Monday, April 18, 2011

Pride of ownership

Porsche ownership, it should have been a momentous occasion, but it wasn’t. I walked into the warehouse in Houston to pick up my 1972 914 and expected to see something low and red, in perfect condition, just waiting for me to twist the key and drive it home. It was low, it was red, but where did all the rust come from? That tell-tale sign of bubbly paint, pushed up from what should be smooth metal was on each lower quarter panel, along the lower edges of both doors and that was the rust I could see (even the slots for the jack were rusted over). I would later discover that it was underneath, having spread to just about everywhere else. Where was the beautiful car I looked at in Karlsruhe Germany, you know the one I saw in the last fading rays of sunlight; that shaft of light angling through the high windows, making the dust in the warehouse sparkle? Yeah, there was a shaft alright, but I was the one that got shafted, not the last rays of sunlight…

What I wished it looked like:

The place where I it picked up did me a favor and gave me a paper license plate, good for 30 days. There was a large envelope filled with the paperwork; all the importation docs, the EPA and DOT release (being a 1972, it was exempt) and the German TUV title, an old faded green piece of paper that had a lot of scribbling in German on it. I took the keys and opened the door; at least the interior was in very good shape. Twisting the key, the engine caught on the third try and fired up. Shifting into first, the transmission gave that angry grinding cough of not sync’ing gears correctly, so I let out the clutch and pressed it back in slowly, now the gears meshed. I started back towards Austin, hoping to beat Houston traffic.

It had been cloudy; looking like rain as I drove northwest towards Austin, but as I got out of town, the clouds parted and the sun came out. Pulling over to the side of the road, I wanted to take the top off and bask in the glory of a sunny day. Loosening the top, I went to the rear trunk to open it, but a sudden gust of wind caught me off guard, ripping the trunk out of my hands, it bent forwards towards the front of the car, breaking both hinges completely off. I stared at the trunk lying on top of the roof and could not believe my lousy luck, it could not get worse…it did.

A short time later, I got pulled over by the State Police; I had been doing 70 mph in a 65 mph zone. He reached for his book to write the ticket, but took pity on me when I told him my sorrow filled story and when I pointed to the speedo registering Kilometers per hour not Miles per hour he let me off with a stern warning. Made it back to Austin without further incident…thank goodness. I hated calling Germany during the day; it cost a lot of money, so I waited until the middle of the night (morning in Germany) and called the guy I had purchased the car from. I called and called and the phone just rang and rang, nobody answered.

Really I do not know what I expected, maybe for him to take it back, I don’t know. But I tried over the next week or so and nobody picked up. Finally I called the shipping company that had handled the transatlantic shipment and they answered the phone alright. I was routed through to a senior manager who wanted to know if I knew where this individual was. I did not; I was calling to complain about the vehicle I received, I had been ripped off. He said I was not alone, there had been many people that had called to complain, but at least I had a car and a title, most of the other people that called had neither.

I had to talk to the German police and told them the same thing. They thanked me for calling and that was that. I called my friend Klaus and he told me the sorry tale, at least everything he knew or guessed. It appeared that this guy was collecting a lot of money from his US customers and holding it. He made up a variety of excuses telling them that cars were delayed, shipments missed, inspections incomplete, deliveries rescheduled. He had been in this business for a long time and had a good reputation, but he had other plans. He kept all the money and skipped out with his wife to Brazil taking over $2M US. What really pissed me off was that he and his wife left their two huge Great Danes at the office, with just a bit of food and water. They were found several days later, very hungry, very thirsty, but only a little worse for it. Klaus reminded me “I told you so”, he knew this fellows true character. Too bad for me and all the rest of the people that got ripped off that we did not. I thanked Klaus, I was done buying grey market cars, the tide had turned and there was little demand, it was a fun time but in the end it withered on the vine, another victim of its own success; there were too many people trying to sell too many cars to too few people.

So I was stuck with this beat down 914. A few weeks later I still had not registered the car, but knew that I should. The paper tag had just about expired when I went to register it. I had been dreading it, as all the paperwork was in German. I went into the TX Department of Transportation and patiently waited my turn. I went to the window and placed the request for Texas title on the counter along with all the supporting information. The gal behind the counter took one look at it and hung her head shaking it back and forth, no doubt asking herself….why did she get me? She looked at me and asked what language this was in, I replied German, she informed me that she did not read German, I told her I did not either…this was going to take a while.

She told me to wait while she went to get a supervisor, both returned a short time later and I went through the same info once again. At one point they just looked at each other, having no idea what to do. Finally the supervisor said to the gal to do the best she could, turned and walked away. Wow! I pointed to each section and told her what it meant (I at least knew enough about German titles from all the cars I imported) and together we figured it all out. It took a long time, no doubt all those folks behind me in line wished I was somewhere else. But I left with a temporary title, plates and a registration sticker. The car was now US legal. A 1972 Porsche 914 with a lot of rust…

Until next week.

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