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Exotic cars for the average guy

If you can't live without once owning an exotic sports car, there are some affordable alternatives.

May 31, 2005; Posted: 9:24 a.m. EDT (1324 GMT)

By Les Christie, CNN/Money staff writer


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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Call them affordable exotics. They are pre-owned, classic cars that have fallen in price to the range of a new Chevy Suburban.

They're for anyone who ever wanted to attract the attention and envy of automotive aficionados, to own the feeling of full-throated power that comes to life as they press down on the accelerator, or to experience Italian design or luxurious British craftsmanship, but cannot come up with the cash for a $160,000 Bentley GT or a $250,000 Ferrari 612.

Many hot, luxurious sports cars and sedans are available at surprisingly affordable prices. Want a Lamborghini? Mike Fairbairn, co-founder of RM Auctions, which sells many exotic cars, says there are Countach models available for less than $50,000. He also recommends buyers look at the Ferrari 308 and 328, the Ferrari Mondial, and for luxury sedan buyers, the Rolls Silver Cloud. All are very affordable "pre-owned" options.

Not all used exotics have dropped that significantly in price; some actually get more expensive every year. "Some cars go up and they don't come down," says Tom duPont, founder and publisher of the duPont Registry, a monthly list of high-end used automobiles. The exotics that stay valuable are rare models, have big horsepower, notable provenance, or all three, according to duPont.

"If it's a street version of a race car, it's going to cost more," say duPont. "If it was owned by a celebrity, or if only a few were made, it's going to cost more."

Real cost of ownership

The initial price you pay for a used exotic, however, is just the tip of the iceberg; maintenance costs can be exhorbitant. Even just changing the oil on an Italian sports car can be expensive.

Complicating things is the fact that you can never be quite sure how well they've been looked after. "With late model used exotics," says McKeel Hagerty of Hagerty Insurance, which specializes in insuring vintage and antique autos, "deferred maintenance can be a problem." Many owners may have driven them hard and neglected their service.

"A car like a Ferrari F40," says Hagerty, "someone might think, 'it's down in price, may be worth taking a look at.' But you may need to put in a new clutch, brakes, and distributor; that could cost $20,000 to $25,000."

Even cars that have sat in a garage for 20 years may have suffered. Craig Jackson, of Barrett-Jackson, one of the world's biggest auctioneers of collectable cars, points out that belts and hoses, even electronics, can deteriorate due to time alone, and replacing them is anything but cheap.

"You may have to drop the motor to replace the hoses on a Ferrari," says Jackson.

Buyers need to do extra homework

Buyers on a budget must exercise diligence in shopping for an exotic, otherwise ownership can turn into a nightmare.

  • Make sure the car has good service records available. Jackson says, "A key thing is the paperwork," That will tell you how carefully the car has been looked after and how recently some of the frequently replaced items have been done. Buying an affordable exotic means "finding out everything you can about its maintenance before you buy," says Hagerty.
  • Have a qualified mechanic look at the car, preferably one who has worked on that car before. The more familiar the mechanic is with the car, the better.
  • Make sure there's someone near you who can service the car. You don't want to have to ship the car halfway across the country every time it needs service.
  • Beware of "gray-market sales," which are ones that have not been executed through authorized channels. Someone may have brought in a car they owned in Europe, for example, and is now selling it. These may not meet registrationl requirements in every state. Adding pollution controls or safety features to make a car street legal can cost a good percentage of the initial price of the car.

Taking a close look at the bodywork is also essential.

"With any car you buy, the most expensive thing to repair is damage to the body," says Fairbairn. "And English and Italian exotics often don't have the best rust-proofing."

For someone used to a Ford or Chevy, the cost of even simple repairs can be shocking. Rolls Royce has one of the best -- and most complicated -- braking systems in the industry, but rebuilding it can cost $10,000, according to Fairbairn.

One place where you won't spend more on is insurance, said Hagerty. Exotics generally don't cost any more than ordinary cars to insure, he said.

"It's only higher by virtue of the car cost," he says. In other words, insurance on a $40,000 Ferrari 308 costs no more than a new $40,000 Mercedes M-class. That'sbecause many of these autos get very limited use.

There are some other pieces advice that buyers can use to save big dollars on used exotics.

  • Don't buy red. Everyone wants a red sports car. Buy a blue or black one and you might save $5,000 or even $10,000.
  • Buy a coupe. Fewer convertibles were made and fewer have survived; their rarity makes them more expensive.
  • If your mechanic uncovers service issues that you'll need to address, but you still want the car, get an estimate of the cost and use it as a bargaining point to chip away at the price. If it's going to cost $15,000 right off the bat to get it into top condition, try to get the price reduced by that amount.

The process of buying a used exotic car is very different from purchasing a run-of-the-mill new car; it generates much more of an emotional response in buyers who can be blinded by irrational desire. The shape, the feel, the sounds, even the smell of these exotics can put stars in an auto-phile's eyes.

But as McKeel Hagerty says, "You have to go into it with your eyes open."

To learn about leasing classic cars, click here.

For more stories about collectible cars, click here.

Report: Four-door Porsche car coming, click here.

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