Tuesday, November 03, 2009

How to Start (And Maintain) A Car Collection (FAQs)

Rich Chen is a frequent visitor to this site. I draw a lot of my ideas from his miscellaneous ramblings. In a relatively short span of time, Rich has accumulated an eclectic collection of more than a dozen cars. Like many of you, I've daydreamed about owning a car collection. Rich has been kind enough to sit down and answer my questions about how to start and maintain a collection. Interspersed between the questions will be pictures of cars from Rich's collection.

1985 190E 2.3-16

Wish list. Do you have a list of cars that you want and you just tick them off a checklist? Or do you buy cars spontaneously? Is there any theme to your collection?

A collection would be too generous of a description -- Many of these are idiosyncratic, borderline used cars, opportunistically bought for "used Camry money" by an overcompensating Gen X'er. There's certainly not a theme beyond that they are "interesting" -- be it a product of engineering prowess (Corvair), aesthetics (BMW CS), development story (NSX), or my own childhood anomaly (anything with quad headlamps). Many are chance encounters -- while I'm sure there will be targeted "bucket list" cars along the way (Dino! Stratos!), if a clean first-gen Honda CVCC turned up, I'd get excited about it.

1966 Jaguar E-Type

The Hunt. What websites do you frequent to look for cars? Magazines or publications? Do you use brokers? Classic car dealer or private party?

Hello, my name is Rich Chen and I am a Craigslist addict. I practice the Craigslist equivalent of mainlining, using RSS readers. Most of the cars have been found this way. I absolutely prefer buying from a private party, so that I can meet with the owner and learn the underlying history directly. A couple were found on dedicated online forums, after I clicked through to user profiles to ascertain their non-broker-ness. I should also give a shout-out to the dangerously habit-forming website bringatrailer.com, which has been responsible for a couple of the cars.

1973.5 Porsche 911T

Pre-purchase inspection. What do you look for? Do you inspect it on your own? Do you take it to a specialist? Bring a friend?

I'm a sucker for ownership documents and artifacts, not only to give confidence around the car's mechanical upkeep, but to make the car historically "whole" -- I'm drawn to older cars partly because of all the neat owner stories they embody, and things like receipts, scrapbooks, and spare parts really testify to the love they received. I think I've gotten a proper pre-purchase
inspection twice, and being a non-mechanic I really *should* be getting them especially for cars requiring specific expertise -- BMW M-cars, Alfas, engine swaps -- but so far I've bought recklessly many on gut ("It's clean, doesn't leak much, comes with a giant stack of papers, and didn't crush or poison me during the test drive!") and then sent them to a barely-better-late-than-never post-purchase inspection with a specialist.

1988 M5

Significant other. How did you get away with your collection? Is your SO a saint? Was there a quid pro quo involved? Are you hiding the collection from her?

I love my wife -- I've been fortunate to have married an inprobably tolerant woman who has had to deal with things like a Datsun 240Z (L28ET swap done by the founder of Southern Oregon Z Owners Club -- see, stories!) showing up unannounced. While she's not an enthusiast, she can handle a manual 5-speed and at least feigns interest. I'm not hiding any more cars from her, but if I were to, strictly hypothetically, I'd spend more time here on your blog professing
my absolute love for her. Did I already tell you that I am madly in love with my wife?

1972 280SE 4.5

Storage. How do you store these cars? In a warehouse, a hangar, a large garage?

Here in the Bay Area, storage space really is the #1 constraint for a binge habit like this, since the cars and support networks are plenty available. The cars are mostly located in an industrial warehouse, and I've also been known to approach neighbors to lease extra garage spaces they have.

1974 Alfa Romeo GTV

Insurance. How do you insure the cars?

Hagerty. Extraordinarily reasonable and wonderfully responsive when things go wrong, and they've made me a lifetime fan. Most of the cars are <$100 per year to insure. The total premium actually went *down* when I crossed the 10-car threshold, although you'd think that kind of irrational behavior flags you as being a bad risk.

1967 Jaguar 420G

Maintenance. Do you take each car to a different specialist? Or do you have one trusted mechanic who works on everything? Do you do any of the work yourself?

For being an Asian guy I'm woefully lacking in problem-solving and dexterous hand skills, but will try as much work as I can, and learn along the way -- mostly one- and two-wrench icon projects on a five-wrench difficulty scale. Fortunately there is an insane range of specialists to whom I can come crying, all within 10 miles of where I live -- Alfas and Jaguars are well-covered, and even Lancias and Citroens have patron saints around here. Maybe in my next life, I'll get to hire a fleet manager who's also an ace mechanic. *Clenches fist*

1990 M3

Rookie mistake. What is one important piece of advice that you wish someone had shared with you before you started collecting?

Learn to break up. Sell some of the cars and move on without lingering emotional attachment. I've become attached to them in a way that really gets in the way of proper garage hygiene -- At these numbers, it does get a bit tedious to keep all the cars exercised and healthy.

1973 240Z (turbo)

Future. What is your next car purchase going to be?

If German & Japanese cars are gateway drugs and British & Italian cars are the hard stuff, the logical terminus would be something French. Or Czech. Or pre-Hu Chinese.

1972 BMW 3.0CS

Passion. Why do you like cars?

As hobbies go I think it's got a wonderful range to it. There is a side to it where you appreciate things like engineering and design. And then there's a hands-on challenge where you have to go find one to buy. Or where you figure out what's broken, fix it, and are rewarded with a working machine. There's history about people who made these cars, and people who owned them before you. You get to drive them out there, feel great, and get into interesting conversations with neat people. It all feels very satisfying.

Like for so many others, my interest goes back to childhood. Kids in late-1970s Tokyo were swept by a supercar boom that not only ate up western imports like "The Gumball Rally," but domestically gave birth to things like supercar TV quiz shows and manga comics -- one protagonist drove a Lotus Europa, even. (See "The Circuit Wolf") As an adult I'm clearly overcompensating for my past inability to race cars in bell bottomed nomex suits -- Basically, I'm being a kid and enjoying meeting other kids.

1994 NSX


F1 Outsider said...

Very very cool!!!
I finally have my own place now with a garage and I'm starting to day dream about putting a nice classic car in there...

An Alfa or MG perhaps... But lately I've been daydreaming about taking a trip down to my homeland in Brazil and aquiring a VW SP2 and bringing it up here.

If you're not familiar with the SP2, here's a look:

Anonymous said...

Great interview and yes I am jealous. I am a tinkerer at heart and would love to have a "collection" someday. I really love that there is no real rhyme of reason in vehicle selection.It is just what interests him.

Maxichamp said...

F1O: The SP2 looks very sporty in that 1970s kind of way. Are there any good websites (in Portuguese or English) that feature cars made and sold in Brazil?

I guess the SP2 is a product of Brazil's import substitution industrialization policy.

F1 Outsider said...


Here are some links with information on the SP 2:



From what I gather, there are only about 5 of these in the US and they seem to change hands in the $20-$25k range. At that price, it's cheaper for me to go to Brazil and bring it here myself.

online insurance said...
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Dolphin Hater said...

My my. That is an amazing collection and mirrors what I would have gone for (read: ///M cars) had I not been blessed with a Manhattan residence. Instead I guess I'll just have to deal with my cream-colored three-speed, a Kryptonite lock or - if it's raining - a Metrocard and/or a variety of yellow hybrids or Crown Vics.