My recollection of unicorns is they are rare, elusive, and magical. Some say they don’t exist. CarMax has anywhere from 45,000 to 75,000 cars in their inventory on a given day and most of them are fairly sensible vehicles that most drivers would find to be a good value. But CarMax is not where we would normally go to find cars that appeal to enthusiasts. At least I wouldn’t have until I scored a nine-year old gem – a beautiful low mileage 2004 Mercedes S55 AMG, from CarMax for a total price of $25,000 out the door. And that price included a five-year bumper to bumper (not powertrain) MaxCare warranty good through 100,000 miles. The car would actually still be under warranty when it was 14 years old! The car was $120,000 when new and did not come with that much warranty protection. (See the Guenther Story, my first unicorn for the whole saga.)
Nobody wants a high-end European used car without a warranty. Nobody. Because the MaxCare warranty was transferrable, my plan was to sell the car with at least 10,000 miles and a year left on the warranty. So six months before I sold the car I began my search for Guenther II (see the Search for Guenther II). And that’s when I really started diving deep into the CarMax inventory to find something special again – a rare, elusive, and magical car that I could never afford new, and wouldn’t buy used without a warranty, and only CarMax will offer such outrageous warranties.
My boundaries for a CarMax unicorn are pretty simple, but also flexible. Yours may be different. I set a cap of $35,000 ($38,000 out the door with warranty and taxes). Why $35,000? My wife thought $10,000 more than what I paid for the last unicorn was fair, and I agreed. I use a mileage cap of 60,000 miles, and focused on mostly European cars. Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes, and Porsche. I like driver’s cars, some exclusivity, style, horsepower, and some technology. Occasionally I stray into muscle cars – I love V8’s, or high-end low mileage Japanese hot rods, but usually return to the Old Country. The warranty has to be affordable, and allow me a good three years of covered driving and mileage to be worth my while.
You’d be surprised at some of the cars that have surfaced during my hunt. How about the Audi S6, the one with the V10 Lamborghini engine – a 2011 with only 16,000 mile? A bigger Audi S8 with the same power plant? Baby Audi – older S4 or even A6 with a V8, or an A3 with an unusual six cylinder? Or BMW 550 or 750 sedans with 450 horsepower and more luxurious than my home? BMW M5’s and M6’s (another 500hp V10!), M3’s that have not been flogged, but if they have, who cares? It’s covered by a warranty! Maybe the always elegant Jaguar XK or its 500hp brother on steroids – the XKR? The single family home on wheels Jaguar XJ? And my personal favorites, the Mercedes family. Specifically, the AMG models such as the C63 and E63 with a beefy V8 or an S65 with a twin turbo V12? There’s also the family sedans – the E550 and the flagship S550 with 400 hp V8’s and all the technology you want. How about a Porsche 911 with its iconic flat six engine, or the 500hp Cayenne GTS SUV? Buy American? Sure, there are world class Corvettes, Shelby Mustangs (and Bullitts!), CTS-V’s, Chargers, Chevy SS’s, Pontiac G8-GXP, too. All of these have come across my screen, and more, for less than $35,000 and less than 60,000 miles. (Go to Unicorns for current finds!).
Cars that aren’t unicorns? Surprisingly, there are some cars that are just too darned plentiful to be unicorns for me. On any given day there are many Audi S4’s and S5’s, BMW Z4’s and 3-series, vanilla Jaguar XF’s, Porsche Boxsters and Caymans, and really, Corvettes and Mustang GT’s. Occasionally there are ultra-low mileage versions of these, say less than 20,000 miles, and they are sometimes 10 years old, and that will make them special. Otherwise – off the list.
Cars that haven’t made it into the unicorn price range? Audi S7’s haven’t been below $50,000 and RS5’s below $45,000. Forget the RS7 – it’s almost $100,000 (yes, CarMax has one!). BMW M4’s are still over $50,000 as are BMW X6M’s and most X5M’s….but there is a 2010 X5M in Boston hovering around $37,000 that’s been on the lot for a long time….time for a price reduction?! None of the other Mercedes AMG models have cracked the price barrier, and sadly, CarMax has one 2017 Mercedes AMG GT-S, with only 2,000 miles, but it is listing at $117,998! Same with Porsche Panameras – still hovering in the $40,000 plus range. And no, CarMax doesn’t carry the Nissan GTR or the Acura NSX. And no Italian exotics or Aston Martins or Alfa Romeos…..yet.