Conceptually, my search for Guenther II began the day I wandered around the showroom when my car was in the shop and I ran into Jeff, the sales manager who knew my whole story. I told him how impressed I was that CarMax stood by the warranty since the car was so expensive to maintain, and that I was a believer and would be back for my next car. He said, “So next time you’ll buy something more reliable?” I said, “No way – I’m buying your biggest money loser – a Jaguar or Porsche!”
So I started looking earnestly in the fall of 2016, exactly three years after I purchased Guenther. My wife and I agreed to an out the door price ceiling of $35,000, which I thought was generous at the time. I wanted to sell my car with 10,000 miles remaining on the warranty and it has about 20,000 left when I began. I also wanted to leave time for a thorough search, and took all of 15 months to find my next unicorn. Please understand, I have found dozens of unicorns, only to revisit my requirements, doubt my instincts and get cold feet, find faults with cars (some legitimate some not), change my mind because a more rare unicorn surfaced, bought a unicorn and returned it, and even had one transferred in (at my expense!) and sold out from under me before I could see it. Last night I bought a car and added to the bottom of this story to close out this page. The unicorns I found are below, although I was not yet in the business of documenting them like I do now and some of the details are fuzzy. But they all existed!
In October 2016 I did a free transfer in for a 2008 BMW M5. It was well under $30,000, stupid fast, a little worn inside, and void of creature comforts. It was a manual transmission. It drove like a race car. I mean a real NASCAR, zero suspension travel race car. But it had a 500hp V10. But with every road bump my belly jiggled and my teeth rattled and reluctantly I declined. I just couldn’t see it as my daily driver.
A pristine 2011 Audi S6 – the one with the detuned Lamborghini V10 – came across my screen in November 2016 but it was across the continent in Oregon. It had only 16,000 miles. Of course, I put it on hold. Then I drove a similar car at a local dealer and while it was nice, I thought I’d done the hot rod four door with the S55 and as an upcoming empty nester, I wanted a two door sports car. Or so I thought. It wouldn’t be the first time I changed my mind.
In December I found a 2010 Jaguar XKR with only 39,000 miles, for only $32,000. It was a dream. The Jaguar XK hard top is one of the most beautiful car designs (after the original XKE) and a poor man’s Aston Martin lookalike. But it was in Florida and I had to pay $499 to transfer in. I gave my credit card info so fast my sales rep could hardly record it accurately. Two weeks later the car came in….and I was disappointed. Like the M5 it was superfast, with a 510hp supercharged V8. But it was also tired inside, the XK’s of that era have a really outdated infotainment system, it was a little cramped for my 6’4” frame, and it was a bit claustrophobic. With no sunroof, the alcantara headliner was massive and looked like tan suede. I was puzzled how I missed that the car had no sunroof, a big deal for me, and was surprised to revisit the original CarMax web site posting and see it was advertised as having a sunroof. All of this combined to make me turn down this car, and I was most impressed that CarMax refunded my $499 since the car was not as advertised. I often looked back on this car as a steal I may have missed, as all the other XKR’s on CarMax lots around the country had more mileage and cost $10,000 more. (January 2018 Update – This car was sold, traded-in to CarMax again after 8,000 miles, and is now back on a lot if Fredericksburg, VA for $33,998 – $1,000 more than when I turned it down!)
That became a familiar feeling. Finally, I decided to rethink my enthusiasm for a two-seater, thinking it impractical given I still like to throw a sport coat and a gym bag in the back seat from time to time. The good news? This car would have been $37,000 out the door, $2,000 over budget, and my wife agreed that if I really wanted the car we would accept the overage. In my head, $37,000 became the new $35,000 ceiling!
