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How To Stay Calm Under Pressure

One the newer vehicles in my garage has a dashboard display you can dial up with a twiddly knob on the centre console that shows the temperature and pressure of each tyre. It’s driving me mad.

The two rear tyres seem to be OK. The display shows me they’re close to the pressure I think I’ve put into them. Being slightly old-fashioned, I still think in pounds per square inch – (PSI) rather than kilo pascals (kPa); but then, I also still think in terms of miles per gallon (MPG), rather than litres per 100 km (l/100 km). But the front tyres? The display says the pressures are all over the place, and so are the temperatures.

‘There’s a limit to how much technology that was developed for the racetrack is necessary for the enjoyment and safety of road cars.’

There’s a limit to how much technology that was developed for the racetrack is necessary for the enjoyment and safety of road cars. I readily accept things like seat belts, disc brakes, various high-tech materials and certain design concepts were developed on the racetrack and found their way into road cars and have made life better, and safer. But do I really need to know, on demand, how many Gs I am pulling (and in what direction) on the run up the hill to the farmhouse, or what my tyre pressures and temperatures are? Especially when the readout is dodgy, all it does is stress me out. To be honest, I can probably barely detect the 1.5 psi difference the display tells me there is between the left and right front tyres. A better driver than I am would tell you the car is pulling one way or the other, or that its braking or how it turns into corners are being affected as a result.

luxury car

The only reason I know – or I think I know – there’s a difference is because the read-out on the dashboard tells me. It distracts me; and I can’t even be sure it’s correct. The air was put into each tyre with the same device, and inflated according to that device to the exact same pressure, yet the read-out tells me the pressures vary. I rang the dealer’s service centre to have a chat about this. I suspect that when they see my number come up on the screen of their phone system they scatter to all points of the workshop and the person left closest to the phone has to answer it.

This time it was Dom’s turn, and he was relatively patient as he explained to me that these sensors a have a range of accuracy and it’s not unusual for them to return different results to a central processing unit, which is under the floor of the boot. To which I inquired, if they’re known to produce incorrect results, why bother with them? I know tyres are important and yet I get grumpy at the expense when they wear out and need to be replaced. I know that looking after them – not over-inflating them and not under-inflating them – is the way to maximize their life; but I never really know what pressure to put in.

I always get this particular car back from the dealer with what I think are ridiculous pressures: 45 psi in the front, 40 psi in the rear, last time, when the placard on the door frame suggests 40/38 front/rear, respectively. Really, I think someone, somewhere, is guessing at this stuff. And the built-in display is not helping me work out who that is. Perhaps the best course of action is to ignore it. After all, they say that on commercial airliners, nine times out of 10 when a warning light comes on it’s a faulty light.

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Ferrari’s Street Car With a Racing Heart Arrives

FINDING yourself on the underside of a car might be unsettling for most people unless they’re a mechanic. But if that car’s the all-new Ferrari 488 Pista and it’s being deliberately lowered from a height with an ultra high-tech hoist, then suddenly everything’s OK.

Thurday’s spectacle in the new state-of-the-art Ferrari North Shore Service Centre in Sydney was part of the Australasian premiere of Ferrari’s latest V8-engined special series, this one boasting a significant lift in sporty dynamics, performance and a carry-over from the brand’s long racing heritage.

‘For anyone who dreams of Ferrari, performance is number one, and the 488 Pista is directly derived from Formula 1.’ Herbert Appleroth

It was very literally a bottom-up reveal designed to showcase the 488 Pista’s design, aerodynamics and advanced technology. Having its previous three iterations assembled nearby – the 360 Challenge Stradale, 430 Scuderia and 458 Speciale – made comparing and contrasting a snap.

Being a big fan of the 488 GTB on which the 488 Pista is based, I was more interested in getting a sense of what a race-inspired makeover looked and felt like. Driving it was impossible, as the Italians would say, given it was the only car in the country and yet to be registered. But you can tell a lot about a Ferrari just by looking at it.

More than 200 VIP Ferrari enthusiasts got their first glimpse of the car in its convertible version – the Special Series Ferrari 488 Pista Spider – the night before in Ferrari’s new $10 million Gold Coast showroom. The new showroom is, in itself, a big deal for Ferrari which has rapidly expanded its dealership network to nine in Australia, the Gold Coast being the first outside a capital city. But Queensland also dominates in terms of Ferrari client orders per capita of national population. Gold Coast postcodes, particularly, host some of the highest rates of Ferrari ownership in the country, Ferrari says.

