- As sorry a tale as was ever told of human error and seemingly limitless bureaucracy

How to Accidentally Delay Your BaT Auction By Over A Year

7 trips to the CA DMV, 6 letters from assorted government agencies, countless phone calls, and dozens of hours later…

A funny thing happened on the way to my very first Bring a Trailer auction in 2020. I screwed up. Big time. It was a mistake that anyone might make (hey, I know I’m sugar coating it for myself here). The weirdest part is that I made the mistake nearly two decades ago!

Here’s the link – go there! Comment! Stir up some controversy. Let the BaTies know DriveTribe is in the house! No, really, don’t cause any trouble, I really don’t want the auction pulled! Seriously, everyone in the auction comments is being really very nice, and they have said nice things about the car. Don’t rock the boat, please.

bringatrailer.com/listing/1971-alfa-romeo-spider-15/

I bought AR1486395, an almost running and driving 1971 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce in 1992, as near as I can establish, from the wonderful past president of our local AROC club. We are the Alfa Romeo Owners Club of Central California, or the AROCCC. I can’t pronounce it – don’t try, you may hurt yourself.

Every owner should see their car under Michael Furman’s incredible lighting; he took this shot and when Centro Stile Alfa Romeo saw it - they put it in their latest e-book! AND, it wound up on the cover of the August '21 issue of Alfa Owner magazine!

Every owner should see their car under Michael Furman’s incredible lighting; he took this shot and when Centro Stile Alfa Romeo saw it - they put it in their latest e-book! AND, it wound up on the cover of the August '21 issue of Alfa Owner magazine!

The first ‘campaign’ put the car on the road (in ’93 ish) – suspension, brakes, fuel system, electrical, etc. You get the idea. Within 18 months two life-altering events happened in quick succession. First, the famous SPICA fuel injection began to behave irreverently, cold-starting and running only when it had decided to do so. A thorough rebuild of the fuel system ‘diagnosed’ the problem, and yes, you guessed it, thousands of dollars later. Second, while traveling at a rate of speed perhaps unwise through the Gaviota Tunnel (near Santa Barbara, watch the movie “The Graduate”), the car gave a little ‘hop’ to the right. The chassis had given up, delivered the terminal “R” word illness decades earlier on the roads of Pennsylvania.

If you haven't seen the movie, it's worth it just for the driving scenes! Perhaps the single most important product placement since Aston Martin and the James Bond film franchise!

If you haven't seen the movie, it's worth it just for the driving scenes! Perhaps the single most important product placement since Aston Martin and the James Bond film franchise!

AR1486383 and I were brought together by chance. Fate some might say. I first saw her filled with boxes of parts, her gray primer and bare metal shell unmistakable though coquettishly partially obscured in a reputable local body shop. Should I be ashamed to admit that we first met while I was scouting resources to resurrect her rival, ‘395’? I had what I thought at the time a brilliant idea: “I’ll just take all the good stuff off my rotten chassis and put it on THAT car!” I’m still convinced it was brilliant, but I fear too few will agree after reading further.

So began a multi-year process – no, really, MULTIPLE years – of finding the bits that were missing or unusable from either car, reading “Restoration 101” books, magazines, talking to mechanics, etc. The moment the shell came out of paint I KNEW that my efforts had been rewarded. It is just the best thing ever to see a freshly painted shell wheeled out of a paint booth – it’s always my favorite shot on car restoration TV shows.

Photographer and publisher, Michael Furman’s bare metal portrait of the 1938 Alfa 8C 2900 in the Ralph Lauren collection

Photographer and publisher, Michael Furman’s bare metal portrait of the 1938 Alfa 8C 2900 in the Ralph Lauren collection

I first realized my mistake when I received an email from the BaT 'auction coordinator', nice guy named Craig. "Hey, what's the VIN on the car? Can you take a better picture of the VIN tag?" I went to the garage and pulled out my phone and snapped away. Back in the house I realized first just how bad my eyesight is, but more importantly the closer I looked the less sure I was if the second to the last digit looked like an 8, or a 9. I assumed it was a trick of the light. Craig also thought it looked like an 8, and I had the sense he was giving me enough rope to hang myself just in case I was trying to pull a fast one – changing a man’s brand is not tolerated out here on the western edge. “We hang rustlers ‘round these parts - man don’t climb another man’s fence, son” hung in the air (well, in my head anyway).

Was I a rustler?

Can you read this VIN tag? Is that an "8" or a "9"? Is that a "5" or a "3"? What had I done? I stared at the computer screen for several minutes and realized my palms were sweaty, my heart was racing, and my hair had gone gray!

Can you read this VIN tag? Is that an "8" or a "9"? Is that a "5" or a "3"? What had I done? I stared at the computer screen for several minutes and realized my palms were sweaty, my heart was racing, and my hair had gone gray!

