From the ’70s to the ’90s, new investors can find exotic vehicle bargains
If you thought buying a Ferrari was out of reach, Rocco Solmito has news for you.
“If you get the right car — and it has to be the right car — you can get a Ferrari for $35,000 to $60,000,” says Solmito, whose Rock’s Auto Restoration restores, repairs and services all manner of Ferraris and a few Lamborghinis and other exotics at a shop that sits at the southwestern edge of Scarborough.
A Ferrari for $35,000? Be still, my beating heart! There has to be a catch, and of course there is. First, forget the vintage classics. At an RM Auctions sale in Manhattan last November, a 1964 250 LM sold for $14.3 million (U.S.) ($15.3 million Canadian), a record for that model. Top price for a Ferrari is the 1963 250 GTO racer, which fetched $52 million in October.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a sweet spot for the entry-level investor, says Solmito, a self-confessed gear head who started swinging wrenches just before he learned to shave.
First, at $35,000 you’re going to have to expect to put some money into it to bring it up to standard.
“Maybe $15,000, $18,000,” he shrugs. “But now you’ve got a car which should be fine. Like any car, things can go wrong, but if it’s the right car you should be able to drive it for a few years with just basics like oil changes, brakes and regular maintenance.”
What you’re looking for in the value market, Solmito says, are 1970s, 1980s and 1990s model Ferraris. After 2000, he says, it’s more of a rich man’s sport.
Of course, the price of anything is determined by demand and the higher prices are driven by people in their mid-30s to 40s who are lusting after the automotive dreams of their youth, for the most part. Finally, never forget, we’re talking used cars, some of them 30 years old or more. Age is always going to be a factor.
“They end up parked outside, they’re corroded,” he says. “By the mid-1980s they were undercoated pretty well so if you see a 328 with rust, something’s wrong. It’s been hit and repaired.”
Buying too low because it seems like a deal is not a good idea either.
“I’ve known one car, it was terrible. The guy said he got a deal. It was no deal. Four years later it is still not on the road. I know what’s wrong with the car and it’s gonna cost a fortune to fix it.”
The key, he stresses, is to have someone who knows the car.
“We’ve gone all over the place looking at cars or they ship them to us to check,” he says. “Even from the pictures you can tell details. Some are terrible and you don’t want to touch it.”
Still, he adds, if the car is “super rare” you’ve got to be willing to overlook some details because the value of the car will support the work needed over the long run.
The 328, he insists, is the one potential bargain in the stable. The model was made from 1986 to ’89 with the last years being the most valued because they benefitted from upgrades and refinement, he says.
“They have a better suspension and there’s a noticeable difference when you drive them,” Solmito says.
“Still, it’s about condition,” he adds. “I’d rather have an ’86 in perfect condition than a worn out ’89.”
Prices range from mid-$50,000 to mid-$60,000 and he has several customers with those vehicles who are quite happy.
“They don’t break down and they are very reliable for a Ferrari,” he notes.
The 348 and 355 models are another story, he says: “They seem to have more problems with electrical and the parts are more expensive.”
Once you’re out of the 328 series and into the 348, parts climb faster than a F50 launching from the line.
“A clutch in a 328 is about $1,500 to $1,800 but for the 348, $3,000,” he says, pointing to the 348 Challenger which he’s working on one Saturday morning while we chat. “It’s more complex, with a double disc clutch.”
At the other end, 308 GTB and GTSs, made from 1975 to ’77 in fibreglass and 1977 to ’85 in steel with the Pininfarina-styled bodies and a 3.0L V8 made famous by the Magnum, P.I. TV series are iconic but are at the stage where they need to be rebuilt — Solmito has two fibreglass shells on his hoists being restored.
“They’re worn out,” he says. “They’re hard to find in good shape. People do rebuild them, but then why would they sell them?”
Maintenance will run $1,500 or more a year for oil changes (about $300 to $500 a pop), fluids and brake pads. And while doing your own work is an option, he cautions at resale time the new buyer may be skeptical and it could depress the price.
“Still, we’ve got some guys who do their own work and they are very good,” he says. “And with shops too, some are better than others. You want to keep all the documentation. With no service records or history, it’s not the end of the world but it makes it difficult to check the car.”
Still, it doesn’t sound too bad really, does it? Just $50,000 to $60,000 and you’ve got a piece of automotive art in the driveway which makes a statement and elevates you way above those mere Fords and Hyundais of the neighbours.
Cheaper than a boat, argues Solmito. Well, yes, and no. Don’t drive more than 10,000 kilometres in a season or your maintenance costs will rise. In fact, 5,000 kilometres a year is where you want to be.
And don’t park in the driveway. Nope. That baby needs to be parked indoors and not just any garage, it needs to be heated or rent a place at about $200 a month for six months.
“They don’t like the damp and cold,” says Solmito. “I’ve seen leather seats with mould because they weren’t stored properly. I can tell a car stored improperly; the coating on the metal parts inside is all gone. Outside, under a tarp? That’s not stored, that’s abandoned.”
Mouldy Ferraris? We can’t have that, so you’d better renovate the garage to add some heating.
Yes, they’re prima donnas. Finicky princesses. They cost money just sitting there, and they have to be coddled.
“Some guys start to think, ‘why do I bother?’” says Solmito, who runs tech workshops for owners. “Then they drive it and all is forgiven.”
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