Avoidable Contact #95: When you sell that car, should you share the wealth?

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Jack Baruth

Remember the story of The Little Red Hen? The bird who did all the work to bake a loaf of bread while the cat, the goose, and the rat all sat around and did nothing? Then she ate the bread all by herself, because she was the one who did the work? Well, if you want to have any faith left in America, I wouldn’t recommend that you read any recent Google reviews of this tale, because most of them sound like they were written from the perspective of the lazy rat.

Here’s a different story for you. In this story, it’s 15 years ago and the Little Red Hen has an old, worthless, air-cooled Porsche 911. “Who will help me restore this car?” she asks.

“I will!” the cat replies, and fires up a welding torch.

“Count on me!” the goose yells, and starts sanding a body panel.

“I’ve got a spare set of control arms in my garage!” the rat says with a laugh and starts bolting them in.

Doesn’t this sound like Sam Smith’s Weissrat Chronicles? You bet it does—but let’s raise the stakes. Let’s say that the cat, the goose, and the rat all spend, oh, almost two years helping to restore the car, weekend after weekend. Until it’s all shiny and perfect. Don’t forget, it’s the year 2006 or something like that, so a perfect early-’70s chrome-bumper, fuel-injected 911 still isn’t worth a ton of money. It’s a labor of love. The Little Red Hen drives her restored Porsche to all the club meets, and the story ends happily ever after.

Until.

In the year 2021, a car like that is worth beaucoup bucks … $100K … $125K. Maybe more. The Little Red Hen would like to buy something else with that money. Maybe it’s a Ferrari. Maybe it’s a new 911. Maybe it’s a prostate surgery. Nobody knows. So the Little Red Hen lists the car with an upmarket consignment shop, which promptly sells it at a high price because hey, it’s a lovely car and you can see how faithfully and enthusiastically it was restored.

You’re the Little Red Hen. What do you do at that point? Do you call up the cat, the goose, and the rat? Do you offer them a cut of the proceedings? If so, what should that cut be? A steak dinner? Five grand each? How about taking your sale price, subtracting what you have in it, dividing the result by four, and paying three-quarters of it to your barnyard friends?

Alternately, what if you keep all of the bread for yourself? Should you have a right to be upset if people are a little … frosty at your next PCA chapter meet? If you use the money to buy a considerably more valuable basket case, like an early 356 in need of a full restoration, would you have the chutzpah to open your garage back up and ask everyone to come lend a hand once more?

This isn’t an entirely hypothetical question. I recently saw a “crowdsourced” early 911 sold on a consignment site, with a story very close to this. There were quite a few people involved with it; apparently the local PCA crowd would all meet up at the garage for months on end, cranking on the car until it was perfect. I don’t know how much the car in question ended up selling for, but it was probably closer to 100 grand than it was to the $7500 it was probably worth at the beginning of the restoration.

Were I to wake up in that owner’s shoes tomorrow I’d have to think my PCA chapter deserved at least an open-bar party. Or I’d send a thousand bucks to everyone I remembered from the restoration days. Something tells me, however, that in the end the owner chose the Little Red Hen’s course of action.

Will this happen to Sam Smith and his #weissrat? I sincerely doubt it. It seems impossible to imagine a day when a rusted-out 2002 with a half-cage installed to keep the body from dissolving would ever fetch more than a sympathetic sigh. And yet I can remember laughing at a lot of cars 20 years ago. A Testarossa for $28K? Why, that’s just a way to waste more money on repair! A 32-valve, stick-shift, one-year-only Porsche 928S, in Guards Red, for $6995? What kind of idiot would buy a car where the spark plugs are basically hidden behind the dashboard? (Fourth-gen F-body crowd, can I get an “Amen”?) Aston Martin DBS V8 in the classifieds for $18,000? That’s a ton of money for a British Mustang with Lucas electrics!

Oh, and there’s the most ridiculous thing of all: the four-year-old Porsche 993 I bought to run SCCA National Solo at the turn of the century. At the time, I thought $29,500 was too much money for the car, but I was in a hurry to pick something up before the season started. It’s now worth somewhere between two and three times that. Five years ago, I effectively mothballed it, because I no longer felt comfortable doing all the stuff I used to do with it, like parking it in downtown Washington, D.C., or dumping the clutch seven times a day for autocross runs.

Last week, I had a talk with my son about the white Porker. I told him that the choice was his: I would keep the car for him and give it to him on his 16th birthday in four years, or I could sell it and he could use the money to spend a couple of years mountain biking in Europe after high-school graduation. He said he could see the appeal of both choices, and I can’t blame him. I’ll ask him again when summer starts, and then we’ll make a plan. Either to fix all the tiny things the car needs, or to sell it and bank the money against some life-defining adventure.

I hope he chooses to sell it. It’s nice to own a real air-cooled Porsche (but wait, I’m repeating myself), and if Hagerty weren’t such a family-oriented publication I could tell you stories about that car that would either make you laugh or call the police. But I don’t think it’s worth what it’s worth, if you catch my drift. Not to me, and not to the kid. It should be sold.

What I want to do with the money: buy a Radical SR8 to go with my Radical PR6. What I’m going to do: give it to my son. Because he doesn’t realize it, but he was a partner with me in the whole enterprise, starting the moment he was born. No, he didn’t restore the car with me, but he restored me. He found me as a dissolute, binge-drinking, serial-and-parallel philanderer with a quick temper and a love of 170-mph motorcycle runs on the freeway. Eleven years later, he has managed to project-manage me into a sober, contemplative fellow who works for an insurance company. Without him, the 993 would have been wrapped around a tree a long time ago.

Therefore, he is the Little Red Hen, and the bread is rightfully his. The end.

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