Journal: How Much Of Your Car’s History Do You Really Want To Know?

How Much Of Your Car’s History Do You Really Want To Know?

By Michael Banovsky
June 29, 2016
14 Comments

Photography by Michael Banovsky

Aside from the high stakes world of Concours-level chassis plate, engine, and bodywork swaps—or vehicles that have won things or have been made famous—used classics are often just used cars. In period, they started as a normal car, were likely sold at a sketchy used car dealer or two along the way, and in many cases, lived a lot of history that will forever remain undocumented. How much of this history is really important?

The shining example from my life, my 1973 Porsche 914 2.0-litre, is suffering through a period of benign neglect. It’s been in the family for more than three decades at this point, but when my parents picked it up in the late ’70s, it had already seen three owners. It also—if you were standing in front of the car looking closely enough—was repainted a fetching shade of dusty rose at some point.

Reason? Who knows.

The car was never heavily modified, which is great, but I shudder to think of its first owner getting to grips with its mid-engine handling in the dead of our Canadian winter.

How much of your car’s history do you really want to know? Moreover—do you think it may have a few secrets left to reveal?

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Mike Aldridge
Mike Aldridge
6 years ago

While working on my white 944 I discovered some white overspray underneath in the wheel arch, and a bit around the side window. I just pretended not to see it, I didn’t want to know if it was just a paint touch up or accident repair. Ignorance is bliss sometimes. (I’m pretty sure it was just a touch up…)

Michael Maddalena
Michael Maddalena
7 years ago

Back in 2012, I purchased a ’67 Mercedes Fintail to convert into a tribute rally car. The story I got at the time was that it was owned by a US Army colonel who bought it while stationed in Brussels. His wife’s name was Mercedes and she was born in Puerto Rico. About a year later I received a package from the seller with a host of service records and a letter addressed to another female owner. The letter was from Mercedes telling the new owner how much she loved this car and how happy she was that it was going to a good home. Mind you, this letter was written in 1999. I had named my rally car “The Colonel” by the way in tribute to Colonel Stanley and his wife. I tried to contact that intermediary female owner to no avail. I contacted Mercedes’ family to tell them the car was in good hands and received a wonderful note back from her friends. She passed only months ago. They told me how much she loved the Mercedes and how she forced her husband to keep it going all of these years. The letter also informed me that Stanley was an accountant and not an Army colonel.

I sold the rally car a few months ago to an enthusiast from Mexico who races in the Carrera almost every year. He happens to own a vacation home here in Connecticut. It is in Mexico now getting a full and deserving repaint. A month or so after I delivered the car to the new owner I received a Facebook message from Anne, the missing owner. She too loved that car and wanted to know how “Juanita” was getting along. “Juanita” being the name that Mercedes had given her when it was new. So now “The Colonel” is owned by a Mexican gentleman racer and we discover the car had a Spanish name all along. God speed Juanita. So knowing about a car’s history can lead you to know some very nice people.

Shawn Sepehry
Shawn Sepehry
7 years ago

Although my car is not a classic (2007 525xi) I can relate to this very well. I bought the car because it had a rare color combination , at least in my area, with the Auburn interior. Although I did a mechanical inspection, I didn’t dig through too deep because I didn’t want to be dissuaded from the purchase. My father’s advice of car-shopping on a full stomach has never been more true.

Once I took possession of the car, I found evidence to what I believe is that the previous owner was a careless female. The plastic window switch frames were all scratched with nails (hand lotion is especially corrosive to BMW plastics), coffee spilled on the AC plastic surround and general wear from a careless owner.
Outside shows sign of a repair on the rear bumper and over-spray on the C Pillar but no claims on the history report.
Mechanically, there was a blown control arm bushing and bent wheel from supposedly hitting a curb during parking by the same owner. I have actually built an FBI-style profile of what I imagine the person to be like.

After 3 years of ownership, I have fixed all of the things that showed signs of a previous owner and I feel like this is my car now. I’m also not digging into the history anymore because I don’t want to be disappointed.

Like the old BMW Certified ads used to say, “You know you’re not the first”…but I can pretend like I am.

Pedro Campuzano
Pedro Campuzano
7 years ago

As it happens I had a 73 914 2.0 that lived with me for 14 years and while in my “care” went through two restorations including color change to red, several crashes, an autocross career, multiple cross country trips and just general hard driving.
It survived it’s time with this young man and many years later I saw the car for sale on eBay and contacted seller. I filled him in on the car’s adventures with me, he bought from guy who bought from me. I think he half heartedly appreciated the info and put the high bidder in touch with me after sale of course.
The buyer did appreciate the info as he had wanted to know the car’s history… evil deeds and all. He said that it seemed the car was properly repaired and maintained at least. He is going through the car with his 15 year old son, a bonding project. I am glad to hear that my old 14 lives on, bringing smiles and adventure to another young man’s life.

M3racer
M3racer
7 years ago

There is an owner of an E30 M3 that used to be a drug dealer’s car. He found a secret compartment(s) while working on the car.

Tim Joslyn
Tim Joslyn
7 years ago

Ok, so I’m biased but for me its the history that makes the cars. Take my MGB V8 (https://www.getpatina.com/vehicles/0KobPQ4GOb) . It’s the factory prototype with hand fabricated panels to shoehorn the V8 in and then kept by the factory and used for speed trials and other development tasks. Without its history it is just another MGB, with its history it is an important car in the MG factory’s history.