So in January 2017 I found a 2011 BMW 550xi for $29,998 and 51,000 miles in North Carolina and had it transferred in for free. It was beautiful – blue over tan, and really loaded. It has a 400hp twin turbo V8, heads up display, auto cruise control, seat massagers, collision avoidance, blind spot monitor, lane departure warning, and get this….night vision! I had no idea why I might need night vision -illegally hunting game or driving Navy Seals to raids at night, I guess – but it seemed really cool. When the car arrived the interior was a little worn. It drove well but other than the gadgetry it was a little uninspiring. And while I was trying to decide…….
That same month a 2010 Mercedes Benz E63 AMG popped up in Norfolk, Virginia! We’re talking 500hp, all amenities, race car performance, rev matching paddle shifters, heads up display, and just about everything I wanted. It was high mileage – 61,000 miles, but still priced at $29,998 and would be about the same as the Jaguar XKR out the door – albeit with four doors and a sunroof. I watched YouTube after YouTube video of E63’s screaming around the track. But the Jaguar XKR was still on my CarMax lot as was the BMW 550xi. And while I pondered, the E63 vanished from the CarMax site. I was sad. I should not have dithered.
February 2017 saw me through much uncertainty on what I wanted, what I could afford, and what was available. Maybe I’m not really a car guy and I should just get a normal sedan and be happy. Or maybe I should wait a little longer. A 2008 Mercedes CL63 AMG popped – a truly rare car – at $28,000 and disappeared in 20 minutes, never to resurface again. I put a 2010 Audi S6 with only 16,000 miles (!) on hold in Portland, Oregon. It was selling for a ridiculous price of $29,998 had the (detuned) 445hp Lamborghini V10 engine. Seemed to be too good to be true. I found one locally and drove it. Pretty hot, but after my S55 seemed like just another hot rod sedan and I let it go. I pondered a 2008 Porsche Cayenne GTS (another 500hp badass) at $19,998, an oldie but goodie 2006 Jaguar XJ8 with 30,000 miles (vintage but slow), several Mustang Bullitt’s from 2008 – one with only 4,000 miles in Phoenix, a Mercedes S65 and it’s “lesser” twin S600 – both V-12’s, for under $30,000. Chickened out on all of them. And all the while the loaded, pretty blue 2011 BMW 550xi I turned down stayed on the web, making its way to Baltimore, Dayton, and eventually Louisville. I never understood why it didn’t sell, even when It dropped in price to $26,998. It disappeared from the web in the spring and has not yet returned (as of July 2017!).
And in March 2017 I was rewarded for my wait with the 2010 E63 AMG resurfacing inexplicably on the market in Raleigh, North Carolina. Proved my point about saving cars to my CarMax web page as I saw right away when it popped. I was not going to let it go again. I paid the $199 to have it transferred and when it came in I bought it. Cost me $37,000 and I loved it. At least I did for the 36 hours I drove it. Because the morning of day three, while leaving home for the airport on a business trip, I lost power steering on a tight turned overpass and had to muscle the car around the bend (and I have precious few muscles). Then one by one emergency dash lights activated warning me I had no ABS, air bags, and so on, and I should get right to a dealer. I felt like Tom Hanks on Apollo 13. The last straw was when the radio quit. My CarMax dealer is on the way to the airport. I coasted into the CarMax lot as the engine totally shut down. Furious, I left the keys in the seat, caught an Uber to the airport, and called my sales rep to advise I wanted to take advantage of the five-day return policy.
After three years of patiently sorting through Guenther’s repairs I just couldn’t do it again. I had many friends question why I stuck with Guenther given so many repairs and I always said I really loved the car, and CarMax always made it right with loaners and warranty repairs. But I just couldn’t in good faith justify heading down that path again, less than 36 hours after leaving the lot in a car I loved equally. Again, CarMax refunded all of my money, including the $199 I paid to transfer the car in.
