The con man

“how I got conned and finally managed to get most of my money back” or How not to do it (and how to make it nearly right afterwards)

Don’t make the mistakes I did!

The MSA has clear guidlines about mounting cages. They need reinforcing plates and several mounting bolts (at least 3). This would not pass!

When I decided I wanted a classic competition car I started asking about on various forums. Eventually I settled on a Midget 1500 and the MGCC Luffield speed championship so I needed a car and someone to prepare it. I should have been more careful but to this day I don’t know exactly what happened. Did I fall for a deliberate con or was it someone who lives in something of a fantasy world and meant to do a good job but lacked the ability to do it and then slowly lied more and more to try and cover things up? I always meant to write it up but I’ve since seen him seeming to make very similar approaches to people on a forum so I’ve put it here so you can decide. You have been warned!

Conman or incompetent?

As fortune would have it, one person, who spent a lot of time giving lots of people very detailed advice about MGs on the Pistonheads forum was also a dealer and restorer, specialising in MGs. He had even spent time about the specifics on Midget 1500s and had competed successfully in one for many years. He referred to his firm as we and talked about the other people who worked with him. I checked his Pistonheads posting and he often advised “fellow” traders and came to their defence when they needed a colleague.

He couldn't even be bothered to weld this one. Note use of filler too.

I had lengthy conversations on the ‘phone and he, again seemed very knowledgeable and we agreed a price for him to rebuild a car to my spec. As the build progressed he supplied pictures and I paid in instalments. Getting involved with this guy was a terrible decision on my part and set a chain of events in motion that were to last over a year. Below I’ve put the formal letters I wrote. I think they summarise the events nicely but I also think they would be useful for anyone in a similar situation.

If you are in a similar situation please don’t hesitate to contact me for advice. It was an exhausting and draining battle and I didn’t get all my money back but I didn’t do too badly and would be happy to share my experiences. In response to the last letter I got one back saying a friend had died and “life was too short” so he had borrowed some money from his mother (bit embarrassing for a bloke in his late ‘20’s) to buy the car back.

For those that don’t want to read the letters here is a summary of the issues with the car. All of these things I have documentary evidence for, by the way. One thing I would say is keep every email (and don’t make deals on the phone without confirming by email). My wife and I spent many hours trawling through emails to build the evidence log we needed. Infact, I was slightly disappointed when he capitulated – I was looking forward to giving him a kicking in court!

If you are wondering why I don’t name him it is because he made me sign a document agreeing not to criticise him in public. I always assumed this was because he didn’t want his virtual admirers to see him as a bloke who can talk the talk but falls down somewhat when it comes to doing it. It would be very embarrassing if you had been chatting as a “fellow professional” with well known classic car specialists with big garages and great reputations and it turned out that you had never really had a business at all! I did think about dropping hints to his name or location but I think if I just tell you to beware then you can decide who to trust.

Problems:

1) The car was delivered 7 months after the initially agreed date. He made 10 separate definite days to deliver the car spread between June and the following January.

2) The car was not in the condition I had expected – it had been patched and blown over rather than rebuilt. The bonnet didn’t fit properly a number of items didn’t work properly and the hood was very scruffy, for example. Condition is a potentially subjective matter but I have a signed statement from two local MG specialists, both valuing the car at £1500-1600. (I had paid £4100 – top dollar for a Midget 1500, even if you include the extra cost of the few competition parts)

3) The morning after it was delivered I went to the garage to find oil leaking out from under the door. I delivered the car to a reputable local firm who found that the engine to gear box bolts were loose and this had lead to the oil leak. They supplied a signed statement to this effect. When I spoke to the guy about this he said that he had never had the engine off the gearbox so it couldn’t have been his fault. He had sent me a photo of the engine, without the gearbox

