How to sink we mean buy the Bismark.

Have you ever bought a used car? And I’m not talking a certified pre-owned Porsche from the sales guy at the local dealership who used to sit behind you in Algebra II in high school now that you’ve made it big – I’m talking about a dodgy Dodge in a dim and dank barn from a shady dood named Shecky? Or blind, from a complete stranger, in a weird part of the country, off of ebay or Craigslist, or Autotrader, with cash?

This is the exact kind of interesting and sometimes futile adventure that I think should be on everyone’s bucket list, especially politicians, lawyers and loud know-it-alls. And social scientists and policy makers and full-time professional wonks too. I even think if you started a company offering foreigners an opportunity to purchase a big-ticket item off the internet and take it with them (or ship it home) as a kind of treasure-hunt adventure into the unsubtle heart of the country, you’d get a lot of takers and I’ll tell you why. It’s the perfect way to see what America is really like – missing teeth, smirks of suspicion, cackalack accents, smiles and all.

I took a recent trip to Yonkers with my aforementioned sidekick, Peter Trautmann – the perfect compagnon de voyage – a funny, up-for-anything car nut. Couple of wrong turns in Scarsdale on the way, down a few of sidestreets behind the train station and to an afluent neighborhood of well-manicured lawns. I can see the car we came looking for sitting in the garage out back.

Vito comes out and we say our hellos. He’s an old-school paisano, so we hit if off immediately. No guile or pretense or b.s. The car is a battleship-gray 1961 Mercedes 220, 4-speed manual, 4-door sedan, absolutely original. Asking $6500. Fordham parking sticker from 1969 on the bumper. Last registered in 1997. Vito’s grandfather bought it in 1962 from his best friend; his father drove it to work every day until Vito took it to college. His son needs the garage now, so he’s reluctantly selling his happy graying memories.

Let me backtrack (I was just about to write ‘backpedal’) a bit. Since this is a how-to, I’ll give you all the advice you need to know in a nutshell: show some self-awareness. Pretty simple. When you first go on Craigslist or ebay or whatever marketplace, I’m going to assume you know what you’re looking for, have a rough budget in mind, and are already decided on how long you want to look, and how far afield you’re willing to go.

If you haven’t figured these things out beforehand, you’ll be searching for the rest of your life, or, you’ll buy the nearest, cheapest, easiest, lowest hanging fruit, so-to-speak, and then be either existentially unhappy without knowing it, or why, or selling the junk back pretty immediately at a loss, but the wiser.

Second, make sure the ad is legitimate, and accurate. If it seems too good to be true, it is. I’ll repeat that: if it seems to good to be true, it is. Move on.

Third, ask the right questions before you go. Mine: Why are you selling the vehicle? And: What’s wrong with it? No, what’s really wrong with it?

Fourth, arrange for a mutually-agreed upon time and place to meet. Make sure the vehicle itself is going to be at that location, all of the paperwork is in order, and that the person who says they’re the owner really is the owner. Don’t shake your head, I’ve been there.

Fifth: Verify the documentation first. Then check out the car thoroughly. Bring a mechanic friend if you have one. Have a checklist. Go under, over and through the entire vehicle. Take a test drive, if possible.

Sixth: Bring cash. Offer your best price. Don’t haggle. Be prepared to walk away if they say no.

Seventh: I always come with a trailer and take the car home right then. No second trips, or second thoughts.

Finally, make sure you enjoy the adventure, the good and the not good of it. In case you’re wondering, I told Vito his grandfather’s pride and joy was 1” from the scrapheap and I’d save it and keep his beautiful family legacy alive for $1,500.

Um, er, but, but done deal.

January 07, 2021 — Johnny Mustard