Mid-Century Motoring Is The Next Generation of Classic Car Sales
As a part of the new Petrolicious Marketplace, we’ll be interviewing sellers, dealers, and collectors to give readers an inside look at some of the exciting and key figures in classic car sales and introduce you to the people behind the cars you’ll see for sale on Petrolicious. We’ll also be discussing the classic car market, potential investments, and getting their take on current market trends.
We had a chat with Benjamin Tarlow, 26 year old owner of Mid-Century Motoring – making him one of the youngest dealers in the market. Ben sources great cars overseas, usually stuff that didn’t make it to the US Market and has very particular taste for what types of cars he works with. He’s got a soft spot for stepnose Alfas (like me) and is true car guy.
What was your first classic car–how’d you become a car guy?
It all started with a ‘64 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT – an early stepnose coupe.
I’d recently lost my job and took a bit of time over in Europe to ponder my next move. While in the Netherlands I came across a little Alfa shop on the outskirts of Utrecht. I’d always loved the look of Giulias, but the way it drove, the way it smelled inside–I really just bought it on a whim. It definitely wasn’t perfect, but it turned out to be the catalyst for my importation business.
I never should have sold that car – I deeply, deeply regret it.
So that Alfa created a new job for you?
It absolutely did. As soon as I got the Alfa through Customs I was itching to go back and source a whole bunch of different stuff. I’d always had a fetish for Euro-market cars, going back to the semesters I spent studying abroad during college. So Mid-Century Motoring began purely as an import operation to bring that kind of thing over to enthusiasts here in the US. I figured given the hassle and potential pitfalls involved it could be a very helpful service.
Are the cars you import ‘headhunted’ with certain clients or markets in mind or do you curate them based off your tastes?
It’s both these days. There are some things people call about pretty regularly, Land Rover Defenders for example, but at the same time I’ll inevitably find something esoteric while sourcing that excites me and bring it over with the hope that there’s a kindred enthusiast in our market somewhere. I just want to work with interesting cars. I joke about the ‘cars and coffee factor’, aka how much of a reaction a car gets when you roll up to your local meet. If you arrive in a 911, chances are there will be a bunch of other 911’s there, but if you pull up in a Matra Djet you’re bringing something unique and for a lot of people it’ll be their first time experiencing that car. I find that really rewarding–evangelizing the weird stuff.
Do you have a specialty in terms of marque?
I’ve ended up with a severe affliction for Alfa Romeo since that first Giulia, and nowadays a lot of the cars that come through here have a serpent on the badge. But I actively try not to specialize too much, I love anything old and and European.
Since I started Mid-Century Motoring the world has changed, especially the European economy. Importing is a very demanding gig, and even with the strong dollar there are other forces at work that make sourcing quality cars increasingly difficult. At the same time, more consignments and brokerage deals have come my way, broadening the focus of the business. I always say I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into the role of a dealer, because of all the negative connotations out there surrounding that word. But I figure so long as I don’t plaster “NO CREDIT NO PROBLEM” all over the cars and do right by my fellow enthusiasts then I’ll manage.
So the buying experience is a huge consideration for you.
It’s made me approach the entire business a bit differently from the mainstream dealers, especially as I take on more consignments and other traditional dealer roles. I often describe Mid-Century Motoring as “the world’s least glamorous car dealership,” mostly because I operate out of a crumbling mill building next to a vintage nuclear power plant, but also because I want the experience to be more genuine and transparent–akin to visiting a fellow enthusiast in their home garage. While it would be nice to have a glassy showroom with a fancy espresso machine, it doesn’t really fit the ethos of the cars I work with nor the people who buy them. Plus I don’t really like espresso…
At 26, how does your age affect your perspective on cars?
It certainly affected how I got into cars in the first place. This wasn’t something that existed in my family or my childhood really, so I started self-teaching without even realizing it. The Internet played a huge role–you give an interested and enthusiastic kid that kind of unprecedented access and information and it will snowball. At the same time, it’s freed me from the typical generational divides out there–I gravitate towards cars that predate my life by 20, 30, even 40 years, so I’m not bound by nostalgia or tradition. Then again, I just got myself an Alfa GTV6 the other day. Perhaps we all end up buying the cars of our youth.
Thoughts on the state of the classic car market?
Broadly speaking, I’m just as uneasy about soaring valuations and price bubbles as the next guy. And as many have said before, the rules are always “buy what you like” and “buy the best you can afford.” It is really sad to see certain cars become too expensive for their owners to properly enjoy and drive though. I’m all for preservation, but it’s a tragedy when they start to get locked away in vaults like rolling gold bars.
How about modern classics?
Such an exciting topic these days, given the big changes looming over the auto industry. We’ve already seen what dwindling populations of manual transmissions mean for the used supercar market, but what about when the last naturally-aspirated engine rolls off the production line? Or even the last internal combustion engine for that matter? I love cars that feel like they are on the brink of extinction, the “last of the dinosaurs” examples that I know will seem absurdly backwards and retro in just a few years’ time. Before I lived in New York I had an Audi A5 as a daily driver, and went for the hopelessly out of date V6 with a six speed, instead of the new, objectively better turbo four with a slick DSG box. The dealer thought I was crazy, but I felt such a connection to that car knowing it was the last of its kind in the lineup. Maybe someday I’ll see it on the auction block going for silly money, stranger things have happened…