I find not feeling like a moron to be one of the nicest experiences in the world. It’s also, in the modern era of investing, an especially rare one. The stock market is like a kindly but alcoholic uncle, sweet and beckoning and then ready to deck you at Christmas dinner. Real estate is attractive but illiquid, as we are seeing vividly these days. To find art you have to be able to go see art, and cash—however appealing—is a terrible long-term investment. What are we comfortable diversifying into, with many or most of the usual options off the table? What’s fun and not destined to be worthless when you’re done with it?
Last year, when the going was good, I decided to indulge in a bucket list item for my 50th birthday: the purchase and restoration of a car that in England and Scotland is pretty much regarded as agricultural machinery. This is the Land Rover Defender 110.
In the U.S., however, only 500 examples were legally imported by Land Rover North America in 1993. All were Alpine white, except for two: one sand and the other forest green, at the request of brothers Ralph and Jerry Lauren.
Around these rugged, highly desirable cars exists their own economy. Almost uniquely for any car, North American Spec (NAS) D110s have gone up in value every year, so they meet the two criteria I required to go near exotic wheels. The thing had to be: 1) an appreciating asset and 2) something I could really use. Checking these boxes leaves you with a shorter list than you might imagine, which is how we arrive at my diversification strategy: No bonds or gold for me—I’m all in on this truck.
Buying a collectible car makes you part of a subculture, whether or not you realize it in advance. One becomes embedded in a community of the people who love these machines and of the mechanics who work on them (whom you will get to know well). All of this is part of the experience of ownership. While there are some clubs that might not want you as a member, it is equally true that there are some you might not want to join; now does not feel like the optimal time to be swanning around in a Bentley. But I will say most people are glad to see you coming in a rough and tough vintage Land Rover.
Meet Alexander Reinwald, a Land Rover expert and my new best friend. Alex restored and maintains my wife’s D90 (the shorter, more commonly seen two-door version). He operates in Springs, near East Hampton, keeps a low profile, and chooses his clients carefully. There are four or five people to go to in the U.S. for this sort of project, depending on the region, but on Long Island he’s the Defender Whisperer. It was Alex who taught me to call it a truck.
And he found us the right truck, which in the desired shipwreck condition still cost $76,000. The experience of working with Alex is intense; he’s a willful sort of fellow and passionate that each truck he restores have individual charisma. When I requested a certain paint scheme, he let me know he wasn’t feeling it because I was trying to copy one already out there in the world. We’re painting it his color, Pantone 4223C, and it’s going to look great. I had some dreams of plaid seats, but they became clouds in my coffee when I saw the cost.
It’s funny what ends up being an indulgence and what doesn’t. If a decorating client is unsure about art, I remind her that if you know what you’re doing, you’ve still got the money. The same is true about cars (er, trucks). I’ve been watching these go up for years, driven by rarity and the infatuation of young affluence for surfing culture, and I should have greenlighted this project a long time ago.
Also this: Thanks to the usual delays, we’re months behind schedule, and my blue chip investment has delivered a sensation almost as agreeable as not feeling like a moron—the pleasure of always having something to look forward to.
This story appears in the September 2020 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW
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