But back in Sydney for the 488 Pista, Ferrari gave a fairly extensive rundown of what the car would be capable of if pushed to the max by even inexpert drivers. Meanwhile, the CEO of Ferrari Australasia, Herbert Appleroth, said the car had all the features Ferrari fans had come to expect from the brand.

“For anyone who dreams of Ferrari, performance is number one,” Appleroth says, “and this car is directly derived from Formula 1.” Style is also important. “And this is the most curvaceous, aerodynamic V8 we’ve ever produced. It’s a combination of everything,” he says. Displaying a two-tone livery strip running over the top from bonnet to rear, the 488 Pista is lighter and more powerful than the 488 GTB. While its design and technology draws heavily from the 488 Challenge, it was built mainly for road use. So Maranello engineers were tasked with delivering driving pleasure and accessible performance to drivers of all types.

LUXURY CAR

Under the bonnet is the most powerful V8 in Ferrari history. As if that wasn’t enough, it gets even more power compliments of a simple repositioning of air intakes from the side to the rear to deliver air more efficiently and in greater volume to the engine. No doubt that helps it manage the 0-100kmh dash in 2.85 seconds to a top speed of more than 340 km/h.

‘You should more confidently be able to handle over steer and deal with rapid direction changes – a particularly handy feature in Melbourne’s aggressive traffic.’

A “dynamic enhancer” will enable less-expert drivers to more easily reach and control “performance-to-the-limit” levels. If that sounds frightening to you, then don’t go there. If you do, you should more confidently be able to handle over steer and deal with rapid direction changes – a particularly handy feature in Melbourne’s aggressive traffic. It sounds like a stability control system but Ferrari insists the enhancer is a maximum-performance-focused system. Regardless, it will help bring out the true driver in you. Another race-ready feature – this one a first for a Ferrari road car – is a lateral dynamics control system which uses software to adjust the brake pressure on the callipers when the car is going through, and exiting, corners. It apparently makes controlling the car’s lateral movements more intuitive, controllable and predictable, especially at speed.

Given the car’s race DNA, don’t expect much in the cockpit. All superfluous elements have been eliminated, including the glove box – there are pockets on the back bench and some space in the doors. The typical Ferrari sophistication is in place, though, in the contrasting hand-stitching, aluminium tread plates and triangle heel rests.

The workshop of Ferrari’s new 2400 sqm North Shore Service Centre was a fitting backdrop for yesterday’s launch. The $10 million investment is evidence also of Ferrari’s efforts to improve its customers’ experience as well as a uniquely Australian push to attract more women into its cars.

I’m not sure the 488 Pista is going to be the model to get them over the line at $645,000. However, ladies who are interested will be able to see it in action next week when it makes its Australian public debut at the Adelaide Motorsport Festival.

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Musing On Maserati

musing on mesarti

There’s a fair bit of anticipation in and around the SUV market at the moment, as several top-end manufacturers bring their latest offerings to market, apparently unaware or uncaring of the tautological nature of the term “luxury SUV”.

‘Quattroporte sounds exotic until you learn the translation from the original Italian is “four doors”.’

Among them is, of course, the Maserati Levante. The marketing for this new vehicle makes me laugh. The Levante is dubbed “the Maserati of SUVs”. It’s an undeniable claim, and I suppose truth in advertising is to be applauded. The word “levante” means “rising” (as in the sun), in Italian. Possibly. I have no idea why it’s a relevant name, except maybe because this thing has the gravitational pull of a middle-aged G-type main-sequence star. But Maserati has entertained me before with its car names, and not only the ones named for mighty winds.

My favourite would have to be the Quattroporte. It sounds exotic until you learn the translation from the original Italian is “four doors”. That must have been an interesting marketing meeting: “OK, we’ve got a new car to sell. Let’s focus on its unique features. What’s the most interesting thing we can say about it? What’s that – it has four wheels? Don’t be ridiculous! Come on people, think harder. It has four doors? Great idea!”

luxury car

Can you imagine the flack that any one of the emerging carmakers would receive if they released a model called Four Doors? It would be derided like one of those establishments with a literal English translation from the original language, like Surprise Cafe, or Very Clean Restaurant. It’s been a long time since I last drove a Maserati. It was the early 2000s and I think it was a Coupe (I have lost the photos). I do remember stalling it in the middle of a major intersection, which was not only embarrassing, but also no mean feat for a car with a semi-automatic gearbox.

