There’s change afoot here at TTS. No, neither of us has gone transgender, and yes, it will include some more frequent posting. This once-a-quarter pattern isn’t really working for us, although traffic has remained remarkably substantial. The internet is a fascinating place. First off, if you’re not following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, please do! You’ll find more frequent tidbits through those outlets than on the official blog, although this remains our home of homes. But all that’s not what I’m really here to talk about, either. This is first and foremost a car blog, and as such the interesting content is about cars. So brace yourselves, folks, as there are changes coming to the TTS fleet!
This is not news, really, especially for those who know us well. I mean, in my house alone we are up to over 120 cars over the past 19.75 years of marriage. And that doesn’t include the 5 we had before we got married. There is a saying at my house: “Don’t get attached to the cars.” Well, actually, it’s more of a complaint, but whatever. In truth, my wife has not had that many cars in terms of daily driver, just a series of black Mercedes wagons (S210, S211, and now S212). My daily drivers change a little more frequently, but I’ve been driving the same 2013 E350 Bluetec diesel for over a year (!) now, largely because the car it replaced nearly left me in financial ruin and I couldn’t sell it if I wanted to. But I like it: it’s a little ordinary-looking but it gets great mileage and that turbodiesel torque gives you an awesome kick in the shorts. Childish? Perhaps. But fun nonetheless.
So, yes, we’re one of those annoying couples with matching cars. No doubt that when I’m comfortably right side up in the diesel, it’s likely to go away. Then again, you never know. After the Volkswagen TDI debacle, diesels may just become collector items in their own right. If nothing else, 2013 was the last of the 6-cylinder E-Class diesel, so there’s that. All this to say, my daily driver fleet isn’t changing. Jonathan’s is another story, but that will be his to tell. Mine is a story about what to buy and hold onto.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve had a series of what I consider “fun” cars – that is, cars that I don’t drive daily and occupy prized space in an otherwise crowded garage) – but none of them were particularly compelling from a long-term ownership perspective. There was an E30 convertible, two yellow Boxsters (a base and an S), a BRG Miata (which was probably the most fun out of all of them), an old diesel or two, and, well, you get it. Talking to my wife about a month ago, I pitched the concept of buying something that would, at a minimum, hold its value and with a little luck may even increase. Expecting to be shot down in a blaze of practicality, I was shocked when she asked what kind of car I was thinking about.
The last true “collector” vehicle I got involved with was a silver on blue 1969 Mercedes 280SL Pagoda that looked remarkably like this one. While beautiful, the car was a bit of a hornet’s nest of deferred maintenance. Still, at the end of the adventure we managed to walk away a few thousand dollars ahead, which felt like a true success – right up until Pagoda prices spiked about a year later, meaning with a little patience we stood to have made about double what I had in the car. Crap.
The rationale is this: markets are floundering, investments stagnant at best, so why not park money in something tangible that will keep us from doing something stupid with it while at the same time providing an opportunity to enjoy it AND a chance to appreciate…? The question is this: what to buy?
This 1987 Porsche 930 was the car that started it. With an asking price of $87,500, it would have been a reach, but it checked the boxes: fun, collectible, and theoretically on the rise. I even liked the color. However, when I proposed an $87K investment to my conservative better half, I was met with a degree of skepticism in the form of a very tall and thick brick wall. Admittedly, that was probably an ambitious starting point, so I decided to put some parameters around it: 1) Less than $50,000; 2) She has to like it. That second point is one of the keys to my enjoyment of cars. I’ve always found that if my wife likes it it tends to stay longer and get used more. When she gets in and gives a car a solid “meh” it doesn’t usually stay around long. At some point I should really explore the psychology of this..