4) Once the car had been repaired (at my expense) I was driving with a passenger. The car suddenly started handling strangely and I pulled over to find a wheel loose on the axel. Upon inspection all 4 wheels had finger-tight wheel nuts. This particular wheel’s had come loose first. Of course this was easily rectified but pretty scary. It could have cost a life. I have a signed statement from the passenger to confirm this. Of course I can’t prove that I didn’t loosen the nuts before the drive or local children could have done so while it was parked as suggested by the guy who supplied it…

5) The roll cage was not fitted to the car correctly. Even though I had posted the guy a set instructions about how the MSA will accept it, he had left some mounting points floating in mid air and welded, rather than bolted to reinforcing plates, the others. I have signed statements from an experienced (40 yrs plus) race car builder and an MSA scrutineer, both saying that the car would fail scrutineering because of this.

6) The structure of the car was unsound, in particular their was too much filler, too close to seat belt mountings. To confirm this I put it in for an MOT and it failed. Since it had been supplied with a very new MOT, the DOT sent an inspector to check it should have failed. He agreed. Again, I have the paperwork.

The interesting part was that, presented with this information the “dealer” suddenly decided that he had never been a dealer and therefore the sale of goods act didn’t apply. This is not true – some parts of the act does apply to private sales. But is the really big question. Was he a dealer pretending not to be one to escape his responsibilities, or was he a private individual who had pretended to be a dealer in order to get a better price?

To summarise – the sale of goods act is your friend. Check http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizensandrights/Consumerrights/index.htm and they have a very helpful helpline (well they did before the cuts – it might have gone now)
and think about contract law as well. Although I perused the guy under the sale of goods act, had we gone to court I would have probably ignored that and just gone for a straight contractual dispute.

Letter 1 (after several emails and phone calls)

