Car buying process turns smooth with realistic expectations

A 1967 Bud Moore Mercury Cougar is pictured A 1967 Bud Moore Mercury Cougar is pictured driving at the Kent Trans Am in Kent, Wash. Photo Credit: Ford

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I recently had for sale a 1967 Mercury Cougar GT. The car was well-documented, and nicely optioned from the factory with a 390 engine, air-conditioning, a Tilt-Away steering wheel, an 8-Track player, and a host of other options.

It was sold new at Lynch Lincoln-Mercury in Santa Monica, Calif. and had remained there for almost its entire life. It was a 65,000-mile “survivor” in every sense of the word. It had its original paint, interior and drive-train. Most of the belts and hoses were even original.

Being a “California car,” rust was non-existent, and therefore not an issue. The paint on the car was very nice, but it had a few dings, and it was getting a little “thin” along the edges from years of waxing and polishing. The Parchment (off-white) vinyl interior had no rips or tears, but it was slightly faded, as were the door panels. Perhaps most importantly, it ran and drove like a new car. Everything worked, including the air-conditioning.

When offering a car like this for sale, it is very hard to write a description of the car in a way that highlights all of the positive attributes of a “survivor,” while accurately describing all of the inevitable minor imperfections of an original car that was born the same year that the Beatles released the Sergeant Pepper album.

In my listings, I used phrases such as “The car is in a condition commensurate with a vehicle that has been well taken care of, but it is original, so it shows the minor wear and tear that one would expect of a car that is 47 years old ” and “There are some dings and chips, and the paint is “thin” on the hood and some of the edges.”

There was a lot of interest in the car, and several people came to see it.

The first few people who arrived started accusatorily pointing out exactly those minor imperfections that were specified in the description.

I took offense to the fact that they had not read the description, and they were wasting my time. Clearly, they had expected something on the order of a fully restored car. Their expectations were entirely unrealistic.

A car like this must, and will, sell itself. But only when the right buyer comes along. Which is exactly what happened a short time later. After a nine hour drive from Upstate New York, the car sold itself to a buyer in less than 15 minutes. He had read the description carefully, and he held realistic expectations. Either the car would meet those expectations…or it wouldn’t. It did.

The concept of realistic expectations applies to the purchase of all collector cars, not just “survivors.” In my opinion, realistic expectations are the most important thing that a buyer should wrestle with before beginning a search. Once your own expectations are clear to you, you will be much better poised to walk away from a bad deal, as well as to pounce on a great deal.

It is very disheartening to be contacted by someone who purchased a collector car that did not meet their expectations, because they didn’t have any. But it is equally disheartening to be contacted by someone who knowingly walked away from a great deal, re-considered it an hour later, and was told that the car had just been sold.

There is really no point in wasting your time or the sellers time until you have fine-tuned your expectations.

Once you have, one of three things will happen when you go to look at a collector car. 1. The car will not meet those expectations, and you’ll leave disappointed. 2. The car will meet those expectations, and you’ll consider a purchase. 3. The car will exceed those expectations and you will purchase it.

Most importantly, you will be poised to act. You will be prepared to walk away from a bad deal, and you’ll be prepared to take advantage of a good deal.

We’ve all known people who got a great deal on a collector car. When we ask them how they did it, we are usually told that they were in the right place, at the right time, with a pile of cash. That’s just another way of saying that they knew what they wanted. In other words…they had realistic expectations, and they were prepared to act when the car met or exceeded those expectations.

Sellers also have a responsibility to accurately describe a vehicle. It has long been my experience that most buyers, at least those with realistic expectations, don’t mind if a vehicle has a fault, or many faults.

They just don’t want to be surprised. Accurately describing a vehicle lets a potential buyer know that they are dealing with an honest seller. And that is the best tool that a seller can ask for. 

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