The real terror didn’t really start for several hours. When I first realized there was an error I was still in denial – I knew it couldn’t be MY mistake, because I'm 'perfect'! Then I started to look around for someone to blame. Then I decided, ‘no big deal, it’s a clerical error’. The magnitude of my stupidity slowly revealed itself as I started sifting through the hundred or so documents – and this is important – that I archived from BOTH cars.

Buried, and I mean buried in a file folder, tucked inside a yellowing envelope, and wrapped in a hand-written note from the previous owner on a yellow legal sheet was a description, a brief one-page summary of the dates and repairs performed on the car during his 20+ years of ownership. And there “IT” was. I have named the moment: “AR1486383, The Sequel”, the original pink slip. Others have more colorful descriptions of the moment I discovered that I had not titled, nor registered the restored car properly.

I know exactly why I fell in love with Alfa Romeo! Katherine Ross! Image courtesy Ron Avery and MPTV Images.

I know exactly why I fell in love with Alfa Romeo! Katherine Ross! Image courtesy Ron Avery and MPTV Images.

I always prefer to look at the bright side. Nearly 30 years ago I bought without the aid of the inter webs when both cars were already more than 20 years old, and originally sold on separate sides of the north American continent (imported to New Jersey as federalized North America imports - ‘395’ sent to a dealer in Rexdale, Canada, and ‘383’ we know from the second owner was first sold in San Francisco), two 1971 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce beauties a mere 12 VIN numbers apart on the production line and built less than a week apart (cars weren’t always built by the factory in a ‘reliable’ sequence, according to experts, whoever they may be).

“Gem” – I will let slip my customer service agent’s first name, and first name only (blurred in the accompanying image to protect the innocent, as they say on “Dragnet”)

“Gem” – I will let slip my customer service agent’s first name, and first name only (blurred in the accompanying image to protect the innocent, as they say on “Dragnet”)

I enjoyed a thoroughly charming email correspondence with an equally charming representative from Centro Documentazione Alfa Romeo, La Macchina del Tempo, Museo Storico Alfa Romeo. This location is now on my bucket list. I know, I probably shouldn’t be planning that far ahead. Given my track record I’m lucky to be alive and to have a title and registration for ‘383’.

I spent thousands of hours working on ‘395’ and ‘383’ – I’m convinced of that, but I haven’t done the actual math. I think I spent my wife’s entire first pregnancy sitting in the garage polishing nuts and bolts from ‘395’ in a bucket with a Dremel tool and some parts cleaner in anticipation of their installation on ‘383’. Still today I stand by my judgement that it was a good idea at the time to do a ground up build. Am I the only one seeing a pattern here?

I choose not to recall how Terry Gilliam’s brilliant satire, “Brazil” ended for the protagonist, Sam Lowry. I only remember the living bureaucratic hellscape that the movie made all too real. At the end of the day, it was one person - a kind woman at the California Air Resources Board - who carried the campaign. Don’t fool yourself, it was a campaign complete with strategy, battles, enemies and friends, spies, you name it this screenplay, err story, has it all. Without her kindness I think I would still be receiving the same letters (I mean, literally identical) every few months from the DMV, asking me to submit documents already sent months prior.

‘395’ will now be sent permanently to the car crusher of history, cut up into pieces and used for parts - albeit a couple decades later than should have been. The good news is that ‘383’ her 'twin' has been resurrected and will go on to bring joy to drivers for decades.

Below you can find links to the full archive of articles and videos in the series. Please give them a look. If you are following the auction, and especially if you are bidding on the car, thank you! If you do ‘drop by’, please leave a comment.

Watch the reunion 25 years in the making of ‘383’ and the previous owner on Highway 1 in California

Screaming through the Gaviota tunnel at 5,000 rpm, just like Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate"

Go behind the scenes of the video shoots for the BaT auction listing

Learn to shootauction pictures like a pro, with tips from Michael Furman, world famous car photographer.

Should you shoot your own photos, or buy the "Plus" BaT listing?

Where I went for help to figure out how to photograph my car.

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Comments (3)

  • Thanks for reading about how NOT to title a car after a restoration! If I can spare just one person from my (well deserved) fate, my job here will be done!

      1 month ago
  • Halfway through the auction and comments continue to be lively, and bidders continue to bid! So, regardless of my many errors in judgement there continues to be interest in the car.

    I can't tell if everyone is just being nice, but I expected at least a few comments here like: "you ARE a bonehead!" Or, nobody cares about my trauma. I'm cool with that, I guess.

      1 month ago
  • So glad to see that some have selected "C" for their poll answer! I had a sneaking suspicion that my concerns that 'the man' would show up at my door were overblown!

      1 month ago
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