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Of Substance and Style

It’s said that you’re focused on fun in your twenties, money in your thirties and forties, status in your fifties and sixties, and health beyond. This is probably overly simplistic to the point of being largely untrue. What I can tell you with certainty is that at the age of thirteen, I had a singular focus. It was about that age I watched a documentary on America’s fascination with the 1964 ½ -1965 Mustang. A little more than twenty-six years after the first one rolled off of the factory floor, I was equally enamored.

So, at the age of fourteen I took my first paid job with a W-2. I’d previously worked picking up rocks from one location and moving them to a slightly different location. I wasn’t convinced it provided the advancement opportunity I was seeking, so I moved on to a restaurant in Broadway named Keitsa’s with the goal of saving enough money to buy my own pony by the time I was able to drive. As chance would have it, both the money and the opportunity would arrive at the same time.

One afternoon I was riding with my dad north on Route 11. At the time, there were quite a few small dealerships along the way. On that day, one had the most beautiful Candy Apple red[1] 1965 Mustang I’d ever seen. The sun glimmered on the chrome and $2,400 was written on the windshield. I had found the car that was the reason for my work and saving—and I wanted it.

I said as much on that ride after we passed. I can’t recall exactly what my dad said, but I know it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. That was pretty much a dead end so a couple days later I walked across the field to talk to my granddaddy. I told him that I had found the car I wanted to buy. I told him that I had earned and saved my money. I told him it was my decision. He agreed.

A few minutes later we were on the road with a quick stop by the bank to withdraw every penny I had saved. Twenty minutes later, I was staring at a chrome horse centered in the grille and an envelope filled with money in my hand.

My granddaddy opened the driver’s door and I hopped behind the steering wheel. My feet got wet from the half-inch of water on the floorboard. “Just need to reseal the windshield, not a big deal,” I said. He nodded in agreement.

“It’s probably hot in there. You should roll down the window.” I agreed and did. “Now, roll it back up,” he said. I tried, it wouldn’t.

“Let me talk to the man about the keys,” and he walked into the little stucco building. A minute later, he tossed them in the window and said, “Start it up.”

I put the keys into the ignition and turned the switch. There wasn’t a sound, not even a click to suggest it was just a dead battery.

“Pop the hood,” my granddaddy said. I did and he propped it up. “Now, come on around here,” he said.

I walked around to the front of the car, looked down toward the engine compartment, and saw asphalt.

The car didn’t have an engine. I was ready to spend everything I had earned on a car with no engine. My dad knew the car didn’t have an engine a week or more before I ever saw it. My granddaddy knew well before I asked him to drive me to Harrisonburg to buy it because my dad had already told him.

Now, I suppose you could read this article in one of two ways. The first would be to view it as an irrelevant, but hopefully entertaining, story about a mistake of youth. You probably have similar stories that bring a smile to your face. My hope is that you read it recognizing the mistake I made twenty years ago wasn’t about a car. The mistake I made was valuing style more than substance. I think the parallels extend far beyond the story, even far beyond commercial real estate—though there is some direct application as it relates to due diligence, investment analysis, and site selection.

You read the story as you wish. I know how I do. I nearly spent all of my resources on a car with no engine and with some help—walked away with a pretty valuable lesson.

The ending that wasn’t:

Politics, certain causes, plenty of people, and commercial real estate seem to be full of cars with no engines. I suppose the point of the article was make sure you lift the hood before you rush to judgment or make a decision.

In case you’re curious. I did finally buy a Mustang a couple years later. It was a 1967 Fastback painted in Ford Blue. It was supposed to get twelve miles to the gallon, but with a four barrel, it barely got nine. My girlfriend at the time, and wife now, hated that car–I loved it and still do. I sold it to go to college.

Tim Reamer provides commercial real estate brokerage and consulting services with Cottonwood Commercial and specializes in retail representation, investment property (multifamily | commercial | NNN), and development projects. Learn more at


[1] Candy Apple red was not a paint color offered until the 1966 Mustang. This was Candy Apple red, but wasn’t original to the car. It didn’t have the orange tint of Rangoon or Poppy.