'NCRS Quality' classic cars can't be had for 'Driver Quality' price

Classic Model T Ford automobiles line up at Classic Model T Ford automobiles line up at the Wayside Restaurant in Berlin, Vt. (June 13, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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I look at a lot of cars that are potential candidates for purchase by buyers all over the world. Some customers intend to drive the cars, and some intend to restore them. In all cases I try to be fair not only to the buyer, whom I am generally representing, but to the seller as well.

 A perfect example is the buyer who contacted me to look at a 1966 “427-425 Big Block” Corvette that was being sold by a dealer who is not a Corvette specialist. The buyer's instructions to me included “The car must be absolutely flawless. Note engine number, transmission number, rear end number, carburetor number, distributor number, diameter of sway bars, location of hood hinge mount, and clutch diameter. The line from the oil pressure gauge to engine must be steel, and the front spring tags must read “3888250.” The fuel line at the engine must end with a 90° bend 6 inches in front of the idler arm mount. The differential yokes must be tapped with bolt on caps, and throttle lever must curve back from the pivot toward rear of car. There should be no aluminum expansion tank and the mounting holes must be filled from bottom. The battery cables must have a riveted cable clip near passenger side of tunnel opening, and there must be a special label on the back of the tachometer in the instrument cluster.”

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    Clearly this buyer was expecting a show quality car that had been judged at a national level. The price tag would almost certainly exceed $100,000.

    The detailed instructions from this buyer escalated this visit from a “pre-purchase inspection” to an “authentication.” An authentication is significantly more time consuming and therefore more expensive. It also necessitates a level of expertise that often requires me to have an expert join me in the inspection.

    Knowing that this particular dealer generally sells cars that would be considered “driver quality,” I was curious to see just how the car was being represented. When I visited the dealers website, I saw that the listing read “1966 Corvette 427/425. 4-Speed. An older restoration that still presents well. Appears to be an original “Big Block” car. No documentation. Asking $50,000.” In other words…a “driver quality” car. There were no representations being made as to whether the car was “matching numbers,” nor was anything said about whether the car had been restored to original condition. The dealer even indicated that the car “appears” to be a “Big Block” and specifically states that there was no documentation.

    After reading both the buyers checklist and the sellers description, I wondered just exactly what this buyer was expecting to acquire for an asking price $50,000? So I called him. After a brief conversation it became apparent that this was the buyers first foray into the world of vintage Corvettes. To his credit he had done his homework and had a fair idea of what criteria was important in these Corvettes, as well as an accurate understanding of their values. So there was clearly a disconnect in his belief that he could buy a $100,000 car for $50,000. In other words, he can’t buy a “NCRS Quality” car at a “Driver Quality” price.

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    After a lengthy discussion, I told him that I didn’t feel comfortable taking his money for an inspection of a vehicle that I knew would not meet his criteria. What I didn’t tell him was that I also felt uncomfortable wasting both my time and the dealers time.

    Unrealistic buyers are a problem that honest sellers face on a regular basis, and it can be very frustrating.

    Whereas it’s incumbent on a seller to give an honest and accurate representation of a classic car, the buyer also has a responsibility to be realistic. A realistic buyer expects to get what they are paying for. Not something that is worth twice what they are willing to spend. A seller has a responsibility to entertain realistic offers, not hypothetical “What if I were to offer you” offers from buyers that have never seen the car. Most importantly, both buyer and seller have a responsibility to walk away from the deal if they do not “connect” with the party on the other side of the transaction. In other words, go with your instinct.

    This holds true for all classic cars. Not just Corvettes. But for some reason I come across these situations with Corvettes more than any other car. Now I’m not making the claim that there are not deals to be had on classic cars. There are. But your chances of buying a classic car for 50 percent of its true value are about the same as winning the lottery. The only difference is that you’re not wasting anybody’s time when you buy a lottery ticket.  

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