We lost our dear family friend Jan van der Baan yesterday. He was a gentle and generous soul, with an always ready hearty laugh. I am still in shock.
I learned more about cars — and investing — from him then I could ever recount. Jan created the concept of “diminished value” in autos, was a consultant to auto manufacturers, insurers, collectors, appraisers, and others. Forget about “certified preowned,” Jan created the idea of “Certified Collectible” with manufacturers rebuilding their own classic cars for sale to the public (Nissan probably has done more with this with their older Z cars than any other manufacturer). He worked with various owners clubs (Mercedes Benz of America; Porsche Club of America) and always had good advice to those who asked. He knew more why some cars became valuable collectibles while others do not than you could imagine.
About a decade ago, he had broken his leg, and was supposed to appraise a rare Ferrari in Brooklyn. He called to ask me “What are you doing tonight? Put on clothes without any zippers, buttons, belts or rivets, I’ll pick you up at 7.” (In Jan’s universe, 7 was actually anytime between 7-10). We drive to Brooklyn, and he has me crawling all over and in and under this spectacular 1960s era car. You read about these going for tens of millions of dollars at auction today.
I asked why he needed me for this, as he could have easily done all of this himself. He flipped me the keys, and said “Now for the road test.” The cast on his foot made his using the clutch impossible. As you might imagine, I was a little tentative behind the wheel of this multi-million dollar monstrosity. “Step on it” he said, “this car was built to be driven fast.” That’s how I ended up driving a million dollar Ferrari 90 mph down Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn at 11pm one Tuesday night.
He did some work on Ralph Lauren’s massive car collection, and I rue not going to see them in person with him in Connecticut.
Some years ago, my friend Matt wanted to unload his 1998 Type 993 (911); Jan explained why it was destined to be valuable — so Matt kept the car, putting a few dollars into some body work and detailing. Its since tripled in value.
I bought a 560 SL on his advice, an inexpensive b-day gift for the missus. It was a unique convertible whose removable hard top also had a sun roof — Mercedes only made a 100 of them, and now 15 years later its worth much more than I paid for it (tho I am still waiting for my hardtop). Same with my salvage title Jeep, perhaps the best value buy I ever made.
Even more significant were the cars I passed on due to him — the old Jag with the electrical issues, the “too cheap” 2006 Bentley GT with the questionable history, and all of the Astons with transmission issues.
When I didn’t follow his advice, I usually regretted it: Ford GT, BMW Z8, 575 Berlinetta 6 speed — all cars I adored but thought were too pricey for me to buy when each came up. Do I need to tell you they all have gone up 2X 3X 4X since then?
“Don’t buy an asset that is only going to depreciate” he used to exhort; “put money into assets that are going up in value.”
Beyond the steel & horsepower, his unique insights, good humor, friendship, astute business and personal advice made him a very special person.
I will miss him terribly.