It would be great to think that our hobby is free of risk. The truth however is that profiteers and hucksters can be lurking behind any eBay auction or Craig’s list posting. And, it’s these people who can turn a dream car into a nightmare.
I learned my lesson the hard way. A fellow named Jeff Ertwine was selling an Austin Healey 3000 just outside of Philadelphia. Our dialogue started with a string of emails outlining the car’s condition and the work that was supposedly done. The car was represented to be structurally sound with over $14,000 in recent mechanical work. Work that included what was later described as an “engine in rebuild.”
Arrangements were made to see the Healey in person. We took the car out for a brief sprint and put it on a lift to give it a good once over. It rode solid looked good and kept a great idle. As smitten as I was, I knew the British Car Shop in South Jersey that rang up the repair bill so I set out to collect their assessment.
Looking back this was a big mistake. Jeff was a current customer and just recently spent a lot of money with the shop. I only knew the owner through some small work done here and there on one of my other cars. – I should have taken the car to an independent shop for an assessment or brought a second pair of eyes and ears with me to go over the car. But hindsight is 20/20.
My enthusiasm and the local shop’s approval led me to purchase the car. – My second mistake was not going back out for a longer drive to get a feel for any sins that might be hidden beneath the surface. But in talking with Jeff he swore up and down the car was a great driver and needed nothing more than balancing of the wire wheels. From one car guy to another, I took him at his word.
The first two hundred miles or so were Shangri-La. I was happy as a clam that I finally had my Healey and my dream collection was on step further towards completion. For a brief moment, the world was a better place. Until all of a sudden it wasn’t.
Out of nowhere a tap-tap-tap-tape appeared. Wishful it was an exhaust leak, I checked and rechecked but under the bonnet the sound quickly took on a metal on metal tone. Off went the valve cover and in went the feeler gauge… NO!!! It wasn’t a simple valve adjustment that the Healey needed. It was far worse.
How could this be? The car supposedly had its motor gone through less than 500miles ago! The tapping now haunting me could only be linked to a rod or something deep in the guts of the Healey’s heart.
So as the new owner of what quickly became a bright red statue in my garage, I reached out to the man who had assured me nothing was wrong with the car and went on to saythat he felt like he made a friend out of our transaction.
Politely I said that “I have no idea what was known or unknown to you about this condition when you sold the car. But, I bought your particular car because I was led to believe the motor and other mechanicals had a lot invested in them and were to be in great shape. My current reality is that the car is a major project and I paid top dollar for the automotive disappointment of a lifetime.”
Mr. Ertwine responded that he would reconnect with the shop in Maple Shade, NJ that did the work and just like that he was gone. Soon after, the shop owner and I had a conversation that was cordial but unproductive. Apparently an “an engine in rebuild” doesn’t offer any form of life expectancy and my car’s former owner has decided his work is done.
So, here I stand with an expensive life lesson and new found certainty that some people will cut corners and others will happily misrepresent what they have or have done in an effort to profit off of others.
Maybe the mechanic cut corners, or the condition went undiagnosed? Then again, perhaps the rod issues were there and it got covered up by the former owner….Whatever the case this tale is worth sharing. Cars and people are not always what they seem and every dream car purchase could in an instant become a nightmare.
As written by Chris Scafario