Just a couple of cars I should have bought but stupidly didn't

21 April 2020 - 18:33 By thomas falkiner
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A Mercedes-Benz 190 2.3-16 not unlike the one the author foolishly didn't buy back in 2010.
A Mercedes-Benz 190 2.3-16 not unlike the one the author foolishly didn't buy back in 2010.
Image: Daimler

Regrets. Whenever I take time out to replay the last 10 or so years my life, I can come up with many. Things I should have done and things I didn't.

I know hindsight is supposed to be 20/20 and all of that, but when analysing these lost opportunities - especially those related to cars - it seems that I chose not to act on my original impulses, partly because of self-doubt but mainly due to the feelings or thoughts expressed by others.

Big mistake - for as soon as these third-party opinions are left to rattle around in one's subconscious, they tend to start gnawing away at the very framework of the idea at hand.

"Don't do this", "I wouldn't if I were you", "I believe you'll regret it in time", "You'll never see your money back, I don't think", "Rather save that money and buy something better later on". It's throwaway lines like these, issued by at the time half-interested people, that dampened my enthusiasm and saw me not pull the trigger on cars that I now wish I had.

Here are three of them:

Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 Cosworth

Back in 2010, I used to hang out in Greenside a lot. It was the place to be. There were hipster cafes, bars and restaurants aplenty. There was also a secondhand Mercedes-Benz dealership called Carcol owned by Colin Kean.

I met Colin at the track (he had a silver 280CE that we shared in numerous local endurance races) and we soon became solid mates. As such I would often drop by his shop and kill a few hours looking at the cars sitting on his lot. Or simply talk crap over a few takeaway cappuccinos in his office.

Anyway, one day I noticed that there was a 190E 2.3-16 Cosworth lurking near the entrance. It was champagne gold in colour and sported original black and white checkered seats. It had a service history. Colin let me take it for a spin and I loved its smooth-revving Cosworth motor, unusual dogleg-first gearbox and exceptional ride.

The 2.3-16 felt special. It felt quick and, more importantly, it felt like something I could swap my four-year-old Ford Fiesta for. And I could have because it was going for R80,000: an absolute bargain considering this was the car that gave BMW the push to build the first M3.

Fast-forward to the present and you won't find a nice one for under R200,000.

I can't remember who talked me out of it eventually but after a two weeks of mulling things over in my mind I decided to pass it up. How I wish that I had a time machine.

The Alfa 33 Ti was road-tested by Car Magazine in 1985.
The Alfa 33 Ti was road-tested by Car Magazine in 1985.
Image: Stuart Grant

Alfa Romeo 33 Ti Limited Edition

Near the end of 2012 I went to some kind of 'cars & coffee' type gathering in Strijdom Park. It was a Sunday afternoon and there were lots of different vehicles scattered around this giant parking lot in which said event was being held.

"There's an Alfa Romeo over there that's for sale," a friend of mine said, pointing in its general direction. "You should go have a look at it, it's going cheap." The car is question was a 33 Ti boasting its original white paintwork and a really neat interior with a wooden steering wheel. 

Back then a 33 Ti wasn't particularly special but this particular example stood out for being one of 200 limited-edition models built to commemorate the car's South African launch in 1985. This meant it got green striping on the bumpers and around radiator grille, a black boot spoiler, additional driving lights and slightly wider tyres for more mechanical grip. There was also a special plaque on the front quarter panel that numbered each of the 200 cars. I think this one was 144.

"Take it for a drive," said the man who was selling it.

So I did. And it was awesome. The 77kW 1.5-litre four-cylinder boxer liked to rev and fired the little 33 Ti along at a handy rate of knots. It sounded fantastic too, popping and burping between gear-shifts and on the overrun - probably because it was primed by two twin-barrel down-draught carburetors.

I liked the cabin too. The velour seats spoke of a bygone era as did the sliding HVAC controls and various ancillary switches. I think I drove it another two times that day and, after a beer, very nearly made an EFT to fit the price I was given - R28,000. For the money you couldn't get anything as cool or as fun to drive.

Needless to say, my father gave me a million reasons why I shouldn't buy an Italian car and, well, I didn't. Pity, because like the Mercedes above, these Alfas have also shot up in value. 

A 1968 Porsche 912 not unlike the one the author drove in 2005.
A 1968 Porsche 912 not unlike the one the author drove in 2005.
Image: National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Porsche 912

The year was 2005 and I had just managed to get my first job in advertising - a small below-the-line agency that operated from a converted house in Bryanston. On the way home from work in the evenings I'd often swing past a secondhand Porsche dealership on Bram Fischer Drive - Carrera Motors. After parking my Opel Kadett 160is, I'd peer through the glass shop frontage and see what I could afford. Most of the time nothing but every now and then there would be a 924 or 944 that, at a pinch, lay within my meagre budget. 

One night I arrived to find a red 911 with a price tag attached to its windscreen that read R70,000. For a Porsche 911? Surely not? The next day I gave them a call and it turned out to be true - the only caveat being that this was a four-cylinder 912 as apposed to a 'real' six-cylinder 911 (History Lesson: Built from 1965 to 1968 the 912 was an 'entry-level' 911 model powered by the less powerful engine that once featured in the now defunct 356). 

This is why it was cheap and this is why I scheduled a test drive the following weekend. Compared to my Opel, the 912 felt slow. The brakes were in need of a good bleed and the gearbox operated with a vagueness I had up until that point in my life never experienced. Still, it was a fine example and it was a Porsche - the stuff of dreams for any car-crazed 22-year-old. The salesman said he'd give me a trade-in deal: R30,000 for the Kadett and finance for the rest, the monthly repayment of which wasn't out of my financial means. 

Ironically it was my father who again talked me out of it. Something about old cars being unreliable and what I really needed in fact was a vehicle with ABS brakes and airbags. The hypocrite - only four years after the fact he bought the 911 SC that I now drive today. Still, I feel that not buying that 912 was one of my biggest mistakes. Especially when I look at the money they're fetching today - you're looking at R500,000-plus any day of the week.

The moral of the story

The lesson to be learnt here is that when it comes to making decisions - especially those involving motorcars - it's often better not to consult friends or family. If I hadn't done this I would have probably owned at least two of these cars and been a lot happier for it. Going on how classic cars have appreciated over the last two decades, I would have also made a sizeable profit on my initial investment - especially in the case of that 912. Stupid boy. 

But that's not why I was looking at them in the first place. I considered all three of these vehicles because they were quirky and different and offered something a sterile new car couldn't. In that fleeting moment of time they spoke to me that should have been reason enough to buy them on the spot.

Balls to what other people think - they don't have to drive what you buy and neither do they have to maintain or service it. The worst thing you can expect to receive from going against their 'advice' is a "I told you so." Big deal.  

So if you've got your eye on something special and second-hand, man, just go and do it because otherwise you'll end up like me. Regretful and bitter and whinging to you all about it on this website. 

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