What to consider when buying your dream car

When I sold my Triumph TR4 this autumn after ten years and re-invested the money in my deal-of-the-century BMW 650i, quite a few people came to me both questioning my choice, but also asking for tips of things to think about when buying the dream car with a big D. Based on my experience over the years, I therefore decided to put together a few points in this regard that make up this week’s post.

My choice of switching from an oldtimer to a modern car, as mentioned in my previous post that you can read here, was basically a practical consideration based on how little I was using the TR4, that fact that I neither have unlimited space nor an unlimited budget, and a realization that our needs have changed. This is not to say you shouldn’t realize your oldtimer dream, but whether it’s an oldtimer or a modern car you’re dreaming about, there are some basic things to bear in mind.

Age is just a number – or is it?

The car’s age is obviously an indirect function of what your dream car is, but the point here is just to think about the implications the age will have on your ability to use it. To come back to my TR4, the longest trip I did in ten years was with my wife to Lausanne and back, around 600 kms. It was a great trip without any issues, but when we came back home I wasn’t really longing to go any further and I left the car standing for 3 weeks.  If you’re more hardcore or more passionate this will sound ridiculous, but at least for some of us it’s relevant and something you should consider before deciding.

…when life was more hardcore than today…

Other aspects of old vs newer include some of the things we are so used to in modern cars that we don’t even think about them. Take for example the isolation of the convertible top – there is a very big difference between a 50-year old car and a new one in this regard. Connectivity is another one of those things – if you love connecting your phone, remember that Bluetooth is a recent invention. And remember that speaker systems have evolved. Unless you want to listen to the engine all the time, make sure you’re happy with the sound, because drilling holes in the door panels of your new companion is perhaps not what you dream about.

The art of lobbying

The dream car your mind is set on is not necessarily the dream of your partner or other family members, and this is where some convincing and lobbying comes into play. Believe me, that’s a far better way to go than to start by buying the car and putting your partner before a fait accompli. I’ve tried and it’s nothing I would recommend.  I’ll never forget the day we returned from holidays and whilst I brought in the luggage, my wife listened to the answering machine where a car dealer I had just made a deal with but not yet told her about called to confirm it. Somehow, I hadn’t found the right moment… She eventually came around, but I won’t try that again. Your family doesn’t need to be as enthusiastic as you, but it’s good if they’re in on the project and don’t hate your dream car – you risk becoming very lonely otherwise. Furthermore, if it’s a two-seater, that obviously means any children have to stay home. If it’s a convertible, it won’t necessarily be very comfortable in the back seat with the hood off. And so on.

The thrill of maintaining

All cars break down. To a certain extent this can be avoided by going through all the checks at the time of buying, but stuff happens. It probably happens more with oldtimers than with modern cars, but there’s more stuff that can break in modern cars, so all things considered, it may well come out the same. Also, if you believe like I did that oldtimer mechanics are good-hearted guys in it for the passion and not for the money, think again…

Many oldtimer garages still look the same, but prices have gone up…

Whether old or new, there is obviously a cost associated with your dream vehicle, and that cost will depend heavily on both the car’s age, its condition and its complexity. Looking at oldtimers, my TR4 was a relatively safe bet given it was a no-frills car with a four-cylinder engine originating from a tractor (it sounded great but revving wasn’t its thing…). A 12-cylinder E-type or an Aston Martin V8 are a completely different story, as friends of mine have experienced over the last years. I’ve now replaced my TR4 with a modern, 8-cylinder double-turbo 650i and when the guarantee expires, I’m potentially up for much heftier bills than with the TR4, but I like to think that at least I’m aware of it. You should be so as well, and you should set a projected budget aside. If you’re insecure, speak to a specialized garage or a car club who will be able to guide you. Please remember this. I know a frightening number of intelligent people who somehow managed to forget all about it until the day the bill is delivered…

Is depreciaton a friend or foe?

With the exception of a small number of collectible cars that gain in value from day one, as a rule of thumb nothing depreciates as quickly and heavily as luxury cars and as a general rule, the more they cost as new, the more they will loose. After a period of typically 6-10 years, values then stabilize at a fraction of the initial price, and this is when it gets interesting. Allow me to take my 650i as an example. 6 years ago when it was new it cost CHF 175’ with options. 50.000 kms later I paid CHF 36’. That’s a nice little depreciation of 80% or if you prefer, 2.8 CHF per km. Even if Elon gets his way, the whole world turns electric in five years and my resale value goes to zero, I’ll never be close to that depreciation. Also, and this was important to me, a great advantage of buying a heavily depreciated luxury car is that it was built at the time to cost CHF 175’, not CHF 36’ or anything in between. That shows in every single detail, and it’s a very nice feeling.

