Spoiler Alert: This one doesn't have a happy ending.
So how did I end up in Canada chasing a Mustang? And if I followed my own sage car-buying advice, why did this endeavor end so badly? The answer is, it's always an adventure. And it's usually complicated...
Right now, Fastback Mustangs are a hot commodity. With the recent 50th anniversary of the Mustang and the Ford V Ferrari movie, it has certainly rekindled people's interest in Shelby and his fine machines. The good cars usually sell to the first person that looks at them, and owners usually get calls the day the car is listed. So that means I have to move fast, especially if the car is out of state. That also means I have to have my money at the ready, which means a trip to the bank for a certified check with the owners name on it - I don't roll with briefcases full of cash like Richard Rawlings (I suspect he doesn't either - it's just a TV show). I also need to have inspection tools and a way to elevate the car so I can inspect the underneath. Bottom line: when you get wind of a car that looks good, if you snooze you lose. So you have to move fast, which adds another layer of pressure.
A quick way to scan car listings is to use a classified site aggregator like AutoTempest. It lets you scan eBay, AutoTrader, and Craigslist ads from across the whole country. Although it can seem like a lot of listings at first, once you start to wade through them you quickly spot the lemons, the overpriced cars that have been on the market forever, and the project cars. Use the site enough and you can see when a new car pops up. This particular 1966 Fastback in London Ontario caught my eye:
From the pictures, I could see that the car was my preferred color (Wimbledon White with Guardsman Blue stripes), and it had modifications to turn it into a "clone" of a 1966 Shelby - namely the side scoops, alloy wheels, quarter windows, dash-mounted tach and wood steering wheel - all nice things. The car was also reported to have a rebuilt engine with added performance, a smooth-shifing Tremec 5 speed transmission, Koni shocks and chassis subframe reinforcements. If it was as advertised, 25K was a value, compared to similar examples trading between 35 and 45K! I had to see this car!
After chatting with the owner, he also had a lot of positive things to say. He mentioned that he was a certified auto mechanic and had owned the car for 5 years now - both good signs. He sent me clear pictures of the VIN stamp, reported that the car was drivable and would have no problem making the 7 hour trip back to Chicago should I choose to purchase it. So I packed up my tools and was able to convince my brother-in-law Curt to come along for the ride to check out this car. "It will be an adventure!" I said - I was not wrong. Many thanks to Curt - I owe you a major favor BIG TIME!
Initially there were some warning signs that now seem more obvious in hind sight. The seller mentioned that one person had already looked at the car and passed. We agreed on the listed price, but the seller also mentioned he just put an ad up on eBay. If I drove out there, he offered to sell me the car at the advertised price, and he would end the auction early. Great! However, he suggested the idea of securing the car with a non-refundable $500 deposit. No thanks. THAT was another red flag.
Curt and I left Thursday after work and drove through the night covering half the distance and staying over at a friend\'s house in Lansing. We woke early and covered the next leg of our journey, as well as our passage through to Canada the next morning. London Ontario is an hour past the Port Huron border crossing. We made it to the seller's house around 11 - right on schedule. That would give us enough time to inspect the car, test drive it, close the deal at the seller's bank, drive the car back to the border and another hour to a friend's house in Algonac where we could either stay overnight and drive the car back to Chicago the next day or leave it there and arrange transport at a future date. A very carefully constructed plan. But everything had to go as planned. And it never does...
Upon arriving at the seller's house, there was another red flag - the house that the car was pictured in front of (a large, stately home) was not the house the car was currently parked in front of. A quick walk around the car netted a few more red flags - white overspray all over the front of the car. A poorly fitting front headlight bezel that looked way worse than it did in the pictures. And a layer of grime and surface corrosion over the entire car that suggested it had spend some time outdoors in the elements. The alloy wheels were pitted and even had a rust spot on them! Also, there was some staining on the paint from leaves. The seller mentioned this on the phone - how bad could it be? The paint was ruined. Not great, but still not a deal breaker.
The seller finally came out and we opened up the car to view the interior, hood and trunk areas. This is where things took a turn for the worse. The seller mentioned that the car had some metal work done. Turns out, the entire back of the car had been reconstructed. Unfortunately, the work was shoddy. The following pictures tell the story...
This was the picture of the trunk area that the seller provided. Other than the visible dirt, no real warning signs here.
This is the picture I took. What the heck is that? It looks like the quarter panel was fiberglassed in place. I doubt it was even welded in! Right about now is when my heart started to sink. Things are not looking good.
The other side did not look much better. It is not uncommon for water to pool at the corners of the fastback window, leak inside the trunk and start causing serious damage. This car was originally from the Midwest (another red flag) and had the telltale signs of serious rust. Unfortunately, it was not repaired correctly. It would take a lot of money and body shop time to set this car straight. Time to look underneath the car and see what other surprises await...
This was the shot of the underside provided by the seller. One red flag is the generous use of undercoating. And some serious dirt and grime. When I crawled under the car, what I saw was much worse. Holes in the floorpan that had been patched with silicone. Bad welding around the rear wheel houses and the front radiator support (yes, the whole front of the car from the front shock towers had been replaced as well). I stopped taking pictures at this point because I had seen enough. Could this car have been saved? Of course, but it would have meant undoing a lot of the work that had already been performed, plus the serious time and cost of doing the job correctly. Why not just do it right in the first place?
I think the owner must have sensed by displeasure. He excused himself and disappeared into the house while I was crawling around underneath the car. Up until this point, it would have been like any of my other Mustang stories - it was not a quality car, time to move on.
Suddenly, the owner comes bursting out of his house. "Sorry guys, the car is sold. A guy from Minnesota contacted me through eBay and offered to buy the car sight unseen for 27 grand. I just made 2 grand more than you were offering! You could have given me a deposit but you didn't. He just gave me a grand, the car is his. Sorry, it's just business." What a shady seller! I understand that it was a favorable outcome for him - he just found a sucker to buy the car sight unseen for even more money. That person is in for a surprise when they take delivery of this car. Maybe they are made of money and figure "how bad can it be?" - I can not be as cavalier in my car purchasing.
I would have been even more upset if I had actually wanted to buy the car after inspecting it. But this guy did not even give me the chance. And he had zero sympathy for the fact we drove all that way to see the car. We didn't even get to test drive this Mustang, which was also disappointing. It was quite a surprising outcome, and another example of just how fast these transactions move. In this case, the seller was just as dirty as his car.
So what is to be learned here? Heavy undercoating underneath a car is usually a bad sign. If the seller is so eager to sell the car they want a non-refundable deposit, that is also a bad sign. Buying a classic car off eBay is very dangerous. You need to see these cars in person - there is 50 years of history to uncover, and it simply can't be done with pictures. You can't run a Carfax on a vintage car, so it's down to your own ability to inspect it. Or hire an expert, which is not always possible given the fast pace of these transactions.
Hopefully my Mustang is out there somewhere. All I know is that it was constructed some time between 1965 and 1966.