On Sunday, I continued my Father's Day tradition of joining my family in Sussex for British Car Field Day, a classic car show devoted to the finicky but beautiful English cars of yesteryear. Indeed, 11 years ago, I bought myself a 1975 MGB convertible from a nice couple in Tosa. I paid $3,200 in cash, and while my friends laughed that I was going through a midlife crisis at age 27, I maintain the tiny red roadster was the best purchase I ever made.
At the car show, I saw much, much nicer cars than mine. Jaguars, Aston Martins, Austin-Healeys and some marques that I had only heard of because my dad – who bought a bunch of crazy British cars in the '70s – pointed them out to me.
A lot of them were for sale.
Of course, every year, some people bring out their weekend cars to see if they can sell them, but this year, the prices stopped me dead in my tracks. One guy was selling a '73 Triumph TR-6 for $3,000. Another was selling a '74 Lotus Europa for $11,000 or best offer. I even saw a '97 Jaguar XK convertible with 55,000 miles going for $13,000.
This isn't normal.
I asked my MG mechanic what was going on, and he confirmed that the classic car market is very, very soft right now. Even though many of these cars hold their value or even increase over time, people aren't buying, or even driving what they own. While my mechanic would never touch a Triumph a few years ago, now I see him restoring Austin-Healeys and Spitfires and even the occasional VW. Like all of us, any work is good work.
Semi-related, a coworker of mine visited Door County this weekend, and he relayed a tale that I, too, have seen on trips up north to my tiny cabin in Wausaukee: everything is for sale. From Kewaunee and points north, he saw boats, cars, snowmobiles, ATVs for sale. And as for real estate, it's everywhere. I can confirm this in the economically depressed northeast part of the state, but if it's true in the affluent Door County peninsula, then something strange is afoot.
Which brings me to the point of this blog. Clearly, there are dumb investments from a financial point of view. Buying an ATV just because it's cheap doesn't mean you'll ever recoup the cost, but if you want one, now is probably the time to pounce.
But as for other "frivolous" purchases, maybe they're not so crazy after all. That TR6 will never sell for less than $3,000. And, if you can float a cheap piece of waterfront property, you just might finance your retirement – all the while enjoying a cabin on a lake. Realtors have told us that our starter cabin is now worth less than what we paid for it (and it was the Marinette County deal of the decade), but in time, the market will bounce back. Of this, I'm positive.
Of course, there's the very logical school of thought that says you shouldn't buy what you can't afford, but show me someone who's buying their house in cash, anyway. If you can swing it, if you can safely make your sub 4 percent mortgage payments, now seems like the perfect time to follow your dream. It's not getting much more cheaper than this.
And if you wait until you're 50 to fulfill your midlife crisis, I have news for you: it's harder to get in and out of that little convertible or to drive three hours to your lake house ... which will cost triple of what it does in 2012.
So don't overextend yourself. But do consider the golden opportunity to live a little and find a silver lining in this down economy. Believe me, writing that $3,200 check in 2001 was a tough pill to swallow, but I've never, ever regretted it, either.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.