Hammer Time: What Hath Thou Wrought?

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time what hath thou wrought

98 dealers are busy looking at 89 vehicles. Check engine lights are being scanned. The hoods are opened, engines are revved, and Bluetooth is the technology of the moment. Wholesalers, along with professional car buyers like me, are busy making arrangements with those dealers and individuals who want to buy an auction vehicle on the cheap.

There’s only one problem with all this. We’re on the eve of tax season. A time where everyone short on dough files a tax return on the expectation of a nice four-figured refund in early February. Millions of those refunds will eventually be used towards one of three purposes: paying down debt, purchasing electronics, or putting a down payment towards a nice used car that will likely be financed to the hilt.

The prices at this specific auction are always high. But today, they were in outer space.

It all started with #9. A rolling museum piece with only 56,812 miles. Yes, that

This 1994 Lincoln Mark VIII was the cleanest vehicle I have found of it’s ilk in nearly six years. The leather seats were pristine. The body was as smooth as can be with none of the bumper ridden scuff marks that are all too common in the last of the great Lincoln coupes. I was so enamored with it, that I posted the vehicle on Facebook for my fellow Lincoln enthusiasts to admire. One of which apparently goes by the name of Doctor V8.

It’s rare for me to find an old car at the auctions that was a showhorse instead of a workhorse. So naturally, like every other old vehicle I find, I try to get it out to the enthusiasts among us. After a short drive, I am at the auction at the crack of dawn downloading pictures to the doctor, in a climate that I can only describe as the Atlanta arctic.

Yes, that is ice forming on the hood. Atlanta is now nearly as cold as the rest of the east coast.

I told the doctor that I thought the price would go for a round $3300 on the block. Lo and behold, I got up to $3400 and of course, someone else out there outbid me at $3500. If this had been an LSC model of a 96′ vintage, I would have kept going. But a $3500 bid plus a $165 auction fee, plus my fee of $300 for inspect, appraising and buying the car (I gave him a discount) would have resulted in a 20 year old car with $4000 invested. That $4000 is before any unforeseen reconditioning costs, or the cost of shipping it out to Texas. It was obviously time to cut bait. An act that I was bound to repeat with several more cars that day including this one…

this one…

and this one…

I just couldn’t get a break, and then of course, it happened.

There are cars that I will sometimes buy just for the learning curve that can come from actually getting it ready for sale. Sounds silly on the surface. But a lot of my early fortunes came from fixing unique problems on vehicles that don’t require as much of an investment as people think.

Administering the Gibbons method on the transmissions of 2000 to 2007 Volvos that have the number 60,70, or 80 in their name.

Replacing the resistors on the instrument clusters of Buick Centurys and Regals that no longer show their odometers.

These types of vehicles, and many others, don’t move that quickly on the lots. Especially these days. But if you focus on a few unpopular vehicles with a lot of high-end features, and try to hit em’ where they ain’t, you can lay the groundwork for doing well on the finance side of this business. A loaded car that has been maintained well will almost always be taken over the plain jane cloth version of an older popular vehicle.

So every once in a blue moon, I experiment.

This is a vehicle that nearly everybody in my business is scared shitless over buying. Not because they have bought it. But it is more or less the triumvirate of challenge. Hard to fix. Gas guzzler. Volkswagen. I have never bought one of these before. But the more I looked online on the day before the sale, and the more I talked to one of the mechanics in my neck of the woods who specializes in Volkswagens and Audis, the more I liked the idea of testing the waters and seeing what happens.

So this is it. A 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 with an automatic and the 4motion all-wheel drive system. 155k and no announcements. I bought it for $2600 plus a $155 auction fee which was only $100 more than a plain jane 05 maroon Taurus with a cloth interior, 130k miles, and the Vulcan V6.

This car has the fuel economy of a minivan (18 city / 25 highway) and drives ‘heavy’ on the road. It’s actually not a bad vehicle from an engineering standpoint, and I think it has a compelling look to it when you see it in person. At least the color and the wheels are distinctive enough to attract eyeballs at a retail lot. However, as the great Robert Farago pointed out in his review of this vehicle, this car is pretty much the dowdiest V8 luxury car in the German fleet of that era.

If you are a road warrior in the rust belt who happens to know a VW mechanic and isn’t against buying a spare VW from a salvage auction company like Copart or IAA, I can see this car working out. Heck, you could probably sell off the parts through enthusiast sites and make your money back on the donor car with plenty of parts to spare for yourself.

I probably wouldn’t do it though. This uber-Passat came from an era with too many uber-cars that were simply under-engineered for the long haul. Pontiac Grand Prix GTP’s with combustible transmissions, Jaguar S-Type R’s with the potential for more high cost breakables than a pissed off bull in a Chinese pottery shop.

The Audi everything, the Mercedes everything else, the Northstar equipped Cadillacs, and of course the Beelzebub of all luxurious automotive devils, the BMW 7-series from that same era mid-200’s era. The whole heavy, straight line, high maintenance, high repair era of automobiles from the Bush era has given a lot of tinkerers the opportunity to be screwed once they realized that it truly takes a lot of experience and equipment to keep these things going past the 100k mark. Not to mention money for ever more rare electronics. Oh well.

There was one opposite side to that storm of deserved depreciation. This 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser.

250,000 miles divided by 50 verifiable visits to the Toyota dealership apparently equaled an $8500 net purchase at the auction. That price was $500 more than a 2011 Nissan Sentra S with only 67k miles, and $700 more than a 2007 Volkswagen GTI with 76k miles.

It even beat the holy water out of a 2003 Land Rover Discovery with 80k miles that went for $5700. The difference is that the Land Rover had the usual Christmas tree lights on the dashboard (check engine, ABS, traction control, hill descent, etc) while the only malady of the Land Cruiser was the odometer cluster that actually worked. This Land Cruiser will likely be exported and have it’s odometer rolled back. As for that Range Rover? It went to a specialist.

Apparently knowing how to fix em’ and offer them to an enthusiast audience has it’s benefits… and it’s pitfalls. What a hell of a way to start off a Monday. Anyone want a Passat?

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4 of 95 comments
  • Nickoo Nickoo on Jan 22, 2014

    I would have immediately payed 5 grand cash + shipping to cali for that lincoln. Man, what a car. Currently driving a '97 bird with 47k on it. 4.6L v8...I love the way the car drives but the interior is as cheap as cheap can get, ug.

  • Thunderjet Thunderjet on Jan 23, 2014

    Someone took care of that Mark VIII. After 20+ years they are usually on their 5th owner and beat to hell with saggy air springs.

  • ToolGuy VW (marque not group) and Tesla very nearly switched positions on a YTD basis.
  • RHD Inexpensive gasoline appears to be a thing of the past. ILO is correct - we have enough sunlight, wind and emerging ocean wave energy to power the entire country and then some. Clean air is nice, and being free of the whims of OPEC, geopolitics and hugely profitable oil companies will do all of us a world of good.
  • Raymond Segura Can you tell me where I can get the rear bumper for 69 impala?
  • Art Vandelay some of the crazy numbers I get. Percentages look bigger with any fluctuations with low volume makes and brands leaving the market will see massive month over month changes. But what’s with Buick? I still see the occasional ad on TV and yet the drop is disproportionate even compared to all the other GM brands.
  • Master Baiter "There is no mandate for consumers to buy EVs, not in any country or state. That’s made up."Right. And you are not mandated to purchase a toilet that only uses 1.6 gallons/flush. You could choose to not have a toilet--just go in the woods, like the bears do.