Chasing Your Dream Car

The first time I laid eyes on Jezebel, she was in the company of one of my best friends. She looked a little rough around the edges, but she was a beauty, even beneath her factory-installed vinyl roof and clumsy after-market paint job. She may have been a bit worn out, but still, I wouldn’t have thrown her out of the garage for leaking a bit of oil, transmission lubricant or brake cylinder fluid. I was in love.

The first time I laid eyes on Jezebel, she was in the company of one of my best friends. She looked a little rough around the edges, but she was a beauty, even beneath her factory-installed vinyl roof and clumsy after-market paint job. She may have been a bit worn out, but still, I wouldn’t have thrown her out of the garage for leaking a bit of oil, transmission lubricant or brake cylinder fluid. I was in love.

Jezebel was my first Jaguar and, unless I suffer some kind of unexpected wealth accumulation and/or brain damage, my last. There’s an old saying that you should never buy a car from a friend. Experts caution you should never buy one that needs major work, and let’s not forget the snide advice that you should never buy a British-made car, period. I had to learn these rules for myself. It was like going to university: I spent $30,000 and all I have to show for it is a couple of T-shirts and some stories that grow more boring every time I tell them. At least I still have the friend, Paul. His five years driving Jezebel cost him even more. We are brothers in futility.

No free ride Pinch yourself. That neon-red 2006 Ferrari F430 Spider sitting in your driveway belongs to you, every gleaming inch of it. Now take a deep breath, because here’s what your dream convertible has just vacuumed out of your wallet: $200,000, and that’s a conservative price estimate. Brand new, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price was $182,400 to $246,500. But the sticker price was only the beginning. Annual insurance: $2,105. Based on your driver profile (male, 40, no accidents) and with the addition of extended third-party liability, your annual insurance rate for pleasure use is 47 percent higher than if you drove a 1999 Toyota Corolla (quote from ICBC). Annual gas: $924. This is one thirsty sports car and it drinks only the finest high-octane (estimate based on a price of $1.26 per litre of premium gas). Given the Spider’s city/highway combined fuel consumption of 15.4 miles per gallon, and assuming you average a Sunday drive-ish 400 kilometres a month, your yearly unleaded bar bill could easily reach four figures. Annual maintenance: $3,000. This is an average for a high-performance import (Ferrari-Maserati of Vancouver quoted $500 to $600 for an oil change alone). Reputedly fickle Italian-built roadsters can cost much more than this in unexpected repairs. Worth the investment? Some 2008 models to watch “Just about any car begins to depreciate the moment you drive it off the lot,” observes Tony Whitney, automotive journalist and co-host of Driver’s Seat on CityTV. Here are his exceptions to the rule: German engineering Mercedes-Benz and BMW “M” cars are probably the best buys for 2008. These are high-end, limited-edition performance brands that are part of their automakers’ specialized ranges. Resale values are great, but you’ll have to keep them a long time before they start attracting collector interest. American muscle Ford Motor Co.’s special-edition Mustangs are instant collectibles due to widespread fan interest and the very small number that are built. Similarly collectible domestic models include the Plymouth Prowler, Chevrolet SSR, Dodge Viper, Chevrolet Corvette and other nameplate “Indy pace car editions.” Fairly mundane 1960s convertibles have fetched more than $100,000 at those rowdy, televised U.S. car auctions. Japanese throwaways The only sought-after models seem to be very early sports cars from Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. Going, going, gone? Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. is reportedly on the block, and, if Ford doesn’t find a buyer, the company could fold. A 2008 Aston Martin could well be “the last of the Astons” and thus potentially valuable. Other companies facing a doubtful future: Maserati, Maybach, Bugatti and possibly even Saab. If a car­maker isn’t facing extinction, one of its designs might be.