On Saturday afternoon I delivered the car to have its new harnesses fitted and the rear mount for the driver’s harness moved to be central in line with the seat. This was to be done by a local race and rally centre.
This afternoon (Monday) I had a call from the workshop to say that they were not willing to fit the harnesses due to the poor quality of the repairs to the car, particularly regarding large amounts of filler, fibreglass and expanding foam on the underside and around the sills and the use of poor quality welding. They were also concerned that the rollcage was not secured as it was designed to be (some bolts were missing) and particularly about the strength of the area around the outer lower seatbelt mounts. They were also unhappy with the construction of the firewall. They felt the car was unlikely to pass scrutineering and were not even sure about its safety for use on the road. I have asked them to write a report detailing their findings.
This latest news means that I still do not believe that the car you sold me conforms to contract. It is neither as described nor fit for purpose and is not of a quality that a reasonable person would regard as satisfactory, taking into account the price and any description.
To summarise:
• The car was delivered with two major oil leaks (gearbox and differential) and is therefore not fit for purpose.
• An independent reasonable person feels the car is unsafe, particularly around the seatbelt mountings, and therefore not fit for purpose.
• A reasonable person would not feel that the condition of the car is satisfactory, taking into account the price and the description.
• By delivering the car 7 months after the original agreed date you have breached the expressed terms of contract.
Acting under advice I am therefore formally rejecting the car and requesting a full refund of £4100 as is my right under the sale of goods act.
I also require you to confirm whether you will arrange for the car to be collected or will reimburse me for the cost of returning it.
I am sure we would both like to resolve this quickly. As I mentioned in previous correspondence the quicker we can get this resolved, the quicker I can begin the process of purchasing a replacement and write my articles. Currently I am reluctantly willing to put the writing on hold for a fortnight as a sign of good will but if I am unable to write then I will add the £1500 fee as lost earnings to the claim.
Having spent nearly an hour talking to you on the phone yesterday I am no longer willing to discuss things except via Email or letters.
You have 7 days from when you receive this to respond in writing and 14 days to resolve the issue.
Letter 2 – already thinking about the court case and evidence that I was making reasonable attempts to resolve the situation while being clear as to the issues.
Re your letter of 2nd March
I have the nearly 120 emails we exchanged regarding the car. It is very clear form these that you were well aware that the car was to be used for Speed event type competition and that I had supplied you with copies of the relevant sections of the MSA “Blue Book” detailing how the car should be prepared. The copies were posted on 23/5/08. In an email on 23/5 (subject: “roll over protection”) I said “My interpretation is [the cage should be] bolted… there is lots of detail about strengthening plates”. On 28/5 you replied “Hi Chris, had a quick look at the regs…I interpret the cage the same as you.”
As delivered the cage was welded (rather than bolted) to the car in some places and at other points bolt holes were left floating in the air. There are no strengthening plates fitted at all.
The car is not fit for purpose as a competition car because it would fail scrutineering (compulsory checks that the car conforms to the rules, including safety) on several areas, not least the fact that some of the feet of the roll cage are not attached to the car! I have reports from several reputable organisations and individuals that back this up.
The advice I have from three separate people with expertise in the field of classic motorsport is that, even if the cage were fitted correctly, the car would be unsafe. This is because your repairs have meant the structure of the car is not strong enough to provide protection in an accident. Just as an example; the patches that have been welded from the floor pan to the bottom edge of the sills will not provide the same level of strength as the ridge in the original design. This area also has rust showing through at the bottom of the door post. In an email on the 10th March you said the car “will have a rebuilt shell. I.e. Rot free.” Clearly this is not the case.
Most shocking is the amount of body filler around the seatbelt mounting points on the passenger side. I find this disturbing because the likely outcome of an accident would be the seatbelt coming away from the body and providing little protection to the passenger.
As I am sure you are aware, before a car is used in a speed event the shell needs to be at least as stiff as when produced otherwise the car would not provide sufficient protection in an accident. On some of the longer circuits accidents could happen at very high speed indeed.
I have no recollection of you inviting me to view the car as the work progressed and can find no reference to it in the emails.
You claim that the car was not a private purchase. In a private purchase the purchaser does not get to specify the colour the car will be painted and the equipment to be fitted as I did in this case. What is more, on 17/3/09 I asked you by email “Do you do this as a profession?” You replied (also on 17/3) “Hi Chris, yes it’s my living”. You even sign some of your emails “Classic International” and refer to yourself as a “specialist” and “the business”.
I can find no where in the emails where you suggest that the car is being supplied other than by your business. The fact that the car belonged to your father before you sold it to me is irrelevant.
I am confident that a court would agree that in this case the sale of goods act does apply.
You have never offered to rectify the major issues regarding the repairs to the body/chassis and “fitment” of the roll cage. In our last telephone conversation (on 22/02/09) you offered me a different car but only if I was wiling to pay extra and wait for an unspecified number of months (the original car had been eight months late!)
When you delivered the car it was dark. Contrary to you letter my garage is not lit and you made it very clear that you had to leave quickly to return the trailer you had borrowed so I had only a small amount of time. It was clear that the bonnet does not fit (it still does not, even after you “adjusted” it because it fouls both one wing and the scuttle) but I was keen to get on with enjoying the car after such a long wait so, while disappointed, I decided to put up with it. Your statement: “you stated that you were totally satisfied” is simply untrue.
The biggest problems that I have with the car, such as the body filler close to the seatbelt mount and the non-attachment of the roll cage were hidden by the carpets and/or interior trim. It was only when these were removed that the woeful and downright dangerous standard of workmanship became apparent.
There are so many details I could pick up on but, just as an example you stated “the hood is very good” (17/4/08) whereas when delivered it had holes and a tear and does not fit properly.
Clearly the car is not as described but, as the good natured way I have delt with your repeated delaying tactics about delivering the car demonstrates (you arranged dates to complete / deliver the car on ten occasions, starting with June and actually delivering on the 31st Jan despite saying “I guarantee delivery” before the 18th) I am a reasonable person. I am now giving you the opportunity to make good. I am willing to give you several options:
You could give me all the money I spent with you (£4100) and take the car away. In this case I would not add the lost earnings of £1500 for magazine articles about competing with the car or the various expenses, such unused entry fees, I have incurred as a result of the car being delivered in an unusable condition, to my claim.
You could arrange a for garage local to me to repair the car. We would have to agree the garage first but there are many classic specialists around here. If the garage is within 50 miles of my house I will deliver the car on your behalf without charge. This repair would have to be to make the structure of the car “literally as it left the factory”: the phrase you used to describe your plans for the car in an email on 10/3/08. Obviously all the filler, patches and fibreglass would have to be replaced with correctly shaped steel. I would then have the car inspected at my expense and accept it if the inspector agreed it was fit for purpose for speed events. I would be happy to agree the inspector with you beforehand and agree to stand by their opinion. On 17/3/08 you stated that you are an “active member of the MG car club”. I am also a member. I would be happy to employ the club’s recommended inspector. This means that the car would not look “as it left the factory” as I was expecting, given the price you charged, but would be safe.
You could collect the car and repair it yourself. Again all the filler, patches and fibreglass would have to be replaced with correctly shaped steel and I would then have the car inspected, at my expense, and accept it if the inspector agreed it was fit for purpose for speed events and met the description “as it left the factory” in terms of structure.
Alternatively you could replace the car with one like for like the same as the car I was expecting i.e. with a body structure “as it left the factory” and roll cage fitted inline with the MSA requirements. Again, I would have to have this car inspected before I accepted it. As an act of goodwill I will accept a car in a different colour, even though I had my heart set on BRG to the extent that I paid extra for you to repaint the current car.
Finally; you refer to the very brief test drive which you claim was “conducted at illegal speed”. I have no recollection of driving that could be described as in anyway dangerous but, since the car was delivered with a non functioning speedometer any judgement of speed on your part was entirely guesswork.
You have 7 days from when you receive this to decide which course of action you wish to take and to inform me in writing. If I do not hear before then I will begin legal proceedings. What ever you decide I expect the whole affair to be resolved (ie my money back, the car satisfactorily repaired or satisfactorily replaced) in six weeks.
Letter 3 “I have lost faith in your ability” but am still trying to find a resolution.
Thank you for your letter of 23rd March 2009. I too would like to close the matter speedily.

