Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Thoughts from a Swiss car collector and dealer

Alex from Geneva lives and breathes classic sports cars.  With his dad being a classic car dealer, Alex has been surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of rare and interesting cars since he was born.  In keeping with his passion, he studied mechanical engineering and aerodynamics at school.  Now, he is in the classic car business and has an enviable personal collection as well.
What type of cars interests you the most?
I love long, low, front-engine, rear drive cars.  Minimum of 6 cylinders (rather in-line, I don’t like V6s).
My preference goes to V8s, my favourites being Maserati and Aston Martin matched to a ZF gearbox.  I’m more interested in Gran Tourers rather than pure sports and I like when a car has enough power AND can give you a minimum of ride comfort.

I love a lot of different cars, regardless of their value.  I have a dealer’s vision as well which is quite different from an aficionado’s one.
What cars have you owned?  
I have owned quite a lot of cars.  I can’t even remember everything that I have owned. To name a few :
Alfa Romeo Alfasud Ti & Sprint, Spider 2000, 75 3.0 V6 QV;
BMW 320/6 & 323i E21, 323 Ti Compact E36, 330 Ci Coupe E46;
Aston Martin V8, Virage;
Alpina B7 Turbo E12, B3 3.3 E46;
Autobianchi A112 Abarth;
Lancia Beta Coupe & Spider;
Reliant Scimitar GTE;
TVR Taimar, S3C;
Lotus Esprit S2, Turbo Essex, Turbo SE, Europa Twin Cam, Elan Sprint;
Renault Clio 3.0 V6;
Maserati Mexico, Kyalami, Biturbo (nearly all models);
Porsche 968;
Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG;
Peugeot 205 GTi;
VW Golf GTi;
Jaguar XJS, XK8;
Datsun 240 Z.


You have owned nearly all of the different versions of the Maserati BiTurbo.  In the United States, the 1980s BiTurbos (they came as a coupe and a sedan) had a terrible reputation due to reliability problems and their non-exotic looks.  As a BiTurbo fan, what would you say to the skeptics?  What do you like about the BiTurbo?  Are there qualities about the car that most people do not appreciate or know?

They are not as unreliable as we always hear. Of course the build quality was not optimal at first and many interior details were finished in cheap materials.
We have to bear in mind that Maserati was on a budget at that time and headed by DeTomaso who was a very good businessman looking for profit.  Mechanically, the first cars were not as reliable due to new turbo technology and lack of time for correct development but it’s not as bad as one says.
Unreliability is due to the customers buying a Maserati and driving them like a BMW 3-series everyday.  With such a power to capacity ratio, the Maserati engine couldn’t be treated the same way the BMW was.  
Waiting for a car to be hot before pushing it and doing services strictly at intervals were probably not on the minds of the kind of people who then (1980s) had access to Maserati cars.  I think these cars mainly suffered from this.
I would be more concerned with rust or interior quality problems rather than mechanicals failing.  Of course the tip is to buy the lowest KM car possible with the best service history. That’s the best way to get yourself a bargain.
I like the fun/money factor. No other car will give you so much sensation with so little money.  The kick when the turbos come in is phenomenal, the brakes are powerful to cope with performance.  The compact size of the car makes it a very usable hot rod.  The lines are discrete but very elegant on the coupes. The interior is a very cosy living room. A very nice place to be, very baroque.
I would recommend buying a late version (with so many improvements and constant development over the years) 222 with injection and improved materials, the cream of the crop being a Ghibli II.
What do you have in your collection now?
I don’t have a lot of time to enjoy owning and driving a large collection so that I try to keep only the very specials ones.  I currently have four cars: 
  • Maserati Ghibli 4.7 (1968)
  • Jaguar D-Type replica
  • TVR Chimaera 400
  • Alpina B3 3.3 (as daily driver)

What 2010 model cars (under 100,000 Euros) will become classic collectibles 20 to 30 years from now?
Anything that has something special to it (limited runs, small manufacturers) will someday become collectable.  Anything that is a pure A to B everyday connector without soul will disappear.
What current coach builder, tuner, or small-scale car manufacturer do you like?  Why?

I love Alpina cars that retain sport/exclusivity, refinement in chassis and engine developed from a good (BMW) basis.
Otherwise, I think that cars today have no taste so I would look at manufacturers like Morgan or even unknown replica manufacturers who do awesome jobs like Hawk Cars.
This is the only way to have something “tailor made”. I like modern classics because with speed limits everywhere, you can enjoy something cool with emotion without the need of driving fast.
You are a car aficionado who also happens to have a background as a car dealer.  With that background, how do you go about finding a car to purchase?  Once you come upon a car that you may purchase, what specifically do you look for before you make a decision?
I only buy the best quality and I pay the price for it, so my problem is always to source impeccable cars.
That’s very rare and usually people do not give them away as gifts so there is no other solution to pay for quality.
I recommend ANY buyer to buy the best they can afford-- a car that’s ready to enjoy and that will keep its value.
What is the state of the (under 100,000 Euro) classic car market in Europe right now? 
The market is doing very well here in Switzerland. People invest in classic cars, but they also enjoy them.  
With steady increase in classic cars value and the speed limits everywhere, it makes more and more sense to have a classic in the garage.
Plus, people really enjoy them, they stay out in the traffic and there are opportunities to meet other people who share the same passion.
What classic cars (price range does not matter) are currently under-appreciated or represent a great value?
As we go forward in time, classic status/collectibility will move as well, and is actually already extending to cars made in the 80s and 90s and maybe 2000s.
So if you are willing to buy something under-appreciated or that represents a great value for money, you should think forward and look at the cars made from the 1980s to the 2000s
Not only are they now true classics, but they are more reliable and useable than cars from the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
A new generation of buyers is now able to buy the cars they have seen and known in their childhood.
I would say, anything special (read: with sporty touch) made in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s can be (or already is) a great value and will certainly become a true classic(Mercedes 190E 16v, Renault Clio V6, Honda Integra R, Peugeot 106 Rallye, etc., to name a few).

Random question: Why is there no uniformity in the make and model of taxis in Geneva?  There are Japanese wagons, Korean SUVs, 1990s American sedans, 1980s Mercedes, everything.  How and why did this happen?

As taxis operators are independent, they choose what they want as cars.
Generally speaking, in Switzerland, the cars ARE from very diverse provenance as Switzerland is not a car manufacturer AND is located in the middle of countries that are traditional car makers.
Despite the small country size, Switzerland always represents an important market for car makers as the income of the population and the car per person ratio are high.  This is why you find such diversity here (German, Italian, French, British, Swedish, Japanese, US cars).  This diversity extends naturally to taxis.
Why do you love cars?
I love cars (read: classic and sports cars) because – contrary to a beautiful painting – they not only look good, but they have a sound, smell, they move, and we can use them for various purposes.
So I look at cars as useable works of art.  They put in touch people having the same passion and enthusiasm.  I avidly learn new things and the domain is so vast that you learn something new everyday (even when you’re into it from morning to night like me)!

***The photos in this post were randomly found on the internet.  They are not of Alex's cars.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful interview. I am lucky to have learnt a lot from Alex since I have known him.
I always thought I knew a lot about classic cars through magazines and books, written by 'experts'. However, through Alex I have learnt a lot more than meets the eye about a lot of classic cars. Stuff you never will (or can) read about in books or magazines.

Excellent blog, keep up the good work!