What made Jezebel special was that she was an XJ6C, a rare two-door coupe model, one of only 6,487 ever made (if you don’t count the 1,677 Daimler-badged versions), all built in the mid-1970s. Superficially similar to the common four-door XJ Saloon (with which they share many mechanical parts), the coupes possess an uncanny poise and graceful beauty that photographs don’t quite capture. Paul spent a fortune keeping her running, but then a thermostat blew out one night on the highway, causing the engine to make some very disturbing crunching sounds. He had her towed home and left her parked under his building, long enough for it to occur to me that I could rescue the car, fix the flaws and make her my own. I had been a car guy once. With a little help from a tool-owning friend, I’d even rebuilt the engine of my 1972 Celica. However, that’s an efficiently designed Japanese car with a 1,800-CC motor. Have you ever looked under the forward-flipping hood of a Jag? That finicky power plant is massive for a 4.2-litre six-cylinder and ever so complicated. The shop manual didn’t help, being full of British terminology and mechanical variations depending on what month each part was built. Halfway through, I began anticipating sentences like, “And if the hydro-motivator was installed after lunch on the day before a bank holiday, everyone was probably rather drunk, so you’re on your own.” Since Jaguar built the XJ motor for decades, I reasoned that I could just buy another one and do a swap. My options included wedging in a 12-cylinder, which would have been stupidity of a truly epic nature – who wants to buy spark plugs in 12-packs? – or I could “lump” her by installing a small-block Chevy engine (a common modification with several kits commercially available), losing some cachet among the cogno-scenti but gaining horsepower and fuel economy. In fact, it was on a lump email list (hosted by those filthy enablers at that I met the guy to whom I would eventually sell Jez. Confession: I’ve skipped over the expensive part. Jezebel, it turned out, had one other minor flaw, hardly worth mentioning, really. Her floor pans had rotted out. She was mere inches from turning into Fred Flintstone’s car or, possibly, breaking right in half. (And yes, I knew about this when I bought her.) The first thing I did was have her towed directly to British Motors in Surrey, where Ludwig was more than happy to attend to the bodywork while the bill-remittance part was enthusiastically pursued by his wife, known as Mrs. Ludwig. Pockets emptied temporarily, I put Jez in storage while I mulled over what engine option to choose. And there she stayed for several years at $150 a month. Sure, I thought of her often. I also thought about arson, prying the identification numbers off and leaving her as shelter for the homeless or faking my own death so the garage landlord would have to solve things. But every time I dropped by with more garage-rental cheques and caught a glimpse of her magnificent frame, I fell in love all over again. Until one day the love motor failed to start. What the hell was I doing with this expensive albatross of an automobile? Even if I got it running, it would only be worth a fraction of what I’d spent. I didn’t even live in the Lower Mainland anymore, and there weren’t any Jag mechanics out in the woods in my new neighbourhood. This had to end. So I contacted the guy I’d met online. He already owned a working XJ6C (the locally famed Purple Gherkin, in fact) and was only interested in Jezebel as a source of parts. Not surprisingly, she proved annoyingly difficult to break up with. I made the four-hour trip into town. Halfway there, I realized I’d forgotten the key for the ignition. We decided we’d simply break the steering lock and I’d mail him the key later. But it figured that the one part I intentionally wanted to snap, wouldn’t. There’s nothing like hanging out in a hot garage in the middle of August with another vintage-car fool, breathing atomized spider webs and the desiccated corpses of bugs, yarding on a steering wheel until it almost comes off before admitting defeat. Six days later, I made the trip again, with the key this time. If I didn’t quite hate that car yet, the subsequent sweaty hour of manually coaxing her two tons of dead weight onto a trailer certainly eliminated any last smidgen of affection I still held for her. After she was loaded up, the new owner turned to me and said, “It’s almost too nice to raid for parts, but not nice enough to be worth restoring.” I’d spent $30,000 to learn exactly that. At least I still have the Jaguar T-shirts and a jaunty cap from Silk Cat Automotive Specialists Ltd. in North Vancouver. Expensive clothing, I suppose, but it does come with a sad story, like all great stories of first love. Goodbye Jezebel. Rust in peace. [pagebreak] The big splurge Karen Jamison, whose Vancouver boutique car dealership, Clutch by AutoOne Lease Inc., opened last year, drives a 2004 Honda Civic, but has set her sights on a Maserati Quattroporte in white with a tan leather interior. That’s a galaxy-like leap in sticker price from $18,000 (resale value) for her compact to $112,000 (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) for the Italian stallion. “It’s my dream car,” Jamison enthuses. But she has bridged much deeper gaps for other first-time luxury-car buyers. “One rode up on his bicycle,” she recalls. “He had been riding it to save money to pay for his lawyer.” His treat after two years of litigation, which had just ended in his favour, was to buy an extremely exclusive $158,000 Aston Martin Vantage. Jamison says she often sees him driving around town, “grinning from ear to ear,” in the sports coupe one reviewer called “the automotive equivalent of Kate Beckinsale in a skin-tight Versace gown.” Recently, a cosmetic dentist parked his 15-year-old Toyota 4Runner outside, stepped into Jamison’s Italian-tiled dealership with its fresh flower arrangements and espresso machine and announced he was there to buy his first “real” car. She sold him a black-on-black, $180,000 Porsche 911 Twin Turbo. “Cars are very aspirational,” Jamison says. “For most people, the deciding factor is, ‘Does it fit my image?’” Follow That Car Although, in collectible terms, it was the poor stepsister to the two Aston Martins that actually appeared onscreen in the iconic 1964 Bond flick, Goldfinger, the promotional car Frank Baker bought in 1970 for $21,600 nevertheless drew admirers to his West Vancouver restaurant for more than a decade. The silver DB5, equipped with tire-slashing shredders on its hubcaps, revolving license plates and front-end machine guns, was originally sent to the U.S. on a media blitz to hype the film. The nifty coupe has changed hands seven times since it was Baker’s prized possession, selling at one point for $80,000 to endurance-racing legend Dick Barbour. It currently belongs to the Louwman Collection, part of the Dutch National Automobile Museum in Raamadonksveer, Holland. Estimated value: $2 million. Interesting side note: one of the two original screen cars was stolen from a hangar in Boca Raton, Florida, in 1997. It was never recovered. The insurance settlement: US$4 million. What dream car is right for you? Take our quiz to find out what kind of luxury vehicle you should be driving.