My letter of 13th March was a true statement of my position and of the judgements made to me by the experts I have consulted. I note that you acknowledge that there is work to be done on the car to bring it to the state you described, and I accepted, when we finalised the deal in March 2008. In brief this was “literally as it left the factory” – your email of 10/03/08.

Of the options you suggest neither are acceptable as they stand, however with some modifications I would be prepared to accept whichever you prefer. The changes are:

For the yellow (alternative) car: I would need this to be inspected by an independent engineer such as the firm recommended by the MG Car Club or equivalent, against your original description ie “literally as it left the factory” and with “all parts present and working” (email 17/03/08). This inspection would enable me to decide whether it an acceptable alternative. If it is acceptable then you would swap the components I choose. If, as a result of the inspection, work is required then I would require an additional inspection on completion of the work. I would not be prepared to pay any more money than already have if I agreed to this option.

For the green (original) car: I would also require an independent engineer such as the firm recommended by the MG Car Club or equivalent to inspect the car as it is now and identify what work would need to be done to meet the original description ie “literally as it left the factory” with “all parts present and working”. This inspection could take place here in Norwich or you could collect it and have it done elsewhere. If this inspection shows that the car can be repaired so as to meet the original description then you would do the work at no cost and have the car re-inspected. Subject to this inspection agreeing that the car was as originally agreed you would deliver the car back to me. Again this would all be at no cost to me.

I feel the need to be very clear about my requirements at this stage. Over the past year I have lost confidence in your ability to meet specifications and deadlines. Indeed my preferred option would be to return the car to you now and for you to refund the money I paid for it.

I would remind you as in my letter of 13th March of the limited time that you have to rectify the faults.

