I believe it was Aristotle who said that nature abhors an open parking spot, ergo the sudden and surprise addition of a second place to put cars in my life means that I feel supremely drawn to filling that space with something. Anything. Normally, I’m a casual Craigslist/auction fan, but I’ve started dabbling in Facebook Marketplace and, around the same time, I’ve started to lose my mind. It’s impacting my friends and my family. My mood. I may have a problem.
How It Started
I love having oddball cars, but I tend to assume the universe will bring them to me as they’ve always done. One day a few years ago I was bored and on the Internet and decided to look and see what Volvo 240s were going for on eBay and, magically, I had a Volvo wagon in my driveway a week later. Not long after I acquired the Volvo a Greek clubowner friend-of-a-friend needed to stash a ’60s Mercedes sedan and that, too, ended up in my care (a friend of Alex Roy, of course, which is also how I ended up with a Tesla Model 3 for a bit). How does one become a Merkur owner? Unintentionally.
A move to a new apartment with only one parking spot necessitated me dropping a car and, with a kid, the reliable Subaru crossover had to stay. Goodbye Volvo with 225k miles and some questionable mods! I like my Subaru just fine, but I felt bad not having a crazy project car. Now that I work with this crew I feel extra bad. We’ve got an old Yugo, an old F-150, a Beetle, a Changli, and a Nissan Pao in the fleet. And that’s just Jason! Beau’s collection is amazing and weird. David’s cars are largely tragic, but appealingly tragic.
Parking spots have been at a premium where I live, just outside of New York City, and so I was delighted last October to find out that the parking pass I’d applied to more than two years ago was suddenly available.
“I thought I’d be dead before I got this spot” I told the nice woman who was calling to see if I still wanted it.
I snatched it up right away and began waiting for the heavens to smile down on me with a Hillman Imp or something equally batshit.
For the first few weeks it didn’t bother me that the heavens were a bit quiet. David gently suggested I buy his $700 Tracker and I gently suggested he needed to stop drinking wiper fluid. Fall changed to winter and still, nothing.
I always seek my wife’s input on project cars, but the general understanding is that I can get whatever I want so long as it’s not more than what I got for my last car. I got $3,500 for the Volvo (pre-pandemic) so I’ve got $3,500 to play with now. It’s time to stop being passive, I thought to myself.
Renault or Re-yes?
I like bidding sites because they’re a real commitment. There’s no waffling. You’re in or you’re out. When I saw this uniquely modified Renault Super 5 SR on Cars and Bids I had to put in a low-ball bid. Just to see. I joked with Doug that I’d be pleased when I got outbid because I wouldn’t have to try and explain it to my family. I was outbid and it eventually went (barely) for more than my no-veto budget. The rush stayed, though, and I needed another fix.
This led to Craigslist. There’s a ton of waffling on Craigslist. I religiously looked at every listing within a couple of hundred miles only to find even interesting cars in my price range that were either too expensive, too rusty, or both. I don’t need a car. I want a car. And I don’t just want any car, I want a car that’ll help me tell a story.
I did a project for a TV show I won’t name right before I took this gig and they asked me to spend time looking for the highest mileage cars for sale in the United States. This was a great gig and I learned something: W210/S210 Mercedes E-Classes of the late ’90s and early ’00s have incredible longevity if treated right. I kept finding cars with 200k, 300k, even 400k on the original motors and transmissions. Maybe I’d grab one of those?
Craigslist had some decent leads, but nothing great. I needed a better fix.
One day I’ll own a Saab. A couple of weeks ago was almost that day. A college professor in Connecticut listed a late ’90s Saab 9-3, red, with a stick. The transmission needed a little work, but it was super cheap and would be a great story. Alas. I was too slow.
This kept happening. I’d find a car I liked, then it would be sold. I consulted with Kevin Williams, an expert on finding weird stuff on Facebook Marketplace. I asked him what the secret was.
“If you keep searching the marketplace will show you what you like, but you have to be really creative with your keywords,” he advised. “When I’m in a mood I search multiple times a day. Or hour.”
“Ok, so the secret is to be young and not have kids,” I joked with him.
It wasn’t a joke for long.
The Two Mercedes Weekend
Am I addicted to Facebook Marketplace? I went from perusing maybe 10-20 car listings a day to looking at… hundreds? A thousand? I started looking at Facebook Marketplace the same way that people can look at the Matrix and understand what’s happening.
Mostly, this happened at night. I started finding myself waking up in at 3:00 am and checking my phone. I started setting alerts for cars. I found out that on your phone they’ll show you listings that have recently had their price recently reduced! Jackpot.
Oh no I bought a car…
— MattHardigree (@MattHardigree) January 21, 2023
And then I saw it. A W210 Mercedes sedan. For sale. Right down the street from my parents. It was only 115,000 miles and they wanted $2900 for it. I knew I could get it cheaper. I texted the guy and asked my parents to go look at the car, which they did.
This wasn’t what I was looking for, right? I wanted a car with a manual. I wanted a Saab with a manual. How did I end up with a Mercedes sedan? Oh well, it’s a car. Where did it come from, I asked the seller? He bought it from a Craigslist auction. A lot of red flags, but I went with it. I eventually talked him down to $2,300.
That deal fell apart when the guy mentioned he didn’t have a title. I don’t think he was trying to be scammy, it’s just that Connecticut doesn’t re-issue titles for cars over 20 years, which makes it a pain to register in New York where I live. So long Mercedes.
Oh no! The guy didn’t have a title! I did not buy a car pic.twitter.com/PwW5ez0AST
— MattHardigree (@MattHardigree) January 21, 2023
Then, just a few hours later, I found a too-good-to-be-true W212 Mercedes E350 with blown Airmatic suspension in Boston! Thanks to our man Gossin I knew this was fixable. I quickly reached out to the seller and my friend in Boston to see if he’d grab the car. At first he thought I was telling him to buy it, and then he realized I was asking him to drop what he was doing and buy a car for me. To his credit, he agreed.
That Mercedes sold before he could get to it. I felt bad. Legit bad.
All of a sudden I felt like I had to look at Facebook Marketplace every 10 minutes to not miss anything. My wife pointed out that, well, maybe it was impacting my mood? My daughter asked me to get off my phone. This was not good.
I’d hit rock bottom.
Do I want a crazy silly car to write about? Absolutely. Do I need a car so badly I’m willing to test the patience of people I love? Probably not.
Why Facebook Is So Insidious
I do not need reasons to not like Facebook. It is extremely unlikable. It has cracked the fragile limbs of one half of my family tree. It has likely played a role in at least one genocide.
Facebook Marketplace, though, is a casino. It’s a casino that learns your behaviors and shows you only what you want to know. Kevin was right. The more you look at Facebook the more Facebook looks at you and Facebook is good enough to know the shitty person I am and the shitty cars I want. It is borderline dangerous.
I thought I was too smart to get played by an algorithm. I thought I was too sophisticated. But, as the man said, “If you’re playing a poker game and you look around the table and and can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.” I am definitely the sucker here.
So, I’m gonna slow down. I’m going to have a regimen. At the beginning of the day I can look. At the end of the day I can look. I will not look more than once every three hours. I will not keep going over the same cars again and again. Most importantly, I’m not going to buy anything unless it’s something I actually want.
Maybe I’ll text Alex Roy to see what he needs stored. He’s always got too many cars…
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Photos: Author, Facebook Marketplace, Cars And Bids, Top Art: Sally Torchinsky
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