Those attainable dream cars? They’re being ruined

I’m Ethan. Nice to meet you. I sold drugs and did various other crimes as a young adult, but I let it go so I could sell cars to North Carolina’s finest criminals. That S550 on Forgiatos in front of a housing project? I sold it. Your weed man just pulled up in a $60,000 QX80? Money in my pocket. That 7-Series blowing out blue smoke near a luxury shopping mall? It was me. This is a deep game—and the game is sold, not told.

Episode 5: Attainable dream cars?

For someone who is just 27 years old and of pretty normal means, I’ve managed to make the acquaintance  of quite a few really excellent vehicles. But I don’t get too worked up about the rare, desirable, or the impossibly fast. It’s the little things that make cars truly special to me. Or maybe it’s the little combinations. The last few decades have seen new-car dealers become remarkably rigorous about how they order their showroom stock—so everything you see in the “highline” market below a certain price is very homogenous. You may get a funky set of colors, but the options are pretty rigid. So when I see something in a combo that is particularly unusual, it catches my eye.

I’ve been thinking about a few of these cars I’ve run across over the years in my adventures. A lot of them were made by Mercedes because they always offered a plethora of options for their vehicles a la carte instead of forcing them into a particular package or trim level. Audi’s more rigid on the options but more relaxed on the colors. BMW dealers have the least imagination of the trio—except for when it comes to performance models.

That leads a lot of modern enthusiasts down the rabbit hole of searching for the car in the perfect specification. One of my favorites is the E60 BMW 5 Series, which offered a few interesting extra-cost option combinations. My holy grail is the 550i M Sport. I dated a wonderful young woman who had a brand new six-speed 550i M Sport in 2008. It was gorgeous in Alpine White with an Auburn interior. One of those rare and special vehicles you don’t easily find. I’ve also driven many of these post-LCI (that’s Life Cycle Impulse, a term that refers to the midlife refresh nearly ever Bimmer gets) M Sport cars, both with the Sport Automatic transmission and the crispy manual.

Many BMW enthusiasts don’t know that in the U.S. market in 2010 you could get the M Sport package with any engine configuration, not just the 550i. That’s right; you could even get a 528i with the M Sport package. Not that the run-of-the-mill 528i was too slow to take advantage of the suspension tweaks, but it definitely wasn’t the 535i or the 550i in terms of performance.

Why get excited about a 528i with a suspension and appearance package? Because I know if I find one it will be rare, and that gives me something to talk about with other people who know. What I’m trying to drive home is the fact that my generation is going to be a little more… eclectic in its collecting tastes. Instead of secret squirrel high performance models, we’ll put extra value in cars with rare color combinations and options. Imagine how much people are going to pay for the last Austin Yellow E46 M3s? Or Designo W220 S-Classes? Black Cherry 350Zs? Assuming, of course, you can find one somewhere outside a junkyard.

That brings me to another point: cars of the ‘90s and ‘00s, no matter how expensive, rare, or special are in some way disposable. I’m all about trying to borrow my way into a Lexus LC500 right now because I want to drive it everyday before the second or third owner ruins it for me. The enjoyment the car provides is so perfect, that experiencing it after somebody else has let it fall apart would be a sacrilege.

That is only part of the problem. The other half has to do with the increasing difficulty in salvaging damaged vehicles of recent manufacture. If you’re looking at anything made in the past decade or so, it is usually pretty irresponsible to try to put the vehicle back together. If someone, say completely writes off a $400K MSRP paint-to-sample Rolls-Royce Wraith, It will be made into rebar in China by the time anybody knows it was missing. Now there are exceptions to the rule, such as the previous Ford GT, which been reassembled over time—but that’s largely because the values have spiked enough to make “impossible” project cars into possible ones.

Thirty years from now, the desirable cars being built today will likely fall into one of two categories. Either they will be ragged out with five owners and be valueless, or they’ll have impeccable provenance and be in amazing condition. There won’t be “survivors”, and there won’t be the in-betweens available. I know this because I added to the cycle myself, selling these cars to drug dealers and other unworthy individuals these cars and watching them slowly destroy those cars. Don’t forget the increasingly popular tuning scene, where we have seen a lot of these vehicles destroyed with over-fender widebody kits and drifted into walls.

While everything we’re doing might be fun right now, it will eventually make the value of collectible automobiles unreasonably high, even for vehicles that were produced in large numbers. There is a flip side to this though, very well modified cars with high-quality components and big name owners will bring more cash. I’ll be upset the day that an clean E38 Alpina B12 costs $100K, but this hobby functions in such a way that all of this is inevitable.

So what should you do about this state of affairs? Only this: enjoy the cars now as much as possible, because one day this crop of automobiles will either be too valuable to play with or too hard to find in restorable condition. What that means for all of us is to go out and be a part of the hobby, be kind, and spread the experience. I have managed to drive a lot of other car guys’ vehicles and have always offered up my own keys to those who want the experience. These moments are what the hobby is really made of and add to the stories that come along with each of these special cars. One day the car you’re enjoying right now may be worth its weight in gold, but don’t ever let that deter you from enjoying it. Go out and drive it for everything it’s worth—now, and into the future.

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