By Brian Earnest
Peter Kumar has been working in the car business since he was 14 years old and began running his own dealership in 1988. The inventory at his Gullwing Motor Cars operation in Astoria, Queens, is a testament to Kumar’s work ethic and his love for old iron. His building is packed nearly bumper to bumper with a dizzying display of European collector cars, including the company’s namesake, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. Kumar is always on the go, scouring the country for interesting vehicles that he can buy and sell.
Kumar has been around long enough to see plenty of peaks and valleys in the old car business, but like a disciplined stock market investor, he has kept the faith and stayed the course.
Recently we caught up with Kumar and fired some questions his way regarding the state of the old car hobby and his high-profile place in it.
Has business been busy this spring?
Yes, I just bought a couple cars today. I just bought a 1969 [Mercedes-Benz] 280SE convertible here locally this morning. I’ve been running around to Massachusetts, California, other states, everywhere. A lot of cars I can go check on myself. If I can drive it in 200 miles or so, I drive. Or else I fly.
What has the import market been like lately for you?
It’s been steady. I’ve been dealing with a lot of European cars: Lamborghini, Ferrari, Jaguar, Maserati… It’s been steady, not bad; not booming, but still going steady… It seems like there should be less and less cars around, but they are still coming. I used to think 15, 20 years ago that “This will be the last XKE I will ever be buying,” but they are still coming around. I bought 45 cars already this month, and two cars just today.
What has been the biggest reason for your staying power in the collector car business?
I would say, not bragging about myself, but it’s important to have a good reputation. We’ve been around 30 years … If I say I’m going to do something, I do it. We pay a fair price for the car and our margins our not big margins. We buy at a fair price and sell at a fair price. When we look at a car, we make a decision within 5 minutes, then we wire them the money. If we get a phone call [about a car], we move.
How many cars do you like to have in your inventory?
I like to have no more than 100 to 120 cars. Sometimes they don’t sell fast enough, sometimes we sell them within one hour, sometimes the cars sit for a year. You never know. Right now I have 175 cars. That’s a lot of cars — more cars than the room I have.
Everybody probably likes to ask the question: What’s hot right now?
Porsches are hot; 911 Porsches … 356s are hot. Old Jaguar XKEs are hot. All old Mercedes are good. The Gullwing, never in my dreams did I think it would go to a million, but it has surpassed that. Right now we have five in stock — two Gullwings and three SL roadsters.
What’s cooled off recently?
Some of the million dollar Ferraris, the prices have been cooling off. The $500,000 Ferraris have cooled off a little bit. That has surprised me a little, but I have seen it before. They cycle up and down, but they have been going up for seven, eight years.
Why the Gullwing Motor Cars name?
That’s my favorite car. That’s my dream car. A lot of times I wind up buying them because of my company name. People think of a Gullwing, they think Gullwing Motor Cars and we do have at least one all the time.
Besides Gullwings, what else to you consider your bread-and-butter cars?
I like everything, but I like the more original cars [best]. I like them original, but sometimes with the cars we are dealing with, you don’t have much for choices … Most of them were built before ’74, so they stopped building them more than 40 years ago. You don’t have much choice… I like the XKEs…any older Maseratis, Austin-Healeys, older Lamborghinis… any older cars.
Do you get involved much with auctions, either buying or selling?
I go to auctions mostly to meet people. I go to Pebble Beach, Amelia Island, Hershey, Scottsdale, but it’s mostly to see people. I buy sometimes, but not usually.
How long do you plan to continue on?
As long as I can go — as long as I have energy and good health. We started in ’88 … it’s been almost 30 years. You’ve got to love what you do, otherwise it gets boring. I’m into old cars. It’s a passion.
When you’re buying a Honda or Toyota or even a new Mercedes, they are boring. The old cars are much more interesting. And you always meet nice people in this business.