Digital Buying

Just as the fax machine helped fuel an explosion in the collector car market in the ’80s by making information available instantly and inexpensively, databases and the Internet are fueling a very different and more-detailed information-driven phenomena in the ’90s.

Voluminous databases and the enthusiasts dutifully recording the history of many collector cars often make it possible for buyers to search for the exact year, make and model car they want, and they often get a detailed ownership and service history as well, a process that used to take months and involve numerous letters, phone calls and faxes.

Today’s collector car buyer now has the option of jumping online to find a car and to confirm its condition and pedigree, without having to confront showrooms and small armies of salesmen.

However, even when cybershopping, the human touch still is important. Facts and figures on their own won’t do, especially with an exotic car that may have some clouds in its history. And nothing will ever substitute for having a trained mechanic give a car a thorough mechanical evaluation. One has only to look at the egregious, misleading and downright incorrect descriptions of cars being offered on eBay to see that just because someone knows how to use email doesn’t suddenly make them a font of knowledge or a paragon of virtue.

But for a growing number of reputable, knowledgeable brokers, the Internet has become a real asset. Bruce Trenery at Fantasy Junction sold a 1962 Cadillac for $10,000; Chris Renwick of Symbolic Motorcars sold a C-Type Jaguar for well over $1.2 million; Mark Ketcham, an independent broker, sold a 1963 Ferrari, S/N 4137 GT—the last 250 SWB California Spyder built—for more than $900,000. All these transactions had one thing in common: Their sales were facilitated by the Internet, e-mail and databases.

The Ferrari Market Letter requires serial numbers in all of its classified ads, and we envision a time in which every car ad will include either a chassis number or an registration number so it can immediately be looked up on the Internet.

Further, as databases become more refined, car deals should get simpler. There will be more agreement on the condition and history/provenance of cars. Questions will simply be posted to the Web, with the entire collector car community asked to comment on the seller, the buyer and the car.

Some fear this coming era of full disclosure, most often because they have something they would rather hide. But hiding is about to become more difficult. While mis-representing a car’s condition and ownership may be easy to do over the Web, hiding from the e-mails and postings of an outraged buyer will be nearly impossible.

I believe that a fully informed buyer is a good buyer, one who is likely to become a repeat buyer, and I predict that within five years, 75 percent of the cars sold will have some sort of Internet registration.

I look forward to that day. It will make my job, educating customers about exotic Ferraris, and telling them where to go to get independent, third-party information, much easier to do.