Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 24, 2017
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Dream machines

Try a pre-owned exotic car and enjoy your mid-life crisis without winding up in the poorhouse

If scoring incredible deals on Aston Martins was an Olympic event, Tony Alberto (not his real name) would be toting around a bucketful of gold medals right now. The Mississauga, ON, entrepreneur — and lifelong Aston Martin fan — has been buying and selling the preferred sports car of James Bond for the better part of three decades. And while Alberto isn’t exactly destitute, he certainly doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to drop $300,000 on a weekend scream machine.

So, what’s his secret? Simple: he never buys new. And what’s more, there’s never been a better time for the not-so-rich-and-famous to buy a slightly-worn exotic sports cars or ultra high-end luxury vehicle.

A few factors are fuelling the buyer’s market. First, along with yachts and executive jets, high-end automobiles are the ultimate discretionary spending items. Thanks to current economic conditions, the market for such pricey chariots is less than robust.

As well, by definition, so-called “supercars” used to be built in very small batches. For example, fewer than 40 handmade Ferrari GTOs were constructed in the early 1960s. Forget about scoring a bargain there: those particular GTOs remain true collector items today, typically selling for more than $10 million. Yet, in recent decades, the supercar has become democratized. Thanks to high-tech modern factories, such vehicles are now manufactured in relatively large numbers compared to their handmade ancestors. It’s Economics 101 – and much like any commodity, when supply goes up, prices go down.

All of which is to say a prudent shopper can really score a bargain when it comes to buying or leasing a used iconic sports car or luxury sedan these days (although keep in mind that the people in this business much prefer the term, “pre-owned”). From Ferrari to Bentley, there are terrific second-hand deals to be had, especially in the US, even considering that buying a vehicle stateside means getting hit with a 6.9 percent duty.

So, if you have a little extra scratch, go ahead and live your dream of driving an exotic car, albeit a slightly used one.

Research, research

In Alberto's case, he acquired his first used Aston Martin in 1980 when he purchased a 1975 V8 Saloon two-door hardtop. Price: $18,000, which was quite the deep discount given that when new, the car retailed for more than $50,000 – a small fortune in 1975.

Alas, his first foray with the iconic British sports car wasn’t a positive one. Because the car sported an aluminum body mounted on a steel chassis, premature corrosion occurred. That was the first lesson Alberto learned when it came to acquiring a supercar: researching a potential purchase is Job One.

“Go to the forums that [cater to] the people who actually own the cars and you’ll find out everything you need to know,” says Alberto, noting that thanks to the Internet, conducting detective work on a car’s pedigree has never been easier. “If you don’t make an informed decision, you’re just asking for trouble.”

Indeed, if you’re serious about owning an iconic set of wheels, part of your research process should entail reading as many specialized car books and magazines possible including Sports Car Market, Classic & Sports Car and Classic Cars.

Since getting burned on his first purchase in 1980, Alberto has made certain not to buy a high-priced exotic clunker again. To date, he’s purchased an additional six Aston Martins over the years; all have been superb.

In 1983, he acquired a 1976 Aston Martin V8 Saloon for $26,000 (about half of what it sold for when new). Unlike his first, this car was a creampuff. In fact, Alberto took such meticulous care of the vehicle he was actually able to flip it for $49,000 in 1988 when the exotic car market was experiencing a peak.

He immediately parlayed the funds from that sale and purchased an ’85 Aston Martin Volante convertible for $85,000 (when new, the car was almost $200,000.) Alberto kept that car for 16 years, eventually selling it in 2004 for $75,000 in a depressed market.

On the record

However, Alberto’s pride and joy Aston Martin is the 2006 Vanquish S he sourced in California two years ago. The car formerly belonged to Jennifer Lopez (it was a gift for her then-husband, Marc Anthony.) Alberto bought the car – which had only 920 kilometres on the odometer – for US$120,000. Although six figures may sound like a lot for a used car, five years ago, a new Vanquish S was selling for $370,000 in Canada. In effect, Alberto acquired an extremely low-mileage, three-year-old supercar for two-thirds off.

“That [Vanquish S] was my ‘bucket list’ car,” he says.

In addition to researching the history of a particular make and model and talking to current owners, there are some other dos and don’ts when it comes to acquiring pre-loved high-end rides.

