I have a confession to make: I’m not a gambler. I’ve never liked betting on things…sports, horses, dogs, whatever. Never my thing…until I started messing with old cars. It’s incredibly rewarding to find value where others won’t/can’t. Unfortunately, these gambles typically pay out in a bell-curve. Some of the time I lose; most of the time I’ll come out slightly ahead. Rarely I win pretty big.
The Euro 635CSi might just be one of my bigger wins. Here’s how it broke down. I paid a pretty steep $700 for the wreck. Taxes, paperwork, delivery charges and a few new tools raised my final cost to $900. Then I got to work. Pulled the bits I needed, sold whatever I could, then scrapped the shell. Total cash proceeds came to about $850, mainly for the Euro spoiler, rare trim pieces, and common failure parts (heater valve, window motors, etc.). So my out-of pocket net cost ended up being $50, not too bad. Adding up the number of hours that took would be depressing, so I’m not going to bother. It’s a hobby, after all!
So here’s the gamble…the motor and transmission were an unknown quantity. When I went to look at the car the motor was locked up, with a cracked oil sump. There was no evidence of water in the pan, although I noted a lot of roasted oil deposits up in the rocker cover. Chances are very high that it’s all junk. The transmission was far better off – at least it could shift through the gears and had no major oil leaks. Chances were good that it was OK. So I based my offer on what I knew was good, instead of the entire car. I typically prefer to negotiate “long” instead of “hard”. It’s a better fit for my laid-back personality. However, even for an unusual chance like this, gambling on a best-case scenario just isn’t good business. Worst-case scenario: if everything ends up being unusable, at least I’ll still break even. But…if these parts are good…they’re worth a lot. A low-mileage (117K) Getrag 265/5 transmission, in good shape, usually sells for about $750. High-compression Euro M30 engines in good shape can sell for $500 if you’re willing to deal with freight companies. A refurbished single-mass flywheel can fetch $400 on a good day. I had done my homework researching eBay sold listings, threads on enthusiasts’ club pages, etc..
However, for this trick to work, you really have to know what you’re buying. As an example, the European cars are worth far more than their North American counterparts. The virtually identical ’82 633CSi is a fine car, but it’s worth far less. The M30B32 US-specification engine, while fun to drive, is the least powerful of the whole family. It also has a far weaker Getrag 260/5 behind it (or worse, an automatic). That combination, even in good shape, tends to be worth less than $500. To make things even worse, these cars look identical to the untrained eye. I had just passed up a non-running 633CSi, represented as a 635, with plenty of rust, for an unreasonably high and non-negotiable “$750 firm.”
The featured picture here is another one I had to let go. It was a relatively rare E23 735i import, from Belgium if I recall correctly. The European-spec engine, manual transmission and the velour fabric interiors were very rare in the US market. This quirky car had power front windows but manual rear cranks. Dig that brown, eh? Given that the car had been flooded the seller’s price was just too high. Too many unknowns. I made him a soft offer that he instantly declined. He was sentimental about the car, really didn’t want to sell it. I heard he’d sold the car later, for scrap, at less than half my offering price.