Car ad detective

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A lovely, green Series IIA. Worth Tom's hard-earned? : credit: © Alisdair Cusick
Tom fancies himself as an elite Land Rover bargain spotter. Well, don't we all...

According to elite athletes, you need to spend 10,000 hours training to get to the required level to compete in the Olympics. On that basis, I would like to enter myself for the British team in the event of reading Land Rover adverts. I’m sure a medal awaits.

I would actually hate to add up the hours I spend looking at classified ads, auction listings and stopping with a screech when I spy an old-fashioned sign in a windscreen.

But it has meant my mind has become honed to spotting an interesting advert. I don’t just mean the car itself – I’ve become an advert detective and think I can spot a dodgy car or bolshy vendor just from a quick scan.

Maybe it’s a missing towing eye cover which suggests that a car has been recently dragged off the hard shoulder, or a bottle of Radweld left in the boot and clearly visible in the pictures. Then there are those which show an outside temperature of 27 degrees Celsius on the instruments in January, betraying that the pictures are old, and the car has been on sale a while.

But the worst adverts can also hide some amazing cars.

As we now have the limitless space of the internet to write and show pictures of a car for sale, there is no excuse for a bad picture taken at night and a few words of description. Except, perhaps, laziness.

This type of classified can flag that a bargain awaits. Sometimes the vendor has become bored of a car after something shinier has arrived. The advert shows the level of enthusiasm and indicates they just want rid, and a low offer will get you the car.

My bargain was a 1961 Series IIA, which was listed on eBay for auction with a solitary rainy picture. The photographer had taken little more effort than getting the phone out of their pocket and pressing a button, and the sole line of description was: ‘1961 Land Rover, green, white roof, MoT’.

Normally this wouldn’t have warranted a second glance, but since the car was exactly the spec I’d been looking for, I thought it was worth investing the time to ask a few more questions. So a message was dispatched and I waited. I heard nothing for six days, until just before the auction ended, when I had a call from a lady.

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She explained that she had placed the advert on behalf of her neighbour, who was 89. She was at her house now and would be happy to answer any questions. So I started to ask. How long had she had it? Since it was a year old. She bought it from the local quarry and used it to tow her horsebox and a trailer for logs.

Struggling to remain composed, I asked if it had any paperwork. “Oh yes, I have it serviced and MoT’d every year by the same garage. I keep it all in a folder.”

We chatted a while longer about the condition, which was original and unrestored but scruffy and patched in places as it was a working vehicle. She was selling it as it was becoming hard work with no power steering or brakes at her age, especially with a trailer. She now got her logs delivered and no longer rode horses.

I put in a bid which was on the cheaper side of fair for a Series IIA with this sort of provenance. With no one else having the same information and background I had been given, there were few other bidders willing to take the risk and I picked it up with a bid of £2200. My Dad drove it for a while before realising it was a bit hardcore for him too, so we put it in an auction and more than doubled our money.

The flip side of this is not giving anyone else a bargain when you are selling. When you come to part with your Land Rover, take some time over the advert. Even if it is a Freelander which is only worth scrap money, the difference between a bad ad placed on the wrong site and something which takes you an hour to write and photograph could be a few hundred quid. That’s pretty good wages, and you’ll probably save yourself from a lot of time-wasting questions, too.

If you are not confident doing it, ask a friend or pay an expert. Someone I know takes pictures and writes the descriptions for a classic car auction site and he is constantly amused at the gulf between the low prices vendors expect and the final amount they actually achieve – especially with Defenders. In one case the bemused seller wanted to set a reserve of £8000 and ended up with a winning bid of £34,000.

Now, you will have to excuse me. I need to get back into training or I’ll never get
that gold medal.