My Car Quest

May 24, 2024

The Sunk-Cost Fallacy For Collector Car Owners

by Wallace Wyss –

It was a TV show where a young guy was analyzing men-woman relationships. But it was about couples, about women who are courted by a guy, who has some undesirable traits but she thinks, in time, I can iron out those bad features. Remake him in other words.

But then there comes a moment of realization where she realizes that there isn’t enough time in the rest of her life to wait for him to change. She dumps him.

Sound familiar? We have much the same in the collector car world where we buy a car that’s not quite how we want it and then began an endless saga of moving it about from one specialist to another–the frame guy, the body man, the upholsterer, the wiring man, yadda yadda.

And yet the car isn’t near done.

At first we pat ourselves on the back for finding this rare treasure. Basic Perseverance is an honored trait. Most admired in our society are those who, faced with difficulties, power through and grind it out until the end.

But just as a woman sticking with a guy who’s a heavy smoker and heavy drinker sometimes realizes, sticking with this four wheeled time bomb is a stupid move. But you keep pouring money into that money-sucking maw in the garage. Why? because you’ve invested so much so far, you hate to admit defeat and give up on this and sell it AS IS.

In business and in human relationships, this pattern is called the “sunk cost” fallacy. Each expenditure you make toward the car is just another attempt to undo the past and recoup the losses by getting the damn thing done, but it’s a futile effort, because the time has passed.

What do I mean “the time has past?” It could be the market for that type of car has fallen–maybe too many were restored. It could mean you moved to a new area and don’t have the support groups that help you find knowledgeable mechanics and body men.

Or word got out on how unreliable they were, some key part breaks (convertible tops on Lincolns and ’60s birds). I have a few examples.

But sometimes it’s not the car that’s the reason to get off the dime. It’s how it fits in with your life when it’s finished, where will you be physically? In your 20’s and 30’s you could change four tires, but can you now? Are your eyes still good enough to see where the washer went went it fell? Do you even have a garage to store it in? Sometimes you have to pause and see if owning a project car fits your present and future life.


I admired the Alfa Sprint Speciale. Bertone styled, Super aero. But I bought it all apart. Finished engine but I didn’t know any Alfa people. I went to a famous shop in Long Beach and they didn’t want to work on it. When I needed parts they didn’t have them.

I sold it and it annoyed me that the buyer took two days to kart out all the parts from the garage and lay them out in the driveway before he finalized the deal. That dude was getting a car I had paid $20,000 for, yet he was paying only $10,000. The crowning agony was soon after, passing through the pits at Laguna Seca a year later, I saw one clean, raceable, with only one dent for $7000. So I had bought a non-runner, all apart, at too high a price and could never get out from under.

A few cars later, I did better on a Ferrari 365GTC/4. I knew the car was running (albeit not on all 12 cylinders). All I did was paint it Rosso Red. And drove it for three years. To Monterey, to San Diego, to Malibu, to Beverly Hills. I entered it in concours in the “non judged” class as I knew it would fail in little particulars (like the wood I had added to the center console) but hey I was there for the fun.

Ferrari 365 GTC/4

Ferrari 365 GTC/4 – art by Wallace Wyss

I sold it, (on paper in a divorce) for three times what I paid for it. That car only survived my ownership because:

1.) I had cheap mechanics.

2.) I didn’t fix the little things like air conditioning.

3.) I never let it get immobile. I never let that idea of “I’ve got so much sunk in this car I can’t give it up” take hold of me. I used it. I abused it. And when tough times came, kicked it out the door…arrivi dici…

What’s your story?

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Once a pro barn finder, Wallace Wyss chronicled his finds in the Incredible Barn Finds books. Today he is a fine artist doing portraits of collector cars on commission. For a list of URLs showing his work write


Ferrari 365 GTC/4

The Sunk-Cost Fallacy For Collector Car Owners
Article Name
The Sunk-Cost Fallacy For Collector Car Owners
It could be the market for that type of car has fallen--maybe too many were restored. It could mean you moved to a new area and don't have the support groups that help you find knowledgeable mechanics and body men.


  1. Great story!


  2. Mine was a 1969 Porsche 911. Sunk lots of money into it and could not get anything out as they were worth about as much a VW bug at the time.
    Sold it at a loss but still wish I had it as I loved that car. Started a restoration company years later and really kicked myself when I saw the prices rise.
    C’est la vie.