If this is you’re thing, depreciation runs in the 100.000’s the first years…

That’s one side of the coin, but there is of course also a reason for the heavy depreciation, and that’s the maintenance cost. Having said that, I’m a very strong believer in the market being very far from perfect in this regard, meaning that if you do your research, you can to a certain extent “beat” it. As a rule of thumb, never ever be in a hurry. There are of course situations where it’s warranted to act quickly but generally, there will always be good cars around. Take your time, do your checks, look into the history, speak to experts, call the car club etc. The more you know, the more likely you are to buy the right car, and the better prepared you’ll be.

When I set eyes on a 6-series, it was these type of considerations that led me to opt for the updated 450 hp V8 rather than the pre-2013 408 hp version. The extra power was nice but above all, a bit of research showed that the previous engine had a history of engine failures that can become very expensive. This was not at all reflected in market prices however. I knew which options were important to me, and also that I wanted a fully serviced one-owner car. When that car in the right colour scheme then appeared back in August, I was able to act quickly. Of course things can still happen and I certainly don’t want to sound like a know-it-all in this regard, but I’d like to think that knowledge and some experience have at least lowered the risk.

NEVER go for “almost” right

Finally, perhaps the most important point of all. Coming back to the point of not being in a hurry, never – ever – go for the car that almost has it all. If you want a manual 996, don’t buy the Tiptronic thinking you’ll get used to it, wait for the right one to come around – it will. Don’t buy a blue car if you want a black because it’s almost as nice and after all it was cheaper. You risk thinking about it every time you walk up to the car. If you dream of the 8-cylinder, don’t by the 6-cylinder version. And so on. If you’re realizing a childhood dream, you want reality to be as close to that dream as possible an “almost” won’t cut it. When the right car comes along, you’ll be glad you waited!

So there we go. Not by any means a complete guide, but hopefully a few points that can help guide you in your quest for the dream car! Good luck!

5 thoughts on “What to consider when buying your dream car

  1. Philip Hjelmér

    Dear Christopher,

    What should I say, as a newcomer to your blog, after having gone through quite some earlier posts of you? The wealth of information in your comments is just overwhelming. Seldom have I learned so much about cars in such a short period of time than by reading your insightful and competent contributions.

    While I could comment on a lot of what you have written, your article from November 29, 2020 „What to consider when buying your dream car“ urges me to share my own experience in regard of that pursue.

    How it all begun? To be true, my interest for cars began at the early age of probably 5. More seriously it took steam when my grandmother noticed my passion for anything on four wheels and bought me a subscription of the German magazine „Auto Motor und Sport“ when I was 9. No kidding. By then I could hardly read German. But I tried and tried, and eventually after reading an article for 20 times I started to understand the content. The test article in the aforementioned magazine which I still vividly recall was one written by Manfred Jantke, who later became sports chief at Porsche, about the newly released Porsche 911 2.4 S. As you, I grew up in Sweden and I lived there until I was 24.

    Fast forward another seven years. In 1973 two businessmen in our neighborhood simultaneously bought their 2.4 T Targa, one being Grand Prix white and the other leaf green. These were their family cars! I was just stunned by these sports cars. In the town where I grew up there was – to my knowledge- only a third Porsche 911, a Burgundy red 2.2 E Coupé.

    In any event, fast forward another 46 years, after having owned eight 911 during my long life, from the G-model to the 993, a couple of years ago I thought the time had come to return to my boy dream, the „Urelfer“, the first generation of the 911, built between 1963 and 1973.

    As I do not want my comment to be overly long, I will finish here and perhaps tell you the rest of my story in the future which really deals with the subject of „what to consider when buying your dream car“.

    Regards,

    Philip

  2. Christoffer

    Dear Philip,

    as always you’re much too kind but again, many thanks for contributing this story – I don’t think we have many blog readers who have owned not one, not two but rather eight 911’s! Would be delighted to hear more about it at some point!

    All the best, Chris

  3. Philip Hjelmér

    After having paused for a while, let me continue to share my experience when buying your dream car. Warning: Brace yourself for a somewhat lengthy comment this time. Although my considerations deal with my search for a vintage Porsche 911, they apply to any other oldtimer as well.

    A couple of years ago I was looking to buy my boy‘s dream car. More specifically a Porsche 911 2.4 S from 1972 or 1973. Porsches had not been unknown to me as I bought my first one in 1994; a 1987 Carrera Cabriolet originally delivered in Boston (USA) to a Swiss pilot who later took it to Switzerland when he returned to his home country.

    After several other 911 I learned to know Sven. He is a German guy living in Kreuzlingen on one side of the Rhine. On the other side of the river he has a great garage in Constance. Sven imported my last two 911 for me from the U.S. He has a good Porsche network there. These cars proved to be top notch.

