The Mechanic, the Ferrari and Knowing What You’re Worth

The mechanic, the ferrari and knowing what you're worthThe old mechanic looked up from under the hood of a Maserati 250F as a well dressed man got out of a tow truck and came into his workshop.

“How can I help you, sir?”

“ I’ve inherited this old Ferrari Dino,” he pointed to the gleaming red car on the back of the tow truck. “And it won’t start. I’ve got a buyer coming specially from New York tonight. I’ve tried everywhere. Can you help? Please?” He mopped at his brow with a white silk handkerchief.

The old mechanic wiped his hands down on his overalls and walked over to the truck. “She sure is a beauty,” he said. “Don’t make them like this anymore, do they?”

The younger man looked exasperated. “No, they don’t. Maybe because they don’t work.”

“Oh, they work all right. You say you’ve tried everywhere?”

“Well, first I tried to fix it myself, I-”

“You know about classic cars?”

“Well, no, not really. But I read some stuff online, looked at a few forums, watched a video or two. I figured it couldn’t be that hard.”

“And how long did that take you?” said the old guy as he began unloading the Ferrari.

“Don’t ask. Anyway, I realized I couldn’t do it.”

“What line of business you in, sir?”

“I’m in real estate. Been in it for 20 years. There’s not a thing you can tell me about buying and selling property, I just love it.” The man’s eyes gleamed and he looked off into the distance.

“I once tried to sell my house myself,” said the old man. “But I got into such a mess with all those contracts and legal things, I just gave up. Pop the hood would you?”

“Oh, it’s not that hard,” said the younger man as he leaned into the car. “You just have to know what you’re doing, otherwise you just waste so much time.”

“Yup, sometimes it’s best just to stick to what you’re good at,” agreed the mechanic.

“My neighbor’s son Barney took a look at it,” said the man.

“He a mechanic?”

“No, well, you know, he really likes cars. Always tinkering. And the price was right.”

“He fix it?”

“No. Then I tried that big shiny new place in town. They had this offer on to fix anything on any car for $50. Well, $49.99 actually.”

“But this ain’t any car.”

“No.”

“They fix it?”

“It worked for half an hour then it stopped again.”

“No kidding.”

“Guess this needs a specialist.”

“Guess it does. Now me, I only do Italian cars and only cars before 1970. I had a guy the other day almost in tears cos’ I wouldn’t look at his 1980 Lamborghini. But I told him pre 1970, that’s my thing. Don’t touch nothing else. But some people just don’t get it.”

The businessman nodded quickly, keen to get on with his story. “Then I took it to that guy down the road from here. He sure was busy, line of cars waiting all the way round the block.”

“You mean Arthur? Arthur’s the best mechanic in town. ‘Cept me, of course. We started out together 40 years ago. He works real hard. Ten, twelve hours a day sometimes and no break for lunch.”

“Why does he keep working? He must be rich by now.”

“Well, you know, here’s the thing. He can’t afford to stop because, as you said, he’s so cheap. He only charges $25 an hour. I told him he was crazy, because he’s ten times faster and better than when he was younger so he’s actually making less now and working on more cars. Don’t make no sense to me. Anyhow, I’m surprised he couldn’t fix it.” He took out a torch and began peering into the engine, wiggling at wires, twisting cables.

“Oh, I didn’t take it there. He couldn’t do it today, too busy. Plus I figured if he was that cheap he couldn’t be much good. Sounds like I got that wrong.”

“You did.”

“So can you fix it?” The man looked at him with eyebrows raised high, his forehead wrinkled.

“Yup. I can.”

“Today?”

“Yup. Cost you $5000.”

“Five thousand dollars!”

“You want it fixed today or not?”

“Yes, but $5000…” The man looked at the mechanic, at the Ferrari and at the tow truck then shook his head as he reached for his wallet. “Okay then, guess I’ve got no choice. When should I come back?”

“Oh, you can wait,” said the old guy, pocketing the $5000 and picking up a hammer. He reached into the engine and hit something with the hammer. “Try it now.”

The businessman turned the key in the ignition and the Ferrari growled into life then settled back into a throaty purr. The old mechanic smiled. The younger man stood with his mouth open.

“But you just charged me $5000 for five seconds work. All you did was hit it with a hammer! How can you justify that?”

“Well son,” said the old man. “It took five seconds to hit it, I agree. But it took 40 years to know what to hit and where. And that’s what you’re paying for.”

Then he started whistling and went back to work on the Maserati.

by Fiona Tankard, working on valuing my own experience as a writer. 

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I was fascinated to discover that behavioural economist Keith Chen has found a provable link between the way languages describe the future and that population’s saving habits. It throws up so many more questions!

See what you make of his astounding Ted Talk here.