Find a home for classic cars in your showroom

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Tapping into nostalgia is a powerful way to engage your customers

Back in the day, classic cars were strictly a blue collar thing.

The guys — it was almost always guys — who bought old pony cars, GTs and even vintage Italian iron did their own wrenching and relied on other gearheads for parts and advice.

The culture around classics has changed. These days, even run of the mill Mercs, Mustangs, 911s, ‘Cudas and Thriftmasters run to high 5 and 6 figures. Big numbers for old cars. And old cars break down. Put expensive, unreliable machines together with cash rich, time poor people and it’s understandable why NADA estimates that as many as 1,800 US franchised dealerships already service or trade in classic cars.

Those 1,800 dealerships all arrived at the decision to tool and skill up to accommodate older vehicles for different reasons. But the work to get there was similar for all of them. Parts, tools and expertise all have to be rewound or found. Think about it — when was the last time a carbureted vehicle rolled into your facility? How many of your techs have ever even touched one? And that’s just the beginning.

To be fair, some OEMs have made taking the plunge into classics a little less difficult for retailers as well as owners. BMW, Mercedes and Porsche have partnered with select facilities in their dealer family to develop classics networks (each marque has a handful of these facilities in Canada). While the programs do vary, they all offer customers a one stop shop approach to the classics: buying, selling and service.

Put expensive, unreliable machines together with cash rich, time poor people and it’s understandable why NADA estimates that as many as 1,800 US franchised dealerships already service or trade in classic cars

Porsche in particular has thrown its weight behind the program. For instance, by developing electronics that fit into the interiors of their classic vehicles while delivering hands free phone and GPS technology.

The Porsche Classic network consists of two Canadian outlets — Pfaff Porsche in Vaughan, Ont. and Porsche Centre Victoria in Victoria B.C. The Classic sections at both dealerships consist of a number of Classic models on the floor and a sizeable collection of Porsche racing and touring heritage items. The overall idea is to give casual observers of the brand — or newcomers to it — an idea of the depths and breadth of the pedigree of Porsche performance.

So maybe your OEM would never go that far — or simply doesn’t exploit their heritage enterprise-wide like some of the German makes. It doesn’t mean you have to steer away from classics.

A great example of going the classics route on your own is Edmonton’s Sherwood Dodge. The Sherwood Performance and Classic Car Centre focuses on American muscle from the early 60s to the early 70s. While they focus on MOPAR, the also deal in Corvettes and Mustangs.

The Muscle Car section is a sizeable piece of footage just off the main showroom floor. The dealership takes classics as trades, and services them all through the expertise of one very skilled tech.

According to Keith Bedard, who manages the muscle for Sherwood, the Performance Centre has more than earned its keep simply by driving foot traffic into the general showroom.

According to Keith Bedard, who manages the muscle for Sherwood, the Performance Centre has more than earned its keep simply by driving foot traffic into the general showroom

But more than just having families come in from out of town to take a look at the American Muscle, the Performance Centre has made Sherwood Park Dodge a hit on social media — and they sell between 5 and 15 classics every month. That’s right, since launching the Performance division a little over a year ago, they’ve averaged 10 classics a month. And as I mentioned, they’re not cheap.

So, what did it take for Keith and the team at Sherwood to get up and running in the classics business? Or, for that matter, what does it take someone like Pfaff to convince their OEM that they are suitable for a classics designation?

Expertise: Air cooled? Cabureted? No ABS? No OBD-II? If you don’t already have a tech on staff who can handle at least some of that, this isn’t right for you.

Parts: How are your online buying skills? Do you spend a lot of time on “Bring a Trailer” looking at parts cars? Because unless you or someone at your facility does, you’re going to have a tough time completing services.

Events: Classic car owners want to geek out with other classics people. Go into this knowing that at least once a year, you should have at least one event to build the community.

Social Media: With all the effort it takes to getting a classics department up and running, you simply have to amplify it. And after all, there is a reason you spend all that time planning that show and shine — to collect video!

Enthusiasm: Bottom line — if you don’t love the classics, don’t bother. They can work for your facility. But before they do, they will eat up showroom space, demand specialized expertise and need to be promoted.

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