The dumbest car-related thing I’ve ever done is impulse buying a Hummer H1 to use as a daily driver… while living in New York City. This was the kind of decision that 24-year old Matt Farah made, in a sea of generally poor life decisions. But I’ve already told that story, many, many times. So here’s the dumbest car decision I made this decade.
Here’s how not listening to my own advice cost me almost $10,000.
When you give car buying advice to strangers with whom you have no personal connection, the advice is always straightforward, pragmatic, and mostly objective. You want people to actually end up with the car that will improve their life, not the car that will be a pain and break the bank. And my advice is always pretty consistent, especially when it comes to used or vintage cars: I say to buy the nicest one you can afford, because saving money on the purchase will almost always cost more in repairs and time later. I say to always, always get an independent pre-purchase inspection. And I say to never, ever trust a single word the seller says.
Last year, I decided I wanted a semi-vintage Ferrari. Specifically, I wanted a 328 GTS. I like taking the roof off in California, not least of which because my bald noggin pops out of the roofline anyway. And I like the paint-matched rear bumper, bigger 16-inch wheels, Gen2 front end, and extra torque that comes with the post-facelift 328. Plus: I was born in 1981. I’ve never seen a single episode of Magnum P.I., and by the time I was old enough to demand my mother take me to the local grey-market importer to stare at cars, it was the 328, not the 308, on the showroom floor. Testarossas are nice, but for one reason or another, they just don’t do it for me. I’m on Team Countach for that battle.
So off searching I went, in all the usual places we search now: the premium auction sites, FerrariChat, eBay Motors, even Craigslist. I tried to follow my own rules, did some due diligence, and crossed several cars off the list for a variety of reasons.
Auctions are strange in that, sometimes, to win, you have to overpay.
I got myself involved in a bidding war on Bring a Trailer and came this close to spending way too much money on a very nice, clean, but red car. I really didn’t want a red Ferrari, but this one was in my hometown, which would have saved me lots of money on shipping, and I had checked it out in person, myself. It sold for over $90,000, which, for a 328, is a ton. But it was a very nice car.
(This would be the third online auction in which I bailed out before overpaying for a vintage car. At least this is what I tell myself).
I then went old-school. I called a vintage car broker who I know and like. For him, a Ferrari 328 is substantially down market by a factor of at least 10. I wasn’t getting him on a plane to do in-person inspections at this rate, but he would dig a few holes and uncover a few bodies for me, which was nice. “High driver quality, preferably not red,” was the assignment.
Less than a week later, he came back with three options. We eliminated the silver-over-blue because it had over 80,000 miles. We eliminated a stunning green-over-tan because the listing said the owner did his own maintenance, and therefore there were no records. But the triple black seemed to check out. It was being sold by a dealer in Georgia that my broker knew. It had 40,000 miles, which is just about right for a nice driver, and it had a ton of maintenance records, including one for a recent major service just 500 miles before the sale.
Here’s what I should have done: Found an independent Ferrari mechanic in the Athens, GA area to go look at, run, and drive the car, and conduct a thorough, mechanical inspection. It probably would have cost $500 or so. Maybe it would have taken an hour of my time searching. This would have been the advice I’d give anyone else looking for a vintage car.
Here’s what I actually did: Read the service records, looked at photos, and watched a two-minute video of the car being started and driven. Everything seemed decent. I assumed it would need something, because all old cars need something. But it was the right color, the right amount of used, and the right price. So I wired the money, paid my broker a reasonable finders fee, and got my car.
When it arrived, it looked reasonably good, but it didn’t quite start as smoothly as it did in the video. For the first 5-10 minutes it ran, it was definitely down a cylinder until it would “wake up,” and run smooth. The speedometer seemed to have a mind of its own, and it felt a little down on power. No problem, I thought, I got it cheap and my man Donnie Callaway would make some tweaks and sort it out. He didn’t want to see it until I had driven it at least 500 miles and made a list of everything wrong with the car.
So I daily drove it as best I could for two weeks, did a couple of canyon runs, and, having not been stranded or experienced anything horrible, especially once the car was warm, sent the car out to Donnie’s secret lair in the desert for some love.
Not 2 days later, Donnie called. His first words were, “I thought you said this car just had a major service?”
“I have a receipt for a major service,” I replied.
“The timing belts on this car are at least eight years old, the fuel filter is original from 1986, and three of the injectors are leaking,” he told me. “There is zero chance this car had a recent major service.”
What I had, what was presented with the car, was an utterly fraudulent, itemized receipt for a major Ferrari service that wasn’t done. I would now have to have Donnie treat this car as a total unknown, take it apart down to the valves, and start over.
I bought this car in October. The “receipt” for the major service was dated February, with the previous owner’s name on it. What is not known is, did the shop screw the last owner by pretending to do a service and just not doing it? Did the last owner screw the consigning dealer, and therefore me, by just making up a service record on his computer? Did the dealer make up the service to juice the sale price?
At the end of the day, unless I was planning to sue someone, it doesn’t matter, because now I had the car.
Plus, I liked the car. I’d had a taste, and I wanted it sorted so I could drive it more. Thanks to fair pricing from an honest technician, and thanks to the fact that a 328’s transverse layout means that you don’t have to physically remove the whole engine to do a belt service, I was able to get out of this mess for a hair under $10,000.
I’m not saying ten grand isn’t a ton of money. Ten grand is a ton of money, especially when you didn’t expect to have to spend it. I definitely felt stupid for not following my own advice. I definitely felt like a sucker who didn’t do his homework, who now reaped what he had sown.
I left two voicemails and a web inquiry for the shop in Georgia. Predictably, I never heard back. And Donnie, right on brand, managed to “find” some other things under the hood that needed doing, including rebuilding my entire fuel injection system and replacing generic wires, hardware and filters with factory-spec ones. He knows I want to drive my cars and doesn’t want headaches, so we simply chalk this stuff up to future-proofing.
Ultimately, Donnie sorted the car out, and I got what I wanted: a vintage Ferrari in a color that isn’t red, for a total sum of money that is still palatable.
And who knows? Had I sent an independent third party over to that dealer to check out the car ahead of time, had I not trusted the paperwork I was given, I might have still bought the car! In the world of old cars, deferred maintenance is far from a dealbreaker. But it would have provided ample room for negotiation, and I would have come out the smart, savvy one, instead of the one left holding the bag and paying out of pocket to fix the car.
So there you have it. The dumbest car decision I’ve made this decade is… not listening to the advice I give others every single day.