Hammer Time: Older And Bolder
It was mine. A 1992 Lexus SC400 with only 78,000 miles had gone through a small dealer auction back in early 2009. Paint a little blotchy. Driver’s seat front had a small rip. But I really didn’t care. I knew it would be the last of it’s breed I would see in a while. After being halved to death ($50 bid increments), I bought if for $3450 plus the $120 fee. Threw in $300 of paint, $100 of upholstery, and financed it to an enthusiast for $8500. $3200 later the economy caught up with my customer and he voluntarily brought it back. $270 for a windshield and alternator and 11,000 more miles left me with a quandry. Do I keep it or finance again?
Of course I’ll tote the note. But the big point is this. Well kept cars with low mileage can be a dream in some cases. Generally I consider anything that’s been well kept and driven from 5k to 8k as qualified for this honor. SC Coupes, Sunfire convertibles, Celicas, Saturn Sedans, even the well-cursed Tauruses and Centurys of times yore tend to be attractive. I’ve bought 1990’s versions of all these cars and more with mileage well back of the century mark and all except the SC were $1500 or less. When I get an oldie I always do the following…
First I look at it’s history. Was it recently driven regularly? A surprisingly large number of them are ‘donated’ by grandparents and other kin who no longer have the need for a car. The subsequent buyers fall into two categories. Maintainers and neglecters. Discolored coolant, old oil, too much slack in the steering, and substandard replacement materials (curse you Firestone and Goodyear!) are among the usual casualties. Replacing fluids as needed and buying high quality replacement parts go an awfully long way to making an older car a wonderful long-term companion. I use a Mityvac for most fluids and enthusiast sites to point me towards the right OEM replacements.
Paint doesn’t bother me at all. In Georgia it’s hot all the bloody time (except this month) and exteriors along with dashboards always have wear issues out here. I do pay very close attention to tires and who sold the vehicle previously. Nothing turns me off more than seeing cheap Wal-Mart tires and a dealer name on the back whose buyers rarely inspect the cars that go through the barn. A few particularly nasty ones will put nothing into the cars, literally, and repo them with an attorney in tow for the sole purpose of long-term garnishment. This is done with newer cars for the most part but I’ve also seen older ones in the fray as well. Anything that is domestic and made forever or an import in drag may find itself as an accessory for highway robbery.
Finally you have the estate deals. Two of which are etched in mind forever. I purchased a two year old Chrysler PT Cruiser back in 2006. Base model, five speed nothing special. Except it only had 199 miles. I bought it for $7000 back when these models were worth something. 16 pictures and one Ebay listing later I sold it for $9200. A lot of folks with the ‘new’ bug would do very well to consider a late model car with low mileage. Tires and batteries may need to be changed, and perhaps the motor oil in extreme cases. But these are always among my favorites. On the flip side are the museum pieces. The 1985 Town Car with only 45,000 miles that was recently de-clunkered for $700 is my most recent one. But in the past I’ve bought everything from Peugeots to Porsches that fit this mode. Knowing a good friend of a friend or enough people in Florida will always get you ahead in this regard.
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