(Editor’s note: During the month of May, the ClassicCars.com Journal is publishing a series of stories about buying your first, or perhaps your next, collector vehicle. Today, Bob Golfen tells how he didn’t buy his latest collector car but got it in a trade. If you have a story about your experience buying your first collector car that you’d like to share, please send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Cars trades are something that hobbyists and collectors dream about. It’s a mental game we all play, calculating what it would take to swap that pride and joy for some other fine vehicle. As in, “Would I trade my clean Pontiac GTO for that Mustang Boss 302 over there?” Or the never-ending comparison game of “Which would you rather have?”
Well, I’m here to tell you that I actually did it. I made the trade. And as it turned out, it was a good decision (they’re often not) in many respects.
As such things happen, it started with a phone call. As auto editor for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, I often received calls from people with old collector cars who needed to sell them but didn’t know how. Often, the callers were widows whose late husbands had left the cars or trucks behind.
I usually directed them to one of several people I trusted to get the vehicles sold. But this time, the lady on the phone piqued my interest. The two cars languishing in her garage for the past decade or so, she told me, were British sports cars, a 1953 MGTD and a 1967 Austin Healey 3000.
The Healey was right up my alley, long admired and desired. I arranged with the caller to come out and see it, bought it from her, and a few days later, had it loaded on a trailer and headed home. I also knew someone who would buy the MG.
Although not running and partially disassembled, the Healey was all there, rust free and in reasonably repairable condition, a BJ8 Mark III with intact but somewhat scruffy British Racing Green paint and a fairly worn interior. It did have a fresh fabric top, which was a big plus.
After a surprisingly intense amount of effort (it’s always more than you expect), I got the Healey running and driving. It was totally cool to drive, a brutish British beast with a sonorous exhaust note. Quite fun.
But there were some issues. First off, my too-tall body was not a great fit in the tight cockpit. A smaller steering wheel and some other adjustments helped, but not a lot.
Plus, I was at the point where the car needed a bunch of money and skilled labor thrown at it to restore the bodywork, paint and interior. After a few years of effort, I was losing my enthusiasm for the seemingly endless project.
Meanwhile, I was visiting a friend’s collector car store and restoration shop in Scottsdale, where I spotted among his cars for sale a certain red 1962 Porsche 356 coupe. For whatever reason, it did it for me. I drove the 356, fit in it just fine, and liked it a lot.
I inquired about the asking price, and then went home to ponder.
I really didn’t have the room (or the cash) for yet another sports car (I also had an MGB), and I quickly realized that if I wanted the Porsche, the Healey would have to go. This all happened about a decade ago, before Porsche prices went stratospheric, although “big” Healeys already had risen in value as collector cars.
Selling the 3000, I figured, would give me about the right amount of money to purchase the 356. And that led to a scheme.
The two cars were likely worth about the same, so I thought maybe I could eliminate the middleman by making a direct trade, the Healey for the Porsche.
My dealer friend was amenable to the possibility, seeing more value, at the time, in the Austin Healey, and the trade was easier than trying to make a sale; he’d been advertising the 356 for a while with no success.
It took a few weeks of going back and forth, but I was persistent, and he finally agreed to the deal. So one day, I drove the Healey across town to his place, and after the usual flurry of paperwork, drove home in the Porsche. No money changed hands.
He set his shop crew to work getting the 3000 in as nice a shape as possible and then put it up for sale. After about a month, he called and asked me to do him a favor: He had a guy coming in from Houston to examine the car and asked if I would stand in as his salesman.
Sure, why not. I met with the Texan and I told him everything about the car, all the repairs I had made to get it on the road, and what work it needed, mainly cosmetic. We went on a lengthy test drive around Scottsdale, and he was pleased. He wound up buying it for several thousand more than my friend had been asking for the 356.
In the end, we all came out ahead. I got a Porsche 356 that I really enjoy having and which has soared in value, not that I have plans to sell it, and which led me to a great local group, the Arizona Outlaws 356 Club, with several of the members becoming close friends.
The 356 needed some mechanical work, which I knew at the outset, but with the knowledgeable help of my new Outlaw pals, it’s now totally sorted and running great.
For the car dealer, he made more money on the sale than he would have without our trade. And the Texas guy took home a good-running Austin Healey 3000 that he wanted, and which he fits in properly, even wearing cowboy boots (really).
So the possibilities are out there, and you should always be open-minded and open-eyed when it comes time to move on, and maybe move up, in the vast collector car hobby.