And if I remember correctly some genius had installed the flippy-paddle gear change levers to the fixed part of the steering column, meaning that if you wanted to change gear with any kind of lock dialed-in you had to take one hand off the wheel to do it (or only change gear when driving in a straight line). I trust that they’ve remedied these sorts of niggly ergonomic issues in more recent releases.

Oh, but goodness me, the sound. I was told it had an engine built by Ferrari, and there was nothing about the racket it made when pushed hard that led me to doubt that claim. The first time I started it up, forgetting to open the garage first, I thought Neptune himself might have been banging on the door to reclaim his trident. It wasn’t until I repeated the error with a Ferrari 360 Spider a couple of years later (and terrified the cat into the bargain) that I heard anything else that sounded quite the same. It still makes me tingle thinking about it.

luxury car

The Coupe was one of those cars that had something of a split personality. It would clearly announce its arrival, thanks to the noise it made, but then people would be looking past it for something more in keeping with that noise. Bystanders couldn’t reconcile the sound they heard with what they saw – it was as if someone had dropped a Formula 1 engine into a Commodore.

Despite its foibles, and despite the passage of time, I still have a bit of a soft spot for the Maserati. It was far from perfect but it had personality. I enjoyed driving it. It went quickly, stopped quickly and would get around corners briskly enough. With the roof down on a sunny day it was a great experience. And apart from that exhaust note, it did everything under a cloak of relatively anonymity. Perfect.

But back to the Levante. I have not had the pleasure of driving it, unlike Madam Wheels herself, but it looks the part and hopefully they’ve managed to make the sound more muscly – a suggestion MW made back in January. While I’ve never really quite got the point of Maserati – why not go all the way and buy a Ferrari? – and I still do not fully grasp the attraction of SUVs, I suspect that the sum of those two things may well be significantly greater than their parts.

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Musings on a Maserati

THERE’S a fair bit of anticipation in and around the SUV market at the moment, as several top-end manufacturers bring their latest offerings to market, apparently unaware or uncaring of the tautological nature of the term “luxury SUV”.

‘Quattroporte sounds exotic until you learn the translation from the original Italian is “four doors”.’

Among them is, of course, the Maserati Levante. The marketing for this new vehicle makes me laugh. The Levante is dubbed “the Maserati of SUVs”. It’s an undeniable claim, and I suppose truth in advertising is to be applauded. The word “levante” means “rising” (as in the sun), in Italian. Possibly. I have no idea why it’s a relevant name, except maybe because this thing has the gravitational pull of a middle-aged G-type main-sequence star. But Maserati has entertained me before with its car names, and not only the ones named for mighty winds. My favourite would have to be the Quattroporte. It sounds exotic until you learn the translation from the original Italian is “four doors”. That must have been an interesting marketing meeting: “OK, we’ve got a new car to sell. Let’s focus on its unique features. What’s the most interesting thing we can say about it? What’s that – it has four wheels? Don’t be ridiculous! Come on people, think harder. It has four doors? Great idea!”

Can you imagine the flack that any one of the emerging carmakers would receive if they released a model called Four Doors? It would be derided like one of those establishments with a literal English translation from the original language, like Surprise Café, or Very Clean Restaurant.

 

It’s been a long time since I last drove a Maserati. It was the early 2000s and I think it was a Coupe (I have lost the photos). I do remember stalling it in the middle of a major intersection, which was not only embarrassing, but also no mean feat for a car with a semi-automatic gearbox.

 

And if I remember correctly some genius had installed the flappy-paddle gear change levers to the fixed part of the steering column, meaning that if you wanted to change gear with any kind of lock dialled-in you had to take one hand off the wheel to do it (or only change gear when driving in a straight line). I trust that they’ve remedied these sorts of niggly ergonomic issues in more recent releases.

