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Unhinged: Flipping A Car – To Flip Or Not To Flip, That Is The Question…

Unhinged: Flipping A Car – To Flip Or Not To Flip, That Is The Question…

Flipping cars, where you buy low, invest little and sell high, has normally been out of my range. Out of the fifty or sixty cars that my name has been on the paperwork for, I’ve only made a significant profit on one: a 1984 Dodge Ramcharger I was able to sell for $600 more than I had tied up into it. If you believe the television shows that are everywhere, flipping a car is simple: find something that is bad enough to buy cheap but good enough that you aren’t going to go upside-down fixing, then sell the newly polished turd to the next buyer. It’s not difficult and as long as you stick to your goals and understand the risk, it is actually a fairly straightforward deal. So what am I doing writing about flipping a car?

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Here’s the story: while dredging through eBay Motors for something cool, I traipsed across this 1981 Imperial. Gee, shocker. What is an actual shock is that when I found the car, it had two days left on the auction and was for sale for $450 with no reserve. So I start going through the pictures. It looks stock, the paint looks good, if not at least passable, interior is pretty decent for the price, the engine is there (that’s the nicest thing I’ll say), and in the trunk is a ton of aftermarket stereo equipment from a company I’ve never heard of before.

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Most of these trade for a few grand, and if they are in any sort of decent condition you have the usual lines of “collector”, “valuable”, and “once in a lifetime deal”. We’ve said it before and again: just because it’s rare doesn’t mean it is desirable. Just because I have a warped vision of beauty doesn’t mean that everybody does. And then I see a Kentucky plate. That means it’s close. Two hours away close. Oh, crap…I need another car like I need a hole in the head. And that’s when my wife surprises me for lunch. She looks it over, reminds me I don’t need another car, then starts scrolling through the pictures herself. She says things like “Looks OK” and “I like that interior more, I think.” Then she sees the price and asks what’s wrong with it. I hadn’t looked.

From the ad itself: “I had moved it to the back driveway and did not keep up on starting it adequately and eventually it failed to start and I have not been able to start it since. It seems to fire with instant start briefly, but it is not just out of gas, I checked.” Bingo! Fuel issue! And my money was on one of two things: the carburetor being gummed up from sitting, or the fuel pump wasn’t doing it’s job. Since this one was factory converted to a carburetor, it’d be simple to diagnose and fairly cheap to fix. That’s when she said, “Well, we have $500…we could borrow a trailer and go pick it up.” I certainly wasn’t expecting that, but she was sold on the idea of flipping this Imperial, so I call the guy and ask about the car. Sure enough, it’s sat for a bit, and it shook on acceleration only, so I discount the ball joints listed in the ad for the moment.

Ok, let’s break down what I’d be looking at here:

  • (1) 1981 Imperial coupe: $500 at the most.
  • (1) Carter 2-bbl replacement carb (worst case): $136 from Rock Auto
  • (1) Fuel filter (best case): $5.00 from O’Reilly’s, with about an hour’s worth of work

Add in the minor things like light bulbs, air filter and detailing, and I would expect to have a running, driving Imperial for $650 max. Even if the ball joints are shot, that’s maybe another $100. A little polish, a refit of the badges to the correct locations, a thorough cleaning of the engine bay, and some good photos and I would expect to see at least $2,000 out of it at the end of the day just based upon obscurity, drivability and originality. Maybe the audio stuff is worth something…I don’t know audio gear that well. If nothing else, some college kid might snap it up for $1500, and I’d still be up some cash. It seemed foolproof on the surface. Sure, I’d look the car over carefully once I laid eyes on it, but the owner said that if I wasn’t happy after inspecting the car in person that I could walk away, he would re-list the car and there would be no issue.

So what ended up happening? I went on eBay and bid $475. Immediately I got the notification that I had been outbid. Ok, $485. Outbid. $500 even. Outbid. Crap….fine. Last call: $530. Outbid. Someone has placed a sitting bid on the car. I have no way of knowing how much it is and I’m not willing to go any higher. So, for now, I’m out of the deal. If the car doesn’t sell, I might make a pitch to the owner again, but for now, it’s not worth it. What do you think…was my thinking correct or was I way off in left field?

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8 thoughts on “Unhinged: Flipping A Car – To Flip Or Not To Flip, That Is The Question…

  1. anthony

    My opinion. If you buy a car you like or have already you end up trying to find a way to keep it and the make money plan dosent pan out.

  2. John T

    most cars I’ve bought I end up selling for more than I paid for…I’m teeing one up at the moment – 74 ( Aussie) Fairlane, immaculate looking body and interior, recond trans, 351C and 9″ diff. Its a project and everythings been rebuilt, receipts for recent work are over 2 K and that’s not even including rebuilding the engine, trans etc Guy started at 4 grand 2 months ago, its now on 2,500 and I’m seeing it in 2 days and intend offering him 1800 max – having cash in these deals ` right now’ makes all the difference. In Australia a 9″ with discs will net you a grand to 1500, a recond 351 is worth a grand or more all day long. I can either finish it and sell for 5 to 10 K or flog the diff and body off for a profit ( and get to keep a recond 351 for nothing). When the numbers stack up like that its a no-brainer profit maker. Done this before, made a grand profit and scored an engine, mags and a bunch of little stuff too. Worth doing, just do your homework on the way in….

  3. D.J.

    Your wife said ok but with a $500 limit.
    Your final bid was over budget. You were outbid.
    You walked away.
    I,d say win/win for you.
    A happy wife,( you listened to her ) makes for a happy life.

    1. Bryan McTaggart Post author

      Thirty bucks, she could understand tiptoeing past the line. Fifty bucks, it had better work. Hundred bucks, all hell would break loose. It’s a matter of risk assessment.

  4. jerry z

    I would have went to $800 knowing you need to put in $200 worth if work. Put it up for $2000, take $1500 and you make $500.

    Easy as pie!

  5. AlteredWheelbase

    I bought a vortech blown 97 Z28 for a grand (the engine ingested more water than I care to think about), sold the draglites in a week along with most of the LT1 parts including some chewed up trick flow heads which got me back to even. At this point I had a rolling shell in good shape, a 33 spline Moser 12 bolt still sitting under it, a complete Vortech V2 kit and I was in it for no money. A smarter man probably would have sold off the rest of the parts for a tidy profit and called it a day. Me? I moved my just backhalf/caged 70 camaro to the side of the house and proceeded to hemorrhage money into a V1 blown L96 swap with CTS-V brakes and everything tubular anyone makes for a 4th gen.

    That’s my only foray into buying cheap/selling high and I still lost my ass.

  6. Tedly

    Solid thinking and game plan. You set a budget, and although you were willing to exceed it, you could get the extra $30 selling plasma like broke college kids do if it came down to it. By doing so, you not only kept the wife happy and thereby saved a lot of unpleasantness on the home front, but you left that door open should the opportunity present itself in the future.

    A missed opportunity? Only if it was in your budget and you didn’t go for it. This wasn’t.

  7. Sumgai

    I’ve flipped a couple dozen cars.

    I probably wouldn’t have bit on that Imperial. Around my area it would not have sold. Aside from the rednecks driving old C/K trucks, not that many 80s vehicles rolling around.

    The audio equipment appears to be Pyle brand which is Pep Boys level stuff, probably not worth a lot.

    If the title was clean, it might be worthwhile to part out and scrap, but there’s not enough of a profit margin there to make my time worth it. Can’t imagine there would be much interest in any of the parts, at least locally (shipping is a hassle).

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