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Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Life of a Fringe Collector

There are people that argue the real value of collectible cars is determined by market forces external to the beliefs of your average car enthusiast.
F40: Bluechip collectible
F40: Bluechip collectible
There are people who argue that buying a Lamborghini Countach is less about the driving experience and more about the global economy tanking and rich people looking for a place to hedge their "investments". Never mind the 12 cylinders and 6 Webber carburetors, never mind the complete absurdity of a car that demands a spotter outside when reversing, and never mind that the Countach is still one of the craziest designs ever to don a production car. These are the same people who will be parking that Countach in a climate controlled garage and never driving it a fraction of a mile. What a shame.

I am NOT a collector.

Let me rephrase that: I am not a mainstream collector. What does that make me? An enthusiast? A wack-a-doodle? Certainly.... but it's more than that. There is an implicit understanding about the maker of the car, why it was made, where it was produced and its relative success or failure on the marketplace at the time it was made, which may be very different than its success or failure as a desirable car in today's marketplace.
M535i: Just let your friends call it a M5
Allow me to introduce you to the world of fringe collecting.
When I began my journey 5 years ago I did not have a destination in mind. I was a guy who had always appreciated classic cars, had the good fortune to drive many classic cars (thank you Manhattan Classic Car Club) and had already owned several “almost” classic German sedans and coupes. It was time to broaden my horizons and I decided that an air cooled 911 was a perfectly reasonable place to start. I had driven several and was sufficiently intrigued by their driving dynamics, racing history, and the mystique surrounding a car that, if you believed the hype, was always trying to swap ends and kill you. I was soon completely immersed in all things 911. I spent countless hours on Pelican Parts, Rennlist, and other assorted websites whose foundation of knowledge seemed larger than the entire car universe. And just like that I found myself the proud owner of a 1986 911 Carrera Coupe finished in the most perfect, period correct Garnet Red. If I could count the ways that I invented to stop myself from modifying a bone stock car I would have been a rich man buying up the rest of those Countachs. By golly, that 911 somehow, miraculously, stayed bone stock!
And then a wonderful thing happened several months later, which was even more wonderful than the act of purchasing said 911 and not killing myself. Buying that car and being a Classic Car Club member got me interested in countless other cars that I had never even considered owning. Sure, I had owned plenty of vintage 80s and 90s Audis and Mercs, but these were all cars still well inside my comfort zone of virtually indestructible German sedans (and the odd coupe) from a golden age of German build quality and reliability. Yes, as comical as it sounds, driving an old Audi with 200K+ miles wasn't the disaster that you might imagine, but that's a story for a different day.
Yes, the Cossie has a proper dogleg box.
Buying the 911 and joining the Classic Car Club gave me pause to reflect on my childhood, which I spent growing up in the "go-go" 80's, and all the craptastical and iconic cars that it spawned. I began compiling a list of cars that, for reasons both logical and ones that defied all rational mindset, I needed to own.

Mercedes Cosworth. Check. Alfa Romeo Milano. Check. Alfa Romeo Spider. Check. Ferrari Mondial Coupe. Check. One by one I began searching for these cars and acquiring them. Some of them were pried from the hands of original owners who cried during the title transfer (really!) and some were stumbled upon by pure happenstance. The best part? None of these cars, not one, is on the mainstream radar of any car collector. And the grand outlay for my purchasing spree was less than the cost of many fully loaded SUVs.
Tea trays are cool.
So what makes something like an Alfa Romeo Milano, for example, so special to this fringe collector? Novels have already been written about Alfa's racing history and heritage so I won't bore you with that. And you probably already know that it was the last production Alfa Romeo designed and engineered before the Fiat take over in 1986. The Milano is special because it was and still is the only sedan ever produced with a rear transaxle and inboard rear disc brakes for superior weight distribution, center of gravity, and rotational mass. The De Dion rear suspension was a sophisticated and exotic design that was often used on more expensive sports cars of the time due to cost. And the Guiseppe Busso designed V6 makes noises that belie the Milano's awkward sedan profile; I count 10 different intersecting lines at the rear and many people ask me if I'm going to get my car fixed from its rear end accident. No kidding, but really, I'm in the minority of people that love the way the Milano looks. These are the things, of course, that the fringe collector appreciates and go missed by the mainstream collector.

Sure, fringe collecting has its downsides. The ABS wheel sensors, that have given up the ghost on every Milano Verde, are NLA and impossible to find. A replacement for the delaminating rear glass on my Mondial Coupe is stratospherically priced and, like most parts, will probably take 3 - 4 weeks to arrive from the land of spaghetti and irrational super cars. The headlight switch on a Mercedes Cosworth is a marvel of German over engineering weighing no less than 5 lbs. and held in by 8, beefy Phillips head screws, if memory serves me correctly. Clearly, you better have a modern daily driver as a backup or begin stock piling parts prior to purchase. But, there is great reward in sourcing that unobtanium part that came out of someone's treasure trove, and there is always the opportunity to meet new and eccentric people who may share your love of fringe collecting. That stuff you read about Alfa guys being over-the-top OCD? Absolutely true.
This is the best sports sedan you've never driven.
So while I continue to crave a Countach in any physical form, the reality is that fringe collecting has quenched a deeper thirst for owning cars that make me happy. I am not under any grand illusions that any of these cars will ever be truly collectible and, for that reason alone, I am able to DRIVE them and enjoy them as their makers intended. Opinions are rampant and the internet would have you believe that a Ferrari Mondial is absolute garbage to drive. My challenge to you, dear reader: go buy that Mondial, or whatever fringe car from the 70's / 80's / 90's that makes your heart beat a little faster, and prove these armchair test drivers wrong. This author would argue that the real value of mainstream collectible cars is determined by people who know nothing about cars, while right there on the periphery, are hundreds of great cars waiting to be discovered by the fringe collector. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a Lancia Delta Integrale I need to go and buy.
The least photogenic Ferrari is still a stunner in the flesh.

1 comment:

  1. Before reading this article, I did not know how to think about what was happening to me. A few months back I bought a 1986 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce. My friends said I was crazy, even the friend I had auto shop with 30 years ago said it. But I just had to have it. Now I want another Alfa, and other cars as well...and you have given me a way to think about myself...I must have those fringe cars! Thank you!


Meet the Auto Snob

Mike Kovac


My passion for all things cars traces itself back to the age of 3 when I became obsessed with my Dad’s 1973 Capri V6. He would give me the keys and I would spend hours locking and unlocking the passenger door. Once I could read, I would lose myself for hours pouring over his car magazines and that carried into my teen years and beyond. Every month, I would creatively find ways to scrounge up $10 and buy the latest issue of ‘CAR’ Magazine which just fueled my desire to buy the “forbidden fruit” cars that were never imported into the States. This might explain why there is a 1987 Citroen CX25 TRD Turbo 2 parked in my garage. And why there will be others…

Age 3

Mike Kovac

Contact Information

Phone number: +1 (917) 374-3291
E-mail: euroe28m5@gmail.com

And now

Today, my addiction has morphed from just reading about them to collecting, racing, detailing, driving and yes, even fixing them on occasion. But it’s not just the cars that I own that are exciting to me; it’s infecting others with the same passion and love for cars of all nationalities, shapes and sizes. It’s seeing what brings out the auto snob in each one of you!


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