 

Oh, but goodness me, the sound. I was told it had an engine built by Ferrari, and there was nothing about the racket it made when pushed hard that led me to doubt that claim. The first time I started it up, forgetting to open the garage first, I thought Neptune himself might have been banging on the door to reclaim his trident. It wasn’t until I repeated the error with a Ferrari 360 Spider a couple of years later (and terrified the cat into the bargain) that I heard anything else that sounded quite the same. It still makes me tingle thinking about it.

The Coupe was one of those cars that had something of a split personality. It would clearly announce its arrival, thanks to the noise it made, but then people would be looking past it for something more in keeping with that noise. Bystanders couldn’t reconcile the sound they heard with what they saw – it was as if someone had dropped a Formula 1 engine into a Commodore.

 

Despite its foibles, and despite the passage of time, I still have a bit of a soft spot for the Maserati. It was far from perfect but it had personality. I enjoyed driving it. It went quickly, stopped quickly and would get around corners briskly enough. With the roof down on a sunny day it was a great experience. And apart from that exhaust note, it did everything under a cloak of relatively anonymity. Perfect.

 

But back to the Levante. I have not had the pleasure of driving it, unlike Madam Wheels herself, but it looks the part and hopefully they’ve managed to make the sound more muscly – a suggestion MW made back in January. While I’ve never really quite got the point of Maserati – why not go all the way and buy a Ferrari? – and I still do not fully grasp the attraction of SUVs, I suspect that the sum of those two things may well be significantly greater than their parts.

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The road to hell is paved with bad champagne

I DO wonder, sometimes, if The Companion is slightly stupid. I don’t really think he is, but when I stop to think about why I think he’s not stupid it’s mostly because he keeps saying: “I am not stupid”. And usually he says this after he’s done something demonstrably stupid.

‘One does not merely attend a Melbourne Cup do, nor any sort of significant social gathering. One must prepare. One must research.’

 

I think we’ve previously covered the rocket launch from the penthouse, his efforts to install wi-fi at the farm and replace a broken soap dish in the shower. We know about his Nerf arsenal and his attitude towards weather forecasting, and weather presenters.

 

He’s good natured and well-meaning, but in the same way a three-year old grandchild is good-natured and well-meaning when they dump a tub of yoghurt into your handbag so you’ll have something to eat on the way home.

 

We attended a Melbourne Cup event at a restaurant in the city. The event started at midday which meant there were three hours of fairly solid small-talk before the featured race, and small-talk always goes better with champagne. Naturally the event budget wouldn’t run to Boërl & Kroff (I’m finding it’s becoming more difficult to track down these days anyway, but in any case, it’s rude to buy one’s own drinks at a catered function), so we had to make do with something markedly inferior. I fully expected to wake with a raging hangover and I wasn’t mistaken in that regard.

However, one does not merely attend a Melbourne Cup do, nor any sort of significant social gathering. One must prepare. One must research. A guest list ahead of time is essential (it helps to know the host), for background checks.

 

One must never be short of something with which to begin a conversation, especially if one ends up stuck speaking to “Tammy”, a generic term I use for the sort of woman you seem to run into at every gathering who never seems to go anywhere not dressed as though she is about to step on to or has just stepped off the tennis court. The male equivalent always looks as though the social event is getting in the way of a round of golf.

 

Spouses’ names, former spouses’ names, occupations, names of kids and recent holidays – all these things can be difficult to memorise, and can be even more difficult to deploy if guests share similar names, or are so slavishly conformist to this season’s look that they are visually indistinguishable from each other. And this is where The Companion came unstuck, aided by too much of the cheap bubbly.

 

Like I said, I don’t think he’s actually stupid, but even he admitted afterwards that it was his fault he’d mistaken a former rugby union international for a dentist. How that happened is beyond me. I don’t know if you’ve ever stood near a former (or even current) rugby player, but they’re nothing like any dentist I’ve ever met, and I’m not only talking about the teeth.

Even so, The Companion made a well-intentioned inquiry about the man’s oldest son, expecting to be regaled with tales of the boy’s sporting prowess, only to be informed, perhaps appropriately through clenched teeth, that the dentist’s offspring is currently serving a community service order for dealing drugs at his eye-wateringly expensive and exclusive private school, and was damn lucky not to have been expelled.


