THE ANGRY LADY & HER LAMBORGHINI —Bill Orth—
OK, one last ‘barn find’ story and then we’ll move on to fresh topics. In the early 80s, I was living in Florida and on the prowl for a Ferrari project. A friend who worked for a contractor told me he was bidding a job at an apartment complex nearby and had seen a car in a garage there that he said looked “like a Ferrari.” It was disheveled and obviously not in use, but that’s all he knew about it.
Turned out that the address was only a few miles from my home, but I had never seen something like that driving around. I drove over one day and cruised the complex’s parking area. Besides the open spaces, there were a couple of long open-front garages, like connected carports, that were along the rear property line. In the end space of one of these was an unmistakable Italianesque backside hiding in the shadows. It wasn’t a Ferrari; instead, it was a mid-‘60s Lamborghini 400GT, but it had the same signature four chrome exhaust pipes my friend associated with Ferraris. The car looked as though it hadn’t moved in a long time; a thick layer of dust and some bird droppings covered it, the tires were nearly flat and bushels of leaves had blown in around it, whereas all the adjacent numbered spaces were swept clean and in regular use.
In Florida, a disused car quickly acquires a foggy coating on the inside of the windows from humid thirty-degree daily temperature swings; the chrome Boranni wire wheels were now rusty and peeling, the silver-blue metallic paint was turning grey and those four tailpipes’ chrome plating was now lying on the ground under them. Ferruccio’s stylish coupe wasn’t looking so good any more. A dormant car like this always has a trousseau of mechanical problems as a result of being stagnant in such a climate, too. You can count on every component in the hydraulic systems to be corroded, the interior to be mildewed and the superheated closed cabin will bake the leather nice and hard as time goes by. It is certainly possible, if not necessarily likely, that the rings will have rusted to the cylinder walls. Since the transmission and rear differential are vented to the atmosphere, the upper halves of all the gears, that were not submerged under oil, will have started to rust, too. Waking up a snoozing older car is never easy or cheap, and when it’s an exotic, the surprises multiply in both complexity and expense.
But, that was just what I was looking for! When you’ve got more time, tools and some skills than money, you have to be prepared to invest lots of sweat equity! Negotiations had stalled on a Ferrari 330 I was pursuing, so this looked like an attractive alternative. I noted the number of the garage space and walked over to the apartment office to ask the manager who owned the car. In those innocent pre-privacy act days, I was given a lady’s name and apartment number. Admittedly being sexist, I asked if perhaps there was a husband who would be in charge of the car, and was told to not bring that up with the lady at all.
Well, that was fine; perhaps she would be another Denise McCluggage and prove to be more knowledgeable about cars than most men. Her phone was unlisted, but I wrote her a nice letter (remember those?) explaining what was on my mind and invited her to call me. While I waited for the mail to deliver my overtures, I did some research into 400GTs, figured out about what they were worth, made some estimates about what I thought it would cost to whip this one into shape and came up with what I thought would be a fair offer. At the time, those cars were only worth in the low-twenties, but a strip and repaint and all the rest would add up fast, so I thought $5000 would be in the ballpark. And a few days later, I got The Call.
(in case you think that sounds impossibly cheap, the Ferrari 330 I was considering was in only slightly better condition, and it ran, and the dealer was only asking $7000 for it. Values were different 25 years ago!)
After some preliminaries, we set up a time the next evening for me to come over for a better look at the car. Remembering my father’s sage advice to always have cash in your pocket when negotiating to buy something, I withdrew five grand in hundreds and went to see my new friend. The fairly young, attractive lady met me at the car and let me unlock it and snoop around inside, while she gave me pretty short answers to my questions. Things started downhill when I pulled out the dipstick, which was coated with thick, tan mucus—a sure sign that coolant had gotten into the sump. The Lamborghini V-12 drives its water pump with the cam chain, and when allowed to sit, the seal fails and when the engine is next started, it fills the engine up with water. That’s bad enough, but if the coolant is allowed to remain in the engine, the ethylene glycol in the antifreeze attacks the bearings. Now it wasn’t a matter of getting it running any more; the engine would have to be dismantled and rebuilt.
Mistake #1: Like an all-knowing surgeon, I pronounced my diagnosis about how this car’s serious needs went far beyond the obvious flat tires and dead battery. It would be difficult and expensive to fix and those costs would have to reduce the car’s present value, of course.
Mistake #2: I asked how she came to have the car and why it had been allowed to get so run down. Oh, boy. Her eyes got squinty, her ears laid back and flames came out of her mouth when she related how her EX-husband had convinced her a few years ago that buying this car was a good idea, and how when he wanted to split not long after, he offered to do her the favor of keeping the house and its payment book and she could have the paid-for Lamborghini—which could be easily sold. After a couple of technicians told her what all was wrong with the car, and estimated its value at half of what the EX had told her, she was pretty hot. That had been over a year ago and she was still boiling over at being duped.
Mistake #3: I pointed out that what the technicians had told her about its value may have been relevant before she let it sit for so long and get even worse, but that now very few people would be interested in it in this condition, but I was one of them, and how about $3500? Now she was as mad at me as the ex and she locked the car and stormed off.
Well, now what? I had become poisonous and went home to think about how to un-ring the bell. As fate would have it, before I came up with any ideas the guy with the Ferrari called not long after and offered me the car for $6000, so I bought it instead. Then, I told my friend Tim about the Lamborghini, so he went over there and was all smoothness and sympathy and won the lady’s trust. Over several visits he gently told her the same message I did, but in smaller bites, and he wound up being able to buy the car for $3600.
-- Bill Orth –