Not to let price hold me back, I turned my attention to naturally-aspirated air-cooled 911 Targas. I’ve always loved the Targa. It’s a classic design that to my eye effectively married the coupe with an open air experience. I looked at several of them, including this car advertised on the PCA website which represents one of the very last of the old-school air-cooled Targas. Prices are high compared with just a few years ago, and just about anything under 90K miles is going for north of $45K – a lot of money and made me think that perhaps they have plateaued if not peaked. Will they come down? Not highly likely, but possible. I don’t see “ordinary” 911s going a whole lot higher anytime soon. Beyond that, I learned that my wife has some deep-rooted hatred for these cars that seems to stem from too many of those bad movies in the 80s where the antagonist cool guy teenager drove one. Who knew?
Then I thought “what about something entirely different?” – I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever owned a British car, so why not start with what is surely a paragon of build quality and reliability: the Aston Martin DB7? Pretty car, right? And how bad could it be? It is basically a collection of Jaguar, Ford and Mazda (!) parts wrapped in a pretty wrapper, topped-off with a V12 (basically 2 Ford Duratec motors welded together). I knew it was a reach, but I sent it off to the missus anyway, and I think for a few moments she was intrigued, but calmer heads prevailed. Almost simultaneously we both came to the realization that this was probably not the vehicle to take us from the land of $5K beaters to investment cars. I stand by that decision, but may still be that stupid some day.
I looked at some later, water-cooled 911s, with a particular eye to the 996 Turbo. That is a car perfectly poised to go up in value, as the lowest entry point to supercardom out there. 0-60 in a hair over 4 seconds, no IMS problems, easily available in my price range: Oh, yeah! But then I came across a really nice 997 coupe – and it’s just so modern with its 6-speed transmission, heated seats, navigation, etc, etc, and it’s a lot better looking than its predecessor. And then I realized that I was coming dangerously close to looking at used cars. The 997 likely still has some room to depreciate, so this clearly defeats the purpose.
And then I started thinking like the family man that I am. If I enjoy when my wife likes the “fun” car, I love when the kids do, too! Enter the sedan. Sure, you can put kids in the back of a 911 or any number of other coupes and convertibles, but in doing so you may be having fun, but they won’t be – at least not at 15 and 12 years old. You can ask my sister about that – she spent a LOT of time crammed behind the seats of an Alfa Spider sitting on a small pillow. And she still curses me for it. So why not a sedan? They are undeniably less desirable to the average collector than a sleek coupe, GT, or roadster, but for someone who intends to use it and bring his posse along, it could just be the ticket. The E39 M5 is a great car, and a very nice one can be had for a reasonable price, but I was having a hard time getting excited. Likewise I tripped across this AMG Hammer-looking 300E-24 3.4 AMG – lots of letters and numbers that mean this started life as a regular 24-valve 300E modified by AMG (pre-merger). It was sold new in Japan, but the history was a little vague (at best) and it just raised too many questions. Besides, as my sister (the other one) pointed out: “it looks like a Tokyo gangster car!” Well, yes.
Which leads me here, to the Mercedes 500E. Jointly developed and manufactured by Porsche as Mercedes’ answer to the AMG Hammer, the 500E is a brilliant yet subtle modern interpretation of the banker’s hotrod in the tradition of the 300SEL 6.3 and the 450SEL 6.9. This particular car is one of seven imported in Cabernet red, and comes with over $50K in documented regular maintenance over its 24 years. It isn’t flashy, and you have to know what it is to really appreciate it. A true sleeper! If you don’t notice the fenders are wider and the stance is lower, and you don’t see the spoiler-mounted foglights and the different reflectors on the headlights, then this will look like nothing more than a $4K used W124 300E to you. But for those who know…. More about it once I get some wheel time. I think this is a solid investment, but probably without substantial upside in the near term if ever, time will tell.
Other cars considered:
- Mercedes R107 560SL
- Mercedes R129 SL500 (especially Silver Arrow)
- Mercedes 300SEL 6.3
- Jaguar XJR, XKR
- 1991-1994 Alfa Spider
- Alfa GTV6
- Alfa Duetto
- Porsche 914
There were probably others.. What would you buy, and why?