Tomorrow is the Big Day

It has been almost two months since the decision was made to sell my trusty old Alfa Romeo and buy a new car. Tomorrow I’m flying to NY to pick up my Indi Blue, MINI Cooper S in Southampton. Why fly to NY to buy a car? Well, that’s an interesting story…

I first started thinking about getting a new MINI Cooper while I was still in Afghanistan last Spring. Afghanistan is not the motoring capital of the world (for 10 years there were no rules about even which side the driver should be on, right or left…) With little to do, save dodging the stray rocket, I had plenty of time late at night to go online and configure the MINI of my dreams.

When my wife realized I was serious about wanting the car, we made a deal: two-for-one. I could get a new MINI if I sold both the Alfa and my truck. Having no particular attachment to the truck, that was an easy deal. The Alfa on the other hand was a different story.

I’ve had the Alfa since 1985. Parting with it was something akin to putting down your ailing dog — you know it has had a full and wonderful life, but you’re so attached that letting go is tough — even if it is the best thing to do. (If you aren’t a car person, you won’t get this, so skip ahead.) At some point you identify so closely with your car that to give it up is to give up your past. Maybe you reach a stage when you don’t remember the good times and think about only the repairs yet to be made (rust, cranky transmission, leaking windows). One day, you wake up and see all this as not a challenge, but a burden. You realize that the chances of ever stripping it down to bare metal and getting that show quality finish are about the same as your chances of winning the lottery. For me it happened while at a gathering of Alfa owners at a swap meet.

I realized the other owners deep emotional attachments were, for the most part, because they bought the cars in their youths and they have stayed with them. To get that relationship, you have to buy new. So where do you want to be when you’re 60? With a 20 year-old new classic or with a 50 year old antique? That and the constant financial load associated with slowly replacing every part on the car convinced me it was time to let go. But my Alfa found a home where the car’s problems will be fun challenges again.

This is the first time I’ve purchased a car sight-unseen, but not the first time in a MINI. I was in San Antonio for training a few weeks ago so I stopped by the local MINI dealer there. I told the salesman I wasn’t going to buy from them, but would like a test drive anyway. He agreed, but said he had to drive it off the lot and then we would switch and asked me if I would like the “Italian Job”. Not understanding the movie reference at the time, I thought this was some obscene request. Seeing the confusion on my face, he quickly added, “You know, like the movie?…” Not wanting to seem out of the loop I agreed. He floored it off the lot and into a tight left-hand corner and I was sold. Great sales technique.

Why NY? The MINI is so popular here in the Mid-Atlantic that they don’t stay on the lot for long. Most dealers say 75% of customers custom order their new cars. The wait is down from several months to around 8 weeks. Since they know a car on the lot is worth two on order, they pile every extra dealer installed option on to boost the price. So to avoid paying several thousand dollars above list, I found a dealer in NY who is not doing this, MINI of the Hamptons. They have a very seasonal business being on Long Island, so once summer is over, they really work on recruiting sales through the internet. The deal was easy to close and they seem very nice. I’ll know tomorrow if it is a good idea to go out of state to buy a car or not.