Could Bringing Classic Cars Into Dealerships Create a Halo Effect?

While there are dealerships that will happily service your vintage automobile, there are reasons a lot of classic cars are wrenched at home or taken to speciality shops. It’s not typically in a service center’s best interest to hunt down rare discontinued parts and train employees on the reassembly of carburetors. But it still happens, especially among premium brands.

Porsche is rather obsessive about its heritage and has extended that to maintenance and repairs at a large number of stores. It isn’t alone, either. Mark Rogers, a 20 Group consultant with the National Automobile Dealers Association, estimates as many as 1,800 U.S. franchised dealerships are willing to service vintage cars. Some are even selling them — putting desirable classics on the showroom floor in the hopes they might garner positive attention. 

With more high-value classics on the road than ever before, some dealers are thinking it might be time to expand the business to include them. However, the practice isn’t exactly rampant.

“Dealers are too busy selling and servicing new cars,” Rogers told Automotive News in an interview. “It is not financially feasible to dedicate the time and space” for classics, he said.

That limits franchised servicing of vintage cars largely to premium brands, which owners are more likely to develop and maintain an emotional attachment with. The same goes for sales. Hennessy Porsche North Atlanta in Roswell, Georgia, became one of only five factory-designated Porsche Classic dealerships within the United States in 2015.

According to Jeff Corey, the store’s service director, the shop invested heavily into new tools, the training of two technicians and two service advisers, and finally designated a pair of service bays specifically for models years 1998 and older. When the dealership was remodeled in 2016, Hennessy also allocated a portion of the showroom for vintage Porsches.

“We’ll do 15 to 20 cars a year,” Corey said. “The average repair bill is $3,000, though we’ve done a couple at $20,000 and rebuilt the whole engine of a 964 for $42,000 … The oldest Porsche we’ve worked on was a 1963 356.”

Those old cars can occupy valuable real estate on the shop floor as technicians wait for specialty parts. But the dealers willing to touch them are starting to see the benefits from a marketing standpoint.

Michigan’s BMW of Ann Arbor has been a BMW Certified Classic Center since 2014. It sees roughly one vintage Beemer up on a lift per month, said the dealership’s service director, Mark Wade. The oldest to come through the garage doors was a 1972 2002 tii, but he said the shop also restored a 1985 BMW M6 to factory condition, noting that it was exceptionally difficult to acquire parts.

“But it’s a labor of love for us and the owners,” he said.

While not highly lucrative in itself, Wade believes the center’s prestige attracts other parts and service customers among owners of older BMWs.

“We do get plenty of early-to-mid-’90s cars, but those customers aren’t looking to restore their vehicles, usually,” he said. “They’re more concerned with the mechanical breakdown or drivability issues.”

“I would imagine the volume will increase once those cars from the ’90s hit the 30-year mark and the value starts to increase,” Wade continued. “We would like to see more.”

While classic servicing and sales isn’t exclusive to premium manufacturers, it is limited to the more exclusive models. Buds Chevrolet-Buick in St. Marys, Ohio, provides service to owners of vintage Chevys, primarily Corvettes from the C4, C5, and C6 generations. However, work on such classic Corvettes is sporadic — perhaps only 15 a year, according to Troy Jones, the service adviser and shop foreman.

Jones recalled an instance where it took technicians five hours to replace a faulty heater core on a 1980 Corvette (which sounds about right). It would have taken much longer, he explained, but, thankfully, the owner had brought replacement part with him.

A dozen or so vehicles a year isn’t a massive number, even for a small-town dealership. But Jones is also of the mind that the shop’s relationship with vintage Vettes bolsters its reputation and solidifies its relationship with current owners — which may translate to future sales. Buds Chevrolet-Buick hold an annual enthusiast meet-up each May. Jones claimed this year’s event attracted more than 600 Corvette owners.



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