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Too good to be true

As you know, in search of good returns in terms of both investment and fun, I have been looking for quality vintage cars that should appreciate in value. The research has been interesting – a lot more interesting than stocks and shares – but there are also a few issues that have become apparent.

One is that prices can differ quite markedly for similar cars from country to country. This, of course, is an opportunity. I want to keep my cars in the UK. If I can source them in Europe, there are no duties or VAT to pay so I need only consider the cost of the car – and the inconvenience and expense of having “my man” fly out to inspect the goods. After all, too many wild goose chases will eat up any theoretical profit before a purchase is even made, so I have to exercise caution. Which leads me to the other big issue ­– scamsters.

A motor may be advertised for sale on either classic car website or an online marketplace like eBay at what seems to be an extremely good price. In the past few weeks, for instance, I’ve found an Alfa Romeo Giulia in France for £15k that I thought  was worth nearer £50k, a Ferrari 365 for £75k in Greece that I thought was worth £150k, and a Ferrari 575 Maranello in Germany that was just about spot on the market price.

In each case the supposed owners suggested that I paid the full amount via a payment system, the funds would be held in an escrow account and they would ship the car to the UK. I would then have seven days to inspect the vehicle with the option to accept or reject it with a full refund. Although the wording sounded plausible, the expense of shipping and the risk of return didn’t seem to stack up. On each occasion I suggested that instead I would send someone over to appraise the car and settle by bankers draft or cash if I decided to buy. After all, how much simpler and quicker would that be for both of us?

In the case of the Greek Ferrari, the seller sent me a contract demanding a 10% deposit to secure an inspection visit. I can only presume he was sending the same contract to other buyers and collecting as many “deposits” as possible. I declined the “opportunity”.

In the case of the Giulia in France, I said that as I was currently in London I would take the train over to inspect it. The seller replied that, although he was in France, the car was actually in Malaga. How convenient, I said, because I happen to have a friend in the Spanish motor trade who can inspect it and settle with cash if he likes it and the documentation is in order. This time the vendor said the car had already been loaded into a container in Malaga pending shipping. I responded that, if he got it off the container, he could save the shipping costs and get the deal done quickly. I didn’t hear back.

Finally, in the case of the German Ferrari, I felt I was beginning to get a “feel” for the market so I emailed the seller to send me a copy of his passport and proof of address as a matter of good faith. “What for?” came the response. I responded that it was so I could be sure that he wasn’t using a false name and that the details on the ownership documents actually matched those on his passport. I even signed off with “Vorsprung durch technik”. Reply came there none.

All this goes to show that the classic car market is no different from any other. Buyer beware. But it also does seem to suggest that there are a lot of cars out there that either don’t exist at all or are not owned by the people advertising them for sale. I still haven’t worked out what the catch is with this payment method. It seems legitimate but there certainly is a catch – and I’m sure a few people have been caught out by it. I suppose it just serves to illustrate once again that if an offer seems too good to be true, then it probably isn’t true.

As I write I’ve just got a lead on a 1994 Aston Martin V8 coupé. These are lovely hand-built cars that are incredibly comfortable to drive but seem to have been overlooked so far in the classic market. Around £50k bags a good one. I’m going to bag mine but you can be sure I’ll be doing it on terms and conditions of my own choosing.


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