Scoring: Give yourself one point for each(a) answer, two points for (b), three points for (c) and four points for (d). 4 to 8: Still sowing your oats? Live the bachelor/bachelorette lifestyle in a chic, two-seater Porsche Boxster S, $78,000, or BMW M6 Coupe, $101,000. 9 to 12: A discerning car owner, you gravitate toward comfortable, luxurious, high-performance sedans. For you, a Lexus LS460, $71,000, or a Mercedes-Benz S550, $86,000. 13 to 18: With your busy lifestyle and wide circle of family and friends, you need a spacious, fully loaded, premium SUV such as a Lincoln Navigator, $76,000, or a Cadillac Escalade, $80,000. 19 to 24: Call a limo, darling; you deserve it. If you must drive, may we suggest a German-built Maybach 62S, $570,000?

1) Your ideal holiday would be a) a week on Ibiza b) two weeks in Tuscany c) a second honeymoon in Tahiti d) on a private yacht with friends 2) Which colour do you prefer? a) red b) black c) green d) gold 3) Your favourite outerwear is a) leather bomber b) London Fog trench c) Mountain Equipment Co-op fleece d) Armani pea coat 4) With which animal do you most identify? a) panther b) horse c) dolphin d) peacock 5) What outdoor game do you play? a) tennis b) golf c) bocce d) I play indoors 6) If you could choose to live anywhere, you would a) move to a penthouse overlooking Central Park in New York b) find a deserted island in the South Pacific c) stay right where you are d) commute between homes on your private jet