Panicked, The Companion sought to laugh it off as the lad’s youthful hijinks but blundered into a further ill-targeted comment about worse things happening at sea, which was meant to be a funny reference to the former rugby player’s recent charity kayaking event, but then remembered in horror that the dentist and his wife had only relatively recently recovered from a severe yacht cruise trauma, started by some bad oysters and only ended by an intravenous drip in hospital.


At this point the woman declared she was no longer going to stand there and be insulted by “this clown” – and she said it in a tone and at a volume that just cut straight through the background conversation. The room fell silent as she grabbed her husband’s hand and dragged him from the room. With all eyes now on him, The Companion – to his immense credit – drained his champagne glass, shrugged and made a beeline for the bar.


In the car on the way home he explained to me how all of this happened. He hadn’t done it deliberately, but as usual his good-natured and well-intentioned motivation merely provided a foundation for things to go stupidly wrong. I know the couple he encountered: he’s a prick, she’s a cow, and their son is a menace to society. He drives a Range Rover Sport and she drives and Evoque, and there’s nothing wrong with that, except that they have his ‘n’ her’s number plates. I simply couldn’t be angry; in fact I was proud of him, more than anything else. I let him fret about it for a good long time before I let him know that, though. In fact I let him know twice.

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A toast to great television

SOMETIMES I get sick when I travel a lot and about two weeks ago I travelled a lot and I got sick. I was bedridden and moping around the house for days, which is why I missed a recent deadline for Madam Wheels. I haven’t been so unwell for a long time, and I’ve never watched so much television.

‘Apparently there’s a method of watching a lot of a television all in one go that I’ve heard my goddaughter refer to as “bingeing”. I love the word, and that’s exactly what I did.’

 

But how unexpectedly glorious that experience turned out to be – so much so that since recovering I’ve been finding myself sneaking away at odd hours of the day and catching up on some of my shows. This would have been unthinkable only a few weeks ago.

Television has come a long way since I last spent any considerable time watching it – probably around the time Blind Date was on for the first time – and while I was out of action I started really to appreciate and understand The Companion’s obsession with streaming services. We have Stan, Netflix, Foxtel and all of the free-to-air on-demand services, all connected to the televisions throughout the house by a wireless network of blinking devices of varying shapes and sizes.

 

Now I know why The Companion has spent so long setting the whole lot up, and why he wanted the same set-up at the farmhouse. I don’t know what I’d have done without it while I was laid up.

 

Apparently there’s a method of watching a lot of a television all in one go that I’ve heard my goddaughter refer to as “bingeing”. I love the word, and that’s exactly what I did. Norsemen, Maniac, Schitt’s Creek, Detectorists, not every episode (there’s a lot of them) of Jerry Seinfeld in cars getting coffee with comedians (it’s called something like that) and possibly my favourite of the lot, the wonderfully bonkers Toast of London.

 

And also Man Down, and Green Wing. And Ozark – Jason Bateman! That’s a LOT of television, for me and possibly for anybody. I also watched a full movie – Arrival – but I had to look up some online reviews to fully work out what had happened in that one.

 

I do recall reading a famous American writer suggesting that the real opportunities to do something genuinely creative and exciting has shifted from film to television, and I’d say on the basis of what I watched, he’s right. I suppose when a streaming service reaches so many people and makes so much money, it can afford to take a punt on a movie or a series that’s a bit left-field, and to give the creative types some free rein to do their thing free from the shackles of having to generate a billion dollars at the Box Office. It’s like what happens when you turn a car designer loose with a blank sheet of paper and a brief to design a full-body, all-senses driving experience, rather than briefing him to come up with something the manufacturer can shift a couple of million of, at the lowest possible cost.

Madam Wheels is a car-lovers’ website, not a TV review publication, so I have checked in – briefly – with some car-themed shows I spotted (and I’ll have a deeper look in coming weeks to see if there are any unearthed gems out there). I think the best of the lot is the Seinfeld show. Short (20 minutes or so), with a different car in each episode. Seinfeld gives us a little rundown on its history and quirks, and we get to see him and a different comedian in each episode driving around looking for a coffee shop (or just pootling around the White House grounds with Obama).


