Trackday Diaries: Stuck In The Middle With You

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

“Moving on, and getting over,” John Mayer just told us on his new EP, “are not the same, it seems to me.” I’ll second that emotion; I can think of a half-dozen times I’ve broken up with someone then spent months, or years, thinking about them afterwards. But when it comes to cars, some of us can’t even manage to move on. I should have sold my 2004 Boxster S five years ago, but it’s still taking up space in my driveway. I have two motorcycles — a CB550 and a VFR800 Anniversary — that I never ride because I have a CB1100 and a ZX-14R to do their jobs. Don’t even get me started on Danger Girl’s Tahoe Z71; now it’s being used solely to take me and my son to the skatepark once a week. Other than that, it doesn’t move. We could duplicate its functionality with a bike rack, thus saving ourselves all of the expenses that come with a 5,400-pound white elephant of an SUV.

Not everybody’s quite as sentimental and/or dilatory as I am, however. Take my old pal Nick, for example. About six months after my first wife and I took delivery of our 2004-model SRT-4, he bought one of his own. And he did it right, putting on the Stage 3 package almost immediately. When I sold our SRT-4, I made him a deal on all the goodies, including the Kosei wheels. It’s led a relatively charmed life in his possession, and it’s carried him through some of the best (and worst) years of his life, but now that his kids are married or off in their own careers, he’s decided to just let it go.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a particularly interesting decision; “Man Sells Neon So He Doesn’t Have To Put Any More Money In It” is one of those completely unsurprising stories, right up there with “Dog Bites Man” and “New GM Product Wins Motor Trend Award Of Some Type.” But this isn’t just any Neon. It’s a low-production, one-owner car that makes 339 horsepower at the front wheels and was equipped with all the right stuff from Day One. In other words, it’s the modern equivalent of a Superbird or Charger Daytona. Which leads us to a bit of a dilemma.

Nick’s selling his car for $7,500. That’s a lot of money for a Neon. But it’s not much money at all for a future Barrett-Jackson superstar. Consider, if you will, that at one time or another in history, you could get anything from a driveway full of Superbirds to a D-Type Jag to a Ferrari 250GTO for $7,500. All of those cars now command transaction prices that would buy you a small private jet or a home in Burlingame, CA. Yet there was a time when they were simply used cars, without much value to anybody.

More recently, we’ve had the air-cooled kerfuffle that has seen the prices of raggedy-ass old 180-horsepower 911SC Targas jump from $9,999 to $30,000 and the tag on 993 Turbos go from “$49,999 OBO” to “Price On Request.” I don’t think anybody saw that one coming, but it happened nonetheless. If you were one of the people who sold a 964 RS America for $25,000 10 years ago, chances are you’re now just trying to decide how many pills it will take to make the pain go away.

I could go on; 10 years ago, I turned down a Testarossa for $35,000. My pal Berg bought and sold nearly a dozen 308GTS and 308GTB Ferraris after the turn of the century, all for under $30,000 a pop. Everybody knows somebody who used to have a perfect E-Type Jag that they sold for lunch money. I walked away from a lemon-colored V12 four-speed back in 1999 because I thought $8,000 was too steep.

Surely, it’s plain to all of us by now that pretty much every classic car has a pricing history that is basically trough-shaped. The car comes out on the market, depreciates to “used junk” status, then after spending what Robert Bly, in Iron John, famously called “ashes time,” it ascends to the secular heaven of high-profile auctions and lovingly curated for-sale listings in the DuPont Registry. It’s very predictable and it’s worked this way with any number of cars over the past 60 years.

I feel confident in stating that, should you buy Nick’s SRT-4, it will eventually be the second-most-valuable SRT-4 in history, right behind the one that I, the Ernest Hemingway of the present era, briefly owned and occasionally drove at Nelson Ledges Road Course. The only question is this: will the SRT-4 ever be worth anything at all to anyone at all? Will it have an upside? Will it ride the pricing trough to the stratosphere? Or will it be valueless until the heat death of the universe or the arrival of mandatory autonomous vehicles?

Remember that a Superbird was once just a Plymouth full-sizer with a stupid wing, and that a 911 Carrera G50 Turbo-Look was just the car that everybody’s rich uncle was trading in on a Boxster S. Remember that people left Birdcage Maseratis to rot in barns and that probably more than one aluminum Shelby Cobra was sold for scrap value. There is always a time where the buyers give up on a car. Even the frickin’ Ferrari F40, a natural-born collector’s item if ever there was one, went through a period where the market had collapsed and you could get one for the price of a couple new 456GTs. You’d be a fool not to buy an SRT-4. It was a performance icon; a giant-killer that spawned a tidal wave of revived Mopar enthusiasm.

But remember, also, that a perfect four-speed Citation X-11 is worth … nothing. Remember that “aero” Monte Carlo SS coupes are still bought and sold using food stamps as a transactional currency. Don’t forget that the surge in mid-engine Ferrari pricing has mysteriously forgotten to invite the 348ts to the party. And don’t kid yourself that a pristine Porsche 996 Turbo will ever be worth anything less than five grand under the lowest 997 Turbo price on eBay. As the radio advertisements always say: you can lose some, or all, of what you invest.

The day will come when the Millennial classics cross the auction blocks and the numbers shock the crowd and thousands of middle-aged men slam their craft beer down on their hand-hewn peasant farm-door tables and gripe, “I HAD one of those and sold it for nothing.” I guarantee you it will happen. I just can’t tell you which cars will produce the worst heartburn. Will it be the Integra GS-R and Type-R? The MkV GTI, complete with “Fast” figurine? Or will it be a bright-orange SRT-4, capable of running a 12-second quarter but not quite capable of holding up to direct sunlight? You pay your money, and you take your choice. Or, like the song says, you can try moving on, and getting over.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • IwantmyEXP IwantmyEXP on Feb 08, 2017

    Excellent article! In regards to the Hemingway comment, I encourage the publication of "The Old Man and the SRT": "A man is never lost in an SRT"

  • Shortest Circuit Shortest Circuit on Feb 08, 2017

    I just bought a fully loaded facelift Z4 Coupe for 23k... it is made to look like the never-built Alpina variant. (they only built Roadsters) I love it, the silly 19" wheels, the dead steering and the meaningless Sport button. I _think_ I made a good investment, I don't intend to track it, just need it to do weekend duty. I'll comment in 10 years how this turned out :)

  • Lou_BC Question of the day: Anyone actually care to own an old TVR?
  • Bd2 First, this was totally predictable. 2nd, Genesis already does have hybrids in the form of a 48V mild hybrid, but more performance oriented (supercharged and turbocharged), so not really helping with regard to fuel consumption. 3rd, Hyundai's hybrid systems don't really help as there currently isn't one that would be suitable power-wise and the upcoming 2.5T hybrid system would have to be heavily reworked to accommodate a RWD/longitudinal layout. 4th, it seems that Genesis is opting to go the EREV route with the GV70 the first get the new powertrain.
  • Bd2 Jaguar's problem was chasing the Germans into the mid size and then entry-level/compact segments for volume, and cheapening their interiors while at it.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Aja8888 I expected that issue with my F150 starting at 52,000mi. luckily I had an extended warranty and it saved me almost $8,000. No more Fords for me, only Toyota.
  • Lou_BC I saw a news article on this got a different read on it. Ford wants to increase production of HD trucks AND develop hybrid and EV variants of the SuperDuty. They aren't scaling back EV production. Just building more HD's and EV variants of HD's .