their offerings. Apple clones, B&D plasticized tools, Chrysler’s 2nd gen LH sedans. They all failed. Toyota succeeded with the Lexus LS400. Here’s why.
Some folks in the industry believe that Toyota has decontented themselves out of the top tier of quality. I don’t know if that’s true… yet. But I do know that they are not the only non-domestic manufacturer to have gone down that path. Not long after Mercedes turned the W124 model into a glorified Taurus, the Swedes begin sauntering into the path of cheap redesigns.
The goal as always was profit. To make the cheaper product (the 1998 Volvo S70) resemble the better one (the much loved 1993 – 1997 Volvo 850). The outcome became very profitable… for me.
The eyes were covered in a yellowish puss-like film. Jaundice? Nope, bad seals from the factory had made the headlights brittle and useless. Almost like old fly paper but without the elasticity. The leather seats up front were all cracked and peeling. Rear speakers were out. The alarm system had a mind of it’s own. Spontaneously singing it’s praises whenever there was a rare dull moment on the lot. But the kicker?
It’s the most popular car in my fleet. Teenagers, old(ish) hell-raisers. Even folks with the proverbial mid-life crisis without the means of a Vette want this car. I had six interested buyers within two hours. Meanwhile the minivans are molderizing in their appliance like utility. During tax time the “popular” cars can have price premiums as high as Cheech and Chong’s “Nice Dreams.” So this is what I did.
12 years. That’s how long I drove a 1994 Toyota Camry LE coupe. It was red with a sunroof and ABS. Truly loaded for the time. But not quite loaded for the modern day. I never even considered anything else because to me this was just like an underpowered Lexus without the cost.
We’re talking the type of quiet and serenity that many compact vehicles (which this technically was) still can’t match. The 3rd Generation Camry was the absolute peak of Toyota’s over-engineering prowess and my car pulled a straight 239k with nary a hiccup. One owner later, it just recently crested the 300k mark with plenty of life left on the original powertrain. With that in mind I can…