I’m not a fan of Top Gear, mostly because of Clarkson, perhaps ironically (though I do like James May); and the shows that are essentially car restoration projects would be far more interesting if they weren’t just so American. On that note, I suggest you have a quick look at Project Binky on YouTube – and watch in amazement and awe as some sort of low-key English engineering genius with an unhealthy obsession with grinding drinks too much tea and attempts to transplant the engine, gearbox and suspension of a turbocharged Toyota Celica GT-Four into a Mini (a real mini, not the current abomination).


I have not yet got to the stage where, faced with the delicious prospect of a couple of hours with nothing better to do, I’ll flick on the TV instead of taking out one of the cars and doing the 26-km downhill run to the junction (and then back up the hill – a different challenge altogether). And I do believe it never will come to that. But now, when I look out the window and it’s simply too wet to be out … I wonder if Toast will ever actually come to blows with Clem Fandango?

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The price of everything and the value of fun

MY FINANCIAL adviser rang me this week. We haven’t been together long – only since, you might recall, I dumped my previous money man when he turned up to a meeting at the farmhouse in a new Lamborghini.

 

My new adviser is somewhat more conservative. She drives something dull and Japanese (at least, that’s what she turns up to the meetings in; she could drive anything at all on the weekends, for all I know), but she understands my love for cars and was a willing accomplice in August this year when I turned my attention to a second-hand Ferrari. A Ferrari F12tdf, in yellow, to be precise.

 

Just a quick update: the purchase didn’t go ahead. Not because we couldn’t raise the funds, but because a more pressing, short-term issue raised its head, which I won’t bore you with here (there’s plenty of other things I can bore you with instead). And as it turns out, I’m glad it didn’t happen.

You might have noticed that in recent weeks the sharemarket has taken something of a battering. This happens from time to time, and the more mature one becomes, the more it feels like we’ve seen all of this before. It’s still a bit unpleasant, though, to see prices of the shares you and your adviser so carefully picked falling just like all the others.

‘For me, and I imagine for many readers of Madam Wheels, ‘living well’ means being able to own and drive great cars and actually having some fun.’

 

But when I picked up the phone my adviser seemed remarkably upbeat. She wasn’t encouraging me to sell, and she wasn’t encouraging me to buy more. She was checking in, as the young people say, to answer any questions and to offer her professional judgement on any thoughts I might have. In other words, she was doing the job of a true adviser, rather than that of a salesperson.

 

This is a refreshing change. I well remember Lamborghini Boy calling me during the week of a market rout some years ago to encourage me to tip more money into my share portfolio. Thinking he could press my buttons by talking to me about cars (not an unreasonable assumption) he asked: If that car you have your eye on falls 15 per cent in price, would you be more inclined to buy it, or would you wait until it was expensive again and then buy it?

‘I do not rely on my cars to satisfy my financial needs, I need them to satisfy my hedonistic tendencies.’

 

It’s a superficially attractive concept – but he was a superficially attractive man, but it took me time to work that out. If the value of my investments fell – if I sold some, or if the market fell – then he got paid less. So he didn’t ever want me to sell, and from time to time he’d be wanting me to buy more, to top-up my portfolio, so he didn’t lose income. He hated it when I bought another car, because he hadn’t worked out how he could charge me a fee based on the value of a McLaren.

I pay my new adviser a monthly retainer, and she doesn’t care if my money is tied up in the sharemarket or in a new Ferrari. If I’m happy, if I’m solvent and if I’m going to be able to continue to live comfortably for the foreseeable future (and pay her monthly retainer), her job is done and all is well between us.

 

My new adviser has given me a fresh perspective. Investing doesn’t have to be just about accumulating more and more; it must be about something significantly more holistic: living well. For me, and I imagine for many readers of Madam Wheels, “living well” means being able to own and drive great cars and actually having some fun.

 

What my cars will be worth in five or 10 or 15 years’ time or longer is anyone’s guess, and really not important. I do not rely on them to satisfy my financial needs, I need them to satisfy my hedonistic tendencies. It’s a mistake to confuse those needs, and it’s a mistake to let one completely overwhelm the other.

 

So yes, while it’s obviously better to buy something for the best price you can, the reason you’re buying it is also important. If I could not buy a car unless I could be sure I could later sell it for more than I paid, I might not buy it in case it’s worth less when I need it most. But while it’s in my garage its value is apparent whenever I need it. How do you put a price on that?