For example, it is essential that when buying a used supercar all the maintenance records are impeccable. Otherwise, things can get very expensive very quickly.

“You want to buy a car with ‘no stories,’” says Dean Renwick, a car appraiser with Antique & Classic Auto Appraisal Service in Toronto. “You want to make sure all the scheduled maintenance and service records are up-to-date. You want to make sure you’re getting what you think you’re getting.”

And with good reason: the maintenance costs with some exotics can be exorbitant. It can cost $10,000 to change a timing belt on a Ferrari or as much as $12,000 for a complete brake job. Even a routine oil change can set you back $500.

Get it checked

If you’re not mechanically-inclined, hiring a reputable and insured auto appraiser such as Renwick is money well-spent. (A professional appraisal starts at $300.) Renwick notes the “real bargains” are found when a car is three years old and off-warranty. Assuming the car has been well-maintained and has low mileage, he says it will still look like new (the vast majority of supercars are only driven on summer weekends.) The discount versus a new model can be greater than 50 percent.

For example, Renwick points to the Dodge Viper (1991-2010), noting that a solid used example can be had for as low as $30,000 whereas brand new, this Mopar monster with its hulking V10 motor was around $100,000.

Then there’s the late, great Acura NSX (1990-2005) — essentially, the Japanese version of a Ferrari. An NSX can also be picked up for as low as $30,000; whereas it was more than $90,000 brand new.

If you’re into ultra-luxury, consider the Bentley Continental GT (2003- present). A pre-owned Continental GT can be had for less than $70,000.

Of course, nothing screams exotic more than a Lamborghini Gallardo (2003 to present.) Expect to shell out about $100,000 for a used Gallardo, but considering this car sells for more than double that sum when new, even a six-figure Lambo can make for a relative bargain.

Now in Canada

There are also sweet deals to be had on high-end cars if you look for vehicles that are shunned by the purists. Case in point: the 1998-2005 model run of the Porsche 911 (known internally at Porsche as the “996.”) Many Porsche 911 fans didn’t care for the look and the underpinnings of this particular 911 generation, preferring previous and later models. As a result, some nicely-preserved 911s made during this time can be had today for as low as $30,000.

Cam Woolley, a 50-something former Ontario Provincial Police sergeant, also sings the praises of buying used. He owns an ever-changing stable of luxury vehicles free and clear including a Rolls-Royce Silver Spur.

And much like Alberto, Woolley is an adroit bargain hunter specializing in snagging “champagne cars on a beer budget.”

Indeed, Woolley maintains that a smart buyer can buy an iconic used car for an amount equivalent to the sales tax on the current year’s model.

“The big cities, like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, are chock full of older luxury vehicles,” he says. “The rich guys get rid of their cars because they never want to spend any time under the hood.”

Case in point: his chocolate brown 1984 model Rolls-Royce Silver Spur needed about $15,000 worth of mechanical repairs to make it roadworthy. But given that Woolley only paid $10,000 for the car – which sold for $200,000 new back when legwarmers were in vogue – Woolley was more than happy to spring for an overhaul.

Spare parts

Spare parts for prestige cars — even those more than 20 years old — are, surprisingly, readily available on the market.

“Believe it or not, Canadian Tire has Rolls-Royce parts,” Woolley says. “But you must know the part’s product number, otherwise they automatically send you to the dealer, which will cost a fortune.”

Meanwhile, Renwick notes that if you aren’t a DIY specialist, significant savings can be had by finding a good and reputable independent automotive shop to carry out the repairs and maintenance needs on your ride.

“You’ll enjoy substantial savings and you’ll get far more personalized service from an independent shop,” he says.

In addition to his Silver Spur, Woolley also enjoys the 1980 Porsche 928 that he snagged for $5,500. Sporting a 300-horsepower V8, Woolley calls the 928 a “supercar for its time.” And even though it needed about 25 hours of work up on the hoist to bring it up to snuff, it’s now roadworthy and easily worth double what Woolley paid.

Bottom line: as Alberto notes, when it comes to the acquisition of a supercar, let the original owner “lose his shirt” on the investment. After all, nobody needs to know you bought your beloved dream machine second hand. Go ahead: enjoy your midlife crisis – without ending up in the poorhouse.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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