By Tim Neely of Tim’s Enthusiast Garage and Motor Vice
“Variety is the spice of life” – a cliche to be sure, but an axiom that I have found to be so true in nearly every area of my life. I came up in the Volkswagen & Audi scene back when autocross, VR swaps, and function-over-form was the name of the game. I’ve always had a soft spot for those cars. However, I would be lying if I said that Lotus Esprit V8tt’s, R32 Skylines, Porsches, Maseratis, and other cars we were deprived of here in the US market, weren’t my primary source of auto lust. It’s kind of the tuner dark-side if you will. Everyone talks about it… few visit.
I am hoping I can change that. So let me tell you the story of my journey in hopes that you may find some common ground and in turn, maybe take that leap that you have been long considering.
The year?? 2004. I had just purchased my dream-car Audi S4 (B5) with a manual trans, 2.7tt, Santorin Blue… perfection! I waited until the cars had lost a good bit of their value, and got a pretty good deal on my car. It was a 2001, no ESP car (as I planned to make ungodly power and who needed the nannies any way?). I promptly spent what I paid for the car again just on the drivetrain. Big dollars. HUGE. The car was super fast. Like… REALLY fast. I had several other fast cars in the fleet at the time, and had friends with big money cars. Think: 993 tt stage 2 and Gallardo, and that S4 was faster than both.
Then it broke. I fixed it.
Then it broke again. I fixed it again.
Pretty soon I was looking at the heavily grievous math and I realized, I could pretty much have any car. Like… any… CAR. That was it. It was my jumping off point, and since then, I have been blessed to own nearly everything and have actually MADE money on most when it was time to move on. Now while I know SOME of us are in this for the build. In this for the connection and building our own personal dream car, sleeper, or track day beast. If that’s you, I am not saying you shouldn’t do that. I AM saying you can supplement that with what I am about to share with you.
STEP 1. Understand the depreciation curve.
Understanding depreciation has been amazing for me. I have managed to strike some home runs over the years, and have maintained the “everything is for sale” mantra. There are some really, and I mean REALLY exciting cars out there right now that are at or near the very bottom of their depreciation curve. And they are serious performers.
– 2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
On the for real, the V8 Vantage is one of the most beautiful truly sexy cars ever penned. Anyone who disputes this needs new eyes. You can currently get a fairly good one for the price of a a loaded Accord. These are fairly reliable, and with depreciation comes better aftermarket maintenance alternatives. These will appreciate at some point, and for the price of admission don’t you want to play Bond on the weekend? Walther PPK not included.
– 2006 Maserati GranSport
Buying this car was one of the best decisions I ever made. I laugh every time I drive it. It is one of the truly underrated, most complete coupes of all time. Shares a dry sump F136 with the Ferrari F430 (they have different cranks), but this one actually sounds better. Seriously. This thing is fantastic. Balanced & blue printed engine hand built at Ferrari. Every aspect of the car refined for this run out model. Misinformation and Maserati’s reputation has kept prices ludicrously low. The diff is as locked and rowdy as you would hope, short gear ratios, exhaust pops. All of it . Buy it. Enjoy it. It will never be worth less than it is right now.
– 2007 Maserati Quattroporte Automatica
Depreciation and the early horribly-tuned f1 auto/manual gearbox has relegated these cars to full on worthless status. I paid less than 10% of sticker for mine. It had 48k miles on it. The engine is worth what I paid. These actually do have some foibles you should be concerned about, but do your homework, and ride the slide like a “devil may care” hooligan & enjoy the full on hallelujah chorus coming from the tail pipes. And I guarantee when you are ready to sell it, one of your pals will pay you more just to have the opportunity to flog this beast when you’re done. I was recently surprised to see that tires for the rear 20×11 inch wheels were actually pretty cheap – YAY.
– 2003 Mercedes CL500, 55, 600, 65
Aluminum and composite construction. Ultra over-engineered pillarless coupe. Sophisticated hydraulic suspension (easily converted to coilover for the weak hearted). Twin turbo V12’s make stupid torque. Early NA V12 share heritage with the ZONDA. Very rare, very cool.
– Lotus Esprit Turbo
Iconic exotic that is far better & more reliable than era road tests suggested. Actually quick even by today’s standards. Reliable & extremely rare. Some years – there were less than 100 produced and sold worldwide.
– Porsche 996 (all of them)
Maligned for ugly lights and IMS bearings… don’t believe the hype. 3.6L engines are near faultless. These cars are built to beat on at track days, and have components far stronger than most performance cars. GREAT value and performance for the money. 996 twin turbos are still silly cheap and can be built to be completely mental.
Now, the above list I have left purposely European and Sports car specific, depreciation curve is a thing with all cars, but I want to speak to the above in that the perceived value, rarity, performance and uniqueness of these cars is fairly superlative. ALL of them are cars that are stand outs and very unique. All of them have pretty much bottomed out. All of them are yours for a fraction, some less than 10% of original purchase price. And ALL are (from personal experience) far less scary than internet trolls would have you believe.
Every car is on a journey. From the day it is built, every car will meet some depreciation… with very few exceptions. On my list above, some cars had window stickers of $180,000. Mileage & maintenance dependent, some can be had for $5,000. The most expensive stretches into the $40s. What is interesting to me – is that compared to the hot hatches and tuner cars I was building, nearly ALL of my maintenance or mod costs were LOWER on the cars listed above. Exhaust for the QP was $900 delivered. Brakes for my V8tt Esprit were cheaper than for my ’06 GTI. A timing belt kit for the Lotus was $300 bucks. 996? Bro, I’m 10k miles in and had to change a headlight switch and tires… that’s it.
STEP 2. Understand that what goes down eventually goes back up.
The greatest secret about cars like this – is that if you get it at just the right time, you can drive it not only for free… but for profit! That’s right. Subsidize your Mk2 Gti build, or your S14 Silvia drift monster, all while rolling in a 996 Porsche. I have had particularly good luck finding Porsche 928s and 944 turbos, making them great again, driving & enjoying them… and then selling them for a profit. I kid you not; it works. I have talked several friends into this lifestyle and not one regrets it. Don from Import Alliance recently added a 996 911 to his fleet and literally called me and said, “I went 50 miles out of my way just because I enjoy driving this thing so much.” I am not saying you could turn this into a business, although I have at different times in my life. I’m just saying – there is a way to read the tea leaves. Find cars you love, that you know and understand. Make it your job to know & understand the market, and the strengths & weaknesses of each… and the scary melts away.
Interesting and rare cars like this are kinda my jam. If they aren’t your cup of tea, I completely get that. FD RX7s, CRXs, R32s, and R33 Skylines: You can find bargains there on those, and ALL are going through the roof. Resisting the urge to spend all the value away on mods may be a tad harder. On the slightly more extravagant side, Gallardos, Ferrari 360s, and Vanquishes are also nearing rock bottom, and will gain market value. Murcielagos too are near the bottom. The curve exists for all cars. I am merely here to plant the enthusiast seed of depreciation curve wisdom. If this IS your cup of tea, and you have questions, most of these cars have fantastic & very dedicated facebook/forum pages where you can research ownership prior to taking the plunge. I can be reached directly on my Instagram or YouTube channel. So that car you had plastered on your wall as a kid – get it! Drive it! Sell it (maybe)! And repeat! Now, if you’ll excuse me I am off to Ebay to find my perfect 1990 Bentley Type R.
Thanks for mentioning the Maserati GranSport. I have enjoyed owning my for over 3 years now and it really is fun! I paid $25k for the car and now it’s worth $20k…it’s still a great car but I am afraid it will continue to depreciate. Viva Maserati!