These things start out innocently. I heard about a car that was for sale. If you are a gearhead, this happens a lot. In my experience, most turn out to be average deals or massive unwanted projects. This car was described as a 1990s BMW with unspecified “fairly low mileage”. Sounded like a potential for co-worker (Rob) looking for a car (this also happens a lot..). However, work and life got busy and 3 weeks went by. Rob finally asked again if I had come across anything, and I in turn called my fellow gearhead contact, Ed. Ed called his contact Tom. A few days later, an answer. Yes, it was still available for what was perhaps an average price if it was in good shape (ie: decent paint, around 100k miles, and some service records). At this point, nobody I knew or trusted had even seen the car, and a car salesman at a dealership was the source of info. Hmmmmmmm….

I contacted my co-worker, and passed on the description of the car which was about 4th hand at this point. Could I go look at it and give him an opinion ? Sure (this happens a lot as well). I made a call and eventually I arranged to go look at the car via a contact of my contact at a local BMW dealership. Coordinating the meeting involved a nighttime meeting in a dark alley with the leader of the resistance, a Navajo code talker, an operative who crossed the border through the minefields, and smuggled a message over to their guy on the inside, who was the gardener for the Commandante, and could get close to the target. I was only missing the super model double agent, and my Aston Martin DB5. In the process, I discovered that the car was a 5 speed, which killed the deal for Rob. Great, I thought, my work here is done. However, at this point, I had this clandestine appointment, no buyer anymore, and a car that nobody knew anything about. I did what any gearhead would do, and decided to go see it anyway, since I would be nearby that day.

The owner of the car reportedly wanted to stay arms length from the buy/sell process. This was my first clue that something was strange. Tom described the owner as a doctor who purchased several cars from them and who just did not want any part of the process of selling a car. It was a 1991 525i. Neither rare, nor valuable. We went over to the dealership and walked in to see Tom who was the intermediary for this private sale. It was being sold by the original owner who had just reduced the price to get rid of it. Tom described the car as being in great shape. Yeah, right. The saleman says its a great deal (this happens a lot)! The owner had left the car at the dealership for us to see. We finally asked to go outside and look at it.

26k Miles !! It turns out that we had walked right past the car on the way in. The reason is because the car looked brand new. I mean brand new. Perfect slate grey paint, perfect looking interior. We had walked past it parked in amongst other new and late model certified Pre-owned cars without noticing. Armed with the key, I opened it up and the interior was as good as the exterior. Light grey leather (almost white), not a smudge anywhere, the mats looked new, and the car even smelled new. I was almost hesitant to sit in it with my stained jeans and mud-stained boots fresh from loading and towing another car (this happens a lot). Even the drivers seat really did not show much wear. We learned from Tom that nobody had ever ridden in the passenger or rear seat. It looked it. I started the car and it was similarly flawless. It purred like only the legendary inline 6 can. So smooth that you wonder if it is running. The odometer read 26,200 miles, but there was little evidence of even this low mileage. At this point, The price was already great at twice the mileage. I popped the hood, looked in the trunk, looked underneath, etc, and it was all flawless. Every bit of work on the car, which was nothing but annual state inspections, had been done by the dealership. Tom gave me the records. Everything I saw and heard and touched, validated the conclusion. This was a brand new car. It had only lasted a month because of the espionage-novel-worthy process of getting to see the car. Even so, I pondered why the dealership did not go after it.

For more pics see The GarageI did not ponder very long. The entire transaction including a visit to the notary for paperwork was done in a couple of hours. The owner gave me the original window sticker ($37k!), and assured me that the car was 100% garaged and only driven to and from work a few miles away. I could already see that. He appeared very eager to convince me of the great care the car had received while in his possession. As if the condition of the car was not enough. He finally took one last picture with the car, and appeared close to tears. Ed helped me jockey cars so that I could get it home. I then had to jockey things around to get it into the garage ahead of the impending snow storm the next day. All done, I looked at it in the garage. It was the stuff of gearhead lies told at the bar. It was the one that got away. It was a time capsule car. It was the suspect Craigslist/Ebay/Autotrader Ad that makes us all chuckle in disbelief: like new, 1 loving owner, immaculate, low miles, only driven in nice weather, must go, cheap, etc, etc. This is a mythical machine among gearheads, similar to the Loch Ness monster or a Mermaid…. reportedly seen by a few, but most doubt it’s existence. I am here to say that it exists, and that in this case, I was the buyer (this does not happen a lot).

19 Replies to “How to Catch a Mermaid”

  1. This is a great story well written. I just subscribed. Besides a good writer, you are a lucky SOB !

    Phil G
    Columbia SC

  2. Dear Wayne:

    I read this whole column, waiting for the punchline… And as it turns out, it is a cream puff dream car. Good for you.

    Fondest regards,
    Twisted Roads

  3. Dear Phil,

    Thanks for your comment. I was pretty lucky to fall into this one, but I have plenty of not-so-lucky stories. Cheers.

  4. Dear Jumbletronic,

    If you saw the post in the garage, then you know I am already struggling with leaving it alone. They look so good with BBS rims and a small rear spoiler and…….Cheers

  5. Dear Mike Monde,

    Thanks, every now and then you just stumble onto something completely unexpected. Now if only I can get that to happen again with a 356A, a 23 window bus, and a few other items 😉

  6. Dear Garage, thanks for your comment. That title just emerged at the end of writing the post…..Cheers

  7. Dear Jack,

    I know this story would normally have a different ending in my case, but every once in a great while…..thanks for your comment. Hope the reloc went well.

  8. You will not regret this buy. Mine has 234K miles and is still going very strong. Not as pretty as yours but a super car. Nicer than my 325ix. Good luck with it.

  9. Yikes,

    Sounds like you have a nice car there…..

    I'm sure you will go over it and change all the fluids anyway…and then take it for a spin!

    I'd love to see it. Going up your way is a great drive at this time of the year.

    Great blogging as usual….


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