Alpha Gearhead Buys a Car Part I: Fit For Purpose

“I never set out to collect cars. I just bought what I liked. The general rule of car collecting is if you’re reasonably astute and you understand how things work, if you like it, chances are other people will like it, too. My three things are: It should be of technical and historical significance. It should be fun to drive. And it should be attractive to look at. If an automobile has those three qualifications, then it’s probably something that would be considered collectible.”

Jay Leno

Yes, it’s time to buy another car – the dream of all true gearheads! The income tax refund has arrived, the Christmas bills paid, a small pay raise multiplied by the recent tax cuts and no vacation planned until late summer! If there was ever a time to buy a car, it is NOW!

What to buy?

Jay Leno, the wealthy, famous, car-loving comedian provides great advice in buying cars that apply to a broad spectrum of gearheads. Simply stated, Leno’s criteria are:

  • You like the car
  • It is of technical and historical significance
  • It is fun to drive
  • It is attractive to look at
Picture used under creative commons license

The first criteria is hardly limiting for a gearhead. I like Corvettes and Aston Martins. Not so much Hondas and Kias, although they have their place. Porsche 911, Mustang, Challenger and Charger – of course! How about an MGA or E-type?

There isn’t much to limit the field if I only consider whether I like the car.

How about technical or historical significance? An early Dodge Viper meets that criteria as does an Auburn Boat-tail, the aforementioned E-type, Dodge Challenger Demon, ’57 Fuel Injected Corvette. Intriguing, yet should this be the determining factor for a gearhead – particularly one on a limited, pre-vacation budget?

Fun to drive! That is easier and an absolute must. Again, the field is wide open. All the cars mentioned above meet that criteria.  It is easy to add a Miata, Ford Focus ST, Porsche Boxster, Cadillac CTS-V, Subaru WRX or a Jeep Wrangler to that list. We have not yet limited the field of possibilities.

Attractive to look at? Clearly, that is in the eye of the beholder. Based on that criteria, many Mustangs, Corvettes, Miatas, Jaguars, Porsches, Jeeps and even an odd Saturn Sky are on the list. Again the list is just too long.


In addition, most of us do not have Jay Leno’s budget to pursue many of these  options – after all, it’s reported that he owns over 180 cars and has a full time staff to maintain them. No, we normal gearheads need another, more pragmatic criteria.

A Different Approach

How about adding some criteria to Jay Leno’s list; namely, is it “fit for purpose”. Stated another way, does it meet my need? Specifically,

 Does it fill a practical purpose?

 Does it fit me and my personality?

 Can I afford it?

We will explore each of these in more depth in future articles based on your insights on that “next acquisition”. Let’s start by providing a broad perspective on each in hopes that you will help us develop them into something more useful.

First does the car fill a practical purpose? We need to define the intended purpose. The vehicle that is intended to provide income is likely far different than one we will use for exhilarating drives through a mountain pass on a beautiful spring day. Likewise, a car serving as daily commuter is much different than one intended as a financial investment – one that may appreciate in value.

What purpose will your next car serve?

Second, does it fit me and my personality? I once had a friend who was well over 6 feet tall and 250 pounds. He bought an early Miata. It met his criteria of good economy and reliability for commuting. It was also fun to drive – as long as the weather permitted topless driving. However, It did not fit! It was almost comical to see a giant in this wonderful, small sports car. I think that gives a sense of this criteria.

How do you define a car that fits both from a practical and personality viewpoint?

Can I afford it? We will keep this in a practical vein as well, not considering the indirect implications on our marriage or college for the children. While it is easy to focus on the initial cost, or even worse, the size of the car payments, we must go beyond that. For example, one of our gearheads, noted that based on fuel economy and the cost of tires he should trade his Chrysler 300 Hemi for a Ford Fiesta ST.  He found the Fiesta even more fun to drive on his 60 mile per day commute while saving significant money. His later thought of trading the Fiesta on a 60’s Jaguar Mark II was less practical. While the depreciation would be less, the unpredictable absence from work due to unreliability would likely limit his career – unless he became a Jag mechanic.

In the end, gearheads love cars. When the opportunity arises to pursue another one, we need a bit of help in selecting the right one. Here are three that we suggest:

 We like it – its looks and feel stir our heart.

 It’s fun to drive – it becomes a part of us and performs well.

 It’s fit for purpose – meeting our needs, personality and budget.

What would you add to this list? How would you expand the definition of each criteria? We look forward to exploring these ideas in future articles.

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