When I had my dealership in Germany, I relied primarily on walk in trade. Sure, I advertised in newspapers and occasionally got an article in one of the relevant magazines but these ‘adverts’ were really little more than ensuring those who perhaps had need of my services knew where to look for my contact details. Don’t forget, these were pre internet days. My business grew from one dealership in Berlin, to three dealerships in Bielefeld, Rheindahlen and Bratislava (I gave up on Berlin because the Wall coming down ruined the place).
People would ring me from all over asking if I could get hold of this, or that and I usually could. If a deal involved crossing borders, I wouldn’t turn the client away saying I did not export, or import, I would go out and find out what was involved in importing and exporting. In this way, a very insignificant little dealership gained a bit of a ‘can do’ reputation. To help out clients in a hurry, I have personally delivered vehicles to UK, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia (as they were then), the south of France and elsewhere. I have driven some very elegant cars and ridden exotic motorcycles along some of the most beautiful roads in Europe. I have slept in the cab of my panel van, or in the back if it was a return journey, in the laybys of some of the smartest auto routes on the continent.
If I really could not help the client, my willingness to pass him on to someone I trusted without asking for a finder’s fee meant that, in due course, a good portion of my business came the same way and a good portion of my stock arrived as a result of tip offs, both from those I had fed clients and clients themselves. It was good for everyone, dealers and customers alike.
Naturally, I occasionally caught a cold. I referred one client and a year later he called me; me, not the dealer who had profited by his business, to say that on trying to sell his car, he discovered there was a lien on it. So I immediately paid the lien. Why? Well it should be obvious. One happy customer might mention his experience to perhaps ten acquaintances. A pissed off client will tell hundreds, whether he knows them or not. A year before the guy had come to me first, that was worth something, and I had referred him to someone else. Whichever way you looked at it, I may not have been legally responsible, especially since I did not earn a penny out of it and was now about to lose more than just a penny, but I was morally responsible. If I argued over a few thousand pounds, I stood to lose a hell of a lot more in the long run. Besides, if I took it up with the real culprit rather than leaving it to a forlorn client, I would not be bound by the same rules governing normal social intercourse. Of inestimable value to me was that the client went away thinking, ‘Shit, that guy’s honest’. Don’t forget, even though I had to pay him money, he was still a red hot lead. He was trying to sell his car, wasn’t he? Why do most people want to sell their cars? Because they want to buy another one. Not only did I get my money back in the form of stock from the other dealer, I sold the customer a car.
I am not sure how well such a business model, largely based on trust, would work today but I think the huge advances in information technology are as much a hindrance to finding a decent car as they enable the search for one. Anyone with a browser can find a million vehicles at the click of a mouse but this leaves the client rather like a child stood in the middle of Toys r Us and being told to pick one. How do they know which represent good value and which are to be avoided? Then, of course, there is the time taken to walk along every aisle examining in detail each item on every shelf. Furthermore, the trust is all one way. The client has to suppose that what it says on the box is in it. Some people are still willing to pay a small premium to stand in a shop, feel the merchandise and be served by a human being. I reckon there’s still a place for old dinosaurs like me.
So, just to keep my hand in, here is an example of the sort of thing I got up to all those years ago. Back then, of course, it was by scanning international classic car magazines and auction reports, now it’s by using the internet. I no longer have the resources to buy these two vehicles and ship them to the States but if someone does, then this is something which, in the words of RM Auctions the other day, should not be overlooked.
To illustrate my last post I just pulled down the first image of a decent BMW 3.0 CS I found on Google images. Afterwards, I made up my mind to track the car down and discovered that it was a restored 1974 BMW 3.0 CS, Chassis no. 4310374, which sold for $110,000 at Fort Worth on the 27th April 2013. With Buyer’s Premium, that would take it over $120k. I was pleased; hadn’t I just been guilty of predicting the car’s rise in value? I compared this with the average price being asked for other restored examples most of which are, not surprisingly, to be found in Germany. €60,000 ($67,000) seems to be the norm for exceptional examples. Already there is an interesting spread. So I widened my search to find the best deal on a pristine 3.0 CS or CSi I could. I found two, an example of each. In Hungary.
Hungary?! Why not? I’d buy a carpet from an Arab so why not a car from a Magyar?
Both cars are the result of a complete restoration using only genuine BMW parts to what is described as showroom condition, a claim substantiated with photos. Given that the vendor is more likely to sell them back into Germany, he has priced them accordingly; there will be costs for anyone bringing them back to Germany. At €45,900 ($52,000) for the 1972 3.0 CSi and €43,900 ($50,000) for the 1971 3.0 CS, you could have both cars for less than the price realised by a single example in the States. And that is just on the asking price, no one pays that. The fact that they are, apart from one being the fuel injected model, a matching brace in desirable Polaris Silver has to attract a premium when it comes time to find a home for them, ‘and one for her Ladyship, Sir?’. Had I still my dealership in Bielefeld I would now be on a fast motorcycle tearing up the tarmac down to St. Kristof Garage in Pec (Fünfkirchen) to check them out before phoning a contact in the States.
I might even have succumbed to temptation and just moved one on to subsidise the one I kept for myself.
I realise there are a lot of boring technical photos below but we dealers, see, know what a pretty BMW looks like on the outside so, rather like a tart’s punter, we want a peek up the skirt before parting with our money…
Even if you aren't interested in old cars, you have to marvel at how the mechanical bits of two forty year old cars could be so clean.
You can contact the private seller on: +36 2059 52020. If you do call, don't bother mentioning my name. Hard to believe but there are still people in the world outside Interpol and Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs who haven't heard of me.