There are lots of youtubers who talk about “flipping”, buying and selling cars to make money. Of these car salesman talkers I like Rabbit best. He is a cross between the Dukes of Hazzard and Arthur Daley with the same “lovable rogue” appeal. What we share is a delight in a good story for the sake of the story. I have also been following Automotive Life because his insight into the car business is helping me forecast used car values. VINwiki’s Ed Bolian has a background selling Lamborghinis in Atlanta. He has a standing joke around how he is a “shrewd negotiator” – that is to say if the circumstances are right, he isn’t afraid to make a low ball offer, usually half of the asking price (!!). Tyler Hoover of Hoovie’s Garage has a whole channel built upon buying the cheapest example of a given make and model of (usually desirable/interesting) car, and then cataloging what is wrong and fixing it, in the process spending more than if had bought a decent example in the first place.
Unless, like Hoovie, you have millions of youtube subscribers, in which case your business is youtube, not cars, what these different guys have in common is an understanding that the only way to ethically make money buying and selling cars is to buy cheap and sell at fair market value. To buy cheap, you need to find vehicles needing some work. Then you use your labour and skill to bring the vehicle to a level where you can sell for fair market value because the machine is now worth that.
However, labour and skill do not always take the form you might anticipate. I was musing on this as a friend was telling me about a bike he had picked up the previous evening. The old fellow selling had restored it. In the basement of his house. When he finished, he had not been able to get it started, so he did the only reasonable thing, and put it to the back of his basement, to become covered by the debris and clutter of thirty years. Liberating it had involved pushing it up a flight of stairs from it’s subterannean lair, rolling on a plank of wood. And this was no moped, but a Honda CX500 that weird V-twin across the frame job, like a Moto-Guzzi, so it was wide. Luckily, my friend had a particularly strong helper with him. Having got it up the stairs, they needed to load it into the truck, which involved blocking the road. All the while, a neighbor helpfully shouted abuse about the truck blocking his driveway. That is to say, the price may have been low, but the labour and skill involved were significant.
A while ago, I had helped the same friend in a similar enterprise. His friend’s aunt’s sister’s mother’s son had a car in a garage and wanted it gone. As with the Honda, it was free if you would move it. The thing with towing is that no two tows are the same. In this case, the extraction from the garage was not too hard. The tyres held air, the brakes were not seized on. The car was a 1968 Ford Fairlane hardtop, a small block V8 car. I mention this because while the CX500 was not easily moved, a full-size sixties American sedan is a heavy, unwieldy object to be maneuvering even when it is running, and a lot more so when it has not moved since Bush was in the White House.
The challenge with the Fairlane came with getting it onto the dolly while not letting it run away down the slope of the driveway. We had come equipped with a U-haul tow dolly attached to the ‘07 Hemi Durango I had at the time. Backing the dolly up the drive and into position in that narrow street with parked cars on both sides and only a car’s width gap across the sidewalk was sufficiently difficult that I remember stepping out the truck and saying “if you want this bloody car, you can back the bloody dolly up the drive.” Never one to back down from a challenge, my friend did that.
It was a tense moment using the Fairlane’s own momentum, rolling down the driveway a few feet to get it up onto the dolly. Our celebration soon turned to consternation when we realized the straps had been placed wrongly, and the car was now parked on top of them, meaning it could not be strapped to the dolly. Good skills, me. The only solution was for it to come off the dolly again, us to move the straps, and then to push it on once more. There really is nothing like the feeling that you’re about to have your leg broken by a giant yellow turd slipping off a U-haul dolly.
The Fairlane came out backwards, the rear wheels riding a few inches from the ground, cradled in the dolly, the quad headlight nose peering down the road behind us. Getting the rig into the street involved knocking on doors and asking neighbors to move cars. Luckily the old bird getting rid of the car was well known and liked. Once underway, the first three blocks were more like a European city than any American city, in that there were so many cars parked on either side of the road that the road was only wide enough for one car.
Pulling out onto a more major road, a celebratory air was palpable. Slowing for a light, this rapidly evaporated when the Fairlane swung wildly across two lanes of traffic, appearing to attempt to overtake the Durango. We stopped in the right lane. The Fairlane blocked the left. Beyond it, there was a city works truck in the left turn lane, “Hey man, you need to secure the steering” offered the workman in the passenger seat. We crossed the intersection and looked for a good place to pull over. The Fairlane seemed to anticipate this, now veering violently to the right, threatening a cyclist and some parked cars before we got stopped.
My friend observed “Well, I guess now we know we need to secure the steering.”
Although this was a few years ago I remain amazed by our dumb luck: at any point in those first three narrow blocks we drove away from the Fairlaine’s lair it could have veered into any one of dozens of parked cars, doing tens of thousands of dollars of street-blocking damage before we could have stopped. In my mind’s eye, I can see it veering from one side to another, scraping a Rav 4 here, bashing a Subaru Outback there before half climbing on top of a Tesla as if in some bizarre act of automotive copulation. Then, hearing the commotion, the people in the houses would come outside and then see we had toileted their cars! Bet those would have been fun conversations.
The Fairlane sat on my friend’s driveway for a bit, before he decided he didn’t love it enough to put in all the work necessary to get it not just running but driving too. He sold it for fair market value.