  3. Rob Krantz says

    Don’t get me started! 😳. I love British cars, to my detriment at times. I once owned a 1969 Triumph GT6+. in college. Loved that car. Beautiful and fast and it had O/D in 3rd and 4th gear. Drove it to a summer job in northern Idaho. Engine started to miss. Ends up it’s a cracked piston! Not many foreign car mechanics in Lewiston, ID! Saw a shop with an MG parked outside so figured they must know what they were doing 😳. They rebuilt the motor and tried to re-jet the carbs while they were at it. The engine ran mostly fine after the rebuild, except…..they said the carbs needed rebuilding too. They bent the jets inside the carb so it ran great in a straight line but the engine cut out (no fuel) when going around curves in the road! Made driving it sketchy over 1,000 miles back to the Bay Area on curvy mountain roads on I-5! Got it fixed up right when I got back home by a British car mechanic in San Rafael. Sold the car for a loss as I could well not afford it as a college Junior and the engine fix ate up most of my summer (very hard earned) wages. Always loved the Triumph Stag which I saw for the 1st time at the S.F. International Auto Show. Same British car mechanic from San Rafael who fixed the GT6+ carbs said if I wanted one, get a Stag that had an American V8 engine transplant already done 😳. Found such a Stag for sale in San Anselmo with a bogged up Ford 302 transplant. I was 27 y.o. at the time (still relatively poor). Decided to buy it and perfect the messy transplant job. Found a mechanic who seemed honest 😳 who came recommended from a auto parts store where I shopped. Ends up he had the car for 8 months, moved the steering rack to drop the engine down further in the engine bay as the carb protruded through the hood (new oil pan needed). The car’s steering geometry was off now and it bounced down the road when driven! Plus, it overheated like crazy even with a new radiator…a stock Stag’s Achilles heel anyway! I had the mechanic put the steering rack back to where it was originally…fixed the geometry and it drove fine again. Ends up he didn’t need to have moved the steering rack in the first place as the new stock hood I bought for it fit fine and cleared the carburetor. Gave up and sold it too at a loss and took a bath. Vowed to own a bone stock Stag some day, which I did. Purchased a super low mileage Stag for big money in 2001. Had it for 8 years and it was probably the most reliable car I’ve owned! Stag nightmare stories are over done…just maintain it properly. Sold it years later and broke even on it! Still wish I had that car. Showed it in numerous shows and it was an award winner.

    • Rob,

      Wow, what a story. I was smitten by a Triumph GT6 when in college and would up buying a new TR6 after college but I did not have the troubles you had – until the TR7 came along…

      • Rob Krantz says

        Mike, it surprised me too. GT6’s are fun little cars and values are rising. Hard to find nice ones. The GT6 ran terrifically all summer up to Idaho and while I was there until the last couple of weeks when the piston cracked. Not sure why that happened. I’ve always loved Triumphs as they were sportier than MG’s (also very nice too of course) and the GT6+ is more sophisticated than the Series I GT6 and I like it a bit better too than the final iteration. I was sad to sell it but it was not the best car to have as a funds lacking college student, though the girls liked it! I’ve always loved the TR6’s too but have never owned one. I’ve looked at them for years though and perhaps some day I will get one. Glad yours didn’t have the issues mine did! Let’s hear your horror story about the TR7!

  4. David Beale says

    1955 Mg TF1500: All the export bits, Post box red, deep red upholstery, tonneau, etc: engine upgrades as per MG performance. Quick car, point-to-point, for time. Acquired as a college student from my cousin who wanted Mini tail lights on an MGA [MGA 1600 Mk 2] in 1965. Stripped to bare bones and fully restored from acquisition. Magic car, kept it twenty-seven years. Total downside: I snapped a crank and one half-shaft, plus front end rebuild due deep dusk oncoming driver not giving right of way [a la James Dean], front end a bit messy so upgraded to MGA front disc brakes in rebuild plus that most magic Ford Red Pepper on rebuild. Those brakes transformed it, handling-wise. MY Car! Not concours, but functional…my God! Sold it in NZ on dissolution of relationship and need to fund ex-migration from NZ back to Oz. Interims have been the similarly built upgrades Ford XA Oz-race-trucks-initiating ute [K-code on a 302 Cleveland top loader ???] and the unique 7-prefix rhd 1969 first tractor colours Serie 2 [“Serie 1.5”] Espada, with day to day sustenance Range Rovers and Discoveries from new, 1975, to a current spawn of ’98 back to 1974 Rangies and Disco I’s used as both work and enjoyment vehicles. You just can’t kill old Disco’s and Rangies, and they still fit, re the social milieu. I also have a Land-Rover Series 3 shorty with a 4.4 in it and a short dash Rover 3500 SE, the car that became the Holden VL and new type Opel Commodore and with the cross-fit V6, the Chevy Lumina etc. All of which date back to the David Bach Rover P8/Oz Leyland P76 [as restyled by Michelotti of Triumph styling fame] as the Rover SE 3500. You could call me a Rover-phile

  5. Rob Krantz says

    Mike, I was expecting a flood of stories! Literally, every car guy I know has had some sort of nightmare story about a car they’ve owned where they had a bad experience and/or lost their ass money wise or both! Hoping for others to share their pain…..come on folks, it’s cathartic!

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