Yesterday, I drove my friends over two hours to check out a cute Italian hatchback, a 1981 Autobianchi A112 not too far from Hitler’s birthplace in Austria. My friend Andreas didn’t really have space for the car, but he spotted it while browsing his local for sale listings, and it looked nice. “We’ll just have a look,” he said, nonchalantly. It seemed to me like he wasn’t that serious about buying the car and just wanted to take a cool day trip. Then we saw the car in person, and everything changed.
Take it from me: If you want to avoid becoming a car hoarder, step one is to stop looking at for-sale listings. Because as much as you want to convince yourself that you’re “just looking,” that you’re “happy with your current fleet,” and that you “don’t have space anyway,” if a nice enough vehicle comes up for sale for little enough money, you will break. Everyone will; we are only humans, after all.
The key is to actively avoid putting yourself in such situations. I myself cannot do this, since my job involves me interacting with hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom email and message me cars that they’ve either found for sale for dirt cheap, or that they themselves want to sell me for a song. Trying to fix my car hoarding problem is futile.
But my friend Andreas, who is on the verge of hoarder-dom, needs to heed this advice right away before it’s too late, because yesterday I saw a bit of me in him. Which is to say: He’s slipping down a dangerously steep slope.
Yesterday’s temptress was this 1981 Autobianchi A112, a fantastic little Italian car based largely on Fiat underpinnings. You can read all about it by checking out articles by Máté Petrány, a former Jalopnik writer who has owned his A112 for over eight years now. The short of it is that the A112 only weighs 1,500 pounds, so even though its ~900cc to 1.0-liter engines never made more than about 70 horsepower, they feel quick, and they sound great. Plus, these cars are practical and dirt cheap to maintain, since they use basic Fiat parts.
Andreas, being the car enthusiast that he is, was well aware of the Autobianchi’s legendary status, which is why the car intrigued him in the first place. This particular machine looked damn good in its Mobile.de listing (see the photo above and the one directly below). Andreas was certain there was a catch.
The seller had mentioned that there wasn’t rust on the outside, but hinted that there may be some below. Plus, the listing said the car had been “unfortunately repainted in blue a few years ago for the sake of the second owner.” So, presumably this car would have a garbage paint job and some rust problems underneath, especially for the relatively low price of 3,900 Euros (or about $4,500).
Andreas, his friend Tobi, and I arrived at a dealership roughly a half an hour from Hitler’s birthplace (or roughly between Landshut and Passau, for those of you who are understandably not keen on using Hitler’s birthplace as a datum). The dealership was empty, but the showroom door was open, so we let ourselves in and took a look at the little blue hatchback.
It was nice. Like, very nice. Too nice!
“What’s the catch?” Andreas wondered. We looked underneath. Everything looked fine. (Aside: The second image shows the car’s amazing transverse rear leaf spring).
We checked out the engine bay; everything appeared to be there, and the oil looked clean.
Even the interior looked great.
There was a bit of bubbling in the paint on the roof; presumably there is some rust pitting going on below the surface:
The seller jump-started the car ice cold, and it sprung to life. It actually sounded fantastic.
A little bit of steam spewed from the tailpipe, but that subsided when the engine warmed up, at which point Andreas, Tobi, and I hit the road in the surprisingly nice Italian hatch:
It was epic. It sounded great, the ride quality was good even at higher speeds (roughly 60 mph counts in this car as a “higher speed”), and the five-speed shifter went into all gears without making any weird noises (if a bit sloppily).
When we returned from the test drive, we chucked the car on the Hebebühne (lift), and took a closer look at the undercarriage.
I’m not saying the car was mint under there, but it was damn close:
I called Máté Petrány to get his advice. He acknowledged that A112s have gone up in value, so just because he bought his for $1,400 in Hungary back in 2013 doesn’t mean this $4,000 example (the seller said he’d go down from 3,900 Euros a bit) is a bad deal. Máté told me it looks clean and that “if it feels solid and drives okay, it’s a good buy.”
I totally agree. The thing is clean, it runs and drives beautifully, and it’s priced nicely, putting my friend Andreas – who already owns four cars and lives in an apartment in downtown Nürnberg – on the 3:10 to Hoardertown.
This brings me to my original point: If buying a car isn’t practical, you gotta stop your daily habit of checking Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace or Mobile.de or whatever your local car classifieds site is.
I know, it’s basically an addiction at this point, but the reality is that resisting a great deal is not easy to do. So what you need to do is make sure a great deal doesn’t have a chance to present itself.