I continued to search and in May 2017 I found another unicorn, a 2014 BMW 550xi with only 37,000 miles at $32,998. It was loaded, too, and I learned in 2014 BMW upped the ante for its V8’s from 400hp to 443hp. Bonus. I also liked the idea it had about 18 months and 13,000 miles of BMW dealer warranty, and after Guenther’s repair challenges and the melted down E63, I kind of liked the idea of some dealer warranty. Plus the car was $5,000 less than anything like it in the country. Another $199 transfer fee and it would be mine.
For 10 days I waited for word that it had arrived. I was on the road and texted my sales rep for an update thinking it was overdue. I knew there was trouble when Brian, the sales manager, called. With great regret, he advised me that inexplicably my precious low mileage, dealer warrantied, 2014 BMW had arrived and been sold over the weekend before the staff came in Monday. I was beside myself, even though Brian was quite apologetic and offered to make it right. He immediately ordered a 2014 BMW 550i transferred in at no charge. The problem was I have grown into an expert on comparing cars, and this one was not the same. It was higher mileage meaning the warranty would be more. It had accessories I didn’t want, like rear dvd monitors that looked minivan cheesy and I’m sure I would bust tossing my guitar and gym bag into the back seat. It was also $35,998, $3,000 more than the car I had stolen out from under me.
I got real immature and accused CarMax of recognizing I had found a unicorn, and probably had increased the price and sold the car before I got wind! My sales rep talked me off the ledge. He saw the sales docs and assured me that didn’t happen. I trust him. So CarMax did something unheard of – they offered to drop the price of the higher mileage car by $2,000 to compensate me for the increased warranty costs (cars over 50,000 miles can’t be warranted to 75,000 miles like my 37,000 mile car could have been, meaning I would have to pay more to get a warranty to 100,000 miles). But I pointed out I would still be paying more in total than I would have for what I thought was the better car, the one sold.
Brian was on to me a bit, and pointed out he, too, was learning about BMW’s and he was offering me a car that had features the lower mileage car did not, like night vision. Damn. We were both getting good at using VIN decoders on the web and knowing exactly what was on these cars. But at the end of the day I felt betrayed and a bit swindled. Brian was offering to make it right but the kicker was there were no other cars in the nation like the one lost – low mileage, low price, with the same features. I decided to continue to shop.
I stumbled on another dream unicorn in June 2017 and jumped on it. I found a 2007 Porsche 911 Carrera in North Carolina with only 49,000 miles, prices at $33,998. It was going to put me way over budget but during my nine month search there were only two 911’s to ever dip below $35,000 and here was a third. I immediately put the car on hold while I figured out a plan. First, would I fit? I’m 6’4” and drove a 911 for about 20 minutes once 10 years ago and remembered being tight. So I found a similar car at a Porsche dealer and went for a test drive. It was exhilarating. I have watched 911’s race at Le Mans since 1981 and have lived in Germany for five years. The 911 is iconic. Forget all that I said about the Jaguar XK and two doors and such – I was all in. I paid $249 for the transfer and waited. I looked at the photos online a lot and marveled how clean the car was. And where else can you get a 10-year-old 911 and get a five-year warranty? This was going to be the one!
And then I got in the car and bizarrely didn’t fit. It made no sense. I slid the seat all the way back and it hit the stops a good four inches before the seat bottom hit the back seats. I was baffled. But regardless, I fit so badly there was no way I could even drive it. My wonderful sales rep gave me a day to think of options. I went to the Porsche forum on the web and asked how I could have gotten it so wrong. Turns out the 911 I test drove before transferring had electric seats and the CarMax one I transferred in had manual seats, and the manual seats don’t tilt. Aha. As I’ve found with many cars over the years, being able to tilt the seat bottom gives a bit more hip and leg room. Sadly, I was going to have to let this 911 go and this one was on me – I’d have to forfeit the $249 transfer fee. However, another tall guy on the forum sent me a link to seat slide extenders, which for (ironically) $249 could be bolted onto seat slides and give another four inches of seat travel! Tempting, but he mentioned some dremel work was needed and I hated the idea of paying $34,000 for a car and “hope” this would work for me. Disappointed.