    When I told him that I was looking for an „Urelfer“ (the first generation of 911 between 1963 and 1973) he offered his assistance. Although he’s able to completely take apart a Porsche engine and put it together again, Sven is not a mechanic but an engineer. He is an extremely smart guy and buying/selling Porsche is just a side activity for him. Currently he is assembling a 2.8 RSR race car from 1973, just as a hobby. He owns several Porsche and although this is his passion, he is also an avid kite surfer and lead singer in a band. And to top it off he held a responsible position in a large international company! Last year though he quit his regular job to have sufficient time to remodel his spacy garage. Luckily for me, he also had more time to help me find my dream car.

    In any event we inspected almost a dozen 911 2.4. My point is, you should always have an expert joining you when examining old cars, before you buy one. Through a highly respected Porsche expert in Zurich I was made aware of a well-known English collector who was willing to sell his light ivory 1973 911 2.4 S Coupé. The car was very unusual as it was completely original and allegedly in excellent condition. It also means that it had never been repainted. Sven and I flew to England in late 2019 to see the car. The original paint looked like new. This is quite unique and deserves a premium. Many “Urelfer” have undergone a bare metal paintwork. (It‘s quite easy to detect whether a car has been bare metal repainted or if the new paint has just been applied on top of the old one, which is a sin. You just measure the thickness of the paint to find out. When sanding down the old paint you will also detect if there is any rust to the body, and there often is……..) Rust is commonly an issue with these cars. If the car hasn’t had a bare metal repaint, you need to enter cavities with an endoscope to find any hidden corrosion. Of course an inspection can only be performed using a car lift. Also, only an expert can usually detect mechanical flaws just by looking at the car from underneath.

    In the case of the London car the owner’s asking price was high and my expectations accordingly. Sven‘s forensic investigation, including studying paperwork such as old invoices, making photographs of critical parts and of course using a car lift, revealed a couple of flaws. Nothing that couldn’t have been fixed, but with the steep price tag of a bit over €200’000 I certainly didn’t want to invest any more. Considering that importation costs would come on top of this, the car was simply too expensive.

    We continued to search for the „perfect“ car. I should also mention that I did not want a completely renovated one. There are quite a number of those. These are expensive, but not necessarily more so than original ones in excellent condition.

    In Geneva a 2.4 S was offered by a reputable dealer. Although it was claimed to be „matching numbers“ (chassis, gearbox and engine) Sven detected that the engine number had been manipulated. It turned out to be fake! I don‘t believe the dealer knew this, although the counterfeit wasn’t done very professionally. Another car we looked at in Ticino turned out to lack invoices, an owner‘s manual and a service booklet. This makes it almost impossible to track the owner history of the car. If you‘re willing to pay €150‘000+ this is a no-go. Although mechanically the car was good, the paintwork was not the best. Off to the next car. This was repainted in another color as the original, for me a no-go. Off again. In Zürich another reputable dealer offered a beautiful one. Again the engine number had been tampered with! When it‘s done competently though, as in this case, it‘s very difficult to detect, but now I know how to do it! In Bavaria another S turned out to have flaws to its body. Several other cars in Germany Sven inspected for me, but there was always an issue……

    Then I got an mail from my highly respected contact in Zurich who hinted at the car in London a year earlier. A reputable Porsche mechanic in the Zurich area was willing to let his 1973 2.4 T go. T is the lower end (130 hp), E the middle one (165 hp) and S the top model (190 hp).

    My interest was a bit muted because I was looking for an S and not a T. Sven was abroad on vacation at the time so I went to see the car alone, and I really liked it. It was very original, had only undergone a bare metal repaint in the color “Blutorange” (very well documented with photographs). It also had the front spoiler as an original option (only with the S it was standard). I couldn’t find any flaws, but who am I to make such a judgement? I had the car reserved until Sven was back and able to perform a forensic investigation on the car. He couldn’t detect any serious issues (he always finds something to complain about though). As a result I bought the car and am very happy with it, although it’s “only” a T. I paid the equivalent of €115’000. This is at the upper end of the price range for Ts for which €100’000 is a good ball park number for good cars. However, my T really belongs to the best and it also won a beauty contest prize in its category in Mollis in 2018.

    Of course you can settle for a less than perfect car, which I’m not at all against, but then you should know this and not overpay.

    P. S. Engaging an expert costs a bit, but can save you a lot.

  4. Dear Philip,

    many many thanks for your interesting and insightful comment! I’ll get back to you separately hoping to exchange a bit more on the subject, perhaps even in person now that we’re opening up again!

    Best, Chris

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