Yours sincerely

Letter 4: Still reasonable but killer blow in paragraph 6. Liars always catch themselves out. Still, it took a lot of research. This was the final letter before he offered to borrow money from his mother to pay most of the money back. Knowing that he was off to France soon (or claimed to be – it could be more fantasy stuff) and keen to end it all, I accepted.

As we were agreeing the terms of this transaction back in March 2008 you stated very clearly that you were a motor trader specialising in classic cars. As I have quoted in previous letters; on 17/3/09 I asked you by email “Do you do this as a profession?” You replied (also on 17/3) “Hi Chris, yes it’s my living”. You refer to yourself as a “specialist” and talk about “part timers” who you employ when “jobs are in a rush.” (all 17/3). There are many more emails where you suggest that you are a motor trader.

You will remember that you first contacted me via the Pistonheads website. At the time we agreed the deal and until you changed it last month your profile on Pistonheads stated “Occupation: Run a business specialising in the import and restoration of classic British and German sports cars”. I have a copy.

In a response to a Pistonheads forum discussion entitled “Dealers: What’s your approach in a credit crunch” you compare your line of work to two other local businesses. You use the phrase “Business one deals in classic cars in the same way I do.” Again, I have a copy.

It was because you led me to believe that you were a trader, and therefore I had an increased level of legal protection and you had a reputation to protect, that I agreed to buy the car and pay the amount of money we agreed.

Now you state that you have evidence proving that you “have at no time been engaged as a vehicle trader” (your letter of 28th March).

I am not clear if you are / were a trader but are attempting to avoid your obligations under the Sale of Goods Act or you are admitting that the whole thing was a scam where you sold the car under false pretences by representing yourself as a trader when you in fact were not. Either way, it is highly likely a court would see this as indicative of your willingness to mislead in an effort to make or save money.

Even if you were to convince a court that it was a private sale the car still has to be “as described” and, as I have explained in previous letters the car clearly is not as described e.g. “literally as it left the factory” (your email 10/03/08).

Regarding your most recent offer to repair the car; I am glad to see you again agreeing that you delivered the car in an unsuitable condition. Your offer, however, does not go far enough. It is entirely reasonable of me to ask that you repair the car to the condition we originally agreed rather than your offer to resolve issues that would “prevent the car being used as a road or competition car” (28/3). There is a big difference between the usable car you now offer and the “rebuilt shell”, “rot free” (both 10/03/08) “literally as it left the factory” car we initially agreed upon.

Given that you delivered the car with such fundamental flaws such as the gearbox not being secured to the engine properly, I have lost confidence in your ability to repair the car and therefore need the work required to be agreed and inspected before and after by someone who is mutually agreed and who is professionally qualified.

If you think the car is a good one and you sold it at a fair price, what I suggest is that you buy it back for the amount I paid and resell it. I have driven the car less than 50 miles and the car has been carefully stored and therefore is in the same condition as when you delivered it (actually it is slightly better as I had a local garage attach the gearbox to the engine properly).

While I feel it should be your responsibility, I would be willing to pay the considerable cost (I have quotes of £300-350) for the car to be delivered to you once you had refunded me. I have no intention of driving it to you. I do not believe it would be safe. I would even be willing to fund the cost of the fuel you used to deliver the car to me. As a consequence of these kind offers you would be back where you started and would not have incurred any expense at all. Indeed you would have had the benefit of the money I paid you over the last 12 months.

I am keen to resolve this without going to court. However, if we do so I will withdraw this generous offer. I would simply make the car available for collection once I had received the money.

3 Responses to The con man

  1. Rob says:

    Hi Chris,
    I am too building up a 1500 Midget to compete in the Mgcc speed events, would be good to chat …….and know not to take it to this guy to do the work !
    Drop me an email if you’d like to talk and i’m sorry to hear about your nightmare with the car.

    Kind regards,

    Rob

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