Classic cars

The dangers of fear-selling a car

by Rob Sass
12 September 2023 3 min read
The dangers of fear-selling a car
Getty Images

I have to confess that my car collecting hasn’t always been free of neuroses. The dominant one is what I like to call “The Nuclear Winter Scenario.” You won’t find it in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the gold standard of North American psychiatry, but it’s characterized by a fear of having the economic equivalent of a dirty bomb go off in your garage. As a result of this “what if” fear, I’ve sold a number of cars that I really enjoyed and should probably still be enjoying. 

I take pride in my bottom-feeder status. I’ve spent a lifetime picking up some really interesting cars at the bottom of their value curves – some actual A-listers have been among them, too, like a 1967 Maserati Mistral, a 1984 Ferrari 308 GTS QV, and a 1965 Jaguar E-Type coupe. Inevitably, when I buy something like this, I’m met with taunts from my bottom-feeder posse, comparing me to Icarus, the character in Greek mythology who ignored his father’s instructions not to fly too high, lest he have his wax wings melt. 

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The thought that I might be flying too close to the sun owning vintage Ferraris and Maseratis was reinforced by the modern-day equivalent of Icarus’ father, Daedelus—the infamous internet forums and the “experts” who opine therein. I loved my Maserati Mistral. It was posh, pretty, and looked expensive with its Borrani wire wheels. The fuel-injected, twin-plug, 4.0-litre straight-six was right out of a 1950s grand prix car. I happily paid the £2000 freight to upgrade the finicky Lucas mechanical fuel-injection system, and I enjoyed the hell out of the car. But my mood shifted after a conversation in California at Pebble Beach with a marque expert who regaled me with a story about a Mistral owner whose car had a timing chain break. “He’s still waiting for a set of pistons and his shop bill is over £24,000,” I was told. 

Dark thoughts of expensive repairs forced your author to sell his lovely Mistral… for a loss.

Paranoia was my co-pilot with every subsequent Maserati drive. I sold the car at a loss in 2009, and I’ve seen it twice since – once on a movie screen (it’s the car parked outside the villa of René Mathis, James Bond’s doomed fellow spy in A Quantum of Solace), and then last year at Rétromobile, where it sold at an auction for about three times what I got for it. I’ll never own a car like that again, and that realization makes me more than a bit sad. 

The Mistral, looking like a million quid in A Quantum of Solace. (MGM)

Oddly enough, I never really had such fears with my Ferrari 308. I had the good sense to listen to my friend Art Mason, who was a multiple 308 owner and a Ferrari Club of America judge. He was fond of reminding me that the bottom ends of 3.0-litre Ferrari V8s are pretty much bulletproof, and top ends are generally good for at least 75,000 miles (my car was about 50K shy of that at the time). Gearboxes rarely fail, and if you are diligent with timing belt changes, there’s no real nuclear winter scenario with a 308. I had it for an angst-free four years, did a belt change, and replaced a few power window switches, and that was it. 

The Porsche world that I mostly inhabit now is far from free of “what-if” angst. Not long ago, I daily drove what was probably the best car I’ve ever owned, a 2002 Porsche 996 Twin Turbo. It was brilliant at everything, in all weather. Maintenance expenses were, however, exotic-Italian-car level. To accomplish nearly anything, the engine had to come out. After being told that the coolant system refresh the car was due for could total almost nine grand (after all of the “while we’re in there, let’s do this stuff”), the anxiety of having that big of a mouth to feed became crippling, and the 996 TT was no more. 

Also crippling was the naturally aspirated 996 that followed, a Guards Red car with a factory aero kit. It was a concours-quality GT3 look-alike, but the bore-score and cylinder failure issues that affect a tiny minority of these cars took up space in my head, and eventually I rationalized selling it for a far less exciting gen-2 997 cabriolet. 

The point is, in 30 years of playing with cars, despite my fears, I’ve actually never had a nuclear winter event occur. Not even close. It’s all been unproductive worrying about what-ifs. The silver lining, I suppose, is that such worrying has forced me from car to car to car, which is the best kind of musical chairs there is. 

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