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(Travels with Guido series #314, by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen, Oct 2018)

indian chief

Negotiating with crackpots

Okay, I’m curious. Are you one of those people who rings on a bike ad and spends the next half hour trying to deflate the owner without ever clapping eyes on them or the machine?

Now to be fair, many of us have bought motorcycles over the phone and internet, so negotiation by remote is inevitable. But there’s a difference – perhaps a fine one – between negotiating and being a depressive body-snatching gimp.

I guess what has me cranky is recent experience with would-be buyers of motorcycles. Sometimes I have a desire to cut back the size of the fleet and I’d like to think I’m realistic enough to realise no matter how much I like something, the market will only pay so much.

And, let’s face it, more often than not you lose money and if that’s how it rolls, so be it. I prefer to think about what selling the bike achieves – maybe I’m buying the next one at a good price, in which case there’s no problem.

What got me going this morning was a call on a 1947 Indian Chief I made the mistake of advertising on Ebay. Seriously, it seems to bring out the crackpots, the sharks and the self-appointed market gurus.

It was advertised with a little local history, but I nothing beyond the previous decade.

The first numpty tried calling late – very late – which seemed odd. What’s my favourite feature on a mobile phone? The off button.

Returning the message the next morning, we started with the perfectly reasonable question, “Does it have matching numbers?” I paused a moment, thinking, ‘where do I start?’. He took this as a sign of confusion or ignorance and patiently explained he was looking for matching frame and engine numbers. Clearly, he was dealing with the village idiot.

What I managed to explain was this Indian, like many of that age, simple had an engine replaced instead of rebuilt as it was often more economical. If you do find one with matching numbers, it pays to get a little 'forensic' and double-check whether the stamps are ex-factory or done later.

So here’s a tip for those of you who’ve got the ‘matching numbers’ thing stuck in your head. First find out if what you’re looking for actually existed.

Sunbeam, as an alternative example, in 1947 simply bolted together whatever came off the workbench. There, matching numbers would indicate a rare coincidence, or more likely a fake. The list of examples of non-matching numbers ex-factory is long, covers many makers (Kawasaki is one of the more prominent), and carries on to the current day.

Then I got hit with a three-part strategy, which I admit wasn’t half bad.

First: Ask a bunch of questions about which parts are original – some sensible, some downright daffy. Such as whether the spotlight set was on the bike when it was delivered in 1947. Seriously? They look the part, but really there's no way of telling. Really, if we were claining tjis to be dead-original factory machine from 1947, we'd be talkiong a whole other price level, several times what I was asking. And I'd be sending it back to the USA for auction.

When was the bike imported to Australia? Interesting question, but wouldn't have a clue. Yes it was imported here some time in the last 70 years, and I’ve made no claims about a rich local history – or otherwise. It went on, until I started getting terse, realising this was just a means of throwing muggins off-balance. Next…

Second: Point out how the market is actually flooded with the same model and that you’ve found a nest of bargains for far less money. Mysteriously none of them seem to be publicly advertised. In the end, a clipped, “Well if that’s true, I suggest you go and buy it right now,” seems to be enough to shut that line of pollywaffle.

Third: Look, I the buyer happen to be coming to Melbourne and can probably find a short window of time, if you’re really lucky, to see the bike. If you’re able to negotiate, we can do a deal on the day. (What I’m hearing is, ‘If you’re gullible enough it shouldn’t take more than half an hour for me to commit something approaching robbery.’)

About this stage I’m responding in monosyllables, through clenched teeth, wishing there was some way I could remove the safety of the telephone line and materialise in this clown’s lounge room.

My caller clearly thought I was lying and we did not part friends. His number has been added to a short but growing blacklist of people who will be ice-skating in hell before I’ll sell them a motorcycle…

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