Not all my cars have quite as impressive background, however I still make sure that I document as much of the cars life as possible (and that is not just receipts and invoices). For example a 911 that I have (https://www.getpatina.com/vehicles/JWUSHQLHMB) had a pretty mundane life before I had it but now it has been in magazines, on Euro road trips plus upgraded in a number of ways and I think that history is worth preserving for the next owner…

Jason Cayde
Jason Cayde
7 years ago

From a non-owner’s side, it’s interesting digging back and seeing what a car’s seen, done, and been through. When I worked at a pick’n’pull yard, I’d spend whatever free time I had rummaging through some of the yard inventory to see how much I could find from leftover possessions and papers alone. Some lived in the same city and got scrapped at 200k, some came from California (to central Ontario) with well over 500k on the clock. Some were appliances, like the litany of Grand Caravans and or Intrepids that flooded in on a weekly basis. Some were service vehicles like taxis or delivery Vans. But some were prized possessions, like the 1977 Lancia Scorpion, or the 1969 Olds Cutlass Convertible, or the 1963 Jaguar MkII Sedan that briefly graced our yard.

It was also always interesting to see why they got scrapped. Often it was just age, but some would come in with angry notes from their last owners. Others would come in with accident damage, and a few unfortunate ones would wind up in the yard after the lot owners unsuccessfully tried to find new owners for them (one that comes to mind was dark grey BMW 3.0 CSL, forgot the year). But it was always fun seeing where they came from, how they got here, and what they saw along the way.

As for owned vehicles, it’s still fun to see where they’ve been, but it’s more for situational awareness than anything. I know my Saab was in two accidents in Quebec when it was only a year old, and I know my Explorer was a rental in Alberta up until 2014. My F-150 before that was a bank repo, and it showed badly. The Cabriolet was neglected and de-registered at some point until 1995 and experimented on electrically. Then it started being kept outdoors in the winter, and then it stopped seeing repairs beyond basic maintenance. Then the odometer broke about 3 years ago. While I’m not fond of some of the history, at least it lets me know where to expect problems at buying time or in the future.

Eba Normaalne
Eba Normaalne
7 years ago

my first car a 87′ fc3s non turbo was imported from USA somehow in 94′ somebody had a rich relative in there i guess, probably the first one in Estonia, didn’t know more. The second i still have is a 89′ 6 port turbo, it had an overweight owner (i can also see it from the seats), found his wrist gold chain under the carpet( a big one), the car had pretty heavy hail damage, drivers door and window were busted, it had some bad chassis floor repairs done in Lithuania, (thick metal pieces welded on the rust) that’s why they didn’t find the gold. Also the car was an object where to learn car painting (quite okay) and it had an engine rebuild, later i discovered it had random corner seals( mazda and atkins rotary) and the reason it stuck on its main bearing was a wrong flywheel- engine was a little unbalanced. BUT i have the service history when it was in Germany, it was serviced until 140k kilometers, with 10.000km oil change intervals (WRONG) instead of 5000km. made in 1989, bought 1992.

geelongvic
geelongvic
7 years ago

Michael, this gets to the heart of the Petrolicious mission of documenting the intersection of a car’s history with the personal life of the owner or owners, something that Petrolicious tries to show weekly.

In my particular case, I know virtually the entire history of my 1973 Porsche 914 2.0 which was purchased new initially by owners in Warren, Michigan, passed into the hands of Ron B. R. of New Haven, Michigan. This 914 was only driven during the summers and was in extraordinarily good condition when I bought it in 1979 from Ron. I have been the owner of record since 1979 and have full detailed records and photos of all of the events in the life of the fourteen since till the present.

I have had great fun with my fourteen over my past 39 years of stewardship and whenever it is sold and whoever acquires it from me will have full records and photos of repairs, upgrades, and the trips enjoyed over the years with this 914, although I am not ready to sell it yet, since it has many more adventures to share with me. Likely it will be sold by my estate, only after my passing.

You personally are very familiar with this fourteen having driven it during the 2015 Maple Mille in Ontario. This year I shipped it to Redmond, Wa, from where my wife and I crossed the border into BC for the Spring Thaw Rally, after which it made a long delightful trip down the Pacific coastline to San Luis Obispo, then across the hot 114 degree Mojave desert ( it has an auxiliary thermostatically controlled fan booster oil cooler), through to Las Vegas, across Utah into Colorado for the Silver Summit Rally, then onto the Dakotas (Mt Rushmore), then Michigan’s upper Peninsula, before returning to Ohio covering over 8500 flawless miles in the adventure. There were documented service stops along the way. I believe that any future owner should the full history of a car and the pleasures that it has given its owners along the way.

Incidentally, while in Las Vegas, I visited with a friend who gave me the pleasure of driving his 1953 MG TD with a fully documented service and race history since 1953. A wow history, great patina, and a delight to drive.

History matters, so I believe, and adds to the enjoyment of the driving experience, the Petrolicious mission.

geelongvic
geelongvic
7 years ago
Reply to  geelongvic

Correction: 37 years of ownership of the 1973 914.

r1200to7series
r1200to7series
7 years ago

Last year I jumped on the purchase of a 2002 BMW 330Ci convertible 5 speed. Driven only 14,000 miles in 14 years. I asked the seller the basic questions – any accidents, garaged, oil changes, etc. but I didn’t run a carfax. I didn’t want anything to get in the way of my excitement and potentially talk me out of it. Instead, I relied on my judgement and the photos in the ad and made my decision. Bought it sight unseen. Now that its in my garage I am discovering some of it’s history…a couple parking lot door dings, minor pitting on the windshield. Not much history at all and I couldn’t be happier.

Joshua Seidenberg
Joshua Seidenberg
7 years ago

I know my 328 has a sketchy past. It only had a couple of owners but it was treated poorly. It was a 20 footer when I found it baking on a lot not too far from DFW. The interior was toast but mechanically the engine was good, though the tires were dry rotten. She was like a sad dog in need of a good home…so I rescued her. Now this car is beautiful and extremely well kept.

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