One of the benefits of working in an auto repair shop is that you are on the front lines of the used car market. Without much effort, you know who is in the market to buy and who would like to sell a vehicle. So over the years I have purchased a number of cars from customers and likewise have sold a few to other clients.
A 1975 Mercury Monarch and a 1985 Chevy Caprice Classic were OK buys for me. They provided sound transportation and maintained their integrity in terms of appearance and reliability for the duration of my ownership. I sold the Chevy to another customer who drove it for a number of years without spending much on repairs. Unlike stocks, when it comes to cars, past performance can be a guarantee of future results, as long as they are properly maintained.
But without a doubt the best car I ever owned was purchased from a little old lady in 1979. When she owned the car she would drive by to have me check the gas gauge and inquire whether she should fill up or wait. Usually I would tell her to wait and try to use up her current inventory, because I was concerned that the gas would “go bad”. All the details of this 1969 Chevy Nova are burned into my brain, because she decided to sell it to me when it turned 10 years old when it had only been driven 1500 miles.
No, I didn’t forget a zero, in a decade the owner had barely driven the car beyond the inspection lanes and back and undoubtedly could have taken a taxi as cheaply on all of her jaunts. So how do you establish the value of a car that has been driven so few miles? We called the Chevrolet dealership and arrived at something that made sense to both parties and I became the proud owner of a two door, glacier blue Nova with a standard transmission and a 6 cylinder engine. On the showroom floor its price tag was less than $2500.
What made it the best car I ever owned? It’s simplicity. Although its amenities were non-existent, the vehicle’s Spartan functionality provided reliable transportation and it didn’t put up much of a fuss when something went wrong. When is the last time you raised the hood of a car and could actually see the pavement below?
But like many things in life, everything has a time and the tipping point for the Nova was a growing family that required a vehicle with two more doors. This brings me to the other reason that this Chevy is so memorable. I did indeed sell it to another customer. Let’s call him Len.
Len was a very good customer, who was well appreciated, but in today’s jargon he would earn the label “high maintenance”. I was anxious to move the Nova and mentioned it to Len contrary to the advice of my co-workers. He said we had a deal as long as I agreed to teach his 20 something son how to operate the stick shift. So one Saturday we found a parking lot that had a couple of elevated grades on which we could simulate preventing the car from rolling back at stop lights and with Len kibitzing from the back seat we practiced and practiced.
Of course, on Monday morning everyone wanted to know how my tutorial had gone. Without any hesitation I told them, “Len said it was a deal.” I didn’t mention that he was insisting that I have the clutch replaced prior to the sale.