Articles

Michael Sheehan's Ferraris-online.com Article

Avoid Conflicts with Pre–Sale Inspections

Going over the car helps bridge the gap between buyers’ expectations and the realities of old and expensive cars

As appeared in:

Sports Car Market—June 2011 issue

Sheehan Speaks

by Michael Sheehan

1971 Ferrari 365 GTB/4
1971 Ferrari 365 GTB/4

I’ve been selling Enzo-era cars since there were only Enzo-era cars. It is both interesting and telling that the Enzo-era cars (built from 1947 to 1974) closely parallel my age group—the all-too-rapidly aging Baby-Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964). When it comes to age, much like the Baby-Boomers, almost all of the Enzo-era cars are now on the wrong side of the big “4-0.”

The daily morning look in the mirror reminds us of the passage of time, from thinning hair to the morning’s aches and pains. Alas, many owners of older Ferraris choose to be in denial to similar idiosyncrasies and weaknesses with their cars.

To these long-term owners, the Ferrari they have grown old with, for so many years, is a great car, starts right up, will go into second gear if you’re very smooth and patient and doesn’t leak much oil. Often, owners tend to live with issues, while buyers dream of everything functioning like new. Indeed, long-term owners find joy in the skill necessary to carefully get it to slip into second gear without grinding when cold, while new owners expect Lexus performance with vintage Ferrari looks. What’s wrong with this picture?

Our job description is to bridge the gap between the seller’s denial of deferred maintenance issues versus the buyer’s fantasies of a free platinum-level restoration included with their purchase. I began writing of the need for pre-purchase inspections in SCM back in 2005. Since then I’ve had to further define the limits of the pre-purchase process in this column every few years. I’m pleased to say that a pre-purchase inspection is now de-rigueur in most exotic cars transactions.

Head the problems off at the pass

While inherently robust mechanically, by now most Enzo-era Ferraris that have not been properly restored are abject examples of the horrors of improper or lack of regular care by a qualified technician. Even today, it’s not unusual to find Dinos and Daytonas that have never had the engines apart or a major restoration—with all the problems and pitfalls that implies.

And while the Fiat and Montezemolo-era cars are newer and have fewer miles, most have, at some stage in their lives, been driven hard and put away wet. No one buys a Ferrari because they get good mileage—and all want to see how fast it will really go.

As we have seen more age-related problems from all generations of Ferraris, we’ve begun to insist on a presale evaluation on every Ferrari that graces our doors—even before it’s advertised. The daily drama has taught us that it’s much easier to resolve problems before the car is listed than to try to explain and negotiate the same problems while we bounce back-and-forth between the buyer, the seller and the shop.

Unfortunately I have no lack of examples for this column. This month’s poster child for owner intransigence was a Euro model 365 GTB/4 we listed in August, 2009 at $329,500. The seller had no lack of service records and described the car as “needing nothing.”

One Ferrari, four shops, many problems

We quickly had our first buyer and the car went for its first pre-purchase. The shop put the car on a rack, quickly saw that the front spring pads and shock boots needed replacement and opined the front end needed a rebuild. The buyer wanted a fully-restored “needs nothing” car, so the deal was dead. The seller was inflexible on pricing and replied that the ball joints and tie rod ends were all new. He missed the point. While ball joints and tie rod ends are indeed part of the front suspension, so are the spring pads, shock boots and more.

In frustration, we pulled the car from our ads but the seller was soon back at a new and lower price. The car was re-advertised and we had a second buyer. The seller insisted that the first shop had vilified his car, so we had a second shop do the next inspection. That shop took only minutes to point out the starter ring gear was noisy, and there was a “clunk” from the rear suspension. So, deal number two died a quick death. The seller opined that the second shop was just trying to make work and that there were no problems.

The seller insisted the car be taken to a third shop of his choice at his expense to validate his car. After the car was inspected, the seller called to tell me that the owner of Shop Three confirmed that Shop Two missed the mark on the car. To confirm, I personally called the third shop owner who agreed that Shop Two might had overstated their case. Shop Three then pointed out that since Shop Two cut their inspection short they had missed damage to the radiator support structure that Shop Three quickly found.

We then had a third buyer who made an all-cash, no-inspection offer. While the seller was eager to take the offer, we had no desire to assume the seller’s liabilities or to sell a Ferrari with known problems. We insisted that both the owner and his Daytona come to a shop near us for yet another inspection that I would attend.

The fourth shop owner and I have been selling and/or servicing Daytonas for decades. We had spoken with the owners of all three previous shops and gotten their list of problems. Fortunately, there was another Euro model Daytona in Shop Four, so direct comparisons were easy to make to the doubtful owner. Shop Four took the hours necessary for a detailed pre-purchase inspections—plus a test drive—and found a bad rear axle.

During every step of the inspection, the shop owner and I patiently went over the car with the owner and refused to back down as he tried to make excuses. In the end, the owner agreed to pay to have the radiator support structure rebuilt, the front spring pads and shock boots replaced, the starter ring gear replaced and the right rear axle replaced. The total cost was $12k. In an attempt to find closure, the shop owner agreed to a fixed-price repair and I agreed to a partial cut in commission. Heaven forbid that the shop owner or broker might “make money” on the seller’s car.

Lessons learned

There are many morals to this story. From day one, the seller overrated his car— and stayed in deep denial when problems were pointed out. Since the first three shops only did quick inspections, it took the cumulative impact of three failed sales, four failed inspections and a face-to-face meeting to bring the seller to reality. Had the owner spent the $12k before the car was listed, it would have sold months earlier for more than enough to cover his costs. Instead he chased the market down.

Many clients think (or want to think) their cars are perfect. So, when their car fails the pre-purchase inspection, they think they are being set up or pushed to do unnecessary work to benefit the buyer. We had to convince the seller that making a car right doesn’t mean a free restoration at the seller’s expense. But it does mean selling a well-sorted car with safety and drivability issues resolved.

My mistake was in not personally inspecting the car with the second or third shop—and not having the owner there for any of the inspections. In retrospect, far too much time and mental energy was wasted—although probably all of this was necessary with this most difficult owner.

I close with the thought that all of the issues above are not specific to Ferraris. The same lessons apply to any old or high-performance car. Whether a $100,000 Jaguar E-type or a $3.2m McLaren F1, both age and being thrashed by an excited driver can create an entire host of problems that a seller should be aware of so that he might properly represent a car, and a buyer should know so that he is happy with what he ends up with after he spends his money.