But what goes around comes around, or something like that. Two weeks ago, in July 2017, another 2010 Jaguar XKR surfaced in Maryland. More miles than last time at 50,000, but $3,000 less at $29,998. And free transfer. So I put it on hold and snuck up to the dealership in a pouring rain storm and sat in it. It was remarkably clean and new inside. And the black alcantara headliner didn’t look at all cheesy. And I sat for a half hour in the rain thinking I fit pretty darned good. And I think I’m over the four door thing again and might live quite well in a car like this and so yes, I’ll go home, take it off hold, and have it transferred to my dealer (I really want my sales rep to get the sale!). It came in, I drove it, and was a bit disappointed. It drove harsh. Like the M5, every road imperfection and bump jolted us. I wanted to like the car so bad but I wasn’t getting there. I noticed a low tire pressure light but with such low profile tires I couldn’t see which one was low (Jaguar display doesn’t say which tire). I told my sales rep I just couldn’t see me having this as a daily driver, again disappointed.
Oddly, I happened to be wandering the lot looking for a car for my daughter (whole ‘nuther story) and noticed the XKR’s left rear tire was totally flat. Got me wondering if the tires were properly inflated, would it ride more smoothly? Jaguar forum experts had already told me Jaguar XKR’s have never been accused of being too harsh. I returned to the web but sadly the car was gone. Thinking I had missed my chance again I reached out to my sales rep who said yes, there was a buyer, and once CarMax replaced the two rear tires he was going to be back in to complete the deal. I was disappointed that I had not thought to push the harsh ride, and CarMax had neglected to offer me two new tires and a fresh ride. But three days later – the car was back on the web! I immediately asked my sales rep to hold it and he did, and yesterday I drove it again. Much, much smoother. Yes, a little cramped and an old-fashioned infotainment system, but 510hp and sooo pretty. I think I may want it. It is on hold until tomorrow when I have to decide. My wife is not a fan of this Jaguar but would support me if I buy it. It would mean I can’t complain one bit if cramped or I hate the stereo. Small price to pay?
And yet…..as I write the higher mileage 2014 BMW 550i is back on a lot in Maryland – at $2,000 less than it was when Brian offered it to me in May. Today I innocently asked if CarMax would still honor Brian’s $2,000 offer as compensation for the sold car, without mentioning it has already dropped $2,000 since we first found it. It’s been over two months since it was priced at $35,998 and is now $33,998. I’m thinking it may drop again soon anyway. If Brian agrees to the $2,000 price reduction he offered in May I will get it for $4,000 below that first price, essentially paying for the warranty. (Not a real enthusiasts car – more of a sleeper 443hp luxury cruiser, but I can’t pass up a deal!) My wife loves this car better but hates that I call it a compromise. It’s a beautiful car but anybody can buy a high-end sedan. Will this define me as just an ordinary commuter? Let’s see what the manager comes back with?
The manager agreed to the $2,000 reduction bringing the price to $31,998. But the MaxCare warranty is $6,000 to get me to 100,000 miles and so the whole deal is up to $39,000 out the door. Hmmmm. I created a new Gmail account (in another name) and put the Jaguar XKR on hold, at $37,000, while I figure out what to do. I decided not to do it. Neither one felt right. The BMW was a bit boring and the XKR was sold. Another buyer asked for a tire to be replaced (why didn’t I think of that?) and bought it. Sigh.
Let’s bring this thing to a close. I foolishly made a trek to North Carolina to see a cheap Jaguar that wouldn’t start (story here) and went home with my tail between my legs. I seriously entertained a Mercedes S600 V12 (story here) but my wife reminded me I would always have time for a big sedan – now was the time for a sports car. And so In January of 2018 I brought home Etta, the little one below. The blog post describing the buy is here. My search is done…..until 2020! Stay tuned.