October marks the 33rd anniversary of the founding of our club. There have been a lot of changes over the years within our club and also within the collector car hobby as a whole. Yes, we may think of ourselves as MG enthusiasts, British car fans, amateur mechanics and so forth, but to the world out there that we deal with we are just one part of the group known as collector car hobbyists.
The Steering Column
Left Hand Drive
from our President
That hobby has had a lot of changes, too, over those 33 years. In 1976, MG owners bought most of their parts from a local retail store, perhaps one that specialized in “import” cars. There were plenty of repair shops also catering to the “import” crowd, for both mechanical and bodywork repairs. Now its mail order or internet websites for parts and very few specialized local repair shops.
Most special interest cars, such as our MG’s, traded hands then through local newspaper ads or through word-of-mouth. Yes, you could advertise to a nationwide readership, but the only national venue of importance was Hemmings Motor News (which is still published). Nowadays, many collector cars are marketed on a nationwide basis.
Today, hardly a week goes buy without receiving a slick brochure for an upcoming collector car auction. They are all the same, promising a wide array of “consigned” cars, spectacular collections, and automotive history to be had for cash. The number of auctions and the number of people trying to get in on the gravy train has increased tremendously. Finally, one begins to wonder: where do all these cars come from? just exactly how many 1957 Chevy’s are there out there? why are these cars for sale if they are so great?
Good questions to ask when your money may be at stake. The answer apparently is that most of the cars being sold at auctions are simply going from one dealer to another. Some from one collector to another, but the majority seem to be dealer transactions. And why not? After all, the number of collector car dealers has also increased tremendously over that 33 year time span.
At one time, a collector car dealership was a little like a new car dealer showroom. Except, besides for old cars on the floor, the wall was covered with James Dean posters, old guitars, Marilyn Monroe stuff, and a nonstop litany of oldies-but-goodies played to tug at the nostalgia heartstrings of potential buyers. There are still some of these around, but the modern model of a collector car dealership is much different. Thanks to the internet.
The majority of collector car dealerships are now, as the saying goes, under the radar to the general public. They are often housed in a warehouse type building in an industrial park. There may be one or two cars in a front area but more commonly all inventory is stashed in the back in the manner of an apartment house parking garage. Not a good merchandising approach, you might say, but don’t forget that these cars are now all sold over the internet. Nobody just “drops in” to shop. A slick online display now gets the attention of a remote buyer who is probably surfing for a specific year/model with search
engines. And most of the merchandise is “on consignment” rather than owned by the dealer.
One unfortunate byproduct of this business model is that the seller often has little true knowledge of his product. For example, a mid 1970’s muscle car recently advertised as having only 27,000 actual miles was discovered to have an inoperative odometer on a test drive. When did it stop working? Well, one clue was the receipt for new tires dated in 1990 with the same exact mileage as the car had in September 2009. In another recent example, an out-of-state dealer advertised a “recently fully restored Austin-Healey”. Photos supplied with the car showed it just after restoration – with a 1992 license plate visible, and a test drive determined that the transmission and overdrive unit were both defective.
Both of the dealers were quite embarrassed by what was discovered – after all, they are not crooks but are also victims of a system that has them selling cars that they are not familiar with. And some of our mail order parts vendors are also embarrassed when their stuff doesn’t measure up, but that’s part of their own business model for offshore-sourcing that sometimes backfires.
And so time marches on. If you have been in this hobby for many years you have experienced the changes described above. If you are newer, well, who knows what the future will bring to the collector car hobby for all of us?
In the meantime, I’ll be buying my mail order parts with a credit card billing that can be disputed…and I certainly won’t be buying any cars long distance without a personal inspection.
Safety Fast, -- Jim Evans
The Steering Column
Right Hand Drive
from our Vice - President