Anyone with a modicum of old-car experience has owned a Car from Hell — the kind of machine that rewards a significant repair with multiple subsequent failures; a car that’s given up on life and aggressively begs the owner for a final ride to the junkyard.
But who among us has faced a Buyer from Hell?
During the recent sale of my 1987 Alfa Spider I had my first taste, leading me to swear off Craigslist for the foreseeable future (or at least a week, whichever comes first). I’ve also been watching out my front window, half expecting my car to be "returned," possibly on fire, to my front yard.
Thing is, it might be partly my fault.
Let me explain: I picked up a cheap and well-worn Spider about a year ago from a local seller — I’d always liked them and wanted to get to know the mechanicals in anticipation of a higher-buck Alfa purchase when the time was right. I did brakes, resealed the intake system, performed a full tune-up and changed all the fluids, as well as attending to other odds and ends as needed. The car has over 100K on the clock, but it always started and never left me stranded in probably 600 miles of driving.
Circumstances changed, I was able to pick up a lovely blue 1972 Berlina sedan in early spring, and the time was right to move the Spider on to its next owner. The car sat on Craigslist with minor interest here and there until a 50-something guy in an X3 came to see it, giving it a once-over in my driveway, then taking the car for a 20-minute test drive. Afterward, he thanked me for my time, explaining he needed to think it over (proving himself shrewder than I’ve been on a couple occasions), then over the ensuing weekend requested the VIN for a Carfax. Early the next week he made an offer on the car, I countered and we came to an agreeable price for both — $3,800.
I mention the price to set a baseline here: We’re discussing a 31-year-old Alfa Spider with 106K miles at a sale price of $3,800. Conjure up a mental picture based on those criteria and this car would probably exceed your expectations. It was a presentable, used but not used-up sports car that had required and would continue to require an ongoing investment in time and repairs.
My buyer, as I later discovered, apparently figured the Alfa was equivalent to a lightly used Miata. Here’s where my culpability begins, because I caught glimpses of his naivete during our conversations — he asked about places to get it worked on, inquired about paint job pricing and where to get one, that sort of thing. Given the price point and the fact he’d checked out the car in person and taken it on a reasonable test drive, I rationalized he had an idea what he was getting into. We exchanged money and title, the car fired up as it always had and he drove away, his son following in an Audi A7, on a beautiful July afternoon, top down.