I bet you know some mediocre people who have gone on to be successful. Frustrating isn’t it? But it’s the same in the car industry.
Let’s take the shareholders of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot who voted on Monday to merge the two companies. Now given 70 per cent of mergers fail and most destroy shareholder value you’d have to think they handed out a lot of free Grappa and Pernod Absinthe at the meeting. Best of all, like in all these deals they paid millions to the branding bandits to come up with a new name for the Italian/American/French makers of some of the world’s worst cars: Stellantis.
Stellantis? Sounds like a product to ease stomach pain. Are booze, fast food and crap cars giving you massive heartburn? Then you need Stellantis, now with 14 brands, including the Citroen Cactus and who doesn’t feel cactus after driving one? But the branding bandits say there is a logic to the name. As the press release says, “Stellantis is rooted.” Sorry the full sentence says “Stellantis is rooted in the Latin verb ‘stello’ meaning ‘to brighten with stars’.” Yup. As the New York Times said: “Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot approve a merger they need to survive.”
As Clive Matthew-Wilson writes in our car bible, Dogandlemon.com: “Peugeot is still a major European car manufacturer, but is plagued by poor quality and out-of-control costs.” And Fiat Chrysler? “Fiat Chrysler need each other to survive. Both companies produce low-quality products and both face an uncertain future.” Well, that’s a big rap. Anyway, FCA’s brands include Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Abarth. And Maserati.
In September last year, FCA fronted the investment community with an extraordinary presentation on Maserati. Basically, it said that the 107-year-old brand founded by brothers Alfieri, Bindo, Carlo, Ettore and Ernesto was Stellantis — or, in English, rooted. But let’s look at auto irony here before we go on. In 1968 Citroen bought Maserati. Then five years later, Citroen went belly up and was bought by? Well, I’ll be Stellantis! Yes, by Peugeot! Then former Argentinian racing driver, Alejandro de Tomaso, bought it, then Chrysler bought a share, then Fiat bought it, then Fiat sold half to Ferrari, Ferrari sold it back to Fiat, which partnered it with Alfa Romeo. Now Fiat is merging with Chrysler and yada, yada, yada.
So, the management consultants get in and tell Mr or Ms Maserati or Other Maserati that sales and profits (now losses) are falling off a cliff and the silver bullet is (and they probably forked out a few million for this advice): focus on the consumer. Well, that’s original. But wait c’è dell’altro! To implement and execute this strategy you need to: make Maserati cool again. No wonder you and I are eating the crumbs off the table. We don’t have these big ideas.
Talking of frauds: Road & Track magazine has long specialised in exposing racers who fund their teams through drug smuggling and dealing, Ponzi scheming, payday lending and fraud. Well, that covers about 90 per cent of us racing in Australia, but R&T’s focus is on Trump village. Racers like Randy Lanier, “the narco trafficker whose racing exploits were fueled by the kilo”. Randy was seriously quick before he went to the big garage with the bars. Colombia’s Juan Camilo Perez Buitrago, better known as JC Perez, raced a beautiful new Mercedes-AMG GT3. Perez wrapped the hood with a Chupacabra (a legendary Puerto Rican vampire type creature or goat-sucker) giving it a gold tooth and wagging tongue and putting it in a car dealer finance person’s outfit. “Making the decision to position cartoons on a car in place of paying sponsors suggests one of two things: the main driver or owner is funding the program from personal wealth or, in the case of Perez, from gains that are allegedly ill-gotten."
For obvious reasons I won’t be reporting live to you from the Scottsdale auctions next week but can I mention two works of metal artistes that would be worth a look. Bonhams have both. The first is one of 253 Albrecht Graf Goertz-designed 1959 BMW 507 Series 11 roadsters with 3.1 litre V8s. These were built to be Merc competitors but were even more expensive. Elvis Presley, John Surtees, Alain Delon, Ursula Andress, Prince Rainer of Monaco, the Aga Khan and good Prince Connie of Greece all thought they were a steal at $5k. Last year Prince Connie sold his white one for $3m-plus but I think this black version will struggle to get much above $2.5m. The owner tried to sell it last year on Bring-A-Trailer but bidding stopped at $2.5m. Now why the discount for a super-looking car? As we always say, originality counts.
This Goertz classic has a factory replacement engine, didn’t start out life as black but is mainly as it came out of the showroom. Those two issues would be enough to take close to a mill off the price.
Better value is the Runge RS010. This is an outlaw car. Built by Christopher Rünge between 2017 and 2019. Chris gave up snowboarding in 2017 to make handcrafted cars, usually with a Porker engine, to individual customer specifications. The bodywork is hand-formed of aluminium over body bucks and finally fitted to the Superleicht aluminium tube form. The 2.3 litre 150KW engine sits in the middle of a car that weighs about nothing, with the driver playing with interior controls and toggle switches from 1950s aircraft and a Soviet MiG jet clock in the dash. A steal at $450k.