You’ll have heard it said countless times before: Don’t let the heart rule the head when buying a car or bike. From buying guides written around enthusiast vehicles to individuals sharing their personal experiences across social media – #trybeforeyoubuy and #thinkbeforeyousink – the message is always clear: If your emotions get the better of you, chances are you’re in for a whole world of pain.
Heck, even I have written as much, for car buying guides published across an array of magazines and websites. But then, something inexplicable happened. All that wisdom went out of the window and I paid dearly for not following my own advice and that of countless others.
My emotions got the better of me. There, I’ve said it. Not only that, they really hurt me, financially.
So join me as I share a cautionary tale. One that should send a chill down your spine and have you looking at a car you took a fancy to in a new, level-headed light.
A decade ago I visited the November 2009 NEC classic car show. There on the Renault Alpine Owners’ Club stand was a glorious bright yellow Alpine A610. As I ogled it something came over me and I decided that I’d like an A610 of my own. At that point, I should have kept such thoughts to myself, and perhaps I’d have avoided disappearing down a rabbit hole. But no, I committed my first mistake, and handed the owner of that yellow car my card, saying that if he knew of a good A610 for sale I’d be interested.
I’d never driven one and I didn’t know anybody who had, but they looked fabulous and when writing a buying guide on the Alpine A610 a few years earlier, I’d been told they were great to drive, reasonably well built, parts availability was good, and running costs were low.
My informant had clearly been wearing a pair of rose-tinted glasses when they spoke to me.
In January 2010 I got an email from someone selling a supposedly superb A610. Even I could tell it wasn’t superb but it had potential and who was I to say that the £14,750 asking price was too much? It was the only right-hand drive A610 for sale, of the 68 made and 40 or so survivors, so I had nothing to compare it with. This is where the head should have kicked in and sounded alarm bells. With no other cars available, there was no yardstick by which to judge the true value of the French sports car, and that meant there was less ground to haggle.
Reader, I bought it.
That year only two A610s changed hands in the UK; the next one came up in November 2010, by which point I’d already realised that I’d made a terrible mistake. Within days of driving the Renault home its ignition module had failed, but a new one was secured through my local dealer for a couple of hundred quid. I fitted it then the crankshaft sensor packed up, so I had the car taken to a specialist 150 miles away for him to get it running again.
Poorer by several hundred more pounds, I drove the A610 home only for the gear linkage to fall apart on the way, leaving me stuck in fifth gear. Alpine ownership wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped, but maybe these were just teething problems. Please let them be teething problems…
I handed the Alpine to another specialist for further glitches to be fixed. The bill was over two grand, which seemed reasonable, but it soon transpired that it wasn’t, as much of the work had been done badly or not at all.
A year into ownership I decided it was time to sort the car out for once and for all. I’d tracked down an Alpine specialist called Lee Crowston who had just set up Renault Alpine Tuning Services, and over the next couple of years he rebuilt the car which involved lots of new mechanical parts, repairing some rust, much powder coating and a fresh coat of paint. By the time I got the car back it owed me a total of £35,000 (including the original purchase price of less than £15,000) but it was finally reliable and, hopefully, a car that I’d want to keep forever.
Freshly rebuilt, I drove the car to Paris for a magazine feature. The trip clocked up 998 miles and the Renault broke down only once (late at night, in pouring rain…) when the fuel line came apart on a cobbled Parisian street. The car was fixed in two minutes by a Renault dealer but it made no difference; that trip showed me that I was never going to love my Alpine A610. It felt fragile, the ride and handling were disappointing, it wasn’t that quick and Alpine’s boffins had forgotten to engineer in any ventilation, refinement, practicality or build quality. But it did look nice.
The A610 sat in my garage for the next few years, used very sparingly. At every MoT it needed work and in 2019 I decided that I’d had enough. The A610 had to go, so I placed adverts on the usual online classifieds, sat back and waited for the calls and emails to come in.
Then I waited some more. And more. And eventually I realised that nobody else was brave enough to take on a relatively unknown quantity like an Alpine A610. The car may have received some complimentary reviews when new – with Car’s Richard Bremner writing in 1991, “It’s a car that’s meant to be driven hard and fast, and entertains wonderfully when it is” – but people were wary of what they saw as a fragile, French sports car that had little following in the UK and, therefore, little investment potential – or even the potential to simply hold its value.
Keen to get rid, I entered the Alpine into the 2019 NEC classic car auction. Bids started at £17,000 but there was no interest. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
A month later I submitted the Alpine to another auction where the bidding started at £14,500; not a single hand went up. Over the winter the car returned to those various classifieds and on the first day of lockdown 2020 the A610 was finally trailered away by its new owner. And I hate to admit it but I knew they would never really drive the car; it was to go into his collection of modern classics.
So, time to come clean. I sold the car for a little less than £20,000. I’d made a massive loss, and all because I let my heart steamroller all over the head. Sometimes you just have to put these things down to experience – but it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Maybe next time I’ll take my own advice. Make sure you do, too.
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