May 29, 2018 By Nick
This is the story of Jason Catterall, a junior car salesman in England who borrowed his company demonstrator and managed to hoodwink several dealers and turn a Golf GTi into a Lamborghini Countach for a Ferris Bueller-style adventure.
It was the late 1980s. I was just 19 years old, working as a junior car salesman at my local Volkswagen dealership in Oxford in the UK. It was a great job and it paid well, although the hours were long.
Whilst idly talking rubbish with one of my senior colleagues one quiet summer Saturday morning I half jokingly suggested that we kill some time and go and test drive the M635 at the BMW dealership up the road.
There were no customers around and we were both a little bored.
Now, there was no way I could afford this beauty (being a teenager and quite new to the workforce), but I thought to myself: If I take a brand new 16v Golf GTi with me I might be able to convince the BMW salesman that I was serious about trading it in on the M635…
My colleague couldn’t join me, but challenged me to see if I could pull it off.
Golf GTi Was Most Expensive Hot Hatch
Ok, so the Golf may not look like the most amazing car these days… But in 1989 it was the dogs nuts, and, at £13,129 (funny how I still remember the price) it was the most expensive hot hatch at the time.
So I drove up to the BMW dealership in Summertown, parked the brand new Golf on the forecourt and casually sauntered towards the M635 that was sat, all gleaming and menacing in the showroom…
Those of you that know about these things will know that the 1989 M635csi was the last of the model to be made.
It was 286 horsepower of Bavaria’s finest and, in those days, one of the most desirable cars you could buy.
“I’ve just bought this 16v Golf”, I said to the salesman. “But I think I made a mistake. I’m looking for something a little faster.”
Salesman Size You Up, Imagine…
The salesman eyed me for what seemed like an eternity, before saying:
“Sure, are you thinking of the 635? We have a demonstrator if you wanted to take it for a spin?”
I played hard to get for a second or two, saying that I had to take a trip to Swindon, a 30-mile drive, and would come back and take a proper look later in the day.
“Why don’t you leave me your Golf and just take the 635? You can bring it back tonight, or even tomorrow morning if you get back after we close.”
I was stunned. Ok, I was wearing a suit and driving a brand new Golf GTi, but was it this easy??
I hesitated a second, speechless, before mustering as much nonchalance as I could, under the circumstance.
“Sure…. Are you sure it’s ok for me to have it overnight?”
Watch Out Oxford, Germany Is Coming
Less than 5 minutes later I was edging this beautiful straight six masterpiece out into Oxfords morning traffic, grinning like an idiot.
I drove straight back to the VW showroom to show my colleague that I had succeeded.
He had a huge toothy smile on his face and was clearly impressed that I had managed to get the car, and even more impressed that I had secured it for the whole day.
“Don’t stop here mate” he laughed. “Why don’t you take it to the Porsche dealership and see if they’re interested in trading it in for a new 911!”
What About a Porsche?
I was giddy with excitement. Could I really pull this off twice in one day? It was only around 10am, I had the whole day ahead of me.
So…. I bet my colleague £20 that I would be back in less than an hour in a 911 and set off up the road.
About half way between the VW dealership and the BMW dealership was an independent Porsche specialist. Again, I drove straight onto the forecourt like I owned the place, casually walked up to the salesman and, with my confidence growing and a flashy smile, said:
“Morning! Great day to test drive a 911!”
The salesman shook my hand, and looked out onto the yard.
“Ahhh, the BMW M635csi” he said. “It looks pretty new. Are you thinking of upgrading already?”
I replied: “No, no… I’ve only had it for a few weeks… but I’m looking for something convertible for the weekends.”
The 80s Were Crazy
Now, you have to remember, this was the 1980s, the decade of conspicuous consumption, yuppies and newly minted millionaires. Oxford was awash with wealthy young people. So this wasn’t a totally ridiculous scenario.
My heart was pounding in my chest. I was convinced I was about to be discovered.
The salesman didn’t blink. After making me coffee, a little small talk (and taking the BMW keys as security) I was out the door in a bright red six-month old 911 Turbo Cabriolet, scarcely believing what I had gotten away with.
He even offered to have the BMW valeted whilst I was gone!
This was a £100,000 car – a huge amount in 1989. It was the equivalent to £250,000 in today’s money.
A Teenager Gets A Porsche
I still remember clearly bursting into almost hysterical laughter as I drove out of sight of the dealership and floored the flat six, charging back down the road towards my work.
Back on my forecourt, Michael was shaking his head, with a look of slightly bewildered admiration as I arrived.
“TaaDaa!” I shouted, grinning like a schoolkid as I pulled up. I had only been gone about fifteen minutes.
We took the 911 out to a local pub for an early lunch and sat there for an hour before getting serious about the next challenge…
“What do you reckon? Do you think I could go one better again?”
Could We Go For The Prize?
“There’s a specialist used car dealership in Reading that sells Ferraris and Lamborghinis……”
His voice trailed off.
We stared at each other for a few seconds.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I spent the afternoon driving around in a bright yellow Countach.
After we had spent an hour charging around Reading in the Lambo, laughing at how easy it had all been, we started the process of returning all the vehicles one by one.
By the next morning all the cars had been returned and no one was any the wiser…
How was I treated at all the different dealers? Like royalty. Everyone fell over themselves to do my bidding. Certainly, way better than one would expect at a normal dealership.
My favourite of the cars? The 911. The Countach? A total dog of a car. It was almost impossible to drive.