This week I sold my old BMW 2002. A woman from Seattle bought it. She has a strong personal connection to 2002s and said she had a good feeling about my 1976. I had a good feeling about her too, which made the decision to sell easy. I think I actually said. "The vibe feels right." Which could be the only situation that I can imagine where I would utter the phrase un-ironically. In this case the vibe did matter to me. I wanted to pass the car on to someone who would treasure it. It's like when people want to sell their house to a young family and not someone who’s going to flip it.
Buying a 2002 was a homecoming of sorts for her. She had one in high school that her dad had given her. Then she was forced to sell it when he passed away. It was cool to see the car go to someone that really appreciated it. I gave her the keys, told her about some paperwork I found and wished her well with her new car. I walked into our house and went upstairs to my office. As I sat down at my (standing) desk I looked out my window hoping to see her drive off. I was surprised to see her still in the car, longer than I would have expected. I could see her sitting there with the sunroof already open. Then she started slowly rolling away from the curb and out of view.
The sight of her sitting in the car looked like an emotional moment for her. Maybe it was the memories of her late father or just the excitement to have bought a fun car. It made me happy to see it all happen – to steal that last moment with the 2002. It was a nice conclusion to my adventures in vintage car ownership. I'm happy to have mentally and financially survived it.
When I thought about the car being sold it didn't make me sad, it made me happy that it was gone. One less thing to worry about. That's when it became obvious to me that I am not a vintage car person. It was one of the most elaborate buy something to buy happiness games I have ever played. I don't regret doing it, but I doubt I will ever do it again.
My plan now is to remain a vintage car appreciator while resisting the desire to be an owner. All of the nostalgic things we hated about the cars of decades past, the things that engineers have worked diligently to resolve, are actually enduring when you drive for fun. The crank windows, the smells, the proportions, the rattles and engine noises all resonate in their own certain ways. I understand why people love it. I just don't think it's my thing.
Getting past all of the time and money that old cars require, I found the vintage car world to be strikingly similar to the insane world of vintage watches. There are a lot of obscenely rich people who are all competing for some barn find or the perfect original car that they find before anyone else. There are bits the car world which remind me of territorial surfers or cyclists just being a**holes while wearing lycra. I like cars, surfers and cyclists, I just don't always love the larger community.
Regardless of how it all went with my 2002 I wouldn't discourage people from buying an old car. If I wouldn't have done it I would have figured out that the old car game is not for me. If I wouldn't have bought the car I wouldn't have gained as much of a sense of what really makes me happy. I loved driving the 2002 on the PCH but it was only surface pleasure, not lasting happiness. I've spent most of the past four decades adding things and am only just figuring out that all of this stuff sort of just weighs me down. So that's why I've been moving on. We've talked about this before, a lot of this stuff is just about hunting for things out of boredom or ambivalence. It's not really about owning the car. Maybe it was about being able to post the car on Instagram? I’m sure that was part of my motivation as disappointing as that may be.
My dad has a perspective on marginal experiences that I've adopted. If a job I took didn’t turn out to be what I hoped he would say. "Just another thing you know you don't want to do." That would take the sting out of things and help me see the time and energy I expelled as a net positive. That's how I feel about the 2002. I’ve always wanted an old car and I checked that box. It was a success from that point. I didn't end up getting killed financially all things considered and that's positive number two. I connected with the nostalgia of the past and that felt amazing. I'm a different person because of it all and I guess that's all we can hope for from the things we buy.
What I learned from owning the BMW 2002 and what you might want to consider before buying a vintage car.
If you are going to buy something, find a friend (or friend of a friend), mechanic or third party who has owned one and can tell you what to look for. As an example, my car has a blue license plate. In California unlike other states, the plate stays with the car. So the blue plate means that it was registered between 1969-1980 and wasn't registered anywhere else. So it's a California car that's good when it comes to rust. The bad thing I didn't know before I bought it was that the car is a 1976 and in California everything 1976 and newer has to be SMOG certified. That often entails lots of money spent at the mechanic and time dealing with it. It's a bit of a nightmare. So the 1976 2002 is the worst year to own if you live in California. A good friend who knows where to look for problems, what garage to take it for an inspection will be the difference between a lot of headaches and just a few.
Expect to spend more than you probably expect. Old cars are like pets. They need a lot of time, care and money. If you are on a budget or don't plan on turning a wrench yourself, I would recommend another hobby. I could probably have afforded to spend more on this car but I didn't really want to. Often (but not always) the money you put into a car is not going to come back to you. The right cars might appreciate (like 911s have), but if you need that to happen for it all to make financial sense it's probably best to stay away.
Get a premier AAA membership. This is self explanatory and will be money well spent. AAA has DMV services to, so you know.
There are classic car insurance companies that will insure your car for a few hundred a year as opposed to a few hundred a month. Hagerty and American Collectors Insurance are a few.
Explore beyond Bring a Trailer. There are a lot of other places to find a good car. I find the people on BaT to be almost completely insufferable. There are other cars out there then what everyone sees on the same 2 or 3 places.